Comedy Stray Notes July 18, 2022
On making a second episode of a podcast, one of the worst celebrity memoirs I've ever read, a cringeworthy Instagram Live you have to see to believe AND SO MUCH MORE (read this one to the end)
• According to Amplifi Media dot com (a maybe legit source?), 26% of all podcasts only produce one episode.
Then, vamoose, they disappear into the ether.
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After I heard that stat a few months back, I vowed to finish episode two of my podcast “Unmade Dream Projects,” so I would be a different statistic- one of a large number of podcasts with TWO episodes.
So, I did the dang thing and after countless bleary-eyed, early mornings editing and soundtracking, I finally finished episode two of m’pod.
And I’m happy to report it’s pretty damn good.
I just can’t hide the fact that I’m proud of the thing- I like it a lot.
If you’re not familiar with “Unmade Dream Projects,” the show’s name is pretty on the nose. Essentially, the podcast is a collection of all the unproduced screenplays, pilots, sketches and other ephemera that I’ve written over the years reimagined in podcast format. Sure, it’s not the original vision but at least now the idea doesn’t exist as just a PDF. Now, it can be listened to on anyone’s drive to work and that to me is a win.
In this second episode, titled “1980-81: The Lost Season,” I had a talented voice cast act out my stage play about the alleged worst season in SNL history. After having listened to said podcast dozens of times while fine-tuning the audio, I can safely say, they’re all great. In fact, I have yet to get bored listening to their interpretations of my script which is about the highest compliment any editor can pay.
That talented voice cast is made up Lauren Vino (playing Jean Doumanian), Michael Margetis (Dick Ebersole), Lawrence Paone (Fred Silverman), Neko White (Eddie Murphy), Jeff Ayars (Don Pardo), Anna Paone (Denny Dillon, Charlene Tilton, Robin Duke, Gail Matthius, Catherine O’Hara, Ann Risley AND Laurie Metcalfe), Gianmarco Soresi (Charles Rocket, Mr. Bill, Tim Kazurinsky), Steve Girard (Gilbert Gottfried, Chevy Chase, Lorne Michaels), Joey Saunders (Joe Piscopo, Michael O’Donoghue) and Dave Columbo (Jim Carrey, Pee Wee Herman, Elliott Gould, Del Close, Al Franken, Tony Rosato) all with stage directions by Usama Siddiquee.
The episode is 82ish minutes and a dang good time in my book.
I’d recommend listening. If you do, there just might be an episode three.
• It’s always a pleasant surprise to find out that a comic has skills outside of slinging jokes into a microphone.
Comedian Geoffrey Krawczyk is one of those pleasant surprises.
Now stationed in Berlin, Geoffrey is currently hard at work on his ambitious, pulpy “Erotech or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sex” comic book series that he illustrates. Featuring an eye-popping, “Mad Men” era erotic aesthetic, Geoffrey and his collaborators have put together a very funny new vision steeped in the past.
I’m not here to brag too much (who are we kidding, yes, I am) but I’ve had the pleasure of peeping some advance panels and I can guarantee that fans of modern, droll office humor mixed with outrageous sexuality — “Erotech” is about a company that creates sex robots — delivers.
Clever lines from the sex robot tester like, “I’m, like, the lowest paid employee at the company! I make less than tech support and it’s my d— on the line!” give “Erotech” the perfect mix of raunchy camp and genuine workplace drama. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Make sure to check out the comic’s thorough Kickstarter and donate a shekel or two so you can get in on the ground floor. You’ll thank me later once your first issue arrives at your doorstep or inbox.
• A great comedy trailer has to accomplish a lot in 90-120 seconds.
In that short span, an editor needs to tell us the movie’s story BUT not give away too much, introduce us to the tone and show off the best jokes BUT make sure there’s still a lot of great stuff left for the actual movie.
That’s not easy.
However, Tynan Delong and Colin Fitzgerald’s trailer for their upcoming feature “Dad and Step Dad” makes this heavy task look like a breeze. Their off-kilter, intentionally stilted style milks laughs from understated, bone dry gags where wholesome nerds hurl harmless insults at one another like “You’ve got nothing goin’ on up there!”
The creative team has created something wholly unique- by embracing normcore culture so deeply, they’ve come out on the other side and created something squarely avant garde.
“Dad and Step Dad” looks like a true comic treat and I can’t wait to see the whole thing.
• The YouTube comedy special boom has produced an embarrassment of riches for stand up fans. Every single day, comics are throwing their hours on the platform and showing off their skill set hoping that folks stumble upon their work.
I’m a known stumbler and the most recent special I clicked on, David Drake’s introspective, insightful and often hysterical “Oh No!” was a true delight.
For 75 minutes, Drake knowingly doles out intrusive thoughts and then chases them to their humorous, logical conclusions. I mean, how could you not love a special with a joke about how “Cigarettes can kill you” should be the tobacco industry’s slogan? Or how “if evolution is so great, why are mid-level account managers?” Or how it’s considered a miracle every time we avoid plane crashes?
When he’s not taking the dark route, David covers moments in life that are so small, you would have never even thought to mine it for humor. I particularly loved his take on running out of things to talk about with a significant other. When this momentary lapse takes place, he blurts out to his wife, “My friend has that watch.”
That’s one of those jokes that’s so good, you can’t even be mad you didn’t think of it. You just sit back and appreciate.
“Oh No!” begins with David setting up chairs at Brooklyn’s Gutter showroom and he closes the show doing the same. It’s a humble act that shows that no matter how great your material may be, at a certain level, you have to produce yourself. Midway through the act, there’s a fantastic chunk about how “life is what happens in between chores.” Here, great comedy specials are what happens in between chores.
• Writer’s block coupled with the success of friends is the bane of any filmmaker’s existence.
You’re struggling to come up with an idea for your pilot? Oh, well, good news. Your friend just filmed theirs and got into Sundance. Enjoy racking your brain!
This relatable concept is played for laughs in the upcoming eight-episode series “Stuck In Development.” Created by the production company, Buffalo 8, the series follows young screenwriter/former life coach Jared, who can’t seem to get out of a creative rut. Meanwhile, his entrepreneur and actor friends completely have their lives together. Or, if they don’t, they posture and grandstand pretending to.
As a result, our flailing hero does everything he can to get ahead. Jared attends networking parties and tries out method acting before he gives in and starts binging TV as well as developing poor eyesight.
However, what I’d like to shine a light on more than anything in the series is its second episode where our hero’s go-getter friends discover their pal has been watching…adult films on his laptop.
Rather than write it off as a single joke, this installment zeroes in on Jared’s time-wasting activity. His sympathetic yet overly productive bros hilariously critique his watching habits in practical and pragmatic ways rather than judging him. These six minutes are a breath of fresh air— a refreshing, postmodern take on masculinity.
So, if you’re in a rut and looking for a series where the lead is going through the same thing, “Stuck In Development” will be released July 25 on Apple TV/iTunes, Google, Vudu, and Amazon.
Give it a chance. “Stuck In Development” just might inspire you to dust off the old Moleskine or Final Draft and start getting your ideas on paper again.
• When I was a kid, the humor section at bookstores were made up of joke books, essay collections and funny novels.
Nowadays, it’s all comedic memoirs. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a new thing. Many of these books are thoughtful, honest and sprinkle in a chuckle or two for readers who want a look behind the curtain of their favorite performers and writers.
Yet, some are more than obvious cash grabs.
That was certainly the case with Bob Odenkirk’s hollow Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama a book mostly bereft of substance, insight or wit (which I was surprised to find had an editor in the acknowledgements section- the book’s greatest twist).
And that’s me being generous.
Over the course of 304 pages, Odenkirk glosses over his life story without ever truly giving any subject the thought or care it deserves. It’s all broad strokes. While reading, one gets the impression that Odenkirk simply scrolled through his IMDb and either said “everyone was great to work with” or “that was a difficult set.”
I could only wonder the whole time, “Is the life of one of our most successful sketch writers and actors really this surface level?”
If this book where he “pours his heart out” is any indication, the answer is a resounding yes.
Plus, he often does the thing where he’ll allude to a story like “how Al Franken helped me at ‘Saturday Night Live’” and then never return to the subject. It just lingers. The reader is clearly an afterthought here- if an idea is in Odenkirk’s brain, that’s enough for him. Doesn’t matter if it makes the page here.
Even more frustratingly, “CCCD” illustrates just how often Odenkirk has failed upwards in his life. Whether it was his confrontational meeting with Lorne Michaels that led to a job or barely preparing for his role as Saul Goodman (which admittedly does lead to some of its charm), his sort of half-assed approach to life seems to always work in his favor.
You may argue that he’s had his fair share of lows- failed pilots, “Mr. Show” having its time slot moved, movies that never got made- but the difference is he actually got paid for all of these projects. It’s hard to feel bad for someone when their lowest low comes with a fat paycheck.
Yes, I will admit there are a few valuable tidbits here and there. I did enjoy learning that the “Mr. Show” writer’s room’s strategy was to “milk the best line of a first draft of a sketch to get the most juice out of it they can” (milk and juice is quite a mixed metaphor) and his definition of nuance which is “your character being caught by the camera in a moment, and that the life we are catching a glimpse of is somehow greater than that moment.”
In the hands of a better writer, this would have been a fantastic memoir.
But it’s not.
While reading, I couldn’t believe the gall Odenkirk had to just list his favorite Monty Python sketches rather than tell us what made each of them great. In fact, I’m still torn up by that bit of sheer laziness. Or when he shares emails that his friends wrote without carefully weaving them into the narrative.
This wasn’t a book or memoir. It’s a long journal entry.
• Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, here are some movie reviews that will skew slightly more positive.
“Bob’s Burgers: The Movie” (2022): This review comes with a disclaimer. I am a fair weather “Bob’s Burgers” fan. I’ve watched episodes here and there so the characters are familiar but not all-time favorites.
After seeing this fantastical, self-referential, musical, crime caper “whodunit” family comedy populated by colorful carnies, that all changes.
This small screen to silver screen adaptation swiftly makes the jump to feature length with a four-pronged story worthy of the multiplex.
The movie’s central conflict is laid out early on. Bob’s burger shop is about to be foreclosed on unless they hit some ridiculous financial goal within seven days. You know, classic story. This is exacerbated by the fact that a giant sinkhole spontaneously combusts right in front of the storefront. Conflict, stakes, man versus nature, it’s all there.
Yet, there’s much, much more hiding in that sinkhole. I’ll leave it at that. Why give away the movie’s most surprising moments here when you could see them yourself? That’d be crazy.
Outside of the central conflict, the eldest daughter Tina fantasizes about a summer boyfriend while middle child Gene daydreams about rock stardom and youngest daughter Louise is triggered whenever someone calls her a baby.
Giving credit where it’s due: The creative team really packs in a heck of a lot of story.
What truly makes this movie special though are the wall to wall goofy jokes. Whether its punny signage or Gene responding to someone asking if he should be “at that place with adults” and books” with “The adult bookstore?” instead of “The library?” there are many, many laughs to be had.
Final verdict: Big-hearted and painting on a larger canvas suits “Bob’s Burgers” well. This movie is proof that six seasons (they’ve actually had a whopping 12 seasons) and a movie can work out quite well (Streaming on HBO Max and Hulu).
“Body Heat” (1981): Straight up steamy. William Hurt and Kathleen Turner’s summer flirtation turns into a torrid love affair then murderous con job, double crossing all followed by an explosive finale.
Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan (who was just coming off co-writing “The Empire Strikes Back”) expertly ratchets up the stakes over the course of this anxiety-inducing picture that kept me on the edge of my seat. When I expect the flick to hit one story beat, they often went in a totally unexpected direction.
One scene in particular really got to the heart of this matter. It’s your classic “cheating wife” runs into her paramour while out at dinner with her spouse and pretends not to know him. Rather than have the husband say, “Who was that, honey?” he invites Hurt to the table and unknowingly bonds with him.
Now, that’s screenwriting. By taking a well-trod convention and twisting it up into something brand new, you completely envelop your viewer. That’s all we want.
Final verdict: All of the above plus extended cameos from a young Ted Danson and Mickey Rourke make for a fine picture. When I was in film school, “Body Heat” was often used as an example of exceptional editing. Those examples were certainly right- they just left out how great of an all-around film it is too (Streaming on Criterion; there are free two-week trials).
“Hustle” (2022): It’s pretty rare that my entire family recommends a movie to me. We all have disparate tastes but this one seemed to hit my dad’s and bro’s sweet spots.
Points to them- they’re mostly right about this inspirational Adam Sandler starrer.
“Hustle,” while overlong (the third act where they “have to go viral to get in the draft!” filmed by the misunderstood daughter that wants to go to film school is particularly painful), is a mostly winning “basketball scout puts it all on the line for an unknown talent” comedy drama that follows Sandler taking a kid he spotted dominating a pickup game in Spain all the way to the NBA (major complaint: Sandler is a scout that travels all over the world and only speaks English/doesn’t bring along a translator?).
Where the movie truly excels though are its cinematic training montage sequences that don’t feel like the cookie cutter “you can fast forward through this scene and still know what’s happening” segments we’ve become used to. Instead, director Jeremiah Zagar films from new angles like below the court and from the perspective of a bounce pass. Don’t tell me that’s not cool. It’s cool.
Plus, I was surprised to find that “Hustle” actually has something to say. This Netflix sports drama isn’t just about “trying your hardest.” No, the film also blows the whistle on stubborn bosses and trust fund kids (here it’s Ben Foster chewing scenery as Robert Duvall’s son) that inherit their parent’s companies, the movie also fixates on Sandler’s poor eating habits. He brings Wendy’s on a plane. For those three minor diversions, this is worth the stream alone.
In addition to Sandler, there are fun turns from Queen Latifah as his critical wife, an underused Heidi Gardner as Foster’s brother but roots for Sandler and frickin’ Boban Marjanovic pretending to be 22 in the movie’s best joke.
It’s also kind of funny that they’re billing Trae Young as one of the actors “starring” in the movie considering he’s barely in it.
There’s a lot to like even if the stakes are a little too low and the movie a little too long.
Final verdict: The rare sports film that’s actually inspirational. Since I saw this movie three weeks ago, I’ve started hooping at the park on a regular basis. That’s more than I can say for any other movie I’ve seen this year (Streaming on Netflix).
“True Stories” (1986): The fact that there’s a movie David Byrne directed at the height of his powers is very exciting.
Sadly, the concept is better on paper than execution.
This modest, nutty, Texas-based, music-doc-narrative thingamajig starring John Goodman and Swoosie Kurstz (?!) is abstract and compelling in small bursts but ultimately is missing a bit of oomph to push it over into the entertaining column.
Instead, we’re left with an odd curio filled with impromptu songs and observations from Byrne about land developers where he plainly states “imagine seeing a field and saying, ‘I’d like a bathroom there.’”
Thus, it’s a bit too meandering and devoid of story or purpose for me to really recommend “True Stories” but I would argue that its fingerprints have been left on a lot of great pop culture that made up the early ‘90s. The blueprint for “This American Life” and Richard Linklater’s “Slacker” are all here.
It should also be noted that a song from the film includes the lyric “Radiohead” which allegedly was the inspiration for Thom Yorke and co.
Just like how “Hustle” inspired me. Don’t think my basketball career will turn into anything on Radiohead’s level though.
Final verdict: Gotta give props where they’re due- “True Stories” is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen. That doesn’t mean it’s great but it is ultimately worth seeking out if you’re a Byrne fan. This very well could end up becoming your favorite thing; just wasn’t totally my cup of tea (Streaming on Amazon Prime for $3.99).
• Final shouts here:
- Ali Siddiq’s new sit down special “The Domino Effect” compares and contrasts parenting styles from mom and dads so well that I often found myself laughing out loud. Needless to say, dads are worse. When pops is in charge, your life consists of a lot of cheap cereal and accidentally wearing thongs to school. Not your experience? Not mine either. Still, check out Siddiq’s special. It’s hysterical and the rare hour where the comic earns the right to sit on the stool without it being annoying.
BONUS: The bit about how “there are no good Willies” is one of my favorites I’ve heard all year.
Thanks to Ja-Ron Young for the tip; this is a helluva hour.
- Did ya catch that Woody Allen was promoting his new book on Alec Baldwin’s Instagram Live?
For 55 long minutes, the two problematic elder statesmen aimlessly complained about phones, modern technology and how they wished people still saw movies in theaters. Of course, neither mention their troubled pasts.
The true highlight here though is watching the two run into wifi problems. Best of all, Baldwin doesn’t turn off the camera while dealing with them. Instead, he yells at his maid in Spanish offscreen. It’s cringy, comic gold.
In terms of the actual conversation, there are a few interesting nuggets. Woody casually doesn’t react to any of Baldwin’s attempts at humor which I loved. Instead, the 86-year-old director/comic nonchalantly brags that he “could write before he could read” and mentions how much he would have loved to direct W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers.
Truly oblivious, this chat is perfect, unintentional anti-comedy.
• Actually, I take that back. Perfect, unintentional anti-comedy is Jake Novak.
Don’t know the name?
Novak, an aspiring actor/singer, recently dropped a “so bad it’s transcendent” TikTok about how he wants to get on SNL.
“What’s so bad about that?” you ask.
“Aren’t you the ultimate SNL nerd, Levy? You’ve mentioned it like 50 times here already.”
Yeah, you’re right.
Still, I’ve never done anything that’s quite as cloying or painfully in your face as his “I Wanna Be The Next SNL Star” rap. It’s a gloriously tone deaf attempt at “making that one viral video that will propel you to the top of the showbiz ladder” and totally worth a watch- your jaw will go slack in disbelief that someone could make something so shameless without a trace of irony.
Fingers crossed the show hires him. Dude really makes me laugh. Heck, he might even be a comedic genius getting one over on us.
• For those of you who have made it this far, I come bearing bittersweet news.
This may be the last comedy stray notes for quite some time.
My wife, Anna, as you may recall, is pregnant. She is due any day now.
It isn't really fair for me to devote a good three-four hours a week to writing a newsletter when I could be spending time with my wife and newborn. No idea how long I’ll be on hiatus but I’ll be back.
Heck, there might even be Baby Stray Notes.
For now though, this is farewell for a short while.
Until we meet again
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