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Comedy Stray Notes June 20, 2022
A return after three (!) weeks away featuring TikTok reviews! Thoughts on forgotten '90s movies! Newsletter recommendations! And SO MUCH MORE (there really is quite a bit more)
• It’s ye olde Comedy Stray Notes. You may or may not have noticed that I’ve been on hiatus for three weeks because creative projects outside of typing half-baked thoughts on Sunday nights have excitingly presented themselves this month.
Rather than overwhelm and inundate you with three weeks worth of CSN (that’s Comedy Stray Notes abbreviated for the uninitiated), I’m going to ease us back into the fold with a fairly light edition of the ol’ CSN (that’s Comedy Stray Notes abbreviated, if you already forgot from above).
Then, the next few weeks, we’ll continue playing catch up.
Sounds like a plan to me.
So, here goes:
• Anna Paone and I are now less than a month away from baby. The little being in her stomach kicks and we thought it was time to build the young one a nursery in our house.
So, whenever the two of us need handiwork help, we call up our pal Fluke Human. Dude can help build cribs and changing stations with the best of them. Over the course of a few hours, the three of us kicked back with a few Cranberry Lime Schweppes seltzers and transformed a small room in the apartment into a full-on baby sanctuary.
Even though it was exhausting, I had an idea for a TikTok that I had thought of while running that morning that was a sequel of sorts to the very first sketch I ever filmed at Arizona State 15 (!) years ago. I asked Fluke who had just worked all day with us and Anna who was a good seven months pregnant at the time if they wanted to film.
Both of them are cool and said, “Uhh, hell yeah.”
We walked down the block and fleshed out my half-baked (a common theme in my writing) premise. Anna and Fluke fleshed out the formless, scriptless concept into something that would work on the Tok timeline.
I gotta say, this 51-second video is pretty dang funny now and worth a look if you haven’t seen it yet.
*Note: To be fair, I have to give credit where it’s due: this puppy was heavily inspired by the comedy stylings of Steph Mark. Once you see the Tok and Steph’s sketch here, you’ll get it.
• The past three weeks has had a treasure trove of stellar internet content. Here’s everything I saw that deserves a click, view, scroll or laugh react emoji from readers like you.
- We can all agree that startups need to be taken down a peg. Corporations acting like they have their employees’ best interests at heart while treating them in humiliating and dehumanizing ways is definitely ripe for satire.
And not many people write better contemporary satire than Django Gold.
His most recent sketch, “The Hive,” centers around a fictional independent contractor company “BuzzGrind” that’s been around for five months and is already violating human rights by deducting pay from their “worker bees” and rewarding them with bathroom breaks.
Meanwhile, politicians they label as “evil” threaten their attempts to “get that honey.” All they want to do is make lots of money and exploit their workers. Is that so wrong?
Featuring inspired performances by some of New York’s best comics like Mary Houlihan, Talib Babb and Ashley Hamilton as well as spot-on direction from Tynan Delong, this five-minute piece is essential viewing for anyone who has ever come to the realization that there’s something bubbling under Uber and TaskRabbit’s shiny, greedy surface.
- My comrade Sam Zelitch does not stand for BS. That’s kind of his thing (whereas I like to candy coat everything out of fear. That’s kind of my thing).
Now, he’s sharing candid on-brand hot takes via his stylish, new newsletter “SMELLS LIKE.” Already two issues strong, Sam dives into topics that don’t seem pressing—the latest ”Jurassic Park” or “Star Wars’” rabid fanbase— and makes them feel like the center of the universe.
By exposing false advertising or how people shouldn’t take silly sci-fi movies so seriously, Sam chips away at these frivolous topics to show that there is some serious, real world BS going on right in front of our very eyes no matter where you look.
No BS from me here: you should totally sign up for this weekly quick read. You just might see the world in a completely different way.
Plus, sometimes Sam sends gift cards to readers. Now, that’s a genuine, honest to goodness BS-free reason to sign up for anything right there.
- In March 2006, my brother, two classmates, a chaperone and I flew to Chengdu, China for two weeks as part of our high school’s exchange program. My international high school paired me up with a funny, talented host sister named Hu Ding Ding.
Her family graciously took care of me for two weeks and we sporadically kept in touch over the years.
Then, in 2013, when I moved to NYC, Ding Ding was already here.
We met up, she came to a few of my stand up shows and I was constantly wowed by her complex yet whimsical illustrations.
Now, nine (!) years later, Ding Ding has entered the comedy game. Unsurprisingly, she’s a natural. The clips of her at Gotham Comedy Club and the Comic Strip show a poise and ease onstage that most new comics take years to establish. Plus, her jokes. They’re gold! Real misdirects.
Seriously, check out her “Plant based diet” clip. It’s a real chunk that’s fully fleshed out.
Already can’t wait for her 2025 special.
- “America’s Got Talent” is an oddball 21st-century version of “The Gong Show” that gets a) overly sentimental toward contestants with sob story backgrounds like most modern reality shows while also b) being unnecessarily cruel like the original “Gong Show.”
I guess that’s what Simon Cowell’s whole deal is.
On a recent episode, musical comedy wunderkind Anthony Kapfer recently appeared on the show to perform an ironic, meta ditty about why he doesn’t like comedy songs and before he even has a chance to show off his skills, they vote him off.
Thankfully, Anthony put the whole catchy song on YouTube where he deconstructs the trappings of the classic “comedy song.” Had Cowell and his fellow judges had the patience to hear him out, maybe they would have enjoyed his comedy stylings as much as audiences who actually get the joke do.
- These days, every show is labeled as part of the “Golden Age of Television.”
Even for someone as hyperbolic as me, it’s a bit much.
Anyhow, Chandler Dean and Andy Vega neatly spoof this concept with their brilliant, twisty TikTok about a “3D Pipes screensaver.” Here, Chandler treats the pipes with all the reverence and respect that one might reserve for “Mad Men” or “The Sopranos” building on all the tropes of TV fandom from podcasts to subreddits to “In conversations” at the 92nd Street Y.
Best of all, if you stay until the end, you’ll be treated to a twist worthy of those bendy pipes themselves.
Now, this is golden age prestige TikTok content.
• Every so often, I dip my toes into Criterion’s two-week free trial to mix up my viewing habits. Yeah, I could watch Hulu and Netflix’s endless library but every now and then, I want to see some “Capital A” ART.
Also, it’s free (for two weeks).
Here are two of the three movies I peeped over the past few weeks that should justify a free subscription (saving one for next week).
“Daytrippers” (1996): After seeing “Superbad” in theaters the first week of college (Mill Avenue Theater back to back nights, baby), I went right home and Googled the director Greg Mottola.
Other than a few TV credits, at the time, he’d only directed one feature. “The Daytrippers.”
Ever since that day, it had been on my list of movies to see but it was so hard to track down. I type the title into every streaming service I can, hoping to find this little indie film with a cast featuring ‘90s ringers (Parker Posey, Hope Davis, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schrieber, Anne Meara and I’m just getting started) and have little to no luck.
Finally, Criterion came through. Took long enough.
What I discovered was a quietly funny, very New York tale of suspicion, family and perspective.
Here, our leads, Eliza (Hope Davis) and Louis (Stanley Tucci), appear to have the perfect marriage. They reside in a big home outside the city, share banter and get intimate within the first few minutes of the film.
However, while cleaning the next morning, Eliza spots a love letter tucked away in a corner. It’s an ancient poem.
The wheels start spinning and before you know it, the family is heading to the City to confront Louis at work to try and catch him in the act. On the way, Eliza’s sister’s (Posey) boyfriend (Schrieber) summarizes his pretentious novel about a man with a dog’s head that only confuses the family more and more. He also drops lines of wisdom like, ““The average person knows more about the psychopath on the news than their own spouse.”
Once they make it into the city, Louis is impossible to find.
After a health scare, the family barges their way into a strangers’ apartment to recover. Once they leave the generous father/son host’s place, we’re treated to the movie’s finest scene where the group over-compliments the hosts in the car until they begin quietly nitpicking their place and personalities.
Incredibly relatable. I’ve never seen a movie that got that experience so right—gratefulness turned criticism is something you can only do with family.
Final verdict: This is a fantastic, quiet comedy punctuated with a few hilarious loud parents vacuuming early in the morning scenes.
Full of surprise, commentary on the ‘90s literary world, middle-income and middle-age malaise, infidelity and sisterhood, I totally get why Apatow and Rogen handed the keys over to Mottola to direct their high school laughfest a decade later.
“Topsy Turvy” (1999): A British musical period drama does not sound ripe for comedy.
Yet, I found myself smirking quite a bit at Mike Leigh’s stuffy, nearly three-hour Gilbert and Sullivan semi-biopic.
If you strip away the late 1800s production design and musicals, you’ll find a gentle spoofing of narcissistic creators, manipulative agents and fragile performers who were somewhat self-aware of queasy cultural appropriation even way back in 1884.
The movie starts slowly (by my estimation) but takes flight once the sour Gilbert is forced to see a Japanese arts and crafts exhibit by his fun-loving wife. Although he had no desire to attend, once he sees the rich culture, he decides, “Now’s my time to rip this off” which he and Sullivan do with the creation of their musical “Mikado.”
I don’t intend to spoil the film’s finale but the conversation at the end between Gilbert and his wife is a heartbreaker once we realize that she’s the true brains behind the operation; Gilbert doesn’t have an original thought in his head. He simply took credit for his wife’s wit and storytelling skill. Yet, she’ll never get to tell the stories— they’ll always be credited to Gilbert and Sullivan.
Final verdict: A boisterous relic of 19th century culture where one could be insensitive, culturally appropriate and get away with it.
“The Appointments of Dennis Jennings” (1988): Did you know Steven Wright wrote and starred in an Oscar-winning short film alongside…Rowan Atkinson AKA Mr. Bean?
Had no idea.
And it’s just sitting on YouTube waiting to be watched.
Wright’s 29-minute short (I guess anything under 40 is “short”) is a gas predating “Simpsons” and “Family Guy” surreal cutaways while simultaneously paying homage to Woody’s insecurity and Mel’s goofiness.
Yet, that was just one small element of Oscar winner about an anxious patient (Wright), his impatient therapist (Rowan Atkinson) and gossipy girlfriend (Laurie Metcalfe). Here, Wright spills his guts to his shrink through poetic musings like “I tried to daydream but my mind kept wandering” while Atkinson couldn’t care less. Mid-session, he has a handyman visit the office, writes his grocery list and finally doodles until this sends our protagonist over the edge.
For Wright fans, there’s a lot to love here.
My only gripe is that I wish we lived in a world where this was adapted into a feature. Either way, I’ll happily settle for this lost artifact and totally get why the darkly comic “The Appointments of Doctor Jennings” won its well-deserved Oscar.
• Finally, in a last-ditch attempt to belatedly address Father’s Day, I’d like to spotlight the trailer for the upcoming…
“I Love My Dad” (2022): This one-minute teaser trailer starring Patton Oswalt as a dad trying to reconnect with his son in an unorthodox manner is going to end up becoming the movie we’re all talking about come fall.
Don’t see it with your dad though.
You’ll get what I mean after you check it out.
• Well, this CSN (Comedy Stray Notes if you forgot again) didn’t exactly turn out short as promised. That just ain’t me.
See you on the floppy