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Comedy Stray Notes June 6, 2021
On returning to open mics, Bo Burnham's new special and a great Twitter thread
• Made a return to the open mic life this week. Pre-2020, doing a single mic would not be notable; in fact, I’d probably go out of my way to NOT tell you about any single mic I performed at. However, in this post-pandemic world, doing comedy in a room with other comedians felt like my first day at a new school all over again. On the train ride over, I ran my bits that I had written the day before over and over quietly without anyone noticing thanks to my mask. Honestly, masks have done wonders for people who run bits to themselves in public. At 6, I arrived at The Tiny Cupboard Church right on time for Lee Paul and Naomi Loewenstern’s Sober Mic- the only mic devoted to sobriety. Fought every urge to start my set with, “Hi, I’m Matt and I’m an alcoholic.” Sat down with ol’ comedy pals Matt Storrs and Andrew Tavin and it was like I never left. In no time, I was listening to strangers try new stuff (there’s something invigorating about hearing a joke the very first time it’s been uttered even if it’s no good) and lending my charger to these strangers who were slangin’ funnies.
I had the privilege of going up third, the sweetest spot of mic lineup spots. Before I go into the gory details, I’d like to give a disclaimer and be honest-- I’m a different person than I was pre-pandemic. I no longer have the urge to be the center of attention and command the spotlight. I’ve found that I much prefer writing with others than getting up onstage. However, I was already walking to the mic as I had this thought. Too late to turn back now. Time to shake off the rust. Forgot to wipe down the mic like a classic newbie and then went straight into a pre-planned riff before doing what I set out to do: try new bits (Sample: I became an uncle during the pandemic. Becoming an uncle is the easiest accomplishment of all time. A baby exists and then some guy gets a title). The new stuff did fine. I didn’t blow anyone’s mind but it was far from a bomb. As any comic worth their salt might say, “It was a mic.”
The game plan for me going forward is to do one mic a week. I’ll see you there and hopefully you’ll see a better version of my new uncle “joke.”
• As we move toward the “new normal” (sorry), it’s cool to see 2019 activities return and vestigial 2020 comedy still being produced. Here’s a few worthy of your time:
- The first item I’m reporting on is far away from release, but co-writer/producer/actor/pal/vibes shaman Matt Vita and star Nikki MacCallum are nearly wrapped on their horror comedy feature film “Killington.” Although I only spent a single day on set, I can say with authority that this is a movie you’re definitely going to want to keep your eye on in the next year or two. Having watched the cast and crew work together was truly inspirational; they were like a family of highly skilled professionals making a project they all deeply cared about. To stay up to date with its development, keep an eye on the movie’s IG.
- As we all learned over the past year and change, producing an engaging Zoom show is no easy feat. However, some concepts are so perfectly tailor made for the medium that you can’t help but watch. This is certainly the case with Rebecca Kaplan’s “Hoarders” where she asks two guests (in this case, me and a fellow named Rudy) whether she should keep or toss stuff in her house that you wouldn’t think twice about throwing out. In my episode, I can’t believe I had to make the case to another human being why they should chuck dull scissors. To see if Rebecca hoards said scissors, you’ll have to see this thing with your own two eyes.
- If I could have one comedy skill that I don’t have (I don’t know if I truly possess any to be fair), it would be the song parody. All the way from writing to performing, it’s a delight to hear a song you know and love turned on its head. In this case, I’d like to draw attention to Sam Zelitch’s sublime “Scenes From A Mexican American Restaurant” that pulls off the rarest of parody song feats: it’s funny AND poignant. Structured as a tiff between a couple debating about where to eat dinner when it’s getting too late, the lyrics zig when you expect them to zag (“I can’t live a lie eating Fusion Thai when I know what I want” was my favorite) and the final minute genuinely shocked me. You’ll have to get that last minute yourself to experience the surprise.
- British sketch wunderkind Tom Scudamore has been pumping out sketches at an alarming clip. His latest, “Not Alone After All'' starring Will Purpura, Anna Paone and Ronnie Fleming is a play on the insanity in the isolation we all faced at the height of quarantine. It’s three minutes, simultaneously silly and somber and has a sweet, little twist when all is said and done.
• Even though there’s no great reason to stay inside and watch MORE movies, specials and podcasts, I’m not letting that part of quarantine slip away from me just yet no matter how beautiful it is outside. Here’s a few things that I made time for this past seven-day cycle:
“Shiva Baby” (2021): I never thought a movie could (or would even want to) capture the Jewish experience in as visceral a manner as “A Serious Man.” I’m happy to say I’ve been proven wrong. “Shiva Baby,” is a comedy of errors centered around a sugar baby (Rachel Sennott knocking the “mush mouthed, faux liberal gen Z’er who treats the Holocaust with casual disaffect” role out of the park) who returns to her parent’s home from a client to attend a shiva for a relative she barely knew. What follows is a delicious cringe comedy chamber play as our heroine has to lie her way through touchy confrontations between her former flame, current client who shows up unexpectedly and her charmingly clueless parents (Fred Melamed, playing the Father, carelessly knocking into his daughter on the way to the table with the food was my biggest laugh of the film).
For a debut feature, this movie is quite comfortable in its discomfort. A lot of the dialogue is made up of unfinished sentences, shameful childhood recollections and unfair digs at the lead’s figure. On top of that, a haunting score accompanies the mounting tensions-- if I were an executive, I’d pitch it as “if a panic attack was a movie.” By fixating on all the details from the bagel and lox table where everyone’s touched everything to the minivan overflowing with crap to the “Have you met this person, they work in ____ industry,” Writer and Director Emma Seligman has successfully made “A SERIOUS MAN” FOR GEN Z (Now in theaters; I saw this in theaters! I forgot you could see a movie without being able to pause).
“Best of TV Funhouse” (2006): Needing a weekly SNL fix, I turn to older classics to give me the high I need and in terms of comedic highs, it doesn’t get much better than TV Funhouse. Essentially, this is secretly “The Best of Robert Smigel” and features many politically incorrect classics (honestly, they’re all politically incorrect and some are now straight up offensive) like “The Narrator that Ruined Christmas,” “Fun with Real Audio” sketches using Clinton, Bush and McCain speeches with hysterical incongruous visuals that make dull political droning on and on the funniest thing you’ve ever seen and the way ahead of its time “Divertor” randomly featuring Jenna Elfman from “Dharma and Greg” in a truly damning role. I didn’t even mention Mr. T acting in Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll House” or “Christmastime for the Jews” or “Sexual Harassment Seminar” or the running live gags with 2006 cast members like Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Rachel Dratch where they quietly poke fun at Jimmy Fallon. Brash, messed up and laugh out loud funny, this is A REMINDER OF HOW POTENT SATIRE CAN BE (Streaming on Amazon for $4.99).
Bo Burnham: “Inside” (2021): Many people (I think three) told me how much they enjoyed this audience-free special over the past few days. They all said the same thing which was, “It’s great. I’ve gotten to the intermission and I can’t wait to finish.” Makes sense. There’s stuff to do outside now (unlike in this special appropriately titled “Inside”).
Anyway, I didn’t go outside. Instead, I hunkered down and got all the way to the part at the end where Netflix asks you “Do you want to watch Zach Snyder’s ‘Army of the Dead’” and can report that I liked “Inside” quite a bit. Bo Burnham, the actor (“Promising Young Woman”), director (“Eighth Grade”) and comic takes the isolated stand up special a step further than Drew Michael did with his audience-free HBO special by fragmenting it into a musical video diary of sorts tracking his mental health during the pandemic.
A lot of “Inside” is intentionally not funny and acts more as a commentary on what drives one to perform during the pandemic which was certainly a valid question. Toward the end, Burnham points out that “we are a nation raising our children to constantly put themselves on corporation’s platforms” (this is an imperfect paraphrasing) which sums up everything that’s wrong about kids on social media (and adults like myself).
That’s not to say “Inside” was a snoozefest lecture; in fact, it would be easy to write this off as something tiresome and preachy but that’s not what “Inside” is. “Inside” is cinematic, gorgeously lit and full of catchy, funny songs like the standout “White Woman instagram” where he recreates every stereotypical pose from the platform, another where he admits to dressing up as Aladdin for Halloween when he was 17 and constantly worries about getting cancelled for that to this day and sexting with emojis that don’t make sense. There’s still about a billion other comic ideas in here too (the well-meaning, politically correct ventriloquist who smothers his oppressed puppet, a jazzy ode to unpaid interns and a bit poking fun at awful premises like “What if dogs could vape”) that keep this sailing while also reminding us of our mortality. THIS MIGHT BE WHAT THE FUTURE OF THE COMEDY SPECIAL LOOKS LIKE (Streaming on Netflix).
Richard Kind on WTF: If Richard Kind is on a podcast, I’ll listen. There’s something so gregarious, so likeable (even if it’s in a needy way), so menschy about the guy, that I just want to hear him talk. Here, Kind admits to wanting to be the best guest in the history of WTF which is a lofty goal. While he doesn’t quite reach those high of heights, he is certainly entertaining praising the fish and chips in Albuquerque going so far as to say they’re “the best in the world,” vulnerably admitting he rehearsed what he was going to say on the pod while driving over, and sharing how he fell asleep at the premiere of “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” Then, he proceeds to put the 2003 film “Intolerable Cruelty” on blast (although he has nothing but kind things to say about Clooney) and is embarrassed that he studied acting at Second City. However, he saves his best line for the end when he gets really super real with Maron saying, “You and I, we’re not that talented, we’re personalities and have a character.” Stone cold.
• My funny wife Anna Paone alerted me to the revelatory Raphael Bob-Waksberg (creator of “Bojack Horseman”) Twitter thread where he explains jokes from the show that you might not have gotten even on rewatch. It’s incredibly fun and worth a click. I even asked a question which was, “Perhaps a silly question but is the name “Bojack” a play on ‘Bo Jackson?’” His answer? “Not intentionally.” Still mulling that one over.
• Finally, I’m directing a little sketch on Saturday, June 19 at 11 AM-2:30 PM in Brooklyn. If you’ve read this far and want to be an extra or crew member, I’d absolutely love to have you onboard. We’re only going to film for about 3.5 hours and I will have pizza and snacks and things like that. DM me if you’re interested with your email address and I’ll send a quick message with all the deets.
Keep it cheugy in the chat