Discover more from Matt Levy's Comedy Stray Notes
Comedy Stray Notes March 13, 2022
Featuring a huge life announcement, praise for a fantastic comic strip newsletter, a very honest review of "Dune" and SO MUCH MORE (not that much more)
• Cat’s out of the bag. My wife Anna is pregnant. She’s due July 15. For the past few months, we’ve been calling our genderless baby “Pep” because on Anna’s baby-tracking app, our future child was once the size of a peppercorn. Plus, it’s fun to say “Pep.” Try saying it out loud. See? That was a good time.
It’s very exciting and a bit nerve-wracking. I mostly fear the lack of sleep more than anything else. Other than that, I’m sure parenting will be a breeze. Just a stress-free, totally chill endeavor.
I don’t want to disclose too much to protect our future baby’s privacy but I will say that they’ve already been cast in a sketch I wrote for them a while ago. So, yeah. My kid has already booked their first role months before being born. They’re already a star.
Joking aside (although the above paragraph is totally true and the sketch is going to be great), this is the coolest thing to ever happen to me. I can’t wait and will probably turn this space into “Baby Stray Notes” before you know it like any proud new parent would.
• Semi-related, I recently came across Alex Dobrenko’s poignant newsletter about his first nine months as a dad. It’s an excellent primer about the pain, heartache and joys of the first few months with baby. Dobrenko’s writing is surprisingly dark (the section about parenting being similar to “death by 1000 paper cuts” struck a chord) but also uplifting with a final wallop of a paragraph that tapped into what makes parenting so special. A great, funny, quick read.
• Other than collaborating on a baby, Anna and I are also working together on a new 20-minute play that’s running in Plainfield, New Jersey on April 1-3 as part of Dragonfly’s “weekend of one-acts” festival alongside four other very funny shorts.
Our play, “Dungeons,” was written by yours truly. Anna’s directing. It stars the incredibly talented and funny Manny Simmons, Akeyla Wallace and Susan Schnitzer.
I don’t want to give anything away but I will say that if you’re a Dungeons and Dragons player or fan, this one’s for you.
If you’re free that weekend, you should totally come check out this anthology of short, funny productions. I guarantee you’ll enjoy yourself.
• Every time I jump on TikTok, I kick myself for not making more stuff. To rectify that, I just dropped a one-minute clip on the app about my new hometown Sunnyside. If you’re not familiar with the town, it’s a quirky, little, Queens city with random doctor’s offices in residential buildings and White Castle restaurants next door to apartment complexes. Basically everything you need in a neighborhood. The link is a long scroll away but worth your minute.
• To me, one of the all-time great comedic duos is Michael Margetis and Sam Lowy. Forget Kroll and Mulaney. I’m all about Margetis and Lowy. If you’re not familiar, the two Arizona improv actors have such off the charts chemistry that I’ll watch anything they do.
This week, I came across the fantastic, surreally naturalistic short “Flyboyz” they co-starred in from a few years back. Filmed on location in the Southwest and directed with a deft touch by Ben Backhaus, “Flyboyz” is a deceptively simple story of a fishin’ trip gone wrong. If you dig a little deeper than that basic synopsis, you’ll find 18-minutes of straight-faced silliness, sentimentality, shocking confessions, houseboat parties gone wrong, bizarre nudity and a lived-in authenticity that Michael and Sam bring to everything they’re in.
That’s not to mention the perfectly placed Sugar Ray and Three Six Mafia song cues.
This is a short that flew under the radar and deserves to be seen by all. It’s great, weird and laugh out loud funny.
• Matt Maran is the undisputed NYC Roastmaster General. For years, I’d attend Maran’s Comedy Fight Club and be astonished at the sheer volume of jokes and off the cuff comebacks he’d perform with ease. As for me, I’d stiffly read my over-rehearsed five jokes from my notebook and off to the side Maran would crack comedy gold like it was nothing.
All that’s to say that Maran may have found a new niche outside of the battles he presides over: roasting Presidents. In his new web series, he takes each of the first 15 commander in chiefs to task joking about George Washington’s teeth, Thomas Jefferson’s hypocrisy, short king James Madison, the bilingual Martin Van Buren (Maran’s joke that “speaking Dutch is like speaking English with duct tape over your mouth” was so clever I called Anna into the room to hear it a second time) and 11 other long-gone leaders.
Most importantly, this video is the most effective educational video about the presidents I’ve ever seen. By roasting these 15 former heads of state, I absorbed details about them that would have gone in one ear and out the other had I just learned the facts with my short attention span in school. By roasting, Matt might have just invented a new form of learning.
Throughout the course of the video, Maran would quip, “The worse the joke is, the more I like it.” Conversely, it also helped to make them stick in my brain.
I already can’t wait for parts two and three.
• Growing up, I’d read the sports page and comics on the john every morning. Pre-smart phone, The Arizona Republic was my main source of toilet entertainment. To this day, I vividly recall my favorite strips like Pearls Before Swine and F Minus, both seared into my brain.
However, in a post-smart phone world, the simple pleasures of daily comic strips have been replaced by the social media scroll.
Thankfully, Hans Yadav saw an opportunity to revive the comic-sized hole in our lives with his new Funnies newsletter. By subscribing, you’ll get genius new comics every weekday.
I like to think of it as the perfect way to bring a part of your childhood to the modern age.
• ”The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s'' spoofing of the NFT craze has to be the tightest analysis I’ve seen of the crypto craze yet with their heist-based sketch they released earlier this week. Keep an eye out for NY comic Talib Babb’s hacker character midway through the 2.5-minute vid. His deadpan delivery takes this level-headed satire to even higher heights.
In addition to the aforementioned NFT vid, they also brought on rising comic Alex Edelman for a surprisingly long set for late night. Edelman, poised to become the next big thing, spent his seven minutes ragging on his mom for being too tough on his near-Nobel Prize winning dad and then his Israeli Olympian brother for competing in what he believes to be the “dumbest sport.” By airing his family’s dirty laundry, he’s crafted a fantastic portrait of two family members who can’t handle the accomplishments of those closest to them. It’s a great study in family dynamics while also managing to be very, very funny.
• I genuinely really liked everything I wrote about above. However, I can’t say the same about:
“Dune” (2021): I don’t get the hype. Visually spectacular images from Denis Villeneuve? Sure. Amazing cast? Yeah, definitely. Stellan Skarsgaard steals the thing as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in an odd fat suit? I can get onboard with that. Other than all of the above, this best picture contender fell completely flat for me. The Oscar love makes no sense.
For 2.5 hours, I watched what felt like a humorless parody of big-budget sci-fi. Yo, are we really still talking about spice? And why do I care about any of these characters who speak with so little enthusiasm for the material that I found myself drifting into sleep? Did it take place in the past or future? I didn’t even feel the need to Google it afterwards.
All the griping aside, a few scenes really did work. One in which a miscast, dull Timothee Chalamet experiences pain to prove his hero status was compelling. Plus, a lot of the virtual fight scenes were so well choreographed, I feel ridiculous critiquing them. I’ve never done anything .000001% as cool.
Otherwise, though, this thing is a snooze fest. The best way I can describe the movie is to say it’s like physics- I don’t understand it. My review? I SAW “DUNE.” THAT’S ALL (Available on Amazon Prime and HBOMax).
• ”SNL” with host Zoe Kravitz: “Dune” put me into such a deep sleep, I didn’t think I was going to wake up for “SNL” two hours later. That made me wonder if 77-year-old Lorne ever took a cat nap around 10:45 and decided to just call it a night instead of overseeing the show. Prob not.
Anyhow, with Anna’s help, I woke up and caught the 15th episode of Season 47. Here are my quickie baseball-based scores for this edition’s offerings.
Don’t Stop Believin': My favorite of the night by a country mile. Bowen absolutely jamming out to the Ohio State marching band’s rendition of the Journey classic was a jolt of pure energy to close out the episode. My only complaint? I wish they paid tribute to the host’s dad and jammed out to Lenny Kravitz.
Dad Home Movies: Perfect premise ripe for comedy. Here, a family finds their father’s “If you found this tape, I’m dead” video and watches his absurd admissions like how he lost all of his money to J.B. Smoove’s betting app with a knowing smirk. The thing is he’s alive and well though. What made this sketch particularly special for me was Kenan acting out being “fast forwarded” on video. I’m not a huge fan of his work but I couldn’t help but be mesmerized at his sped-up comic timing mimicking high speed action flawlessly here.
Porch Scene: Two bespectacled preteen friends (Kate and Aidy) discuss romance strategy over Samsung smartphones. The catch? One of them (Kate) is narrating the action while touching knees and working his way up to a kiss with the “Hillary Duff of his class” gamely played by Kravitz. This recurring sketch was a bunch of fun and a welcome return. My only complaint is one I had for quite a few sketches from this episode: no “button” to wrap this one up made it lose a bit of comic mojo.
Word Crunch: Kicking off with a non-sequitur reminder that real-life game show host Richard Dawson kissed entire families’ worth of contestants was a nice touch. The sketch itself, where competitors kept finding the word “Momhole” in a word search until it heightened into the dirtiest words allowed on network television kept getting funnier and funnier. Loved how this felt predictable until it didn’t.
Amazon Go Stores: A well-observed bit of racial commentary about the structure of the new Bezos owned retailers. Smart, pointed and an excellent mirror pointed directly at tone-deaf corporations. A lot to like here.
Please Don’t Destroy: This week, the guys lost a cat. Then, Zoe Kravitz and Paul Dano are there. Bottles are thrown, Lego models are stepped on and chaos reigns supreme. It’s not their best work but it is frenetic and goofy enough that I can’t help but be a fan. Bonus points for the repeated Paul Rudd callbacks the guys have employed this season. It’s turning into an Easter egg that feels like it’s building into something bigger.
Biden talks TikTok Cold Open: Now that the popular app is the main source of information from Ukraine to the U.S., the show smartly placed Biden amongst Gen Z’er’s yet again. This feels like an original comic lane for a somewhat comically implacable Biden to live in. He can sound out of touch calling technology “computer” while simultaneously being super plugged into specific TikTok niches. Props for Bowen Yang’s earnest speech about “the power of TikTok” to close this out that slyly undermined how dumb the app is with some cheeky camera work.
Wedding speech: Right after the monologue is supposed to be the night’s biggest winner but this fairly predictable but modestly well-executed “maid of honor reveals awful things about the bride” was just OK at best. I bumped it up from a groundout for the brief moment where Mikey Day’s character is shoved onstage not having finished his cake and having to speak mid-bite. Relatable.
Princess and the Frog: This season, the show has fallen into a bit of a holding pattern with sexual deconstructions of Disney movies (see Kim Kardashian’s “Aladdin” sketch or Dafoe’s “Beauty and the Beast” as Exhibits A and B, your honor) and this might have been the thinnest of the bunch. Here, Chris Redd’s frog admits something something…sexual about himself that the princess should have latched onto before committing. A bit all over the place and went a beat or two too long considering how punchy the show has been of late.
Weekend Update: Out of the gate, Jost and Che wisely touched on Putin with a great bit about how his invasion may simply be a case of COVID fatigue. Somehow, the rest of this installment had a rare weightlessness quality giving way to the fluffiest jokes of the season (one about Queen Elizabeth leaving Buckingham Palace to move in with John Mayer was fun; can’t believe they didn’t go for the easy potshot and say she was moving in with Pete Davidson. Too hack?). Dropped this down to “single status” though due to the grating desk pieces. Moffatt’s film critic on LSD was tired the first time we saw it (although the crossing of his eyes was a nice piece of physical comedy) and Mooney’s deep voiced Dan the Bulldozer character had some fun ideas (“I’m writing a book like Hemingway but for guys”) but petered out after he hilariously failed to retell a fable.
Zoe Kravitz monologue: This was too breezy to make any kind of impact. Cameos from generations of Catwomen, a Cat Lady and Katt Williams seemed below SNL’s standards. I did appreciate how the cast freeze framed toward the end of the monologue. Never easy to believably hold a pose.
Cut for time:
Can I Talk To You: Usually I’m baffled why SNL cuts what they do. However, this time, I totally agree with their decision to not bring this pre-taped piece to the air. Chris Redd and Mikey Day’s gas station losers hit on Kravitz and Ego Nwodim in a short that felt so much like punching down at these hapless sad sacks that it was hard to laugh. Yes, there were funny moments (Day’s character having a tail and Redd’s car inexplicably catching on fire) but not enough to justify mean-spirited, classist commentary. Had Redd and Day’s characters been finance bros this would have been a different story.
• Finally, I’d like to recommend the 40-minute “On Writing” podcast with “Only Murders In The Building” writer John Hoffman. For fans of the show, you can marvel at the shocking fact that this effortlessly funny and smart show was written over Zoom (!) during the pandemic. Other impressive revelations include the fact that Steve Martin improvised one of the show’s most pivotal lines and the staff didn’t know who the murderer was going to be at the beginning of the season. You gotta be kidding me.
That’s not to mention all the helpful writing tips Hoffman shares.
Pop this puppy in and you’ll be shocked by the time it’s over.
• Finally, your moment of zen. Check out this wonderful comic from The Funnies drawn by Tegan Phillips. It made me lol.
Lots more where that came from if you sign up for The Funnies.
• That’s all she wrote for me, folks.
Gonna get some sleep now while I still can