Discover more from Matt Levy's Comedy Stray Notes
Comedy Stray Notes March 22, 2022
On my first produced play, an ASMR podcast, Brooklyn's best new weekly show, trailers for Mike Myers and Vanessa Bayer's new series and SO MUCH MORE (not that much more)
• Last August, my wife Anna Paone and her mom Catherine Lamoreaux’s Dragonfly theater company put out a call for humorous, one-act plays. I’ve written probably 250 sketches in my life but I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that’s fallen in the neighborhood of one-acts other than one written specifically for Zoom. So, this seemed like a fun challenge.
At the time I wasn’t sleeping very well, so I woke up at 5 a.m. every day before work and chipped away at an idea I thought would make a dramatically compelling and somewhat funny story.
The plot was inspired by how awful I am at Dungeons and Dragons. I know what you’re thinking. “You can’t be bad at D&D. It’s not competitive.” To that I say, you haven’t seen me play. I’m the guy that barely listens, rarely understands the game mechanics and has little imagination when it comes to game moves. High fantasy just isn’t in my wheelhouse. So, I mined my poor skills to explore the dynamics between an older sister that really, really cares about world building and her younger brother that doesn’t want to play at all.
After receiving incredibly helpful script notes from my pal Sam Zelitch, I submitted this play I titled “Dungeons” to their company. Yeah, I’ll be the first to point out that it sounds like nepotism I got into their show but I’ll give myself a little bit of credit by saying that their readers blindly chose my script based on quality. Sure, that’s an annoying sentence to write but I earned my spot by my estimation.
Once it was selected, Anna stepped up to direct. As someone who has never had someone take over something I’ve written, I’d highly recommend it. So much better to have a talented person that’s not as close to the work as you, the writer, take the helm.
Along with the incredible cast made up of Manny Simmons, Akeyla Wallace and Sue Schnitzer, Anna and co. have breathed some serious life into my 15-page script teasing out emotional beats, mining humor from throwaway lines and ad-libbing jokes that are 100x better than anything I put on paper at 5 a.m. over half a year ago.
So, if you want to see my biggest project pre-me being a dad or just hang out and see my one-act along with four others, you should definitely come to Dragonfly’s one-acts on April 1, 2 or 3. There are tickets available for all days here and it’d be swell to see you there.
• Comedy Stray Notes is a day late because I hit up my friend Steph Marc’s “Comedy Secret Show” at Easy Lover.
I’m happy to report back that this was a 10/10 experience and I would def recommend going to this banger comedy get-together over writing a newsletter on my couch any day of the week.
Hosted by the effortlessly funny Shak Standley, the 90-minute showcase had a little bit of everything. Off the top, Steph passes out edibles and champagne to audience members to get the vibe just right. Then, once they began, each comic on the stacked lineup brought the goods. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the night’s best moments:
Shak hilariously interrogated an audience member for wearing a $56 long-sleeved Patagonia shirt, AJ Thompson told the story of history’s all-time greatest diss track, Oni Francis detailed his passion for makeup tutorials, suited-up twin duo Max Weinbach and Nicky Weinbach brilliantly impersonated Two Face, Steph Marc prat-falled all over the stage in his act that blurs the line of classic physical comedy and modern hype-man, Mary Houlihan called out the showroom’s abundance of light switches and Dan Licata closed it out with one of my new, all-time favorite jokes about edging that I won’t spoil here.
Yeah, it’s a “Secret Show” but I’m sharing the show’s ongoing Eventbrite page so everyone can be exposed to this cash money weekly. Every Sunday night, 8 p.m. Add it to your calendar and thank me later.
• One of the byproducts of online comedy classes I’ve taken these past few years is the communities that have sprouted up as a result. Sketch writing, pilot sharing and punch up groups make signing on to Zoom bearable.
Following my most recent “writing characters for sitcom” class, classmate Shenovia Large graciously volunteered to spearhead a “Pilot Analysis” meetup.
Thus far, the newfangled group has only had a pilot run meeting to discuss the “The Good Place” pilot. Basically, it was a safe space to totally nerd out on TV and talk about structure, character, the differences between screenplays and finished products, network sitcoms versus streaming shows and all things Michael Schur. Everyone had a different podcast they’d heard him on. I found my people.
This group sound like fun? Let me know and I’ll get you on the mailing list to join for future installments. No guarantee you’ll be allowed in right away since there’s a cap on how many folks can join each go-round but if you’re passionate about tv comedy, I bet you’ll be joining us before you know it.
• I grew up on a steady diet of Jerry Springer on summer afternoons. In between lunch and backyard wiffleball, I made sure to catch the sensationalist “talk show” every day. Ol’ Jerry was a bit of a hero to me.
So, I was extra surprised when I saw my friend Joey Rinaldi on Springer’s new “Judge Jerry” show arguing against his comedy partner Troy Bond about pies thrown in Joey’s face while Troy was out and about doing man on the street interviews while the two were at an Atlantic City “Mob Movie Con.”
Somehow, the duo played this ridiculous concept with completely straight faces, never breaking character and treating the “emotional distress” Joey “endured” with complete seriousness. Best of all, Springer matched them and handled the absurd case just as genuinely as they did.
Honestly, I couldn’t believe what I was watching when I saw this mini-masterpiece. Jerry adds such an air of authority over the dumb proceedings that after a while this goofy bit transcends its silliness and passes over into comedy nirvana. If we were in a pre-internet era, this would be one of those legendary VHS’ that would get passed around by comedy nerds. Luckily, it’s 2022 and they’re only a click away.
• New York’s open mic grind can be grueling. Workshopping material in three-minute bursts and schlepping jokes from one dingy basement to the next without getting to truly show off all you can do is often a thankless and fruitless task.
That’s why city comics spreading their wings and recording 30-minute specials is so incredibly rewarding to see. Finally, everything they’ve been working can be enjoyed all at once like it’s meant to be.
James Pontillo’s “James Pontillo Does A Half Hour” fits the bill. The hard working vet cashes his proverbial comedy check in his 33.5-minute special with a lively set. After starting strong riffing on previous comics in a nice ode to those that performed on the show alongside him, James compares jokes to crack, tells the “so unbelievable it has to be true” story of the time his dad called him in class and then closes on a truly fantastic pun.
Ol’ Pontillo’s a true joke man with legit misdirects and shock value material that actually works because there’s no malice behind it- just a love of jokes.
• Mary Martin’s “Calmedy” is my new favorite ASMR podcast. There’s not much competition which makes sense— it’s a fresh concept.
For a little over 30 minutes, Mary speaks in a relaxed, hushed tone and will riff on anything at all. In the episode I listened to, recorded right before the Super Bowl, she jokes about literal Rams and Bengals before jumping from that off-the-cuff chunk into her actual tight five. What follows is a deconstruction of the medium as Mary whispers her tried and true jokes as if they were soothing thoughts shared by a guided meditation leader.
“Calmedy” is a truly unique, short listen that demonstrates once again that comedy, particularly the podcast format, can be anything if you have just have the imagination and skills set to make your idea spring to life.
• Four (!) SNL alum released trailers for upcoming series this week. They include Season Three of Bill Hader’s increasingly serious “Barry,” Season Six of Bob Odenkirk’s increasingly action-packed “Better Call Saul” (Odenkirk wrote for the show, that counts in my book), Season One of Mike Myers’ trippy “The Pentaverate” and Season One of Vanessa Bayer’s endearingly awkward “I Love That For You” (which features rising comedy star Shannon Dee).
The two returning series (“Barry” and “Better Call Saul”) look like more of the same from each but that doesn’t bother me— both shows are stellar. That being said, “I Love That For You” appears to be a breath of fresh air that captures Bayer’s eager to please sensibility perfectly. You heard it here first- this is a show to look out for this year. I could see it becoming an “I Think You Should Leave” level hit based on tone established in the 2:40 trailer alone.
• In the past, I’ve offered managerial sessions and I’d like to offer my services once again, What are managerial sessions? That’s a great question.
Basically, the sessions are hour-long discussions between a client (could be you!) and myself (that’s me!) where we discuss anything you want. It could be an hour where you workshop jokes uninterrupted with an audience member (me again). You could discuss career goals and we could come up with a plan for you. You could have me read multiple scripts of yours and we could discuss them at length. Really it can be anything you want. Just let me know if it’s something you’re interested in and we’ll find a time to make it happen.
• Finally, I wanted to wind down and share a truly great TikTok I came across scrolling the algorithm. In 20 short seconds, martinswt highlights the differences between the oldest, middle and youngest siblings in such a scarily accurate way that I thought this person had been studying my family down to the wardrobes.
Also, it’s only 20 seconds. Can’t go wrong with that.
• And now to steal from Jon Stewart, I bring you your weekly Moment of Zen. Check out this week’s comic from The Funnies newsletter. It’s a bit of pointed satire and made me laugh a lot. Plus, reading it will take less than 20 seconds. Not a bad ROI for looking at a thing.
^^^The above comic is by @amandapandacomics on IG. Follow her for more good stuff!
• Signing off for the week. Hope to see your IRL soon, m’friend