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Comedy Stray Notes March 28, 2021
On how to go viral on hot topics, the future of Zoom and a recap of the best piece of fiction about standup I've read all year
• Every few months, something goes so viral that it eclipses internet notoriety and creeps into mainstream news. We saw this in early January with the now infamous “Bean Dad'' which sparked debate and outrage and now this past week, the latest news story to become a hot button human interest ignitor of fury was “Cinnamon Toast Crunch Shrimp Tails Guy.” This “guy,” Karp Jensen, turned out to be a comic, a bit of a dirtbag, married to Danielle Fishell AKA Topanga from “Boy Meets World” and ripe for ridicule. Everyone had a hot take but no one took this mini scandal on better or more head on than Danny Vega who reinvented his Twitter account into a realistic, corporate-looking Cinnamon Toast Crunch feed writing subversive takes on the wild, rapidly evolving story from the perspective of CTC’s social media.
Then, he wrote his magnum opus, “UPDATE: we killed the shrimp guy. He was blended and is now in every box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch” (see it here). This cut through the noise and went super viral with over 100K favs. While yes, a super funny Tweet, this is a master class on HOW to go viral. Take something on the tip of everyone’s tongue and go the extra mile to have a unique perspective on it. Change your account and run with it rather than just jotting a tossed off half thought into the void. You might just get the internet attention you’ve been chasing after.
• This past Friday, my sketch “At Home with a Guy from Anonymous” was featured in a late night block at the Canadian-flavored Toronto Sketch Fest (yeah, I added that credit to my website). For an entirely virtual Fest, it was incredibly well-run; shows started on time, they were very funny (the “Characters Welcome” hour featuring characters like “That glass of water you drink at 4 AM” and “your sourdough starter kit” complete with a guy caked in dough) and there wasn’t a single technical glitch. Our sketch played with a number of out-there, absurd entries that confounded and expanded my definition of what sketch could be. I’d implore you to check out their site and take a gander at all the cool, offbeat offerings they dished up this year. Fingers crossed, it’s an in-person event in 2022.
• My friend Belton Delaine-Facey is one of the busiest comics in New York City. When not performing, he’s putting in work on a narrative feature film, directing a full-length documentary about NYC comedy during the pandemic that serves as a time capsule of the past year and now, he’s produced a slyly sharp Zoom sketch. In said sketch, “Class Interruption,” Anna Paone (full disclosure, that’s my wife) plays a teacher helping a ragtag group of middle school misfits learn the ins and outs of improper fractions while also doing everything in her power to obscure her husband (full disclosure, that’s me) in the background who might be doing something he shouldn’t be doing. It’s under three minutes, features enthusiastic, committed performances from a stable of 20-somethings playing kids and you can see me try to act. What’s not to like?
• In a couple months, Zoom shows may be a thing of the past. As we head to a future where everyone is vaccinated (thanks, Biden), I wonder what the future holds for the form. It’s been a fascinating medium that’s produced a new type of sketch (as evidenced by the above), communication and stand up comedy show that brings people from all over the world together. I honestly think they live on in some capacity. Whether it’s for broadcasting shows from clubs to international audiences or just for open mics, it’s become too much a part of our lives to let it completely go. Anyhow, as we face the last gasp of the pandemic, it’s nice that quality producers like Elani Nichelle are still putting on real virtual shows for the NYV (Not Yet Vaccinated). This week, I went up at her show performing stand up for the first time in months. I challenged my rusty self and tried to see if I could write tags for my old bits from the “before times.” I was met with mixed results. Not many of the tags worked (I always forget that “Less is more” adage; this is evidenced by this incredibly long note) but it was nice to say these jokes aloud in front of an audience. Special shout outs to Dan Wickes and Jay Jurden for also bringing the laughs opening and closing the show respectively. Book them and Elani for your Zoom shows and in-person shows in comedy’s new future.
• Speaking of Zoom, one last Zoom shout out to Matt Starr for his superb five-minute short play “Whatever, Like, Whatever” also shot on your favorite communication interface. In this two-hander, an internet date that starts as lively, comically nihilistic banter turns into something else entirely. Incredibly acted with not a wasted line of dialogue, I highly recommend this quick piece if you like your comedy dark with a twist. This is perfect pitch black at its best.
• Hands down, the smartest sketch I saw this week was Matt Ruby and Sagar Bhatt’s “The Five Whys.” In a rat-a-tat style, the two of them engage in verbal sparring asking each other “Why” five times in order to find the nature of a problem as well as its solution. A great maxim for life and a rich premise for sketch. Here, the two of them take this concept to its logical conclusion and in turn completely point out the hypocrisy, banality and good, old fashioned selfishness of startup C-levels and their developers. Felt like they perfectly roasted the last six years of my life working in tech in under two minutes. It’s perfect. If you haven’t watched yet, ask yourself why five times and then click the link.
• Really nice to see friends embrace new avenues to show off their talents and show off their writing ability in a way the stage doesn’t quite allow. This week, I was delighted to see gregarious comic Gabe Mollica post the first episode of his new, earnest Instagram talk show “Gabe Time.” In ten minutes, Gabe goes a bit more personal and confessional than one might in a stand up set covering a single topic: SIPS also known as a made-up acronym for “Self Important Pandemic Sadness.” Too relatable. There are winning jokes sprinkled throughout; my favorite was when he called his NYC crib a “room-bed” instead of a bedroom and a very funny misdirect about gerrymandering. Stay until the very end for a quick guest appearance by Raanan Hershberg that puts Mollica in his place.
• I posted the penultimate episode of my Rizzle series “Minute Made” this week. That means, just one left after this. However, don’t cry because we’re saying goodbye, laugh because this episode is FIRE. In it, Anna worries that she’ll never get the vaccine. Does she? I’ll never tell. You’ll have to click that link in the comments if you want to find out.
• Here’s a speedy rundown of things I saw, listened to and read by people I don’t know but would like to someday:
“Another Round” (2020): The industry was surprised when Director Thomas Vinterberg snuck onto the Academy’s list of Oscar-nominated Directors for the past year. I was too. From the looks of the trailer, this seemed like a big, broad American comedy but starring Europeans. You know what? I was right. Basically, this is “Old School” with art film flourishes. If this movie isn’t on your radar, I’ll catch you up to speed. Essentially, a group of four middle-aged male teachers (including Mads Mikkelsen playing very against type as a sad sack rather than a cunning villain), decide that if they maintain an ABV of 0.05, they’ll live happier, more fulfilling lives. And for the first two acts, they do! Then, it all comes crashing down. Great concept for a movie. I’ll be honest, not super well-executed. I liked it fine but it did have the least visually inventive text display I’ve ever seen for text being written; they literally just put words on the screen. Come on, man! Live a little! Make it a computer screen or something! Plus, a majority of the scenes were our four protagonists talking about the act of drinking rather than imbibing. Anytime, they waxed philosophical about how great being buzzed is instead of showing us sobered me up real fast. At the end, there’s a bit of a mixed message that ultimately leaves one more confused about this whole enterprise than enlightened. I will say though, it was cool that in Europe all the teachers had sick houses. NO IDEA HOW THIS SNUCK INTO THE BEST DIRECTOR RACE (Streaming on Hulu).
WTF with Laraine Newman: Original SNL cast member on WTF? Don’t mind if I do. Making the rounds for her new biography “May You Live In Interesting Times” (which Newman assures us is a curse), this joy of a podcast episode dives right into those Interesting Times like Newman seeing The Beatles live twice (!) and what it was like being there for the origin of The Groundlings (fun fact: “Groundlings” derives from a term for poor audience members that couldn’t afford seats at Shakespearean plays). There are also anecdotes about a lost 70s sketch movie she did called “Tunnel Vision,” doing ADR after leaving SNL, her sister Tracy Newman show running “According to Jim”, Jane Curtin hanging out with Mick Jagger, Mark Mothersbaugh hanging out with Larry Flynt and best of all, how she took Warren Zevon to see Paul Reubens’ very first Pee Wee show. Can’t think of a better way for a comedy nerd to spend an hour than listen to this.
SNL hosted by Maya Rudolph: This was one of the most uneven episodes in a long while. Things started promisingly with an unconventional Cold Open game show sketch. In a show guilty for its reliance on game show, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them open the show with one, so kudos where kudos are due. However, said “Snatched! Vaxed! Or Waxed!” game show never really took flight or surprised and delighted. This theme continued throughout the first half. For example, I was pumped to see the featured cast members get the spotlight during Rudolph’s monologue but then she kicked Andrew Dismukes offstage and it became a bizarro homage to “The Breakfast Club.” Unique concept at first and then subpar execution.
The first half featured two topical, musical pre-taped sketches about Boomers getting the vaccine and an NFT explainer. Fun ideas, yes, nothing particularly surprising. I think I’m over SNL music videos. There, I said it. They just feel like “business as usual” now.
Things picked up when Martin Short showed up as Second Man Doug Emhoff. His character choices to play Emhoff as bashful showed that you don’t need songs and game show sets for laughs- you need lived-in performances. Weekend Update came out swinging taking on gun reform but I’ll admit I laughed hardest at the dumbest joke of all- a remix of Biden falling walking up airplane stairs to make it look like he was breakdancing. I’m ashamed.
Interestingly, the up and down show redeemed itself at the end with two instant classic sketches in “The Barfly Awards” (the nominees for “Saddest lines overheard at 2 AM” is SNL Hall of Fame level good) and then the self-referential “The Maya’ing” riffing on “The Shining.” If you’re a lifelong fan of the show, this is comfort food mocking past hosts, musical guests and the original cast. Not exactly laugh out loud funny but one that sticks with you. So, yeah. Uneven.
Joe Kwaczala’s 21 Sketches: On March 21, Joe Kwaczala released 21 sketches in intervals of 15 minutes on Twitter. It was one of the coolest comedy stunts I’d ever seen. SO MUCH CONTENT. The release of the shorts was an effort to raise $2121 for East Hollywood Mutual Aid but was also a thrilling showcase of his comedic range. I watched all 21 but can’t stop laughing at one in particular. Let’s just say it takes place in an alternate history where two characters only talk about Seth MacFarlane. All 21 are worthy of your time; the MacFarlane sketch is worthy of repeat play.
“The Opener” by Fran Hoepner: Writing fiction about comedy is hard. If you’re not a comic, it’s glaringly obvious. You miss the details about open mic hierarchies, what it feels like when a new joke hits or the contempt you might feel for a comedy blogger (like...myself?). This breathtaking (yeah, I mean that) short story about a young comic who is given the opportunity to open for a problematic headliner is one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve read all year. Gripping, intense and full of A+ lines, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It took me right back to what it felt like to spend long nights at mics and shows even though it took place in Schaumburg, Illinois. Just goes to show that speaking comedian is universal. Hoepner makes the monotony of road gigs with someone you can’t even respect the best “comedy buddy comedy” of the year.
“How Beeple Crashed The Art World” by Kyle Chayka: Not quite comedy but if you’ve been reading about NFTs everywhere and the artist Beeple’s $69 million sale, this is a hysterical profile that puts a face and voice on the burgeoning movement’s enfant terrible. Crass, lacking sophistication and not interested in material goods, this Beeple fellow kept upending expectations. If this is the future of art, I’m worried but also intrigued.
I got nothing this week, folks.
Well, I do have physical therapy for my back. But other than that. Not much.
See you in April