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Comedy Stray Notes May 2, 2021
On the return of indoor, live stand up comedy, the first season of two new sitcoms and a sketch from an emerging writer
• Prince once belted, then Sinead O’Connor covered, “Nothing Compares 2 U” and this whole time I was pretty sure they were referring to live, indoor stand up comedy. The two shows I saw this week prove this adage too—nothing does compare to the way live standup feels in a venue in which it’s meant to be seen. Remember that little shuffle the host did from the back of the room up to the stage in between comics? Like the half run, half walk thing? I’m excited to announce that it’s back, baby.
Firstly, I need to pronounce David Rey Martinez’s brand spanking new “Lonely, Sexy Thursdays” the “next great Brooklyn hang show.” Taking place on a lonely, sexy Thursday in spacious Mexican restaurant Paloma’s off the Morgan L, Martinez hosts with his 13-year-old son stageside trading barbs back and forth with the youngster setting up a loose, friendly atmosphere that all the comics on the lineup coasted on. From Dejen Tesfagiorgis’ material about getting roasted by teens while giving a Zoom inspirational speech to Rebecca Kaplan’s jokes about post-pandemic sexual liberation that inspired an applause break to Gabe Pacheco’s bit where he uses learning a new language as therapy to Monroe Martin’s extended tale of his Dad reconnecting with him later in life to Joey Dardanno’s show stopping post-set crowd work turned improvised clap-along jam to Marlenas McMahon-Purk’s free-flowing set where she had audience members call out premises from her setlist to Karmen Naidoo’s edgy yet whimsical anecdotes to headliner Chike Robinson’s polished chunk on being the oldest kid in middle school complete with different voices and act outs, there wasn’t a dud in the bunch. I’ll admit I thought I was going to leave early but Lonely, Sexy was so fun, so lively, so right, that Anna Paone and I stayed until the bitter end and we were glad we did.
The other show I attended was Monday’s Frantic at The Stand to tape KP Burke’s tight ten. In a socially-distanced, notoriously tough room, ol’ KP’s finely crafted punchlines and folksy, self-deprecating persona scored big. Material about the military, family and finally a non-sequitur impression for this closer were all major crowd pleasers. This was a pleasant reminder of just how good a “tape” can be. Just banger after banger after banger. Standup is back y’all and it feels like it never left.
- It should also be noted that if you’re looking to have your set taped, please holler at me and we’ll talk turkey.
• Best thing to spot on Instagram is a comedian friend making the leap from undeniable stand up to a new member of a writer’s room. In this case, I’m referring to Bryan Yang’s bump up to writer on the new Robert Smigel show “Let’s Be Real” and what made the announcement even better is Bryan shared the first sketch of his he got on the air. Said sketch is a very funny, star-studded commercial parody called, “I Got The Shot.” No need to spoil the joke here but I will tell you that you won’t see it coming from a mile away and Jay Baruchel shows up in this thing. It’s very much worth a watch.
• This may have been my lightest TV and movie watching week since February 2020. In fact, I saw zero movies for the first time in over a year. This is a change for the better but I’ll miss weeks at home where I’d catch five, six, sometimes 12 flicks from the comfort of my couch. Anyhow, here’s what I got into:
“Kenan” (2021): Ever since the eponymous “Kenan” show was announced, I paid close attention. It seemed to be part of a growing trend of SNL’s to let senior cast members have a primetime side hustle (see “Portlandia,” “Shril,” “The King of Staten Island,” the upcoming Cecily Strong show being released this summer as Exhibits A through D) and as a fair weather Kenan fan, I wanted to see how he’d fare on his own. Over the course of the ten-episode season, I’m happy to report, the show found its footing and became a reliably consistent 22-minute joke machine. However, things started slowly in a surprisingly somber pilot where Kenan’s character is revealed to be a recent widower who lives with his brother Gary (Chris Redd; Anna said it should have been Kel and I can’t agree more), father-in-law Rick (Don Johnson, wearing an awful lot of tie dye hoodies) and precocious daughters who are so smart and witty that I didn’t believe a word they said. Most of the season revolves around Kenan’s work/life balance and the struggles that come with being a single father along with a never ending “will they, won’t they” dynamic with his producer. It’s about as conventional as sitcoms get. In fact, the wife and I often predicted telegraphed storylines a minute or two into each episode. There’s also a jarring lack of music; I’m not saying every show needs a score. “The Office” never did. However, imagine “30 Rock” without Jeff Richmond’s instrumentals and the show loses a bit of its magic. This show never even got that chance to find its musical edge.
However, this sitcom has clever moves that separate it (like I said, I liked this star vehicle for Thompson). Redd has never been as unhinged and aggressively weird as he is on this show, taking hypothetical “Shark Tank” pitches way too seriously and his job as Kenan’s manager as an afterthought. Then, there’s the odd, artsy, cinematic aspirations that flow throughout the season. In the first episode, a cleanly cut montage kicks things off and a few episodes later, a dream sequence in which our protagonist drifts through life on a conveyor belt while everyone he knows shouts at him felt more like it was from a stylish Fellini picture than an NBC sitcom. While Kenan’s believability as a leading man is questionable at best, he does have a few, nice running gags; best of all was his love of Mondays treating them like Fridays since it meant time away from his packed house. Plus, you get Fortune Feimster and cameos from Damon Wayans Jr, Maria Bamford AND Finesse Mitchell (yup, the guy who started on SNL with Kenan in 2003).
Most interesting of all though is Kenan’s co-worker Phil played by character actor Jeff Lewis. Phil is a square who shows up sporadically and brought such a specific oddness to the proceedings that it was almost electric. Inappropriate questions that felt like they were from a different show and lack of social graces felt anarchist in this geek’s hands. Now that the show has been confirmed for a second season, I can’t wait to see if they give old Phil the screentime he so rightfully deserves (Streaming on Hulu).
“Ted Lasso” (2020): At the 2021 Golden Globes, Jason Sudeikis virtually accepted the award for Best Male in a Musical or Comedy for this show and in his acceptance speech appeared to be… quite inebriated. Not interested in the show before, now I had to make it my number one priority, even going so far as to give in and subscribe to AppleTV.
For this show alone, the $4.99 for the first month after your seven-day trial makes it all worth it. To quickly get you up to speed, Sudeikis plays a happy-go-lucky, inspirational college football coach who is plucked by a cunning UK soccer club owner looking to sabotage the team’s chances of success from within. If that sounds like the plot of “Major League,” you wouldn’t be wrong. They’re kind of the same thing. However, Lasso’s “never say never” attitude coupled with his assistant Brendan Hunt’s straight-faced, practical assistant, they lead their ragtag team to...well, they don’t win it all. It’s a better show than that.
Eschewing typical inspirational sports cliches while still completely operating within the genre, the show is more about the importance of being kind than anything else. Lasso always wears a happy face entertaining the tough press with goofy one-liners like “you can’t spell assume without making an arse out of u and me” which we all know doesn’t work but it’s fun to see him try with it. There’s angry fans who take the piss out of him screaming “wanker” at his every move but he rolls with the punches; self serious players are broken down by assigned reading “A Wrinkle in Time” and finally, Lasso’s ace up his sleeve- biscuits every morning for the boss. This is a guy that cares and it’s genuinely felt by other characters and viewer alike.
If you’re still not sold, I simply recommend watching Episode Six. While most of the season is pure comedy comfort food, this standout is a gourmet meal. Best of all is a scene where each player on the team has to place an item with significant meaning into a fire to rid the locker room of a curse. It was emotional, funny and checked boxes that I didn’t know a sitcom could for me. In fact, I’d say this is where the show found its footing and only started soaring higher after this (which I’ll let you discover on your own but want to tell you about the clubhouse assistant as well as what the assistant coach does for dates so bad). You don’t need to know anything about soccer to understand what’s going on here; this show is a glowing smile waiting to happen. In customer service, the goal is always to leave the customer surprised and delighted. When the season ended, that’s exactly how I felt (Streaming on AppleTV).
WTF with Tom Jones: My Pops was always a big Tom Jones fan crooning “What’s New, Pussycat” every chance he got in my formative years burning “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa” into my brain forever. That’s about the extent of how far my knowledge goes of the legendary act. Honestly, I didn’t even really know what he looked like until I Googled him just a second ago. Anyhow, I figured better late than never to learn about the man behind some of the catchiest 70s ditties (I classify most 70s tracks as ditties). Without further ado, here’s what I got out of this 75-minute chat: Jones hails from Wales, he was there for the origin of panties being thrown onstage (followed by keys by fans who wanted him to meet up in their rooms after shows) and was kind of the British Elvis. At the mention of Elvis, Jones shared an amazing story about how Elvis wanted The Beatles to be his backing band at the height of their fame. Poor Elvis was sad to hear soon after the band had already broken up. Toward the end of the pod, the 80-year-old crooner went into what it was like to meet Royalty. He said he admitted to the Queen he’d spent quite a bit of time in America and Prince Philip told him he “sounds like he gargles pebbles.” Somehow, that was a compliment. What a way to cap this interview off.
Well, for New York, we’ve got what I call the best weather week of the year. Because of that, I’m thinking next week will most likely be an even lighter edition than this entry. Only time will tell though. See you in seven days, pals.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna read some “Ted Lasso” quotes before bed