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Comedy Stray Notes May 2, 2022
On the end of an era, upcoming funny movies, Vince Gilligan's comedy beginnings and SO MUCH MORE (really, there's a lot more)
• It’s annoying when you hear “it’s the end of an era.” The phrase is used too liberally. Eras end every day. There’s just too many eras to keep track.
Anyhow, an era ended on Friday. A real one.
The Arizona-based syndicated television talk show “Right This Minute” filmed their final episode after eleven seasons.
I have a particular soft spot for this “The View” + “Tosh.0” + “the internet comments section come to life” program because they hired me for my first post-college job as an editor (sorry, I don’t count my two weeks at SmashBurger in Tempe as my real first post-college job).
For two years, I had more fun editing the five bubbly hosts- Beth Troutman, Gayle Bass, Nick Calderone, Steven Fabian and Christian Vera- than anyone should have in the working world. The producers Dennis O’Neill and Lisa Hudson fostered such a fun environment with dunk tanks, Nerf guns, ping pong tournaments that made going into work feel less like a job than college (and I went to notorious party school Arizona State, baby).
Years later, when I lost my job on January 2, 2020 (one day into the decade I claimed would “be mine” lol), Dennis serendipitously reached out to me and asked if he could put one of my sketches on air. “Right This Minute” wasn’t a company. It was a family. They always had all of our backs.
My fellow editor family, made up of Adam Bellucci, Doug Morehouse, Rene Michel, Todd Hunt, Kevin Andress, Brad Fack, Celeste Arkeat, Noel Pizarro, Morgan Stehr, Conrad Miszuk, Dan Nettles, Greg Rabolvsky, Brady Gillman, Alex Quituga, Sean Hennessy, Candice Young and a bunch more helped me fake it until I actually started to understand how to cut footage at a breakneck pace. On day one, I was sweating with imposter syndrome; a month in, I was having a blast. The working world really wasn’t so bad after all.
There’s so many more family members. Joanne Ingram. Jessica Hord. Phil Alvidrez. Lisa Alering. Chris Holden. Kirsten Olmos. Mayra Mendoza. Jake Olmos. Theresa Cano. Chris Ayers. Carie Gladding. Heather Herr. Alicia Barron. Madi Lipari. Daz Smith. Betsy Holloway. Brittany Williams. Manny Garcia. Maryal Miller. David Miller. Ian McClaren. Seriously, so many great coworkers, it’s hard to count.
Some stayed all the way until the end of the show’s storied run. Others left earlier.
When I jetted to the East Coast, Doug Morehouse and I made an ode to the show called “Right This Minute: A Fan’s Story.” It’s full of goofy inside jokes that might not make sense if you haven’t seen the show but what you will catch is the palpable love we felt for this twice-daily talk show. They really made something special.
What’s the point of all this?
Well, If you’re reading and looking for gifted, talented, funny editors, producers, freelancers, anything, sound off in the comments. You might be getting yourself a real talent who is now available and ready to give their all. I can’t recommend all of these folks enough.
*If I forgot an RTMer, let me know! That was not my intention; I definitely made oversights and I’m happy to fix.
• In 2008, I heard Girl Talk, the mashup virtuoso, for the first time and my feeble mind exploded on impact. “Feed The Animals” is easily my most listened-to album by far and it’s not even close. Since then, I’ve tried my best to make like a DeadHead or Phish Phanatic and see Girl Talk as many times as I possibly can.
As of today, I’ve seen Greg Gillis (Girl Talk’s real name; not sure if he’s related to Shane Gillis or not- problematic!) live four times since ‘08. Each show has been a magical dance party that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Heck, I still wear the ratty, tattered t-shirt I bought at a merch table in Tucson back in 2008 almost once a week.
His latest tour was supposed to take place in 2020 but was put on hold multiple times. That was almost the worst part of the early days of the pandemic for me. I’d been anxiously counting the days until Gillis’ show and each postponement led me to believe it would never happen.
Finally, last Thursday it did. And I got to bring my pregnant wife Anna Paone along for the ride. So, in a way, my unborn child got to go to their first concert (I’m not going to let a gender reveal slip that easily).
Anna and I met up with fellow mashup enthusiast Fluke Human at Brooklyn Steel an hour before the show began. No one was there. I thought GT would be performing for nine people. Were mashups done?
Slowly but surely, fellow elder millennials filed in. Phew. My fellow tubby, bearded brethren were still fans. They never forgot. For the next two hours, we’d cling to our youth. You know- when being a millennial meant something before we became the latest generation of office drones.
This time was different too. I noticed that Girl Talk’s hype men (one of the best jobs anyone could ever have) were recruiting onstage dancers. We volunteered and got to see the whole show from Girl Talk’s perspective. It was too loud, stanky and packed onstage but those are the most minor of complaints. There is nothing more fun than sing screaming “This is the story of a girl” and “Since You’ve Been Gone” over phat beats with hundreds of other music nerds.
‘Til we meet again, Girl Talk.
• Over the pond sketch wunderkind Tom Scudamore done did it again. This time around, his goofy, five-minute piece “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” stars yours truly and Michael Coyne as dueling poets vying for Anna Paone’s affection. The dialogue is loopy and the end is an expectation-defying spectacle that I’m proud I was a part of.
Want to know what’s coolest about this short though?
Tom wrote it in the U.K., Anna and I acted from our old apartment in Long Island City (we moved back in October) and Michael Coyne’s performance was filmed in Chicago. Tom is at the forefront of comedy’s future where all the talent doesn’t need to be in the same room together. Heck, they don’t even need to be in the same country.
• Long-time “Am I The Asshole” reader, first-time “Am I The Asshole” podcast listener here. Man, am I glad that I rectified that oversight on my part.
Hosted by Danny Vega and Sara Levine, this hip, ethicist pod traffics in detailed discussion on petty misunderstandings where the co-hosts sort through the mess and try to make sense of situations like “I was snooping through my brother’s computer and found…,” “This wedding had very strict plus one rules like…” or “There wasn’t enough food at this I attended wedding so I…” labeling all of the story’s players as “assholes” or “not assholes.”
Complete with an easy rapport, actual legal understanding of sticky scenarios and a wicked sense of frenetic humor, I can totally see why this series is over 300 episodes deep and still fresh: the hosts really give a shit and it shows. Effort always wins out.
• You think Comedy Stray Notes goes into the nitty gritty of comedy? Try James McAliney’s ultra-thorough YouTube channel breaking down various aspects of a performer’s life and you’ll think my screeds barely scratch the surface.
Although I could cite many of his vids that I liberally binged this week, I’ll stick to the one where he details the process of the germ of a premise to its evolution into a full-blown show-ready chunk in painstaking detail.
On the journey, McAliney doesn’t pull any punches. He shows us the time he spends hosting outdoor mics (remember those?), dealing with unsolicited criticism and moments of intense self-doubt. It’s a beautiful comedy diary and totally worth a view.
His “Booking a celebrity headliner” vid is a gas as well.
Thanks for the rec, Michael Sullivan. This is a channel I’ll be coming back to for a long time.
• Does this seem long already? We’re just getting started. Here’s the TV, movies, pods, stand up clips and sketches I can’t wait to tell you about from this past week.
“Hacks” (2021): You know how every show and movie gets stand up wrong? Not anymore. Jean Smart’s Deborah Vance may be the single greatest fictional comic ever created.
Vance, an acid tongued Joan Rivers surrogate who routinely performs in Las Vegas, seems to have everything figured out. Her act, her parenting style, her life. However, this excellent debut season of television keeps throwing roadblocks at the consummate professional who really has already seen everything.
The show runner team of Paul Downs and Lucia Aniello (they also produced “Broad City”) stick Smart’s Emmy Award winning character with Hannah Einbinder’s self-righteous, entitled, underachieving Gen Z writer (Einbinder, Laraine Newman’s daughter is a hell of a find) to cook up a new act and, along the way, comment on Boomer vs. Gen Z/young millennial culture.
They more than stick the landing. Although each episode was a home run, one in particular stands out to me. In episode eight (SPOILERS ABOUND), Vance heads to the road to try her new, vulnerable, self confessional act on a small town audience. Sticking to that very premise would be too obvious though for this gifted writing staff though. Instead, Vance unleashes a vicious, rollicking tirade at the misogynistic host, that is somehow fun and even life affirming for him?
It left me breathless. THIS is the power of stand up comedy. The medium can be used for dramatic and comedic effect all at once.
Also, major kudos to the hilarious supporting cast- Christopher McDonald AKA Shooter McGavin, Meg Stalter, Kaitlin Olson AKA Sweet Dee, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Jane Adams- and a heck of a lot more. The universe is fleshed out, fully lived-in and has me anxiously awaiting the release of season two.
Final verdict: Must see TV for any self-respecting comedy fan. Made me jealous of its storytelling ability many times over.
“Summer Of Soul” (2021): This movie may unfortunately forever go down as the trivia question “What movie won Best Documentary right after the Will Smith slap?”
It’s a lot more than that.
Questlove’s ebullient doc is a heartfelt love letter to the Harlem Music and Arts Festival that’s been written about with universal praise so many times that saying it’s an entertaining film is more than redundant at this point.
Yes, the performances from Mahalia Jackson, Sly and the Family Stone and Stevie Wonder are mesmerizing. Yes, the cultural importance and impact of this event left an imprint on me. Yes, the showbiz anecdotes (one about the Fifth Dimension was particularly illuminating) were as charming as they were humorous.
However, the most valuable lesson I learned from this movie is that educational, historical material doesn’t have to be stodgy. It can be vibrant, lived-in, meaningful and teach viewers more about a time period by taking us there and giving a sneak peek into what looked like one of the most fun music festivals of all time.
Final verdict: A great doc to play on a loop and it’ll never lose its value just like a favorite song of yours (Streaming on Hulu).
“The Wedding Singer” (1997): I’m pretty sure I’ve seen 90% of this movie. “Love Stinks,” the famous butt grabbing dance, the Billy Idol cameo. You know the bits.
However, this was the week, I finally filled in the gaps I missed when I didn’t sit through the whole thing on VH1 back in the early aughts.
Written by Sandler’s go-to SNL writing partner Tim Herlihy (AKA Martin from “Please Don’t Destroy’s” dad), this may be one of the Sandman’s best films (yeah, I said films). Although not without its dated point of view toward all women who aren’t Drew Barrymore, this story of a wannabe rockstar turned, yup, wedding singer, is full of great jokes (the best being when the nephew runs up to a depressed Sandler and asks, “Is it true you’re going to end up in a mental institution?”), goofy cameos (a slimy Lovitz, sad sack Buscemi and always singing “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” Alexis Arquette) and heart (the climactic scene on the plane is one of the all-time great tearjerker rom com moments).
I will take points off for a few of Sandler’s trademark frat boy moves here though. Sandler often preaches inclusivity by casting atypical actors but then makes them the target of the joke. One could even go so far as to say that this toxic sense of humor framed my generation’s immature and insensitive sense of humor that took years of growing up to rectify.
Plus, Sandler’s character doesn’t really do anything to deserve any of the women he pines after in this film. Sure, the “baxter” (boyfriend that’s all wrong for the romantic lead that stands as a roadblock in movies like these) is far worse but this movie just goes to show that the bar is set pretty low for men. And this is coming from a guy who recognizes he’s not that much better.
Final verdict: A goofy rom com period piece that ended up teaching me more about being a better person by accident (Streaming on HBO Max).
“Home Fries” (1998): Hear ye, hear ye, all “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” completists. Step right up and see where it all began.
Vince Gilligan’s tightly plotted ‘90s comedy is smarter, more wholesome and darker than your average brightly lit, A-list film from that era. More than anything, it resembles a sneaky Coen Brothers film.
The story is deceptively simple. A fast food worker (Drew Barrymore, again) gets knocked up by a local married stiff. After the two meet up at her drive through window, he gets chased by a helicopter which quite literally scares him to death.
There’s a lot more plot, misunderstandings and “Hey! They’re in this” character actor action but it’s more fun if you discover all that yourself.
What I loved most was seeing the germs of “Breaking Bad” strewn throughout. Forced perspective angles. Crime at fast food restaurants. Nonsensical violence. Homespun witticisms.
All the touchstones are there- the only difference is the genre.
Final verdict: If you ever wondered what “Breaking Bad” would have been like had they dialed down the drama, here’s your sweet, conniving and at times sinister answer (Streaming on HBO Max).
“Conan Needs A Friend” with Simon Rich: This is an oldie but a goodie. Rich, the quietly brilliant creator and showrunner for both “Man Seeking Woman” and “Miracle Workers,” is only on this podcast for about 30 minutes in between Conan banter with his assistant Sona, but boy, does he make a dent.
In his brief time on the show, the two elite comedy writers share invaluable tricks like 1.) when you write for villains, you need to give them a crutch so they become likable. Think Mr. Burns’ age, Stewy being a baby, Cartman’s…everything. You can’t help but root for them. Never thought of that.
Or, Rich’s writing style. He used to 2.) watch “Kids In The Hall” and read Richard Yeats during the commercial breaks. As a result, he decided to mash up extreme absurdism with heartbreaking, grounded realism. I’d say this style is a now dominant comedy subgenre (Exhibit A: “Everything Everywhere All At Once”) and he was at the forefront of the movement.
Finally, the most valuable piece of all which is 3.) “Don’t massage crazy premises. Get into it.” If you have a left-field idea for a story, jump right into it. Don’t make us wait. YES. I’m guilty of breaking this rule all the time. Now’s mine and your chance to change that.
There’s a lot of other fun conversational tidbits like how both Conan and Simon Rich liked casting Hader and Hartman as oily types when they wrote at SNL and how Mulaney told Conan to walk into his show late at a “kings pace” but what separates this episode and podcast as a whole from others is that Conan has an encyclopedic memory when it comes to comedy. Most other hosts say “So and so is so funny. They just are.” Conan recalls everything. As always, specificity in comedy is king and he never minces words or forgets a thing. It’s what separates the cream from the crop.
Sam Elliott, BJ Novak and Peter Dinklage WTFs: All three of these episodes of WTF generated buzz for being controversial long, long ago. Elliott for his off-base comments on “The Power Of The Dog” which came after a mellow conversation about coming up in Hollywood in the late ‘60s; Dinklage for his outrage toward Disney for glorifying dwarves in the new “Snow White” adaptation after a low-key chat about Dinklage’s days acting in what I believe was the former Annoyance Theater by the Williamsburg Bridge in the early ‘90s and Novak for his combative relationship with Maron coming to light.
That being said, the first two episodes are fairly mundane and have one odd headlines-grabbing moment; the third is full of juicy, heated tension. For something recorded in a garage on an afternoon solely for the purpose to promote an FX show, sparks really fly. All great entertainment. More than 1300 episodes in, Maron still has it. Love when podcasts maintain their juice and never phone it in.
• Much ink has been spilled on the topic of the comedy film going to the wayside but the genre still has a few gasps left in the tank. Here’s what I saw (plus, one TV trailer).
“On The Count Of Three” starring Jerrod Carmichael and Christopher Abbott: This triggering Sundance darling about a murder-suicide is finally getting its overdue release. “OTCOT” looks incredibly bleak but also screamingly funny. Can’t wait for this one. This may just be the daring comedy that gets people talking about comedies again. You heard it here first (although “Everything Everywhere All At Once” may have beaten them there).
“Senior Year” trailer starring Rebel Wilson: Wilson makes the best fish out of water comedies. In a similar vein to “Isn’t It Romantic,” the Aussie actress spoofs the “too old for high school” trope in a way I haven’t seen before. This one’s coming to Netflix but has theatrical potential all over it.
“Unplugging” starring Matt Walsh, Eva Longoria, Johnny Pemberton, Nicole Byer, Lea Thompson. Digital detox is prime fodder for comedy in 2022. “What happens when we put away our phones” is a perfectly relatable premise for all. Look at you, you’re looking at your phone right now! I caught you. Anyhow, this lo-res, low-stakes, low-budget comedy most likely won’t age well but still looks enjoyable. Plus, that cast is full of ringers. I expect many great improv moments.
“Kids in the Hall” trailer. The show is back. It looks darker and a bit out of step and outdated. Still, it’s the freaking “Kids In The Hall. Can’t wait to binge this revived series.
• Now, for two last super quick recommendations and then I’m good for the week.
- Will Purpura recommended I check out Joe Wong’s Letterman sets. Wow. This guy has got the goods. His silly jokes about “being the youngest baby” and “strawberries being called that because they go in smoothies” were impressive but Wong’s joke weaving, bizarre logic and legitimately rewarding callbacks is what threads these hall of fame level sets together. Then, make sure to binge the rest of his Letterman appearances. They’re delightful. My only complaint? Wong should be one of the biggest stars in comedy, not one of its best-kept secrets.
- In the Bill Hader episode of “Fly On The Wall,” Hader alludes to a sketch of his called “Firehouse Incident” from his SNL days. Holy kittens. Go in knowing absolutely nothing. You’re in for a 5.5-minute treat of ridiculousness.
• I’ll leave you with that. You probably have some stuff going on. Get to that.
Appreciate you reading and I’ll see ya next week, ya filthy animal