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Comedy Stray Notes May 23, 2021
On why I gave in and joined TikTok, outdoor shows, a lost 90s comedy classic and the SNL season finale among so many other things
• You hear something once, you brush it off. Someone says, “Get eight hours of sleep” or “you should really get a TikTok” and you say, “Yeah, whatever, pal.” Then, a second person suggests the same thing. You decide there may be some value to the idea. Finally, after a while, you hear it from enough people that you start getting that eight hours of sleep and subsequently set up your very own TikTok account. In case you couldn’t tell, this story is about me. I’m the guy who slept on the Tok game (yes, the whole sleeping thing was just so I could do that line).
I was excited for my TikTok account having heard internet urban legends of how after posting one video, the app “pads your stats” so it looks like you have a ton of eyeballs on your vids, then you’re compelled to create and create and create to try and reach that high once again. As insane as that sounds, I was excited for that initial social media clout high.
Didn’t really happen for me. Instead, I posted a semi-funny six-second video of a pigeon (you can see it in the comments) and it got roughly 600 views. Respectable. Not a bad ROI for spending six seconds on something either. Since my fateful post, I’ve made two front facing videos (about being “the world’s biggest Kurt Vonnegut fanboy” and “voting green”) of varying quality that I would classify as OK but not earth shattering. However, the major plus is that none of these are more than 30ish seconds AND should you indulge and check out my videos and then click “Follow,” please know that I am new to this app and will follow back and like one or two of your videos in return. Consider this your “networking” for the day if you will.
• Had the opportunity to catch Barak Ziv’s Cafe Popularr show on Saturday and as always it was fascinating to see comics fight the elements. In this case, the performers soldiered on while traffic blared and passersby stared trying to make out exactly what was going on in this small outdoor alcove. Tom Delgado admirably hosted the show riffing on the noises (after a loud honk, he responded, “I know, right?” in one of the show’s best, spontaneous moments) and Barak closed the show strong with jokes about his catchy name. Comedy ain’t easy and it’s especially difficult when you’re attempting to do it on a street corner in a crowded neighborhood but for this afternoon, the comics on the show made it look like laughs could be mined anywhere. Try to catch this one if you can- it’s a great summer hang.
• I’ve got a true hodgepodge of a mishmash of media for you to feast on this week. Out of respect to you, kind reader, I’ll only share the essentials:
“Who’s The Caboose” (1997): If you’ve listened to enough comedy podcasts, you’ve heard all about the legendary Lower East Side venue Luna Lounge but you may have never seen it with your own two eyes. Thanks to this film, I have finally seen the Lounge.
With that out of the way, this is a very funny, under the radar mockumentary starring, written and directed by Sam Seder about a group of film school documentarians who receive a grant to film the homeless who are mysteriously dying from a fatal illness but the crew decides they’d prefer to follow Seder and his young girlfriend (a young Sarah Silverman) to LA for pilot season and painful agent meetings. The movie is very funny in that snarky 90s alt “I’m smarter than you” kind of way where jokey characters contradict themselves sending up their clueless personas saying things like, “I only answer to myself and then my manager told me to go to LA” and “New York is so real but that elevator needed a doorman.” The jokes (some very outdated) come hard and fast and if you keep an active eye on the screen, you’ll see cameos from a young, bitter Marc Maron, an effortlessly chill Todd Barry, a preachy, holier than thou David Cross sad sack, a smarmy agent turn from H. Jon Benjamin, a needy actress played by Kathy Griffin and of course, Andy Dick, as a manager who is kind to everyone except for his poor secretary. It’s the kind of artifact that you didn’t know existed but is a delight once you discover it. A TRUE DEEP CUT BUT ONE THAT SHOULDN’T BE SLEPT ON (Streaming on iTunes of all places for $3.99; kudos to Randy Epley for the recommendation).
“Scare Package” (2020): There’s something truly exciting about an anthology film made up of different directors. From the few I’ve seen like “New York Stories,” “Paris je Taime,” “A Night On Earth” (all Jarmusch here but I’m counting it) and “Tokyo!” the connective tissue was the location. Also, these were fairly low-key affairs. “Scare Package” is an anthology film unlike any other I’ve ever seen putting the horror genre in a wood chipper and obliterating every trope in the game. It’s all loosely connected by a threadbare story where socially awkward, competitive video store employees play these movies within the movies in their quaint VHS rental shop which lead to some of the film’s best self-referential gags mocking movie geeks.
“Scare Package” does feel sketch-like at times with joke-y bits like an insane asylum sign pointing a group of roadtrippers the wrong way or a family moving into a home that’s TOO good to be true where a realtor repeatedly tries to obscure a girl in a tattered dress straight out of “The Ring” that are funny but do make the whole venture feel like the whole isn’t as great as the sum of the parts. Basically, it’s ten “Cabin in the Woods” in one and IS kitschier, smarter and probably cheaper than it has any right to be but too frenetic at times as a result. Yes, I love that they want to cover the genre in its entirety and they do upend expectations but a “less is more” approach might have served them well here to give this a bit more of a cohesive narrative (coming from the guy who has no idea about “less being more” as evidenced by you having been reading this massive newsletter for the past few minutes with no end in sight). THIS MISHMASH OF HORROR TROPES FELT LIKE I WAS WATCHING THE DIRECTOR’S FAVORITE MOVIE OF ALL TIME WHERE THEY GOT EVERYTHING THEY WANTED IN MUCH TO THE AUDIENCES DISMAY (Available on YouTube to rent for $3.99; Phil Karagas wrote about this movie on his fantastic Facebook page and I was inspired to see it based on his wonderful review. Check his stuff out).
“48 Hours” (1982): I’ve been aware of this movie as the “Eddie Murphy” star-making turn forever but I’ll admit that it was a gap in my cinematic knowledge. Like the “LOTR” trilogy, I’ve never gotten around to seeing it. That all changed this week when I popped this puppy in and got to witness Nolte and Murphy in one of the greatest buddy cop comedies of all time (almost 100% because of Eddie). The story is simple and unique: A group of hoodlums are on the lam after they kill a cop and the first half hour is pretty much laugh free. Jonathan Banks, in a pre-Mike Ehrmantraut role, Nolte and standard fare cop drama. That’s about it. This is the simple part. The film becomes unique when the toxic jerk Nolte is paired with the effervescent Reggie Hammond (Eddie) a convict who gets 48 hours (hence the title) to help solve the case since he’s worked with the criminals on the loose. As soon as Eddie is on screen (belting The Police’s “Roxanne”), the movie immediately pivots morphing into the pure comedy I’d always heard about. The infamous, renowned sequence at a redneck bar is better than advertised and there’s so much ass kicking that it feels like a predecessor to “Oldboy” (hoping I get film nerd points for that sentence). Murphy’s famous laugh and quick wit elevate what likely would have been a movie forgotten by time into a classic. HAVING EDDIE IN YOUR MOVIE IN THE 80S WAS CHEATING; THAT’S HOW GOOD HE WAS (Streaming on Amazon Prime).
*I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the scene where Eddie hits on a girl he meets in a club, harasses her with ignorant misogyny and somehow still ends up sleeping with her. The 80s was a very different time. This does not fly now.
SNL season finale with Anya Taylor-Joy: And just like that, POOF!, another season is in the books. After having seen every episode, I think I might declare this one the best of the 2020-21 outing. Anna Paone and I watched together as we always do and the show, like Stefon might say, “had a little bit of everything.” From a stellar, sentimental and self deprecating season-recapping cold open (this is how every season should end) that felt tailor made for fans that haven’t missed an episode (I thought I was the only one that remembered how awful the sketch with Herman Cain playing the fly on Pence’s hair was) to a visually striking monologue parodying “Queen’s Gambit” to a pitch perfect satire of dated game shows with cancelled guests, the show clearly came out guns a blazing. The pre-taped video “Picture with Dad” went as weird, dark and to the extreme as a premise about a prom photo shoot gone wrong could go and “The Making of Man” felt like a sprawling, conceptual piece straight from classic 70s SNL critiquing how unfortunate men’s bodies are. “Pride Month Song” and “Celtic Woman” both excelled as detail driven studies of highly specific events too (The Pride Parade and Irish concerts set in Ohio). Rarely does the show bat 1.000 before Weekend Update but this one did.
Weekend Update had Jost and Che trading jokes written for one another which seemed un-toppable until they brought out Cecily Strong’s wine swilling and spilling Jeanine Pirro for likely her final appearance. Cecily went bigger, brasher and funnier than ever before closing with a visual gag for the history books. This is how you exit the show. The back half kept the momentum going with a pair of Aidy Bryant-led sketches centering around a lingerie store and an NYU panel that appeared to be a thinly veiled critique of how the press comes after the SNL cast for their sexuality, ethnicity and gender. In the sketch, the “game” is that Pete Davidson’s character gets a pass for everything while the others have to answer for their very existence. If this is how his time at SNL comes to an end, it’s a very fitting sendoff.
The final “ten to one” sketch of the season was an AMC ad with a bald Beck Bennett portraying Vin Diesel inviting us all back to the movies. Diesel longingly reminisces about all the great, not so great and minute things about the theater you completely forgot about like how a tub of popcorn will never fit in their small-holed garbage cans. So true.
Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better show. What’s next? Well, it will be interesting to see the show reinvent itself next year, likely without Cecily, Pete, MAYBE Kenan, Aidy, McKinnon and Melissa Villasenor. Who knows what happens? Freaking 47 years in and they’re keeping us on our toes.
“Working It Out” with Conan O’Brien: Conan O’Brien is almost a better guest on a talk show than he is as a host and he’s a better host than almost anyone that’s ever lived. As he says in this episode, “It’s more fun to be a guest than host my show since I’m not responsible for making the other person look good.” Here, he’s firing on all cylinders telling the origin story of the “In the Year 2000” bit that started in 1988 and lived on past 2000, an anecdote about Marlon Brando swallowing a bug on the set of “Apocalypse Now” being better than anything in the whole movie and how in the early days of his talk show, there was no supervision so he could run dadaist gags like “Angel on one shoulder and a literal bear with nonsensical bear advice on the other.” On a more straightforward note, Conan also dispenses wisdom sharing “podcasts are like secrets that are preserved whereas TV is an unwieldy production,” “Don’t compare yourself to fully formed, successful people,” and “the luxury and burden of late night TV over stand up is it has to be new. With stand up you lose the joy of discovery.” Also, Conan teaches us listeners about just how fickle Nielsen ratings are. Apparently, there’s no correlation from the show’s quality to ratings. On top of all this, there’s a very funny riff on Wolf Blitzer’s reporting style AND Birbiglia tries out a quality chunk on how birthdays lost all their meaning in the pandemic. Yet another A+ episode for this show. Plus, it’s just over an hour. Can’t go wrong here.
Yo Yo Ma on WTF: Just like when Hunter Biden appeared on the show, I had to do a double take when I saw world class cellist Yo Yo Ma listed as the guest for a garage pod. Maron admitted off the top he didn’t know what to expect which always makes for good listening so I tuned in. Having survived to tell the tale of the podcast, I have to say, although the man has lived an extraordinary life, having performed for John F Kennedy at seven years old and receiving just about every accolade an artist humanly could, I didn’t quite ever fully immerse myself into this one. Don’t get me wrong. There are interesting bits here and there like how Yo Yo Ma needs perfect acoustic conditions (here I was thinking he was unflappable), he lives in Cambridge (which seems so droll for a world renowned genius), he didn’t resent his parents for getting him into cello so young but my ears only truly perked up when he waxed about how the pandemic relaxed him in a way he’d never experienced before having been on the road for eight months a year. Amazing that you reach that level and you just travel and travel and travel. Also, as mentioned in the episode notes, there is a fantastic short story about Fred Rogers that is too fun to spoil. It’s toward the end and really ties things together neatly.
“Big & Tall the Unlikely Birthplace of Alt Comedy” by David Peisner: Need more comedy nerd content? Well, you just might be in luck. Vulture just ran this great piece about the budding alt scene in early 90s LA. The thrust of it is Janeane Garofalo booked a show at a bookstore called “Big & Tall” where every cool comedian you ever liked performed and this is a really well written, researched long-form profile of an era and perfect reading for a slow day at whatever it is you do.
um, to the moon, alice