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Comedy Stray Notes May 30, 2021
On John Mulaney's City Winery residency, an interview I conducted with a director, a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" spec script and a web series you have to see
• I have a bit of a “scoop” in this week’s newsletter, folks. This past Monday evening, my wife Anna Paone, friend Danny Braff, a few of his comrades and I attended one of John Mulaney’s performances as part of his City Winery residency. Out of respect for an artist working out new material, I’ll share only the bare bones of what transpired:
Audience members were escorted to a spacious, upscale banquet hall and seated at tables which gave the evening a more casual feel. All of our phones were encased in Yondr pouches and put on airplane mode so as to not disturb the show in any way (somehow, a phone still went off during the show; we later learned it was Mulaney’s own phone from backstage in one of the night’s funniest moments). Seaton Smith opened and created a bubbly, lively environment to set the stage for the evening’s headliner (comedy nerd factoid: Seaton was in Mulaney’s sitcom “Mulaney” which deserves a re-evaluation).
Mulaney came to the stage and was quick to address and mock how this was being labeled his “vulnerable hour” as seen in the elaborate Jesse David Fox Vulture piece released after the first stint of this residency. That self-deprecating, self-reflective tone followed for the next hour and change as he hopped from the story of when he did an interview with GQ that he doesn’t remember anything from to an anecdote of how his intervention went down complete with impressive name drops (mild spoiler: Mulaney does a spot-on Nick Kroll impression) and unmistakably Mulaney-esque tales from rehab. Although this was a “working it out” hour, it felt urgent, vital and most importantly, very funny.
However, it should be noted that these “heavy” confessional chunks did not make up the entire hour. There were very funny detours like his take on the “three people dead or alive he’d like to dine with” premise that was the best take on the familiar idea I’d ever heard, a crowd-pleasing Al Pacino impression (a bit of a spoiler BUT something to look forward to for sure when you see this) and a hypothetical musing on Alexander Graham Bell and his wife.
I can’t wait to see the final, polished version of whatever “this” becomes. The Mulaney saga continues.
Interesting side note: You’d expect an audience full of ostensibly hardcore fans would be polite and not heckle. Nope. He was yelled at multiple times by audience members who shouted disrespectful off-color remarks. No matter how high up the food chain you go, haters are going to drunkenly do their thing.
• I recently interviewed Atlanta-based director and visual artist Arma Benoit about her blossoming film career and path she took to get to where she is today for The Ritz Herald. Although we talked about larger projects of hers, my favorite excerpt is her description of her series “Making Art Work”:
“Well, I wanted to know what it’s like for people that do their art, and that’s all they do. No day jobs, no trust funds, but also not blue check millionaire artists. They make it their work and they also make art work for them. So, I started interviewing artists that met this requirement. Many times, these people were living in their grandparent’s basement, and most of their days were spent keeping up with email, Instagram, and paying to have logos designed. It’s not the romanticized starving artist life one might imagine.”
• Here’s a speed round of very funny things I saw on the web just this week. Just two:
- While browsing Twitter, I spotted Alon Elian’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” spec script entitled “The Floss.” As a major “Curb” fan looking for a fix of the show’s particular brand of neuroticism, I dove in and tore through this 34-page script complete with four storylines that tie together beautifully as the show so famously does each episode. Alon perfectly captures Larry’s voice as evidenced by this dialogue:
“(The toothpick) is a completely antiquated and functionally useless tool. You can barely get in between your teeth! It breaks off in your teeth and leaves little pieces. I'll tell you what you should be giving out at the end of the meal. Floss.”
- One of the best, most consistent Instagram web series since the start of the pandemic has to be “You Good?” with Talib Babb. Typically clocking in under two minutes apiece, Talib plays a therapist who talks comedians through highly specific issues with tough love, humor and actual practical advice. A recent edition featuring Derek Humphrey begins with Humphrey struggling with the fact he has to go back to the office and Talib talks a bit of sense into his patient that is equal parts hilarious and genuinely pretty clever. If you like this one, there are a ton of others and they’re all worthy of discovering on his excellent Instagram.
• In between a major “Better Call Saul” binge (how good is Michael McKean as Odenkirk’s older brother?), I found time to catch two films and an acclaimed web series this week. Here are my mini reviews:
“Boy’s State” (2020): This documentary floored me. It’s a simple tale of a group of Texan teens with political aspirations selected for the weeklong “Boy’s State” that serves as a microcosm for the entire electoral process. Only with more teenage awkwardness. Over the course of the week, the field is whittled down to candidates who stand out from the pack (keep an eye on state party chair Rene Otero; he’s going to make waves) and put together legitimate campaigns complete with smear attacks via memes, false information and genuine insight in the game that is politics. Following four students (conniving Ben Feinstein, Liberal activist Steven Garza, opportunistic Bitcoin investor Robert McDougall and born leader Rene Otero), the film is a reminder of the testosterone-filled one upmanship that comes with being a 17-year-old, a clear-eyed depiction of how Conservative viewpoints are fostered from a young age and mostly an uplifting and horrifying vision of the future of politics. Watching characters compromise their points of view to appeal to their voters is as dispirting as anything I’ve seen in any movie all year. All that being said, a few of the speeches in the film are truly inspirational and this is the rare naturally funny documentary. IF YOU’RE TRYING TO FIND OUT WHAT GEN Z IS UP TO, LOOK NO FURTHER (Streaming on Apple TV).
“The Beastie Boys Story” (2020): You know how everyone’s like “That meeting could have been an email?” This movie, directed by Spike Jonze (!), could have been a podcast. That being said, I didn’t dislike it; it was just essentially a greatest hits retelling of The Beastie Boys story by Mike D and Adam Horovitz at Kings Theater in Brooklyn. Told in a tongue in cheek style (I laughed especially hard at the line “We grew up on The Foo Fighters”), the two share archival footage of their humble origins, breakthrough success, confusing failures, tragedies, triumphs and everything in between. I was especially taken with Horovitz’s wise line reflecting on their immature lyrics from the 80s when he said, “I’d rather be a hypocrite than never change.” Amen to that.
If you’re a fan it goes down really smooth but if you’re not, I can tell you that you’ll be treated to amazing pop culture artifacts like video of The Beasties opening for Madonna, promos with a young Rick Rubin and an outtakes sequence featuring David Cross, Ben Stiller, Steve Buscemi plus a quick clip from Joan Rivers hosting a talk show with the guys when they were young. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR AN NPR STYLE FILM ABOUT GEN X RELIVING THEIR YOUTH, LOOK NO FURTHER (Streaming on Apple TV).
“555” (2017): Kate Berlant and John Early poke fun at different types of showbiz amateurs in this excellent five-episode series (all roughly ten minutes apiece) that mixes satire with slice of life naturalism effortlessly. “555” begins with its darkest installment featuring two warring mall singers fighting for ownership over a pop song the Early character stole from Berlant. Where it goes is ballsy, unapologetic and even a bit upsetting. I’d recommend it in a heartbeat. Episode two, about a precocious child (Early) who doesn’t have the talent his uncultured stage mom (Berlant) believes him to have is fine as is the third about vapid acting students who have a breakthrough in an acting class led by Kristen Johnson. However, the fourth episode is the series’ zenith. Simply set on a makeup trailer in a film set, Early and Berlant play extras having their faces painted on while they try to schedule plans to “just film a video with a neighbor friend’s Red camera.” Too relatable. Episode five is pure silliness between two agent characters, one of whom loses their sight, but it’s really all about number four here. A PERFECT SEND UP OF THOSE WHO HAVEN’T MADE IT.
* Note: While finishing the series, I spotted in the credits that Izzy Roos set decorated and Steve Girard animated. Excellent work all around.
Well, that’s all. Gonna do an open mic this week for the first time in over a year this week. Expect a story next week where I use the phrase “shaking the rust off” like three times