Discover more from Matt Levy's Comedy Stray Notes
Comedy Stray Notes November 15, 2021
This newsletter features my new sketch, the end of an era, rare negative reviews and a very funny stand-up clip
• Anna and I moved to Sunnyside, Queens on October 1. Before that, I’d been wanting to make a sketch about a realtor showing an open house for months. I had location after location fall through. Then, all of a sudden, on October 1, we moved into a “location.” Anna was kind enough to let us put moving in aside for a day and film. So, I enlisted the talents of Anna, Deno DeMartino, Christiana Jackson, and Andrew Durso to make this three-page script a reality. They all showed, were hilarious and somehow everything went according to plan. The only hiccup was when our new neighbor got locked out of her place while we were filming so she came in and watched for a bit but otherwise it was smooth sailing.
Now, I’m not going to spoil what this three-minute “Open House” sketch is about since I think it’s really funny and you should go in as blindly as you can but I will say the original inspiration before I put pen to paper here was a very “I Think You Should Leave” premise about a Tim Robinson-type seeing a toy laying in the bedroom on an apartment tour and becomes obsessed with it being included if he ends up renting the place. I promise this sketch is better than that concept.
Before I move on, I wanted to thank Barak Ziv for the slick animated logo that opens the sketch. Without it, this short vid is missing a bit of extra oomph. Also, I wanted to point out a valuable tip I learned while editing this sketch in Adobe Premiere that may be common sense to others. There’s an audio filter called “DeNoise” that allows editors to remove background A/C sounds. It’s not perfect but the audio quality in this sketch improved tenfold because of it. Easy fix, highly recommended.
OK, that’s it. Here’s “Open House.” I think you’ll like it.
• Did a spur-of-the-moment spot on Daniel Perafan’s Last Call Comedy show at Bridge and Tunnel in Ridgewood hosted by Stephen Campbell. In my eight years in NY, I’d never been to that Brooklyn neighborhood, so I got to do that thing where I feel like a tourist in a new neighborhood completely lost taking in my surroundings. Walked into the welcoming bar with dozen-plus original homebrews and felt at home right away. The bartender was a comic on the show and gave me a generous pour. I saw familiar faces Jon Schuta and Brandon Garner (both of whom had excellent sets and should be booked on your shows if you’re reading this and have that ability). All of a sudden, it felt like 2019 again. The crowd was generous, the comics were top-notch, the circumstances were ideal.
As for me, my set was fine. Started slow with a riff I didn’t quite believe in but came around. Whoa! I was doing well again for the first time in what felt like years. Then, I lost the room. I could hear people talking in the back and like any comic, I prefer to bomb in silence rather than compete with conversation. Somehow, I improbably won the crowd back with a tag at the end of my set I thought of at the moment. Not a wonderful performance on my end, but a hell of a show. Would definitely recommend hanging if you’re reading and haven’t been.
Plus, the nearby Bushwick Taco Company is so good and fast that it’s worth the trip to the neighborhood alone.
• For the past two years, every single weekday at noon, I would write two jokes as part of ComedyWire’s $50 daily contests where you could win money for coming up with punchlines to their prompts. Unfortunately, that is no more. This week, ComedyWire ended the long-running daily competition. I should have seen the writing on the wall since the second to last joke subject was “Signs the end is near.” My takes were “The credits start rolling” and “Your parents say, ‘We think it’s time you get your own place.’” The final setup was “Worst ways to say goodbye” and I entered “The Irish way” and “Getting canceled.” None of these jokes even came close to winning but I still loved coming up with them. Kudos to Nick Jack Pappas and the ComedyWire team, you somehow made weekdays at noon exciting.
• You really should see Alex Payne live before he explodes onto the mainstream. As a longtime fan of my friend who would effortlessly close out bar shows back in the day, I now know what’s he fully capable of after seeing his one-man storytelling hour “Home Stories.” Although it’s intricately executed weaving through stories of family members and his innermost thoughts, Alex somehow gave the performance a vulnerable, no-frills style that gave it the appearance of the best kind of stand-up rather than the ostentatious showmanship that is usually associated with one-man shows.
No need to give away the jokes before you see this one live or on Netflix in a few years but know that this is a heavy performance with the light touch of a master. Alex opens the set saying, “I never talk like this” and then dives into his grandfather’s multiple identities, gang wars, what his father thinks King Kong really stands for, his grandmother’s mental illness, the Rodney King riots, an obsession with fame, the neverending news cycle, police brutality, the Holocaust. Plus, there was a mean Mickey and Goofy impression mixed in there. I’m barely scratching the surface here. He does a lot.
Give Alex a topic- he’ll come at it with an insightful angle that will make you recontextualize something you thought you knew.
• Best thing I saw on Instagram this week was a clip of Connor Dixon’s stand-up. In it, he describes the weirdest haircut experience he’s ever had. The two-minute story is equal parts hilarious and beguiling. I couldn’t even believe this happened yet somehow it seems entirely real. Give it a watch and follow Connor- he’s consistently bringing the goods.
• This week, I finished two Apple TV shows, saw a movie in the theaters, listened to a podcast, and caught SNL. I’d love to keep this brief but you know me. Here goes.
“Physical” (2021): This new Apple TV offering is the anti-“Ted Lasso.” It’s a feel-bad comedy with a dynamite 80s soundtrack. That doesn’t mean it’s bad though. In fact, it’s quite insightful and provides a lived-in snapshot of upper middle class 1980s SoCal. Starring Rose Byrne as burnt-out, self-loathing housewife Sheila Rubin, the pilot begins with her at a low point as we live in her head hearing her inner monologue. She cant’ stand herself, has an obsession with food and is missing a reason for being. Once she’s exposed to an aerobics class at the mall though, she finds her purpose even going so far as to become a teacher. Once she does, she dispenses wisdom like “The only one that can change your self-image is you!” Then, after class, she’s paid peanuts. Somehow, this small human drama turns into a small-scale “Breaking Bad” type narrative for this fractured, intriguing protagonist over the course of its ten episodes.
On the other side of the coin, her toxic, ex-hippy husband Danny (skillfully underplayed by Rory Scovel) has been let go from his position as professor at a local university. Sheila urges him to run for office using water conservation as his platform. They even come up with the great slogan “Save the Wave.” These two storylines guide the season and expose some harsh truths like- men don’t see what’s really going on in women’s lives, politicians can be ungrateful hypocrites and the dream of 1960s liberalism had become a joke by the 80s.
Side characters are given dramatic arcs- a crumbling marriage is salvaged in a fascinating way, a carefree surfer faces a truly debilitating setback, parents are absent, offscreen characters lose their jobs at the hands of greedy leads on the show. One great tragicomic bit built into an episode had all the characters scrambling for money for different reasons all at the same time. Every time I thought the show painted itself into a corner it couldn’t get out of, it somehow washed itself free. The show goes more real, deeper, and sadder than most dramedies while still mining humor out of its very human characters. “Physical” goes down easy; IT’S “FEEL BAD’ COMFORT FOOD (Streaming on Apple TV).
“Schmigadoon” (2021): This hit squarely in the middle of mine and Anna’s Venn Diagram of interests: comedy veterans Keegan Michael Key and Cecily Strong in the leads supported by Martin Short and Fred Armisen with writing by Julie Klausner and Bowen Yang for me; all things musical for her. Somehow, I didn’t quite jibe with this show though. Key and Strong play against type as buttoned-down doctors on a romantic trip gone wrong that get lost and end up in a town that is essentially a 1940s classic Hollywood musical. Rather than embracing it, Key plays the post-modern cynical type complaining about the singing every step of the way ignoring his hammy impulses (I think Jordan Peele would have been far more well-suited for this role), and Strong dials it down from her SNL character work quite a bit as well. There’s no real reason for this universe to exist other than to rekindle the relationship of this romantically lost couple and comment on conservative, small towns.
However, that’s not to say the show isn’t fun in places. Kristin Chenoweth and her “Mothers Against the Future” consistently cracked me up. Plus, a few unbroken sequences where she sang elaborate numbers blew me away. The Technicolor town’s set design was Emmy-worthy. A storyline where Key ends up dating a minor by accident plays out like a funny fable. Every episode begins with a bit of back story from the Key/Strong relationship back in New York and each never failed to make me laugh- one where a friend of theirs gets naked while performing in a play they immediately walked out on was a standout.
Still, the cheeriness and the on-the-nose songs often left me unamused and bored. I hate to sound so stiff and yes I know it’s parodying a genre I don’t know all that well but “Schmigadoon” suffered from a bit of “Good Place-itis,” where it’s so wrapped up in its own world, THAT THOSE WHO AREN’T THAT INTO IT, LIKE ME, TUNE OUT (Streaming on Apple TV).
“Last Night In Soho” (2021): Edgar Wright is 100% one of the greatest living comedy directors. Easy. However, this foray into horror, shows that maybe he should stick to what he does best. This U.K.-based suspenseful flick tells the story of Ellie, a fashion student who has visions of her deceased mother. She can’t seem to kick it with the cool girls in the dorm (the evil roommate Jocasta played with venom by Synnove Karlsen makes Ellie’s mom’s suicide about her) so she moves to a nearby flat and begins to have visions of a 1960s socialite/singer Sandie that seems to mirror reality. This all really happened (in the movie that is). Ellie sets out to solve her murder. Cool plot. I’m totally on board. Plus, the 60s are brought to life with true panache. There are smart lines of dialogue like “That’s the least I could do for you?” “What’s the most?” Plenty of twists. Topsy-turvy dance sequences. A truly ace soundtrack.
Somehow, though, 99% of this movie is completely serious and missing the tongue-in-cheek tone that Wright is known for.
All that being said, I will admit I didn’t even come up with this negative opinion on my own. When it was over, I thought this film was fine, serviceable, OK. However, my friend tore into it claiming it was all style over substance. Yeah, more than anything this movie is a pastiche of everything Wright loves which isn’t a problem- great artists steal- it just was missing the love back from Wright in return. Even with its dark subject matter, a bit of humor would have saved the day. FOR WRIGHT COMPLETISTS ONLY (Still in theaters).
WTF with Ricky Velez: I always listen to episodes of Maron where he talks to the younger generation of comics who have spent the majority of their career listening to the podcast. They’ve got something to prove. In this episode with Ricky Velez, Velez mentions that he met Maron once before but of course, Maron didn’t remember him. Man, I love comedy power move stuff like that. The disappointment Velez feels here next to Maron’s indifference is what podcasts are all about. So much drama in a moment. There’s a couple of great moments here too where they bond over their love-hate relationship with New York’s Broadway Comedy Club and Velez’s family tragedies. Not a must-listen but a solid 7/10 WTF.
SNL with Jonathan Majors: Rarely when watching SNL do I forget who’s hosting. That happened this week during this misfire of an episode. After an unbelievable hot streak, the variety show was due for a dud. There were occasional inspired moments here but shows like this make me wonder why they release the cut sketches to the public when they could just save them for weak outings. Anyhow, here are some slapdash thoughts on each sketch ranked from home runs to strikeouts:
Man Park: Perfect pre-tape about how hard it is for men in relationships to find friends. Hit close to home and made me laugh on re-watch.
Weekend Update: Strong jokes comparing Kyle Rittenhouse to Brett Kavanaugh and how long a Steve Bannon life sentence did it for me but the real standouts were Sarah Sherman’s Colin Jost callouts and Aristotle Athari’s Laughingtosh 3000.
Please Don’t Destroy: You won’t find a bigger fan of the guys than me but by ditching minimalism and going big with “Three Sad Virgins,” their small charms were diminished.
Strange Kid Tales: Admire the performances they got out of kids here with their creepy tales but the joke that Kenan is freaked out by these stories got tiresome after a bit.
Broadway Benefit: Although this was a bit lifeless there was enough loopy, catty dialogue from Cecily Strong and Bowen Yang to keep me on board.
March of the Suitors: Started slowly as a medieval Chloe Fineman looked for a partner; things picked up when Ego Nwodim had her best moment on the show yet scolding Jonathan Majors for going after Fineman while being married to her.
Audacity in Advertising: Something about watching SNL actors play Flo and Jake from State Farm is too much of putting a hat on a hat for me; some fun fake ads though and a nice jab at Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial elevate this above a strikeout.
Pastor Announcement: A pastor and his wife searching for new partners? A bit similar to March of the Suitors. This one just felt too unrealistic and bizarre to land. Plus, they did that comedy thing where they list all the dating apps. Come on, SNL. You’re better than that.
Ted Cruz Cold Open: Whenever they overstuff cold opens with EVERYTHING in the news, it’s hard for the wheels to spin. Also, they need a real impressionist to imitate Joe Rogan.
Jonathan Majors monologue: Majors seems great and has quite a life story but none of the jokes really did anything special. Kinda wish we got a song & dance number or crowd Q & A.
Bone, Thugs, and Harmony: I wanted to like this so bad. It just never really went anywhere though. Went to crazy town- wish we learned more about the characters than the bones.
Final quick hits:
-There’s a fun video on Twitter making the rounds of the new SNL cast members (James Austin Johnson, Sarah Sherman, and Aristotle Athari) sitting around answering questions about getting the call to be on the show and their auditions. The three are very funny together and the most exciting grouping of new Not Ready for Primetime Players in years. Good, short watch.
- Fred Armisen appeared on Fallon a little over a week ago strumming his guitar to demonstrate how music evolved from the early 70s to 2000s. He nails the sound and makes up clever nonsense lyrics that demonstrate that it doesn’t matter what you say- if a song rocks, a song rocks. It’s funny and full of catchy riffs. Great way to spend five minutes.
Stay tuned for next week. Got an interesting story ready to go.
I swear, it’s interesting.
OK. Maybe not that interesting but I like it