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Comedy Stray Notes October 12, 2021
On New Mexico's burgeoning comedy scene and how storytelling can get you out of a rut plus potentially controversial reviews of the Kim Kardashian SNL episode and "The Problem with Jon Stewart"
• Although I was born and raised in the Southwest, I’ve never been to New Mexico. Ever since I was a young Phoenician, it ranked high on my list of places to visit but somehow it never happened other than the random layover until I finally made it there a few weeks back. One of the major reasons for my visit was to check out Albuquerque’s flourishing comedy scene. I’d heard good things through the grapevine and after going to a showcase in the heart of the city, I can confirm those rumors are true. The ABQ truly does have a wellspring of budding, comic talent. Put on by the effortlessly effervescent Sarah Kennedy, she featured a run of diverse comics I’d never seen before but could easily see doing late night. My favorite sets I saw that evening took Pixar concepts to darker, more messed up places than I’d ever heard and the other best bit paid tribute to Sarah in a cheeky, reverential way. Forget the green chili. The main attraction in New Mexico is the jokes.
If you can’t travel to the great state yourself, try checking out the Funny Fiesta on Oct. 14-23. Many shows will be available for sweet, sweet streaming. I got the link with all the information below.
• I’ve gotten into the habit of performing just once a month since June. It’s not intentional; it’s just been like this somehow for five months.
This has led to a number of rusty sets (well, if you’re counting, that’s five rusty sets) but this last one, at a storytelling mic at the Tiny Cupboard, while rusty, felt the most organic. On Tuesdays, James Sueling gives comics a whopping seven minutes to tell stories. Participating comics can either follow a pre-assigned theme or do their own thing. I went my own way and told the tale of three Mets players living in the last building Anna Paone and I resided in and how we had one awkward encounter with a player’s wife hoping to become friends with her. It’s not an amazing story but it was liberating to go onstage and not feel obligated to have a punchline every 15-20 seconds. If you’re feeling like you’re in a rut, storytelling is a fantastic way to break out of that headspace. You’ll get to tell an actual story with a beginning, middle, and end (hopefully) and might even find laughs where you’d least expect them. Would recommend.
Side stray note: Matt Storrs and Laura High told exceptional stories full of life and humor that night. Book these two if you’re a booker or see them if you’re a fan. They’re both darn good.
• Bypassed TikTok and watched two amazing shorts with New York comics this week on my favorite medium of all: YouTube. Check these two out:
- Sarah Tollemache and Greg Stone star in the scarily accurate five-minute “NYC Landlord” that is a perfect recreation of what the landlord experience in the City is like. Here, Sarah’s character’s shower isn’t working and Greg’s Greek landlord enters without knocking- it’s his building. Why would he need to? This sets up a number of fantastic comic interactions where Greg ingratiates himself into Sarah’s life rummaging through her paperwork and offering doorknobs made by a friend. Best of all, Sarah’s underplayed, naturalistic style meshes perfectly with Greg’s broad, boorish approach. The two are a heck of a comedic duo.
- Newsletter writer powerhouse Matt Ruby is also a gifted sketch writer and director in his own right. This week I happened to come across his hysterical “Behind the velvet rope: Nightclub doormen reveal their secrets (Club Scale)” starring Dan Soder and Joe List. The two quickly distinguish the important difference between bouncers and doormen then teach you more about velvet rope than you ever knew you wanted to know. Soder and List both give fantastic, lived-in performances and for two minutes, you forget that these are comics- you genuinely buy that they’re doormen (not bouncers).
- If it was up to me, I’d be watching TV and movies every day, non-stop, all the time. Unfortunately, that’s just not the world I live in. So, for now, here are the few things I did see and what I done thought about them.
-Don’t know if I’m writing with rose-colored glasses or not but SNL is only two episodes deep into this young season and already has found a rhythm. It may be the gargantuan cast size spreading the wealth so there’s a true variety of voices or veteran writers having a keener understanding of what works for TV but whatever is going on, the jokes are smarter, faster, and more consistent than seasons’ past in my humble opinion. I mean, one wouldn’t expect an episode hosted by Kim Kardashian to make fun of the media mogul in a way that approached genuine satire more than easy parody. Yet, there Kardashian was at the center going in for the kill lampooning her sisters stealing her look, Kanye’s shortcomings as a partner, and how SNL’s viewership will never touch how many people watch her Instagram stories. This was just the monologue.
The rest of the episode was equally strong. Rookie James Austin Johnson stepped in for Kate McKinnon’s Lindsey Graham in the Cold Open mocking out-of-touch Senators deliberating on Facebook’s Instagram for Kids and brought a creepier spin to the role than the childlike imp McKinnon played the diminutive lawmaker as. The guy is making a huge mark.
Another huge mark made on the show came from writers turned next-generation digital shorts artisans Please Don’t Destroy. The three young comic actors who got a ton of buzz this summer made their debut with the brief two-minute sketch “Hard seltzer.” The goofy sponsored drink game is a perfect distillation of their sensibility- ridiculous jokes played straight very quickly, escalations every few seconds, and finally a surprising resolution of conflict. If you can’t tell, I’m a fan and very excited to see how Lorne and co. let the three writers turned actors spread their wings over the next few weeks.
The unspoken part of the conversation here, however, has to be around SNL’s new stunt hosting pattern. This new host-selection method where the show brings in high-profile non-actors like Elon Musk and this year’s Kim K understandably anger the show’s real fans. However, these one-off episodes built around a personality bring in more eyeballs than “normal” episodes like this year’s season premiere with Owen Wilson (Deadline reports that ratings were up 0.3 which means 0.3% more of the US watched this episode). So, purists, get used to it. There’s most likely going to be a lot more of these episodes with major personalities who have tons of followers rather than traditional performers in the future. Here’s hoping we get Banksy next.
• Side stray note: The 70s iteration of the show had a TON of oddball hosts like The Rolling Stones, Ron Nessen (Gerald Ford’s press secretary), and an elderly woman named Miskel Spillman who won an “Anyone can host” contest. None were major personalities (other than The Stones here) but the episodes had a cohesive feel where the show focused on the host rather than letting them blend in. In my opinion, they’re a nice departure from your typical grab bag show.
- “The Problem with Jon Stewart” premiered on Apple TV and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. It FEELS important- rawer and more civic-minded than the already iconically political “The Daily Show.” However, by acting as almost straight news, Stewart loses his greatest weapon: irony.
To be fair, Stewart’s second greatest weapon is righteous indignation. This show has a lot of that as Stewart intercuts between 1) his writer’s staff riffing, 2) the actual show where he seriously covers US military waste disposal AKA “burn pits” AKA that put veterans’ lives at risk, and 3) confrontational interviews with lawmakers. It’s a lot. Yes, it’s educational and rewarding to hear the soldiers’ side of the story but by speaking truth to power with a straight, angered face, one of our all-time great satirists loses quite a bit of his potency. Here’s hoping later episodes smirk more at those in charge rather than just fight.
- Everywhere I turn, I hear about Laurie Santos’ “Happiness Project.” It’s one of the most popular podcasts going these days and feels more vital than ever as we all try to bounce back from our post-post-pandemic funk. I’ll be real though. I hadn’t listened. I needed a gateway to this non-comedy pod. Thankfully, Santos made a pit stop on Pete Holmes’ “You Made It Weird” which is exactly the intro I needed. In an atypically short episode coming in at 75 minutes, Holmes and Santos discuss her podcast and happiness frankly. It’s not a showstopper but I did walk away with one interesting observation that came from a study: talking to people rather than keeping to yourself makes you happier (so true, at least for me). That nugget alone was worth the entire episode for me. Santos knows her stuff.
• Cool news coming next week. Be on the lookout.
Over and out, amigos. Over and out.