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Comedy Stray Notes October 5, 2021
On getting published on a legit entertainment site, the SNL season premiere and two one-minute videos you have to see
• It’s possible you may have noticed there were no Comedy Stray Notes last week. It’s also possible this completely flew under your radar. I would understand that more. Anyhow, the reason for my absence is twofold. First, the wife (Anna) and I took a short weekend trip to Albuquerque, NM last Friday-Sunday attending a wedding and taking a self-guided “Better Call Saul” tour led by Anna. Yes, we saw the nail salon Jimmy McGill lives in for the first few seasons in person. There’s also a Wienerschnitzel in that parking lot if you were curious. The second reason I didn’t get around to writing anything last week was we’ve been in the middle of a move from Long Island City in Queens to Sunnyside in Queens. Our new place is 1.1 miles from our old one but the relocation took all of our off-time this week and writing a self-indulgent newsletter ranked pretty low on the list of priorities. Anyhow, I now have time back on my hands. So, here’s my self-indulgent newsletter.
• I’ve been trying to bolster my writing resume for years. Other than this newsletter, “A Profile About You” and coming in second place in a “young adult screenwriting competition” a decade ago, I don’t have any real credits. So, this summer, I applied for a few different “Contributing Writer” positions at various entertainment sites. One passed me onto the writing sample phase of the application process where I spent two days writing multiple essays to see if I had the “goods” to advance to the next round. I didn’t have the goods.
That didn’t deter me though. I was completely determined to get a byline on one of these sites so I soldiered on and went through the same process sending in a cover letter and resume to Screen Rant. They replied quickly and requested I write about one of their pre-selected topics. The topic? “Hubie Halloween.” My thesis? That the film was a “secret ‘Happy Gilmore’ and ‘Billy Madison’ sequel.” I spent way too long coming up with that. Then, I began a months-long training writing pieces to never be seen by anyone about “Breaking Bad” and the Hillary Swank “Karate Kid.” After a lot of trial and error, SEO training, and rewriting, I became a Screen Rant writer. Thus far, I have written one piece about a now semi-old episode of “Ted Lasso.” The cool thing though is I have a byline on a legitimate site. Resume bolstered.
• One of the best parts of society reopening has to be the return of the bar show. Damn, I missed a good bar show with like eight comics doing eight minutes. It’s one of the most perfect ways to see comedy. Not too much, not too little. Matt Vita’s weekly at Young Ethel’s in Brooklyn is just that. I sat in on his show two Tuesdays ago. There were many great comics I’d never seen before but more than anything just BEING THERE created such a sense of lost camaraderie that for a brief moment it felt like pre-pandemic life. As fun as it was to hear jokes in a low-pressure environment, seeing comics I hadn’t seen in person in over a year was the greatest treat of all. This is a fantastic hang show and if you’re still on the fence about showing up to support, please know that there’s an 11 PM mic afterward too. Remember those? I didn’t.
• Got two super quick, super funny, super unique comedy recommendations that you can find on your Instagram feed (that is, if the app isn’t still down when you’re reading this):
-Comedic duo Max Weinbach and Nicky Weinbach are constantly making classic conventions seem brand new. In their most recent video, the two of them bring their trademark matching suits and rat-a-tat-tat absurdist patter to a place I’d always fantasized about doing a set: an airplane. Introduced by a flight attendant, Max and Nicky take center stage and perform for what I have to imagine are unsuspecting passengers. Now, no one likes to have their flight interrupted but somehow this crowd was incredibly receptive to the duo act. This makes sense- the jokes are brief, silly, and would work anywhere. Even 35,000 feet in the air.
- I loved how incredibly simple Dan Harumi’s animated over-the-counter medicine review is. By reviewing things that don’t even deserve reviews, it feels like Dan has invented a new type of comedy giving weight to the commonplace going into detail about their active ingredients and effects. Best of all, stay for hysterical analysis like, “Zyrtec makes me feel like a monster. I can’t explain it. It does work though.”
• Over the past two weeks, I mostly moved boxes. In rare moments of downtime, I caught the season premiere of SNL and two somewhat random films. Here are my lukewarm takes.
SNL hosted by Owen Wilson: This was an odd duck of a season premiere. While Owen Wilson is indisputably great, his character actor status lent itself to an episode that felt more like a solid, B/B+ midseason edition of the show rather than a flashy season premiere. I’m not really complaining; it was more just a different flavor than I was expecting.
The whole episode was just a little different than I expected. Right out of the gate, brand new featured player James Austin Johnson came in to play the Darrell Hammond master impressionist role in such an assured way that it almost lessened the blow that was Beck Bennett’s summer departure. Although JAJ’s Biden was more accurate than funny, it was possibly the most impressive cast member debut in history including the first episode in show history way back in 1975. When I throw out that praise, I’m pointing more toward his incredible straight man performance in the “Crazy House” sketch as a showcase for his chops than his Biden. It’s going to be exciting to see where he goes from here.
The old guard made up of Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, Pete Davidson, Kyle Mooney, Kenan Thompson, Colin Jost, and Michael Che seem to have outgrown the show. They feel like they’re all there against their own will. I love them but it’s time to let the new kids shine. All of the above are more than worthy of their own TV shows and most of them have already had that opportunity contradicting the famous “Not Ready For Primetime Players” bit that used to be the show’s backbone. Word on the street is they’ll all stay on the show until Season 50. We’ll see if Lorne sticks to that game plan after this season ends.
This 90-minute variety pack really did everything it could to cram all of the summer news stories in as best it could. Sticking out most like a sore thumb was an outdated Jeff Bezos space race piece that felt like a clone of one from Jon Stewart’s new show starring Jason Alexander as Bezos which came out (checks notes) on July 20, 2021. Just a bizarre choice.
What makes said choice even odder is that the cut for time sketch “Splitting the check” was so supremely absurd and different that it was a shame it got the ax instead of the forgettable Bezos bit. I’ve linked it in the comments below and I implore you to stay for the entirety of the sketch as it goes to places you wouldn’t expect after watching just half.
“Out of Sight” (1998): My opening line to my wife Anna on Tinder years ago was, “What was your favorite movie released in 1998?” This was the movie she chose. I’d seen it years before but didn’t really remember it and always felt bad we never revisited one of her favorites. So, this year, the game plan was to watch it on our anniversary which we did. Better yet, Anna was so familiar with the film’s twists and minor plot holes that she explained confusing non-linear scenes to me with ease.
The two-hour three-minute cat and mouse caper full of double-crossing and convoluted crime plots are really just a cover-up for a forbidden love story at its center between a career criminal played by George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez’s federal agent. Surrounding them is an epic cast comprised of Ving Rhames as the sensitive best friend literally named Buddy, Don Cheadle as a crooked boxer, Steve Zahn as a scatterbrained low-level traitor, and Albert Brooks with ridiculous prosthetic teeth and numerous toupees. There’s also a young Viola Davis thrown into the mix for good measure.
Let’s go non-linear now and go back to the first scene.
“Out of Sight” starts strongly with a beautifully executed, timeless bank robbery con that demonstrates just why Clooney is a movie star- he can make menacing charming.
The rest of the movie is certainly good full of stylish flourishes like the odd freeze-frame and jumpy edits to keep you on your toes, but it never quite reaches the heights of where it began. At times, “OoS” felt like it was just a bit too complicated and trying too hard to be “Pulp Fiction.” However, the love story at the center, talented cast, quotable lines, and Anna’s love for the film GIVE THIS A THUMB’S UP FROM ME (Purchased on Amazon Prime).
“Freaky” (2020): Just when you think the body swap comedy has been done in every way imaginable, the Blumhouse-ified horror movie version adds a worthy contribution to this minor subgenre. The 2020 film which got a very minor theatrical release before being dumped to streaming is also now playing on Jet Blue flights all over the country and I can vouch that it makes for a quick watch when flying across the country on a red-eye.
As for the story, you’ve seen it before- what makes “Freaky” special are the changed ingredients. Here, an innocent teenager (Kathryn Newton) whose favorite film is “Pitch Perfect 2” even though she tells everyone it’s “Eternal Sunshine” has a late-night, near-death encounter with an escaped convict (Vince Vaughn) that causes them to switch bodies. Forget the logic behind the switch and stay for the well-done world-building where the Vaughn character turns into a bubbly teenager who nearly engages in a farcical romantic interaction with his/her own mom and Newton becomes a sociopath living at home eating pancakes with her bare hands in one of those classic dedicated gross-out bits that always skirt the line of funny and nasty. The same could be said for a lot of the movie- some violence here is certainly gratuitous (I guess it is a horror film) and many jokes feel pulled from the new era of “Jumanji” body swap comedies. STILL, THE MOVIE WALKS THE HORROR COMEDY LINE DEFTLY EVEN IF IT SOMETIMES SLIPS A BIT (Streaming on Hulu).
• There won’t be any Comedy Stray Notes this coming week because I’ll be at a wedding in Florida. I’ll be back on October 17 with two whole new weeks of fresh, hot stray notes ready to go for you.
Au revoir, Shoshanna