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Comedy Stray Notes September 12, 2021
On the shows I didn't get to see this week, a Trader Joe's TikTok and a podcast about mental health among a few other things
• As we head into month 18 (!) of the pandemic, its influence is still felt nearly every single day in new and upsetting ways. Just today, the New York Times reported 146,790 cases and 1,666 new deaths. I’m sure you’ve seen statuses from friends who “regret to inform you they have COVID” even though they’re vaccinated and masked up. In some ways, it feels like we’re back where we started last March. Yes, the variant is 29 times more likely to infect unvaccinated people (although that number differs from news source to news source when you Google “how much more likely is it for an unvaccinated person to get COVID”) but clearly, its affects everyone that have done everything right. I know, I know, I’m preaching to the choir here.
So, what does any of this have to do with comedy?
Well, this is the smallest complaint ever but two events I was planning on attending didn’t “happen” (more on this very soon). Writing those words makes me feel like such a jerk for even bringing it up. The first show I was planning on seeing on Wednesday was something I’d been looking forward to for a long time. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend because a friend I’d recently seen had a breakthrough case. I immediately got tested. The rapid was negative but it felt silly and selfish to go out right after a test. I certainly could have but it felt wrong on multiple levels to go sit in a basement with others after having so much anxiety just moments before I got my results. Then, last night, after getting official word I was cleared after a negative PCR test, the second show I was literally standing outside waiting to begin was canceled due to another scare. In the grand scheme of what’s happening in the world, this is the most minor shout into the void. However, it’s also a friendly reminder that if you haven’t been vaccinated or been masking indoors, the risk of infection is as high as ever and could happen to any of us at any time. We may just have to “live with COVID” but that doesn’t mean you can prevent it. Plus, I want to see some shows (fully masked that is). I will slowly climb off my soapbox now. Just had to do it.
• Busy week. Didn’t see a lot as I annoyingly noted above but I did find two things online that are very worthy of your attention.
- One of my favorite NY comics Blair Dawson posted a short clip from her Littlefield set this week that immediately struck me as late night ready. The premise is perfectly ripe for comedy- Blair let herself get vulnerable with an ex and wrote poetry to them. Relatable, self deprecating and real. What makes the joke great though is the direction Blair takes imagining what happens with the poetry after the breakup. The bit gets huge laughs but more than anything else, it serves as a perfect distillation of Blair’s comic persona which is the ultimate goal of the comedian. This is very much worth the watch and super short. What’s not to like? The answer is nothing. Click that link already!
- In high school, I did public forum debate with my friend Jennifer Himel. Even when I was 18, I was self-aware enough to know Jennifer carried the two of us and saw big things in her future. Now, I’m no Nostradamus but this time I was right. These days, Jennifer is the brains behind Big Sky Soap Arizona, a company she founded that produces high quality soaps that started small at flea markets and became a full-fledged business featured on the “Today Show.” My first exposure to this business was through the Native Talk podcast where Jennifer tells her origin story and process for making the soaps. Toward the end of the interview, Jennifer mentions the business has a TikTok and as a longtime friend/fan of her sense of humor, I had to see. I’m happy to report that even though Jennifer is now a legit business owner, she still has the same goofy, happy-go-lucky demeanor she did way back when in the mid-2000s. Featuring 20+ day in the life snapshots of what it’s like to be the head of a business and boomerangs with her mom and son, it’s a worthy, quirky look into the life of a business founder. Plus, the soap rules too.
- Two weeks ago, I wrote about the TikTok phenomenon where once you find “your thing” you can repeat it forever, altering it slightly and maintaining its popularity. I was so convinced of this formula that I figured I’d try and repeat my success once again. Well, I got too cocky and finally got the diminishing results I’d expected after repeating my thing one too many times. The third sketch in my series of “quick hit observations of b-roll footage all in the same place” was filmed at Trader Joe’s and flatlined on the Tok timeline. It’s not quite as high energy as the first two I did but there’s no way the algorithm would know that. Or would they? Anyhow, I think this is a quick, somewhat satirical look at the way Trader Joe’s markets their food as healthy that I think you may enjoy if you’ve ever grocery shopped or stepped foot inside there.
• Went fully masked (!) to the movies this week and listened to a podcast in my apartment (I didn’t wear a mask for that). Here are some Kerouackian first impressions:
“Free Guy” (2021): You wouldn’t believe it but trailers for this movie aired as early as December 2019. Then, it was shelved for...21 months. Things happened in that interim. This was never more painfully obvious than when Alex Trebek jarringly showed up in a surprise cameo role as the host of “Jeopardy” in this movie. I love that they kept it in the film; it really shows how much things have changed since this film’s anticipated release date versus when it actually came out. However, the mild glorification of cops portraying them as friendly in the story’s game within the movie also shows the film’s age in a less savory way.
As for the actual film itself, this is a very fun, if not mildly cheesy and slightly overlong (there must have been ten climaxes) original standalone blockbuster which is getting rarer and rarer in our franchise-saturated world. “Free Guy” tells the story of “Guy” (Ryan Reynolds) an NPC or “Non Playable Character” in violent video game world “Free City” where robberies and violence are so commonplace that NPCs simply accept them as the norm. Here, every day is the same routine for Guy until he spots his rogue dream girl while being held hostage during his daily bank robbery. Guy goes off book to follow her on a path that no NPC has ever gone down and develops his own free will in the process literally becoming a “Free Guy.” Here, the movie zooms out and introduces us to the modern, real world and we meet the characters that created the game. They’re just as confused about how and why Guy went off script and the movie sets out to solve this mystery. This doesn’t quite do the movie’s complex and funny screenplay justice but I am very tired.
There are a few logical gaps in the film but as a whole, it’s so chipper and full of that fast talking Ryan Reynolds smarm that you want to hate but can’t help but love that I’ll give it a pass. Plus, a Channing Tatum cameo as an avatar for a nerdy player toed the line of creepiness and laugh out loud funny so effectively that I’m preemptively calling it the cringe moment of the year. WHILE A BIT ON THE LONG SIDE, IT’S FUNNY AND WINNING ENOUGH TO SEE IN THEATERS WHILE YOU STILL CAN.
- The Mental Health Comedy Hour with Alonzo Bodden: Sorry to continue harping on the same talking point but as we march into month 18 of the global pandemic, mental health is something that we need to take just as seriously as COVID. Whatever your process may be, whether it’s meditation, self care or therapy, it’s important to look after yourself. I’ve tried all three that I’ve mentioned and feel like I’ve made major strides thanks to each. Should you want to hear others deal with their troubles though, you can’t do much better than this quick 40-minute podcast hosted by Ed Crasnick and Jennifer Kolari where they walk you through potential, practical scenarios that could lead to panic attacks such as identity theft fraud or losing your phone and identifying that they’re not life or death- it’s not an emergency, it’s an inconvenience. That kind of perspective is so refreshing to hear in a sea of podcasts that rarely offer such valuable tips.
Midway through the podcast, the two bring on “Last Comic Standing” alum Alonzo Bodden to discuss mental health. I’ve loved Bodden for years particularly because he insisted on doing new material every week on “Last Comic Standing” whereas others rehashed bits each show exposing their lack of depth. This range he displayed back then shone through in this episode as well where he spoke on a number of topics shedding light on how “Black stress increases when cops are nearby because ‘there could be someone who looks like me out there doing something that I could be arrested for.’” He also went into great detail on his 23-year stint in Alcoholics Anonymous where he’s had the same sponsor the entire time and then toward the end said something I’d never heard before but was so powerful that I have to share it here: “You’re good as long as you believe in a higher power as long as it’s not you.” It may be a well-known sentiment but it stuck with me and I say that line alone was worth the price of admission for me. Plus, the jokes about white supremacists and what Google lists as celebrities' net worth aren’t half bad either. This is a great place to start if you’re looking for a podcast about mental health with a sense of humor.
• I’m in the process of searching for a residential lobby with a door man to film a sketch starring Anna Paone. If you know of anything in the five boroughs that would allow me to do so for a small fee, let me know. You’ll get a producer credit.
That’s right- reading this very newsletter could get you on IMDb in like six months