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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tomorrow's show; More podcasts!

Summertime and the livin' is easy. Who has time to blog when the fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high? Not I, it seems. Sorry about that. But I've been thinking about you. Honest.

We took a station-mandated time-out last week. No fault of ours. There was other more important programming that needed airing, is all. And this week, as I mentioned, I'm out of town. In fact, I'm lying in a hotel room in Seattle as I write this. But I
talked it over with my manservant, Kevin, and we decided that the show must go on. In a sense. We won't have a live guest this week. Instead, Kevin will play comedy deejay and spin you some funny trax. Knowing Kevin, I can almost guarantee that means you'll be hearing some Flight of the Conchords and Daniel Tosh. But who knows, he might surprise me.

Meanwhile, if you're jonesin' for some interviews, seven more just joined the podcast family. As always, they're available at the Comedy Couch, on iTunes, or a friendly neighbourhood podcast server near you. Or you could just click on the episode below and let the magic of the intertube take you away.

Colleen Brow, from June 1, 2008:

Irwin Barker, from August 3, 2008:

Derek Edwards, from April 19, 2009:

Urban Improv, from April 26, 2009:

Leland Klassen, from May 17, 2009:

Eric Fell & Shaun Stewart, from May 24, 2009:

Nathan Clark, from May 31, 2009:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

June 21: No show

Happy Father's Day, fathers. We are pre-empted tonight for reasons having nothing to do with the special day. There will be no clips, no re-run. Nothing. Well, there will be something but it has nothing to do with What's So Funny? Feel free to tune in anyway, but I can't vouch for it.

We'll be back next Sunday in some form or another. I'll be off in Seattle, but we'll figure something out, either with a guest host or a classic episode.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Peters review

My review of the Russell Peters 20th Anniversary Tour at GM Place last night is up at the Straight site already. It'll be out in tomorrow paper, too.

As you can tell from the review, I was really impressed with Peters. I'd seen him both at Yuk Yuk's and at the Orpheum over the years. This was my favourite. Usually I much prefer watching a comic (or a band, for that matter) in a more intimate setting. Clubs are my favourite. But for some reason, the arena show is the one that really won me over. Go figure.

I especially liked that he didn't try to make it an event. Sure, the former deejay starts the evening with two deejays, but they're there basically to get the masses into their seats. And a local dance troupe came out for about a minute or two as an intro to the man. But other than that, it was the same set you could see in a club. Great sound and good camera work gave it an intimate feel.

Peters isn't breaking any new ground, but so what? He's really good at what he does, especially the crowd work. He's relaxed, confident, conversational and in-the-moment. When talking with a Chinese-Canadian man in the front row with his whole family, Peters said, "You have four kids? Jesus Christ! You really took advantage of not being in China... You're like the US in Iraq. You'll never pull out."

He's got some nice imagery and wordplay, too. He did a big chunk on the word 'cunt', repeating it so often it lost all shockability. He said it sounds so mean when we say it because it sounds like "a really big rock thrown in the middle of a lake." But when the Irish say it, it sings – "coont" – and went on to demonstrate how lovely it can sound.

He spoke of his tiny member and huge ballsack, saying it looked like his "prick was resting on a beanbag chair." He talked about the cruel irony of the attack in Bombay (he still calls Mumbai by its old name) on July 11. "We got hit on 7-11."

Any comic who reaches his heights has a catch phrase his fans love to hear but the rest of us think is retarded. To his credit, Peters snuck his in cleverly. Envisioning he'd be kidnapped in Jordan, he thought of the video when his captors would say, "We have Russell Peters" before demanding he "Say it! Say it!" He meekly stumbles out: "Somebody... gonna... get a... hurt..." And doesn't even have to finish it. The crowd was sated. Yes, he brought it back for his closer in the encore in a story about an impressive dump his dad took, but even then it didn't seem forced. More like an ironic take, which also served to give the crowd what they wanted.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Still more podcasts

A bunch of new podcasts have been added to the library. Eight, to be exact. You can listen to them here, or over at ye olde Comedy Couch, or download them on iTunes, among other places. I haven't heard them in a while, but if memory serves these are all good ones. At least I had fun:

Dave Shumka from June 15, 2008:

Richard Lett from August 31, 2008:

Marcus Ryan from January 4, 2009:

Reza Peyk from January 18, 2009:

John Wing from March 8, 2009:

Toby Hargraves from March 22, 2009:

Jamie Hutchinson & Tim Rykert from March 29, 2009:

Darcy Michael from April 5, 2009:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

June 14: Nardwuar the Human Serviette

Our run of stand-up comic-free shows comes to an end with a real departure for What's So Funny? tonight. Our guest tonight isn't a comedian of any kind, although he's always made me laugh. It's the infamous Nardwuar the Human Serviette. He's from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, but he's known throughout the land as the most distinctive, fill-in-the-blank interview voice of his generation, or any other. I believe the world can be divided into two groups: those that get him and those that don't. Among those he's interviewed that get him are the likes of David Cross, N.E.R.D., and Kurt Cobain. Among those that don't are celebs like Ernest Angley, Alice Cooper and Mikhail Gorbachev.

No one does as much research going into an interview as Nardwuar. David Cross called it "thorough, in-depth and unnecessary research." He usually imparts gifts to his subjects, something I've never done. Also, what I've written here is about the extent of my research. Boy, is he going to be disappointed on the other side of the mic. But my pace is, er, less frantic so we'll fill the hour.

Nardwuar is going to bring in some clips of interviews with people such as Snoop Doggedy-Dog (that's it, right?) and the late hippie Timothy Leary and then we'll break off into discussion and get to know the story behind the interviews. We'll also play some of his beloved rock'n'roll music from his band The Evaporators. Like I say, a departure for us but it'll be fun. The Evaporators, by the way, are playing with Andrew W.K. on Tuesday, June 23, at Neptoon Records on Main St. at 4 p.m. and at the Biltmore on Kingsway at 8 p.m.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Russell Peters, Coverboy

My cover story on Russell Peters for the Georgia Straight came out today. He's playing GM Place on Monday and Tuesday. Man, I thought it was amazing when he played the Orpheum Theatre four nights in a row a couple years ago. But two nights at a hockey arena? Unheard of.

Comedy nerds (as opposed to bandwagon jumpers) remember seeing him when he was a club comic not all that long ago. Okay, eight years ago, but still. He's come a long way, baby.

While the story is about 1700 words, it still couldn't house all the quotes I got in our phone conversation. Nor all the quotes from Mark Breslin, the founder of Yuk Yuk's, who's known Russell since the kid took up stand-up comedy about twenty years ago. So I'll sweep up the editing room floor and you can hear the rest of the quotes in their own voices. On a couple of occasions there are repeat quotes from the story, but for the most part I've edited out whatever made it into the story.

Check out the actual story, though, too, won't you? The on-line version has extra quotes in a sidebar, too.

Meanwhile, here's Russell on various other topics:

And here's what didn't make it into the story from Yuk Yuk's founder and CEO, Mark Breslin:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

June 7: Bronx Cheer

It's one of those special nights on What's So Funny? tonight when we have guests we've never met before and never seen live. Oh, but we've heard great things about Bronx Cheer for a while now. In our defence, we did go to check out there show last week... and there was no show. But I've been enjoying their deadpan web series, With Friends Like These, over at their home base, so I feel like I know them. Plus they've got a bunch of shorts, including the epic, Moustache Wolf, which you can view here:

SHORT - Moustache Wolf from bronx cheer on Vimeo.

To learn more about the duo, Conor Holler and Craig Anderson, tune in tonight at 11. I know I will.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Dane Cook Experience

I took in Dane Cook's show at GM Place on Thursday. The review is online already, although it'll be in next week's print edition of the Georgia Straight.

It wasn't my first time experiencing the Great Dane. I'd seen him twice before, both in club settings. This was my first time, though, watching comedy in a hockey arena. I was sure it would be horrible, but it wasn't. Granted, I had fairly good seats, but still, with the big screen and the sound system I'm confident any seat would be decent. Then again, the crowd did the wave, so that kind of nullifies any positive.

I wrote in the review that I liked the first opener the best, Al Del Bene. Of course, he was only out for ten minutes so who knows? He talked about his 4.5-month pregnant wife with their first child and how they're still deciding whether to terminate or not. His idea was to terminate the pregnancy on Good Friday then on Easter see what happens. He also dissected Catholic mass, saying how they had a tight 30 minutes but needed to pad it out to 60 if they wanted to get any donations, so they added snacks in the middle, a meet-n-greet and stretched out 'hallelujah'.

Robert Kelly, the second opener, was hands-down the oldest-looking 38-year-old I've ever seen. He was all attitude, much like the night's closer. He talked about farting in a baby's face and how it's the funniest thing in the world. Being rather literal, I was thinking it wouldn't make a bit of difference because from my experience babies don't gain a sense of smell (or put smell into context) until they're almost 2.

Then it was time for the Su-Fi montage on the big screen. The crowd stood in anticipation. Dane Cook runs to the stage amid hundreds of cameras flashing and starts his prowling.

I hate to pile on, I really do. The first time I saw Cook, I really liked him. It was about ten years ago. The second time I saw him, at Yuk Yuk's two years ago, I thought he was decent. I don't really remember what he talked about, but he was fine. The haters are over-reacting, for sure. He's not bad for comedy. There's room for everyone. It's not a zero-sum game. However, if Thursday night is an indication of the direction he's taking, I'm jumping on the pile.

He talked about dropping his cell phone in his own piss. The fact that you know that much tells you everything you need to know about the bit. Oh, and a drop got in his eye.

I always find it fascinating when a superstar comic makes fun of a celebrity just because I figure they must come across each other on occasion. He talked about the video of Britney Spear's tampon string dangling out during a performance. He wasn't shocked by the video; he was shocked that her vagina could hold anything in it anymore.

This was early in the show and from that point the material turned dark. Needlessly dark. Dark for the sake of dark. Dark and filthy. I have no problem with filth, but you'd kinda like for there to be a point or a great punchline. Instead we got what-if scenarios of a daycare worker giving a weeping boy a blowjob while his friend watches and gets an erection, we find out exactly how he likes to masturbate (three pillows, towel over chest), got long descriptions of video clips he saw on, heard about a raw dog experience (the titular ISolated INcident – I have no idea what the capitals are all about), and the disturbing sex role-playing game I wrote about in the review. Again, without any big payoffs. Sure, he speaks humorously with a comedic rhythm, but that's about it.

Then, after the encore, he said, "Su-Fi everybody!" and was off into the night. I don't get that. Was he giving us the super finger? No, I think it's supposed to be a positive thing.

So not a pleasurable experience for me, although walking out I heard people saying it was hilarious. So there you go.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dane Cook interview excerpt

I spoke to everybody's favourite Dane Cook this morning. He's a morning guy, calling me at 7:45. I'm not. But that's okay. I was told we'd speak for 10-15 minutes. That's good to know ahead of time because I need to know how to pace the conversation. I've got to hit on all the important questions and move on from them quickly. The important questions include some basic information questions a writer needs for the story, as well as bigger questions. So it's a tight dance.

However, we spoke for 28 minutes. Still not a lot of time. This is a new thing for Cook. He only recently started talking to the press. So his answers weren't as spontaneous as they could be. But at least he gave well thought-out responses. The thing was, they were also fairly long. And with my time constraint, there was no room for a deeper discussion on any one topic. And the story had to be more of a general news story as it was for the Province. You can read it here.

I'd love to get him on my radio show, where he (and I) could relax and really get into some depth over the course of an hour. So Dane, if you're out there... Hey, I can wish.

In one part, you'll hear him chastise me gently. We had been talking about when I first saw him live. It was part of the first ever Just For Laughs tour and was at Richard's on Richards, a local rock club. He guessed that was ten years ago. Sounds about right. I mentioned that I thought his style then was similar to the way it is now, and I was wondering if it was always that way. By that point, remember, he was already ten years into his career. He basically told me to do my homework. But in his response, he seemed to be talking about the subjects he covers. I didn't catch it at the time, and anyway had to move on to other topics. But I meant more his delivery and style. (I think I'm right!)

There has been some skepticism, I've read, about Cook's age. I never talked to him about it, but looking at it now, something doesn't add up. His Wikipedia entry says he was born in March of 1972, making him 37. He said he started doing stand-up at the age of 19, but he also says he's been doing it for twenty years. Does that make him 39 or is he counting earlier years of amateur comedy? Then, when discussing his opening act, Al Del Bene, he says they've known each other since they were both 14 in junior high school. Then he says they're still together 26-27 years later. Hmm, 14 plus 26 is 40. Hey, Wikipedia isn't always right, I know.

Anyway, here's another crudely edited 9.5-minute excerpt for you. Cook talks about his new relationship with the press, the evolution of his act, the backlash to his career, his reaction to being booted off the stage at the Yuk Yuk's here in 2006, charges of plagiarism leveled against him, and his inner drive. Yes, I know my levels are higher than his. That's just the way my recorder works and I don't know how to fix it:

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Buck stops at the Tonight Show

After 17 years, the Jay Leno era has ended. At least as far as the Tonight Show is concerned. He'll be back in the fall with a new nightly primetime series.

I was a huge fan of Leno back when he was a standup and appearing monthly on David Letterman's old Late Night series. It's hard to believe all these years later, but those appearances were must-see TV. Any serious fan of comedy wouldn't miss them.

What happened? I think not only did he alter his style somewhat for the venerable chat show, but the style, either way, didn't mesh with the show. Too grating, perhaps. Too whiny. I wasn't a fan.

So now it's Conan O'Brien's turn. His tenure begins tonight. Can't say I'm a big fan of his, either. His recorded comedy segments where he goes in the field are unbelievably great, I'll grant you. But I just can't take his mugging and constant interruptions. Still, I'll give him a shot. Hell, I keep giving Jimmy Fallon a shot and Conan is about a million times better than Fallon.

Anyway, I noticed with great interest that Conan's new stand-up comedy booker for the Tonight Show will be J.P. Buck. Buck has a bit of a local angle. He helped out Will Davis a couple years at the Vancouver comedy festival.

I interviewed Buck for a story I wrote in Vancouver magazine back in 2005. You can read the whole thing here. But as always there were tons of quotes I simply couldn't squeeze in so I dug 'em up for the blog. Here's the new Tonight Show comedy booker talking about, among other things, the level of talent here in Vancouver. But first, he gives us his resumé:
“I’m a freelance producer. I started out working for various networks in Los Angeles. I did a show for Fox. It was called 30 Seconds to Fame, which was a variety show. It didn’t last too long. It was kinda like a Gong Show. But I’ve always had a love for comedy. It’s been what I’ve always wanted to do. I saw Bill Cosby at the age of 11. I saw him live at Radio City Music Hall. I even heckled him at one point. And he actually responded to me, but I soon realized what I had done. I just slumped under my chair. But I’ve always loved comedy. That gave me my first foray into actually going out and scouting. And after that my next job was booking talent for Star Search. The Arsenio one, which was on CBS. And then I did two years of syndicated programs, two of which were for the Showtime at the Apollo people. And after that I moved over to the US Comedy Arts Festival, which is run by HBO, and went over there to run their talent department... geared towards finding the best up-and-coming and also current comedians and sketch troupes and theatre shows.”

“In every one of these jobs I’ve been travelling around the country and going to one-horse towns and see their best comedians. I would have open calls, I’d set up showcases. So over my travels I’ve seen probably about 8000 comedians.”

“I’m looking for comedic ability. My job is not to close the door to somebody because of the way they look. That comes further down the line in terms of the networks. I’m looking for the next comic genius. That’s what I’m expected to do. Further down the road they can become writers, they can become stars on sitcoms. I think that if you’ve got enough personality, it certainly gets you over the hump. There are plenty of leading men out there on TV nowadays that aren’t that good-looking. I think men get away with it moreso than women.”
Now the part about the relative quality of Vancouver comics in the greater North American market:
“I was scouting for the US Comedy Arts Festival. I’d chosen my cities originally. The cities I wanted to go to and the cities where I knew had the best comics. We were based in New York. We were going to New York, LA, Chicago, San Fransisco, Seattle, Austin Texas, and Atlanta and Toronto. Those are the cities that we had mapped out that we were going to go see. So in my discussions with my various scouts around the country, I got referred to Will Davis and got in a conversation with him. And he said, ‘I would love to show you my guys up here.’ And I said, ‘Well, great. I’d love to have you come down to Seattle and see the guys there.’ And so he came down to Seattle and then picked me up and we drove back up to Vancouver, and he put up three shows for me of, like, 36 guys, maybe. And I was really, really impressed with the depth of talent there and just the variety of performers, of material, and how original a lot of the comics were. Because usually whenever I go to a city, I’ll maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll find two or three out of thirty that I’m impressed with. And when I came back from Vancouver, I probably had on my list at least eleven guys that I had no fear of recommending for the festival. And actually two of them got in, which is still a great rate.”

“We were lucky to get one out of every city that we went to. So two out of Vancouver was great.”
I asked Buck if Vancouver was an untapped market:
“Absolutely. Ever since I’ve been there I’ve just been singing its praises to everybody down here. I’m just telling everyone how amazing the talent is up there and how much people are missing out on. I think there’s maybe been a bias. I don’t know enough about Canadian culture enough to say that there’s an east coast bias. But I think Toronto, Montreal, those cities are getting so overworked. But I think the years that Vancouver’s been neglected by the rest of the country I think has been beneficial because it’s created this community of comics that... It fosters an environment where they can write their own material, think differently, work on their sets and their skills, and become much better comics for it, and not get overexposed too soon.”
He even offers an assessment of us, the Vancouver audience, and how we've helped the comics without even knowing it:
“Another great thing about Vancouver is that Vancouver has possibly one of the most discerning, and also toughest crowds, I’ve ever seen. You’ve got these amazing comics on stage... And it’s funny, if you see these comics in other cities, I think you’d get audiences that are flocking to them. But the toughness of winning the crowds over makes the comics work even that much harder here.”
I suggested, maybe ignorantly in hindsight, that Vancouver's scene was better than Seattle's just because we're just one of three major markets in the country, while the U.S. has so many:
“I agree [Vancouver’s better than Seattle]... Boston used to be a mecca for comedy. San Francisco was that as well. But I think both of those cities had their moments and now they kind of need to recharge. And at that moment while they’re down, Vancouver’s the one that’s come up. I don’t want to forecast anything that’s horrible but I think what you’ll see is you’ll see all these Vancouver comedians that come up, become big and move on, and then there’ll maybe be like a little bit of a lull of years before the next wave comes. But I definitely think right now that there’s such a wealth of comics. The audiences are almost spoiled.”

“The only style I can maybe put it under is unapologetic. That’s the beauty of the comics that were out there -- they weren’t all of the same mould. I think maybe when you go to some of these other cities like Boston or San Francisco or LA or New York, there are comics that are so successful that they kind of almost unfortunately influence all the other ones. But I think everybody in Vancouver is working so hard they’ve had time to kind of form their own styles.”
Buck ended up taking both Simon King and Dave Nystrom to the HBO Festival in Aspen:
“That was kinda why we took both of them because there was a little bit of something for everybody that came to our festival. Like, here’s a sample of one guy from Vancouver; here’s another style from Vancouver.”

“That’s something that we’re really trying to make sure we have. What we’re doing is having one group of shows called Rising Stars, which is the guys we’re thinking that over the next few years will do really well. Right now we’re looking at different groups, and in each one of those groups, we want to have one Vancouver guy. There are plenty of comics that deserve to be on it. We want to find a way to kinda get them in to almost every type of show that we have. We have these TV sets that we’re doing where guys will do five minutes of TV-clean material for the industry people that are coming in. We’ll also try to get them to host other shows so whenever people from LA and out of town are driven to see these big names, they’re also getting a taste of what Vancouver is. We want to make sure that the Vancouver comedians are sprinkled throughout the festival.”

“What helps to draw people up there are some of the American names. We’re trying to say to the LA and New York executives and industry and agents and managers, ‘Come on up here and see Leno perform on this show, see Jake Johannsen perform here, Jim Gaffigan. And Zach Galifianakis is a huge Vancouver name that will attract attention. But on top of that, while you’re there we’re hoping that we can kind of influence them with all the great Vancouver comics and say, ‘Hey, this is actually a comedy Mecca and you should come here a lot more often.’”
Interesting that at the time Buck thought Galifianakis was a Vancouverite. Maybe that informed his opinion of the scene. Zach was filming up here and playing all the local rooms.
“Believe me, you can say that about comics in just about any city outside of New York, LA, Toronto and Montreal. Because none of those comics understand what goes into getting a deal or getting on a show or getting in a film or being able to perform standup on Comedy Now or any of those shows. It comes with experiencing, unfortunately, rejection or having someone from the industry tell you what the industry’s looking for. Because a lot of times it doesn’t always go to the funniest person, unfortunately.”

“It certainly helps to be in LA of all the US cities. But you don’t want to come here too early. You want to be able to come here so that people can see you and they know who you are, but at the same time if you come here too soon, if they see you too early, and you don’t do well, they’re going to write you off and never want to see you again. That’s the unfortunate thing. A lot of guys in the States make the mistake of ‘Okay, I’m the biggest fish in this pond so it’s my turn to go to LA’. And they go to LA maybe after performing stand-up for two years, which is the wrong thing to do. You almost want it to come to the point where you’ve got an agent or manager calling you to come to LA: ‘We need you here because I’ve got stuff that I want you to do.’”

“Vancouver’s such a perfect city for us to hold this festival. You want to get the people coming from LA and there’s no sense in flying all the way to Montreal when you can just go to Vancouver and see these comics.”

“I definitely see it becoming a major player, absolutely. And I think the timing is perfect because I think there’s been a lull over the past few years. Unfortunately it’s hard to sustain a festival for so long. I think people maybe are looking for something different. I definitely think it can become one of the top international festivals. We’ve definitely booked some great international acts this year. So I’m excited about that, too.”
And some advice for all comics:
“The worst thing a comic can do for himself when he’s peforming in front of a bunch of people from the industry is to actually comment on how bad the crowd is. You’ve probably seen it a lot where comics will be like, ‘Wow, you guys aren’t getting this stuff.’ If they could just plow through. It’s a lot easier said than done, but if they can make it through that often can speak volumes about them.”
So will this lofty impression of the city's talent translate to a Tonight Show appearance for one (or some) of them? It should, but we'll have to wait and see.