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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wanda Sykes interview

After my awkward interview last week with Patton Oswalt, I just had to get right back on that horse and hope for the best. Thankfully it was with the delightful Wanda Sykes. Turns out there's a bit of connection, too. Read the transcript to find out what it is.

I've always liked Wanda Sykes. I love her delivery system (to coin Marc Maron's term) and I like what she says. If you're keeping track at home, the only time I've written about her was to give her a bad review. That's the tricky part about reviews: they're for a particular show not a life's work. One other notorious bad review I gave was for Brad Garrett, who I always liked previous to that and might very well like again in the future. So a review is just a snapshot of a particular moment in time, it doesn't necessarily reflect my greater opinion of the artist in question.

Sykes is coming back to the River Rock Show Theatre in Richmond on May 6. I caught up with her today for a pleasant, if brief, 15-minute chat. We talked about Bill Cosby, Charlie Sheen, coming out of the closet, and nursing school, among other things:

Wanda Sykes – April 28, 2011

Guy MacPherson: You have a career that reaches both the mainstream and, from your stand-up, more fans of raw material. Are there ever any problems with expectations from audiences who might go see you thinking it’s going to be prime time Wanda Sykes?
Wanda Sykes: (laughs) Uh, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s happened, where some fans of New Adventures of Old Christine, you know, that’s their first encounter with me is through that show, and they come out to see the live show. It’s a bit different. But I’m not that dirty. I’m not that dirty for comics. I think they’ll still enjoy it.

GM: You’re not afraid of the f-bomb and certain sexual talk and it might be a bit of a surprise for them.
WS: Maybe a bit, but Old Christine was a bit, I wanna say raunchy. We got a little loose on Old Christine, too. I think if you’re a fan of that show you’re expecting a few f-bombs.

GM: But you never feel like you have to compromise your act in any way or just temper it a little bit?
WS: Oh, no, no, no, no. I’m still going to do the same performance. I have to make it fun for me. (laughs)

GM: Yeah, exactly. That’s why you do stand-up, right?
WS: Right. Exactly.

GM: Because there’s nobody else to answer to.
WS: (laughs) Nope. I’m the only editor and only boss. That’s why it’s so much freedom and still my favourite thing to do.

GM: People like you who have success in movies and TV, you don’t need to do it but you do it because it’s just part of your DNA, I guess, right?
WS: Yeah. It’s just that’s where it all started for me, is doing stand-up. I love doing stand-up. It’s nice to go back there because to me it’s the most rewarding and it’s where I feel the funniest.

GM: A lot of comics reach a certain level of success in movies and TV and then they stop doing stand-up. Bob Newhart says that if you have the ability to do it, you have a duty, an obligation to do it because not that many people can.
WS: Huh. I agree. Yeah. And also the freedom of knowing that, hey, if TV and movies and everything goes away, you still have the thing that you love to feed you, basically. To me, that’s like my safety net.

GM: I think a lot of people not in show business forget when they see someone as successful as you that you still can worry about things like that, right? Even though it’s unlikely but in the back of your mind you’re still going, “One day this all might go away.”
WS: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I mean, I think that’s part of being human. (laughs) Yeah, you go, oh, boy, what’s my back-up plan, you know? Should I go to nursing school now? At least I have something to fall on. You know, you think that.

GM: Ha! Nursing school. I’d like to see that.
WS: Yeah! Come on, they get to wear comfortable shoes. That’s very important.

GM: Who did you come up with in stand-up when you were starting out?
WS: I started in DC. It was a really hot place for comedy. Dave Chappelle was hitting the clubs the same time I was hitting the clubs in DC. Who else came out of that group? You know, Martin Lawrence was like just before us. Patton Oswalt, he was in DC and Baltimore. So it was a lot of people coming through there. A lot of good comics.

GM: And your first big break was with Chris Rock or was there something before that?
WS: I would say yes. I would say my first big break, as far as to get into TV and everything, that was definitely Chris Rock, opening for him in New York at Caroline’s. And shortly after that he got his show on HBO, The Chris Rock Show, and I got hired to write on his show. And that’s when everything kind of, you know, took off for me.

GM: And when did you first feel like you belonged, or fit in, in the show biz world?
WS: Um, I think after, like, a season or so on The Chris Rock Show. Because that was like one of the rare opportunities where we did everything. Not only did we get to write our pieces but we produced them and also did the editing, you know, went in with the editor to cut it. So it was just like a great... It was like going to college. It was wonderful. It was such a learning experience. And when I left there I just felt like I was equipped to do whatever I wanted to do in this business.

GM: I remember seeing you years ago on an awards show. It was very uncomfortable. It was with Bill Cosby. Do you have any kind of relationship with him?
WS: Um, no. No, I mean, no, no relationship with him. No.

GM: Was he an influence at all?
WS: Uh, oh yeah, definitely. I’m still a fan of, you know, of his work. And, you know, Cosby show was huge. Yeah, I think he’s very funny. Uh, so, yeah.

GM: I don’t remember the details of that night.
WS: Yeah, I mean, it was awkward and I was, you know, really on my way to talk to Larry David anyway and it just happened so quickly and, uh,... I don’t know.

GM: Charlie Sheen is playing in Vancouver on Monday. What do you think of that whole situation?
WS: It’s amazing to me. I mean, people want to see a train wreck. So, hey, that’s a great train wreck.

GM: Established comics like yourself, who put in the work and perform, now see this guy just selling out places. You’re right, people want to see a train wreck, but do you resent it a little bit?
WS: No. If people have the money to go see him, they’re curious. I think that’s great. I mean, I’m not saying that’s great but it’s good for the economy. If people have that kind of money that’s a sign that things are turning around if Charlie Sheen is selling out places without really an act. I wouldn’t put him as a comedian. I mean, to me, you can ask Lady Gaga the same question, is she upset about it?

GM: Since you came out of the closet, has there been any fallout like there was with Ellen? Or is America past that and she was the one who took the brunt of it?
WS: Has there been any fallout? No. Everything has been positive. I wasn’t really living my life closeted; I just didn’t feel like I needed to make a public announcement or tell people, total strangers, about my sexuality. But it’s all been great. It’s all been positive. I’m very happy I did it because it’s been a positive step for the LGBT community and also for the kids out there who are going through bullying and other situations and facing discrimination. So to have somebody with a face that they can go, “Oh, okay, she’s in the same boat” or “she’s supporting us”, it helps them and that makes it even better.

GM: Have there been a difference in crowds since you came out?
WS: I think the gay community, they just let me know that they’re there. You know, they might be a little more vocal and say, “Hey”, you know, “We love you. We’re here.” But that’s about it. My audiences are pretty diverse. Age, race, sexual orientation, they’re all over the place.

GM: And your material is for anybody, not specifically gay audiences.
WS: Oh, yeah, definitely. I think people in general relate on so many other levels other than, you know, who you sleep with. That’s like the least common area that we have.

GM: Kobe Bryant got in trouble the other day because of using a homophobic slur. Occasionally a comic will get in trouble for what they say. Do you think comics should get a pass because they deal in irony and language and things like this?
WS: I don’t think a comic could get a pass in that particular situation. Saying it in anger and also in a televised game or whatever... But comics can pretty much say what they want to say when they’re on stage and performing and doing their material. You can pretty much say just about anything. Because that’s the nature of what we do. But that’s where comedy can get in trouble. I mean, look at Michael Richards. Even though he was technically working, he’s on stage, he still couldn’t get away with that because it wasn’t part of his act; he just went off with the n-words. I think if a comic goes off and it’s not part of the act, then you’re still held to the same standard.

GM: When you got in trouble at the White House, that was part of a routine...
WS: Exactly.

GM: And you chose those words for comedic effect.
WS: Right.

GM: I know you gotta run, so last question. I know you’re a parent of twins.
WS: Yes, they just celebrated their second birthday yesterday. They just turned two.

GM: It’s lots of fun.
WS: Oh, yeah.

GM: Have they become fodder for the act?
WS: Oh, definitely. It’s not like I’m looking for them to do anything funny, it’s just how being a mom and having kids, especially at, you know, I’m 47... It’s just what my life is right now. So there’s a lot of humour there.

GM: I appreciate that you gave them normal names even though you’re a celebrity.
WS: (laughs) Oh, yeah. We were thinking of something like a Tree but it’s just not... yeah. We just go with normal names.

GM: Thanks so much for your time.
WS: Why, thank you.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Podcast episode 229ish: Kyle Bottom with Scott McLean

It's Sunday and as promised last week's episode has dropped, as they say in the podcasting business. Since tonight's live show radio-side is guest-free, and we don't podcast our guestless shows, you can savour this one for two weeks.

Special co-host Scott McLean talked about his extensive and expensive experience with Paul F. Tompkins on the Pod F. Tompkast and Kyle Bottom recounted his childhood traumas and told us why he thinks David Suzuki is a jerk. And there were a few other nuggets along the way.

Stream it here or download the episode at iTunes. In fact, why don't you subscribe to us there? It's free. You know you want to. So just do it.

Apr. 24: Comedy clips

Happy Chocolate Jesus Day everyone. In honour of the transcendent treats, we've given our guests the night off. Tonight on the show, it'll just be me. That sounds horrible, I know, but wait, there's more. I'll be playing an hour's worth of comedy clips to ring in Easter Monday. There might be one or two Easter-related clips but otherwise just good old-fashioned laughs. And contemporary laughs, too. Just tune in.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Patton Oswalt semi-interview

Just got off the phone with alt-comedy superhero Patton Oswalt. And boy is my brain tired! Tired from winging it, scrambling around trying to come up with an angle that would get him talking. He remains, out of the literally hundreds of interviews I've done with comedians, from amateur to headliner to touring celebrity, by far the most challenging interview subject. Scroll down for the transcript of the ten-minute conversation we had.

It's poor form for a journalist to comment on the quality of interview in a story, and I wouldn't even mention this if I were writing a proper preview. I'd just pick some of the better quotes from the interview and build the story around it. But this is a blog and I thought I'd give a glimpse into my process. And by all means, please do not judge his stand-up act from his rather passive-aggressive nature in phoners with the press. I don't. I've seen him live at least twice that I can remember and he's great on stage. Really funny and smart. (I use the term 'passive-aggressive' because his tone remains friendly throughout even though he's clearly not interested in giving too much.) And in no way should you take it as a reflection on the type of person he is. By all accounts he's a super-nice guy. He just doesn't like doing press. Fair enough. I say he shouldn't. Just tell the promoters you don't do press. Maybe it's frustrating for him that he isn't the star he feels he should be, considering his credits (Comedians of Comedy, King of Queens, Ratatouille, among many more). Jerry Seinfeld doesn't do press and doesn't have to because his shows sell out. Many artists don't do press if their shows sell out. Based on his abilities, Oswalt's shows should sell out. He's that good. So he could be resentful. But I'm projecting.

I sort of have a rule of thumb: if an interview doesn't go well, I blame myself. I need to make a connection with the subject and ask interesting questions. Some subjects are naturally chatty (Norm MacDonald wouldn't get off the phone with me – we spoke for 90 minutes), whereas others require some finesse (Jimmie Walker was extremely tight-lipped and leery until I proved to him I wouldn't bite and then he opened up and it turned out great). This was my second time talking to Oswalt and despite the curt replies I received the first time around (as did a colleague at a competing newspaper), I had high hopes this time.

This interview opportunity came up only yesterday. Too late for me to run anything in the paper to fully plug his upcoming show on Saturday night at the Vogue Theatre. So I knew it would be a quickie. I wanted to talk to him about a great essay he wrote in his book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland called The Victory Tour, in which he describes the worst two weeks of his professional career: working at a comedy club in Surrey. That's it, really. And to give a plug to his upcoming show here in the blog.

Doing my radio show/podcast each week for the past six years has given me experience in knowing how much to prepare for an hour-long interview. Usually, I over-prepare and have way more questions left after the hour is up. Keep in mind, that's very little. That's because most performers going into an interview situation like to talk. That's what they do for a living, afterall. They don't look at each question as a literal question to be answered succinctly, but as a jumping-off point for conversation.

The way I work is I jot down a series of questions. I ask one question then follow-up naturally based on their answer, so that one question might represent five minutes of conversation. When that topic is exhausted, I move on to the next question. The problem with a guy like Oswalt is that he provides short answers and there is no give-and-take. With a short answer, there's not much for me to work with on a follow-up. If I rephrase the question, the answer gets shorter. So then it's on to the next topic. Rinse and repeat.

I've heard Oswalt on podcasts and I know he can converse so I'm guessing it's partly that he doesn't know me. To him, I'm just part of the stupid duplicitous press asking superficial question that are beneath him. I'm sure there's a way I could have reached him better. I just don't know what it is. You can read the transcript and maybe you'll conclude that my questions were weak and uninteresting. And maybe they were. Yes, many of them were closed. That is, they required a yes/no answer. But that's only if you choose to answer them that way. In 99 percent of interviews I do, a yes/no question – or even a statement – will provide just as good a response as a carefully-worded open-ended question. Because it's a conversation. I also know that those same questions asked to virtually anybody else I've ever interviewed (save for Steven Wright), would have netted a 20-minute talk at minimum, i.e. at least twice as long as this one ran. But be that as it may, there is something of interest here. Maybe.

Guy MacPherson: So you’re coming back to Vancouver. That’s good to see.

Patton Oswalt: Mm-hmm.

GM: And it’s not Surrey.

PO: Say that again?

GM: (louder) I’m saying it’s good that it’s Vancouver for you and not Surrey. I read your essay in your book.

PO: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! Yeah, that’s definitely a relief.

GM: Very entertaining. How much of that was poetic licence? Do you keep notes? How do you remember all that?

PO: I remember keeping notes on that one right after… well, as it was going on, in an old, old notebook. And I went through it and I realized, oh, that’s actually a really good story and it encapsulates a lot of what’s bad about being on the road.

GM: Yeah, it sure does. It seems – and it could have just been the whole situation or your early days – but it seems like a really lonely existence. Is it as much now?

PO: Um, well now I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to go out for weeks at a time and for the most part I can try to pick my openers so I can hang out with somebody that I like.

GM: I see that you’ve picked Graham Clark, is that right?

PO: (pause) Yes. (pause)

GM: Yeah, yeah. Good local comic here.

PO: He’s funny.

GM: Was the Smile Hole the Comedy Cave?

PO: Yes.

GM: You know, I never went there so I don’t know the people involved. Any hints?

PO: (pause) Say that again?

GM: Are there any hints as to who was who? Who was Reed? Who was Gary?

PO: I forget their real names. I think Reed might have been a guy named Sean. I’m not really… That part is very hazy.

GM: Right.

PO: I just remember it as being around bad people.

GM: But that character Gary was really a comic who was taking jokes out of joke books and doing knock-knock jokes and stuff?

PO: Yes, he was like a friend of the owner’s. He would go onstage and just recycle old jokes.

GM: Do you know that Surrey is the default local shitty area that comics joke about?

PO: That I did not know.

GM: Yeah. That’s standard. Surrey is that place.

PO: Wow.

GM: Have you been back to Surrey since?

PO: No. (pause)

GM: So when did you get turned off the clubs? That obviously helped, right?

PO: That was one of, you know, a thousand little incidents that made me try to work harder so that I could start doing small theatres and rock clubs and not do comedy clubs anymore.

GM: What is a good thing about clubs? It couldn’t have been all bad, right?

PO: Good thing about comedy clubs?

GM: Yeah. Anything?

PO: Nothing.

GM: (laughing) Really!

PO: They’re all bad. (pause) It’s just not a form that I work well with anymore. I don’t want to compete with snacks and drinks. I know that sounds snotty but I’ve just chosen this newer path and I want to stick to it just as long as I can. Clubs are not fun when you’ve been doing comedy for a long time. They’re just not.

GM: That is the worst part, I think, all the interruptions from the wait staff and everything.

PO: Yeah, it’s just so false. The whole feeling is not the way that comedy or performance should be done.

GM: You paint the [Surrey] club and its patrons as awful, but you also were saying that you weren’t funny. I mean, you were a few years into it.

PO: I mean, I was young. I didn’t have the experience to deal with it.

GM: Right. So it was kind of like a perfect storm of awfulness.

PO: Oh, totally. Yeah, yeah. An inexperienced guy with arrogance beyond his skills faced with an audience who were demanding things above their own paygrade. Everything was awful.

GM: I heard you talking with Marc Maron about your youthful arrogance and things like that.

PO: Oh, yeah. You’re supposed to be arrogant when you’re young. Because you don’t know anything yet so the only way you can kind of assert yourself and form yourself is by being vocal about what you hate and what you disdain. But you haven’t really created anything yet. I mean, I think that’s how a lot of youth is and then that is what leads to wisdom.

GM: Yeah, I guess that’s true. We all know all the answers when we’re young and as we get older we start to know more questions. We realize we don’t know as much.

PO: Sure. (pause)

GM: You talk about reading in your book, but you can tell from your writing that you’re a reader, too. And that’s a compliment because, you know, you’re a good writer and not all comics are even though they put out entertaining books. Yours is a little more crafted, I think.

PO: Um, I try to, yeah, but I try not to lose the soul through the lattice of the craftwork.

GM: Yeah, yeah, definitely. It’s not Nabokov but it’s still craft, right? I believe that a lot of good comics are really good readers. I don’t base that on anything other than a hunch but do you find from the comics that you know that the best ones read a lot? Or is there no correlation there at all?

PO: I don’t really know what the correlation is because I don’t have a solid line as to the reading habits of every good comic, but I’m going to assume they either read a lot or try to be aware and connected with the world in one way or another.

GM: It’s a language thing, too. It’s spoken but you’re crafting specific words. There are some comics that just go out there and are naturally funnyish, but for me, anyway, the good comics really craft words or think a lot about the words they’re choosing. (pause) Right? Would you agree with that?

PO: Oh, definitely. Yeah. (pause) I-I agree. (pause)

GM: Yup. Good. I’m moving along.

PO: (pause) Okay.

GM: (pause as I scramble for the next question) How long did the book take to put together? Were you constantly writing on the road?

PO: As best I could. It’s hard to write on the road. Harder than I thought it would be. It took me about a year to put that together.

GM: Did you decide you wanted to write a book or did they approach you?

PO: I got an offer from an agent and we went to different publishing houses and shopped it around and we found one that we liked that could really get behind it. So, I mean, I’d been doing so much writing at that point on the internet and in different magazines. I think that’s what caught the agent’s attention.

GM: And is it a process that you liked? I mean, you can’t really like having to sit down and come up with stuff, but is it something you would do again?

PO: Oh, yeah, I’m going to do it again. We’re talking about a second book. I liked the process very much. I like sitting down and kinda seeing where my imagination would take me. That actually ended up being really fun.

GM: Do you know if the next one is going to be a similar essay-type book?

PO: Yeah, but maybe more deeper essays, more autobiographical with a more linear structure. We’ll see. I’m sure it’ll change once I do the writing of it. We’ll see.

GM: You’re coming here to the Vogue Saturday. Is it part of a tour or a one-off?

PO: I don’t tour anymore. (pause)

GM: Okay. So it’s not then.

PO: Right.

GM: We saw you last, I think it was two years ago, was it? At the comedy festival?

PO: I forget.

GM: You also played the same theatre, the Vogue Theatre.

PO: Oh, cool!

GM: Yeah, you remember which one it is?

PO: I don’t, I’m sorry. I do a lot of dates.

GM: The act is always evolving and changing. So are we going to see some of the classic bits or are we going to see all new? What is it going to be?

PO: (pause) It’ll be all new. I mean, once I put a bit on an album I don’t do it anymore live.

GM: Right. Well, I don’t know that those were on albums. I’m talking about from when you were here two years ago.

PO: But I put out an album two years ago.

GM: Okay. Right. Okay, great. Now, the situation you had on Broadway with Megan Mullally, did that rock your confidence or did that just strengthen your resolve that she’s an asshole (laughs) or something?

PO: Who can say? (pause)

GM: Well, about you.

PO: Sure.

GM: Did it give you pause and think ‘What am I doing?’ or did you just think, ‘Ah, what’s her problem?’

PO: Ah, who can say?

GM: Ha ha! Is that an artful way of saying ‘no comment’?

PO: (sigh)

GM: Are you going to go back to something like that, go back to live theatre?

PO: (inaudible)

GM: Sorry?

PO: Oh, I don’t know.

GM: No?

PO: (pause) I dunno.

GM: (pause) Alright. (pause) Well. (pause) Thanks for your wordy replies.

PO: Done! Great!

GM: Goodbye.

I should mention here the presenters for Patton Oswalt. They're new to me, but a welcome addition to the comedy scene in town. They're called Funny Farm comedy and they'll be bringing in name acts that don't often play Vancouver. After Oswalt on Saturday, they'll be presenting Tracy Morgan at the Orpheum on May 20 and Rob Schneider at the Vogue on July 22. The more comedy the merrier, I say!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Podcast episode 228ish: Comedy Round-Table featuring Chuck Byrn, Dylan Rhymer, Steve Bays & Toby Hargrave

With the dropping of this podcast episode, we are officially all caught up. It's been a long time coming. And now that we are, our aim to you, the non-paying custormer, is to be more consistent. From here on out, you can expect to get the live radio show as a podcast one week after it airs. So that'd be Sundays. I'll post them here and you can listen at your leisure. Sound like a deal?

We start this new weekly offering with a good one. Last week we reconvened the Comedy Round-Table and there were some good opinions and jokes flying. Chuck Byrn had the line of the night, in my opinion, with a biting comment about Newfoundland; Dylan Rhymer commits comedy sacrilege by denouncing the Cos; Steve Bays describes Nickelback as "super-hilarious"; and Toby Hargrave gives an inexplicable shout-out to the Vinyl Cafe.

So here you go. Listen here or download on iTunes. Hell, subscribe to it, even. I think that's possible.

Apr. 17: Kyle Bottom with special guest co-host Scott McLean

Tonight's show came about because of Paul F. Tompkins. Indirectly. Let me explain:

A few weeks ago I was listening to one of the funniest podcasts out there: the Pod F. Tompkast. Sitting in with Paul was a Vancouverite by the name of Scott McLean. McLean paid a thousand bucks (U.S.) to charity for the honour of hanging with Tompkins at his studio. And he acquitted himself quite nicely. So I thought I'd track him down and ask him to come on What's So Funny? – at no charge to him at all. He's a big comedy fan so I even let him choose the guest. He'll tell us about his experience on the Tompkast and what Tompkins is really like, and then Scott and I will grill our guest Kyle Bottom.

I'd been meaning to invite the baritone-voiced Bottom on the show for some time but never got around to it so it was great that Scott chose him. I last saw the baritone-voiced Bottom in a local comedy competition, where he advanced all the way to the final. That's the extent of my knowledge of him, though. We met briefly once (maybe twice) but we've never really talked. There was one brief exchange a couple of months ago, which I'm sure we'll talk about. While the Pod F. Tompkast was responsible for this episode, we may invoke some WTF with Marc Maron to start off the show when I apologize to Kyle for that meeting. Awkwardness!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Podcast episode 227ish: Steve Bays

This episode was a lot of fun. Partly because it's a bit of a departure for us with a guest outside the world of comedy. And partly because rocker Steve Bays, the lead singer of Hot Hot Heat, is, like many musicians, pretty damn funny in his own right. He's also a huge comedy fan. So it worked on many levels. Steve tells us who he thinks the funniest musician is, reveals which of the late-night American talk shows his band has been on was the most fun, and we find out Steve and I were neighbours back in our home towns of Victoria. Maybe not at the same time, but we lived in the same 'hood. So have a listen. I think you'll enjoy it. I got a bit creative with the editing, but what the hell.

Livestream the episode right here right now or download it at iTunes for listening at your leisure on an MP3 device of your choosing. You have options.

Podcast episode 226ish: Lisa Lampanelli & Chris Porter

Lisa Lampanelli and Chris Porter are not a comedy team. Nor are they together on this episode. This is a very special two-for-the-price-of-none show. I spoke to Comedy's Lovable Queen of Mean by phone and she explained how she got the nickname and demonstrated why it fits, too. But you can't take her seriously. She's a sweetheart, as you'll hear. Chris Porter I spoke to in person. In his hotel room, as a matter of fact. But don't worry, it was Chris Porter the stand-up comic, not Chris Porter the gay porn star. I learned, among other things, what Chris thinks of alternative comics and hipster rooms. And I learned he, too, does a podcast. It's called Chris Porter's General Store and I've been listening ever since. Check it out. After you're done with this episode, of course.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Apr. 10: The Comedy Round-Table Reconvenes

It's been a while since we did a Comedy Round-Table. So when Dino Archie cancelled for the second time in about a month, I decided to reconvene it. And all four corners of the round table will be represented with four quality panelists: What's So Funny? first-timer Chuck Byrn, last week's guest Steve Bays, new Haligonian Dylan Rhymer, and the pneunomic (but not contagious, he assures me) Toby Hargrave.

(Photos, from left: Chuck Byrn, Steve Bays, Dylan Rhymer, Toby Hargrave)

What's on the agenda, you ask? We'll discuss as many of the following topics as time will allow: the notion of Vancouver as No Fun City, superstitions and rituals, over-rated comedy legends and under-rated hacks, comedy as entertainment vs art, and favourite comedy podcasts.

It should be a rollicking good time. I'll be there; will you? Tune in tonight at 11.

Podcast episode 225ish: Sunee Dhaliwal

When Sunee Dhaliwal called me up five minutes before airtime saying he was going to be late, I thought little of it. He wouldn't be the first. I'd play a clip to start the show and then we'd introduce him. No biggie.

When he told me he was in Abbotsford at the moment, things changed. How could he just be telling me now? He claimed he had car trouble, but that sounded like a lame excuse. I also thought if he got to the studio with five minutes to spare, it would hardly be worth the effort. But whatever.

So I went on the air and slammed the guy, telling my tens of listeners what Sunee had told me, and saying I didn't believe his story. Well, Sunee was listening on his frantic drive into Vancouver and called in to the show to give his side of the story. And we just decided to do the show that way. What we ended up with was a fun talk, three-quarters of which was on the phone. He finally did make it to the studio and we had about 15 minutes of face-to-face conversation.

Warning: this episode contains too much basketball talk for most people's taste, but it just supplies the backdrop. Comedy talk is always weaved throughout. Sunee tells us about opening for Jo Koy and Charlie Murphy, talks endless smack about Ivan Decker, and explains how Graham Clark saved his life.

If you act now, this episode is available to you here for nothing down and nothing a month. And we've extended that offer to our iTunes friends. Go download it now for free! Operators are standing by!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sarah Silverman redux

For the last little while (year? half-year? I can't keep track) I've been editing the radio version of What's So Funny? before it goes out in podcast form. Garage Band is a wonderful tool for techno-dolts like me. It's nothing major; just a little tightening up. If there are gaffes on-air, I snip them out. Ditto stand-alone 'uhs' and 'ums'. Sometimes there's a little dead air, which I cut down to a more listenable length. It's all very seemless and makes for a slightly better listening experience.

One show I was never particularly proud of was when Sarah Silverman called in back in 2005. All of the above problems were in full force. On top of that, the whole time I was wondering how long I should keep her on the air since she had travelled cross-country that day and it was late. I had been planning on her being on the whole hour but just before airtime learned she thought it would be something like 20 minutes. Well, she stuck it out for about 35 minutes before I let her go. I then rounded out the hour with various clips of her.

I recently went back and smoothed the whole thing out, since she is a big name and people might be revisiting the episode. Now, instead of 60 long minutes, I've whittled it down to a very listenable 40, taking out all those hems and haws, awkward pauses and technical glitches, and pulling out all but one clip at the end. It sounds way better. The show also features questions from comics Wes Borg, Pete Johansson and an exchange with Jay Brown that starts out extremely uncomfortably but ends well.

I figure I'll occasionally go back into the archives when I've got time and edit an old episode. We'll call it the "Redux" series. So starting off the redux series is the sassy Miss Sarah Silverman. Here it is below. And, as always, you can find it on iTunes in its edited state:

Friday, April 8, 2011

Podcast episode 224ish: Paul Myrehaug

Facebook 'friends' of comic Paul Myrehaug recently were treated to a photo of Myrehaug's upper thigh sporting a giant raspberry. It's the hazards of riding a longboard when you're nearing 30. Shortly before that mishap, Myrehaug guested on What's So Funny? where he tempted fate by saying how safe longboards, the sedans of the skateboard world, were comparatively speaking. On this episode, the 2007 Great Canadian Laugh-Off $25,000 winner also itemized various other accidents he's had, why he'd circumcise his future son, and talks about entertaining American troops in Iraq. The guy lives on the edge, clearly.

Have a listen here or download it over on iTunes. While you're there, why not purchase Paul's very funny new(ish) CD, Bad Things Are Funny, or you could also get it on Amazon. (Which reminds me, we also discussed if he truly believes bad things are funny in light of the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami. So you can look forward to that scintillating discussion on the podcast, too.)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Apr. 3: Steve Bays

Over the past six years, we've had a lot of comics on What's So Funny? with some big-time credits. And, yes, plenty with small-time. And a few with no credits. We love them all. But this week's guest has been on Letterman, Conan, Kimmel and Leno. In fact, our old friend David Cross has opened for him in New York City.

But he's not a comic. Go figure.

Our guest is hot, hot rock-n-roll star Steve Bays, lead singer of Hot Hot Heat. Say what? What does he have to do with comedy, you ask? Well, he's as big a fan of comedy as anyone. In fact, I like to refer to him as the Jon Hamm of Canada. You see, the Mad Men star is also a funny heart throb who frequents comedy gigs, befriends comedians and shows up on all sorts of comedy podcasts south of the border. My homeboy Steverino has been on the ridiculously popular Adam Carolla Podcast and twice on our pals Graham Clark and Dave Shumka's Stop Podcasting Yourself. So it's only fitting he makes his What's So Funny? debut to talk about what exactly the relationship between music and comedy is and why he can't seem to get enough of the yuks.

I remember the first time I met young Steven Bays. My wife and I were in line after a Weird Al Yankovic show a couple years ago waiting to meet-and-greet the weird one. Up comes Paul Anthony, three-time guest of WSF?, with a curly-haired buddy in tow. Paul introduces the punk kid to us. At some point, said punk kid is digging through his backpack and Anthony says his buddy wants to give Weird Al a copy of his band's CD. Yeah, he's in a band. Figures. Who isn't?, I thought. When he digs the CD out, I notice it says Hot Hot Heat on the cover. Putting two and two together, I asked if he was in the band (I'm quick like that). He shyly replied that he was. Hey, I know that band! I even have them on my iPod. Surprising for an old fart, tis true, but I'm old school – I had never actually seen the band before; only heard them. So I took his word for it.

When I got home, I Googled the band to see what his role was. For all I knew, he was the guy who tunes the guitars. But I found this video and learned he was front and centre. And what a friggin' great video it is, too. It's a few years old by now, but if you haven't seen it, take a look. Great song, great look. You'll be singing it for days, guaranteed:

Okay, so not comedy. I know. Don't worry, I won't be doing my Erica Ehm impression (like my hip, contemporary references?) asking him questions about the band. This is still a show about comedy. I think it'll be a refreshing change and am looking forward to it.

So tune in at 11 pm PST on CFRO, 102.7 FM or livestream the show at If you miss it, don't worry. In a week or so, it'll be available in the popular podcast format. I'll let you know right here when it drops, as they say in the podcasting biz.

Podcast episode 223ish: Marke Driesschen

I remember the night when TV's Marke Driesschen dropped by the What's So Funny? studios a few weeks back. It was a dark and stormy night... Or was it? Frankly, the weather means very little to me. Thankfully, he's more than just a TV weather "specialist"; Driesschen is also an accomplished comedian and actor. We talked about his many and varied roles in Oscar-worthy films, the early Saskatoon comedy scene, what a young Chris Rock was like off-stage, and the trouble he's gotten into on the air over the years. It was a breezy hour of conversation. Pun intended.

Here's your chance to relive that night. Click below for immediate gratification. For long-term satisfaction, head on over to iTunes and download the latest episode onto your favourite MP3 player and listen at your convenience: