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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tommy Tiernan interview

Look what I found. I really should try to stay on top of things. I interviewed Irish comic Tommy Tiernan back in April and forgot to post it. Whatcha gonna do?

I do a ton of phone interviews for print purposes and some are good, some not so good (cough-Patton Oswalt-cough). But I would say without a doubt the best, most-thoughtful and articulate one I've ever done was this one with Tommy Tiernan. Was I swept away with the Irish lilt? Maybe a wee bit but I think you'll agree from reading this that he is a guy who has given much thought to many a topic and he expresses himself beautifully. I would love to get him on the radio show/podcast one day so you can experience the full effect of the accent along with the words. One day...

Meanwhile, enjoy the transcript:

Tommy Tiernan – April 5, 2011

"I’m an Irish comedian; I’m not trying to be a global product. I’m not going to hide my Irishness and I’m not going to try and dilute it. I’m giving my experience from an Irish perspective rather than trying to be a kind of pan-national comedian." – Tommy Tiernan

Tommy Tiernan: Hello?

Guy MacPherson: Good morning, Tommy Tiernan.
TT: Yes. Is that Guy?

GM: It is. Hi.
TT: How are you?

GM: Good, thanks. Are you in Adelaide?
TT: Yes.

GM: On tour, I assume.
TT: I gotta hope I am. (laughs) Yeah, yeah, I’m on tour down here. I’ve been on the road for two or three weeks now.

GM: Where are you based?
TT: In my life?

GM: Yeah.
TT: I live in Galway, on the west coast of Ireland.

GM: You travel the whole world. Have you done Australia before?
TT: I’ve done Australia before. I can only perform in places with the western mindset so I couldn’t perform in India. Or Yemen.

GM: A lot of comics from the UK perform in India and the Middle East now, don’t they?
TT: Yeah, but they’re performing to ex-pats, though. They’re just performing to exiles. I often fantasize about walking into a village in Pakistan or something and being held hostage and they say, “What do you do?” And you say you’re a comedian. And they say, “Okay, do your show and we’ll decide if you live or die.” (laughs) I think our western minds operate along familiar tram lines: We all watch the same TV shows; our cities are more or less the same; government and structures... So they’re the places I work best.

GM: When you say these other comics are performing to ex-pat audiences...
TT: Exactly, they’re all sort of English people who are living in India or living in Hong Kong or whatever. You’re not really playing that country. It’s like doing a tour of embassies.

GM: Or military shows.
TT: Or something like that. Yeah, exactly. You wouldn’t say to a Canadian comic who plays a military base in Afghanistan that his stuff goes down very well in that part of the world. It’s the western heads that I attempt to undermine and understand.

GM: To help me understand, you’re not playing to those western heads in countries that aren’t western. Is that right?
TT: I’m not playing... I wouldn’t be able to.

GM: Why’s that?
TT: Why would I not be able to play to somebody who’s not from the west?

GM: No, no. What I mean is, these other comics are playing to ex-pats in places like India...
TT: Oh, I could do that. I could do that.

GM: I see. And do you do that? Or you don’t?
TT: Oh, I’ve done it before. I mean, I’ve done tours before. I remember doing shows in Bangkok and Hong Kong and Phuket and places like that. One of the most famous places in London is a place called The Comedy Store and they now have a franchise in Mumbai. But you know that’s just going to be full of westerners. And, you know, that’s fine. But those trips are more about what happens outside of the comedy club rather than what happens inside. They’re just a trip. You’re not crossing cultural borders. It’s like travelling around the world and only eating in McDonald’s wherever you go.

GM: That’s a great analogy. There are a lot of comics these days who are playing all over the world and they tend to make it seem like what you’re suggesting it isn’t. So it’s good to remember, yeah, they’re just playing to people like me. If I were over in India, I’d go to that club to see you or another western comic for sure.
TT: Absolutely, yeah. It’s kind of a nice reminder of home and stuff like that. It’s like a little breathing hole in the ice. I feel very privileged, really, that wherever I am in the world Irish people come to my shows. I don’t know if ‘proud of it’ is the right phrase but it means a lot to me. I’m an Irish comedian; I’m not trying to be a global product. To me, I love Jackie Mason and he gets thunderous strength from being Jewish. I made the decision a few years ago – it was actually before I performed a show in Canada – a friend said, “Okay, they won’t get this reference, they won’t get that reference.” Maybe I should choose another word for this. And then I thought, no. When I’m in Ireland and an American comedian comes to play, a guy like Rich Hall, the thing that makes it interesting to me is that he’s American and that he is using American phraseology, American terms for this, American terms for that. And I thought, well, I’m going to do the same when I go to Canada. I’m not going to hide my Irishness and I’m not going to try and dilute it. I’m giving my experience from an Irish perspective rather than trying to be a kind of pan-national comedian.

GM: Canada’s right in the middle. We grew up watching TV from England and shows from the States. It’s like we’re trilingual. When American comics come up, or comics from the British Isles come over, they use their terminology. But when Canadian comics travel abroad, they’re constantly changing words to be understood. Stewart Francis is a good example. In one joke he changes the word ‘trunk’ to ‘boot’, and I always think, “Why don’t you just keep it?! They’ll understand.”
TT: It’s funny. In Ireland, we don’t get enough Canadian stuff for us to understand exactly where a Canadian might be coming from, in terms of cultural references. Even a cultural stereotype. It can be difficult for Irish people to embrace a Canadian stereotype because we’re not exactly sure what that is. But for me performing, America isn’t as welcoming or as comfortable a place to play as Canada is. I find the Canadian audiences are just a bit more like the Europeans than they are like the Americans. I don’t find Canada as hysterical in the freaked-out sense. It’s not as fundamentalist as America. It seems a lot more daring, in a lot of ways. Now, everything has its flip side. There’s a place in Ireland that I love: County Mayo. And the people there, when they’re in their good moods, they’re the softest, most open, easy-going people on the planet. But they can also be, not individually but as kind of as a tribe, they can also be the most pig-ignorant, boorish pugs you could ever walk into. So as sure as Canada has an educated, liberal, easy-going side, I know it also has the opposite of that. Every soul has its shadow. But in general terms I find Canada a much sweeter place to play.

GM: Is that something you notice from the stage? I’m wondering how it manifests itself. Is it a difference in the audience or just a difference in what you know about the two countries?
TT: It’s a difference in the audience. There’s more of a willingness to go along with ideas. Now, I’ve done a lot of shows in Montreal and maybe the audience there, because they’ve had so many comedy festivals, they’re quite well-educated in terms of stand-up. One thing that’s happening with stand-up now in England is that there are two or three very popular stand-up comedy shows on television and they’re mainstream. They’re on at the peak times at the weekend and they get huge audiences. But the stuff that works on those television shows is absolutely the middle of the road. It’s funny – and I’m not criticizing; I’m just noticing it – but it’s centre of the road stuff. It’s very well done and it’s very funny but that’s where it is. So you have the vast majority of people who are watching stand-up are being told this is what it is, this is what stand-up comedy is. So if you then play to those people and your stuff is left of centre, a lot of them don’t know how to cope with it because it’s not what they watched on television. So I imagine that there are parts of Canada that maybe are the same. But in general I find that Canadian audiences are a bit more educated when it comes to stand-up. I don’t mean educated that it’s necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. I just mean maybe they’re more experienced in different types of stand-up.

GM: That’s an interesting point. I don’t know if that’s true because I don’t know other places. Who knows? I don’t.
TT: But certainly it’s a place I look forward to playing. I find it’s a place where, if I try something different, I don’t have to explain to the audience what I’m doing. Whereas I’ve had some shows in New York where you’re on a bill with 15 or 20 other comedians. You get about 15 minutes and the show runs from 7 in the evening until 12 o’clock at night. And the audience aren’t expected to stay very long. They just come in for two or three drinks and then they go again. I remember one time doing a gig there and there was about eight or nine Latinos at the show and that was it. It was, you know, 7:15 on a Tuesday night and I was bewildering to them. My accent they couldn’t figure out, my references. Laughter is an earthquake. It’s supposed to undermine whatever concept you’re talking about. And they just didn’t understand what I was doing. So insular crowds can be found everywhere.

"There’s a few elements to Irish wit. Whimsy is the last refuge of the impotent. We were powerless for so long that the only way we could feel free was through liberating speech. So I think Irish people, over time, developed this ability not to take reality too seriously. We take a fierce delight in words and wordplay." – Tommy Tiernan

GM: Who dubbed you the Bono of Irish comedy?
TT: My wife, I think.

GM: I was wondering how you feel about being compared to someone so humourless.
TT: Yeah. He’s okay, actually. He professionally obliged to be sincere all the time. Not only does a stand-up comedian have to undermine civilization or whatever he’s talking about, but he also has to undermine himself. I guess that I would aspire to being more Bobo than Bono.

GM: I don’t now Bobo.
TT: Bobo’s just some kind of a fictional clown. I’m more that. I’m more of a clown than a messiah.

GM: Do you know Bono?
TT: I’ve met him a few times, yes. A nice guy.

GM: Musicians all have a good sense of humour so he’s probably just not showing it publicly.
TT: Absolutely. When you’re part of such a vast money-making machine as U2... When U2 come to town, do you know those alien movies where this incredibly huge UFO hovers above the city and drains all the resources before moving on? U2 are kind of like that with their big stage show – they hover above an unsuspecting metropolis (laughs) and then just take all the money and move on to the next phase. So he’s more Captain Kirk, really. Anyway, anyway...

GM: The Irish are famously known for their wit. When you got into comedy as a young man – how old were you when you started, by the way?
TT: About 25 or 26.

GM: Were you the funny guy amongst all your friends?
TT: There’s a few elements to Irish wit, really. One of them is, I think, whimsy is the last refuge of the impotent. We were powerless for so long that the only way we could feel free was through liberating speech. We became anarchic in our ideas because we couldn’t take up arms against our oppressor because they were too powerful, so we sought refuge in ideas and kind of crazy ideas. It’s like, you get a few guys who might be kidnapped by the militant group in the Middle East and they’ve all be chained to radiators in the room and the guards can’t understand how every now and again he hears them laughing. I think you kind of find freedom wherever you can get it. So I think Irish people, over time we’ve just developed this ability not to take reality too seriously. We take a fierce delight in words and wordplay. And I guess I moved around an awful lot as a child. I felt like a – I still feel like a refugee of sorts, kind of a constant exile. I find it very interesting. I’m in Adelaide in Australia today and I’ll spend the day walking around the city and I’m kind of invisible, in that nobody really sees me. If I disappeared, nobody would know. It’s a curious feeling of not counting. I’m not in any way tethered to this community. And I go from that experience of feeling invisible in the afternoon to the experience of being the centre of attention at night. And I think that’s probably one of the reasons I got into stand-up comedy, is that I needed that feeling at the end of the day to help me cope with the feeling of earlier on in the day. And I moved around a lot as a child so I was used to being the new boy. And also to undermine things – the world around me and myself. My brain works like that anyway so stand-up suits me. Stand-up suits my inclinations, really.

GM: Why did you move around a lot?
TT: My father was just in the witness protection program. (laughs) No, my dad had jobs with different kinds of farming organizations. We started off in Donegal in the north of Ireland, then we moved to Africa for three years, then we moved to London, England, for a while, then various towns around Ireland. Then at 16 I was sent off to a boarding school.

GM: Where was that?
TT: That was also in Ireland. I’m very used to moving around.

GM: Well, it suits your lifestyle now... Are you and Frankie Boyle in the same club?
TT: Not in the slightest, no.

GM: Now that you’ve both been in trouble for the Down Syndrome jokes.
TT: I think there’s a huge difference. We actually got support. It’s a slightly long-winded story, Guy, but I’ll tell it to you. I’m not a fan of the type of stand-up that sets out to be divisive, the type of stand-up that is all bricks and no flowers. I have no interest in that. I find it abrasive and without charm. But it’s very easy to come along to a show of mine as a journalist and hear a joke and decide that... I think in a way, I know the journalists that come to see me are intelligent so they understand what I mean, that I’m making a joke, but they can also understand how they can create a story out of it. They can go back to their editors the next day and go, “Do you think there’s a story in this?” And the editor goes, “Yeah, we’ll get three or four days out of that.” And then they contact loads of people who they feel ought to be shocked at something they haven’t heard. It’s all the work of journalists. All of it. Everybody’s just looking for a story. That’s all it is. Just the journalist is just, “I have an empty week ahead of me. How do I come up with a story?” The essence of comedy is to kind of rattle things up a little bit. Of course there’s going to be stories in there. With the Down Syndrome thing, after it made the papers and was deliberately misrepresented – it was intelligently misrepresented – we invited Down Syndrome Ireland along to the show so they could see the piece in context. And they came along and they issued a press statement afterwards saying that they fully support what I was doing but none of the newspapers carried that story because it wasn’t interesting. The interesting part of the story was “comedian attacks vulnerable group”. That’s interesting. Just as a headline: “I wonder what happened there?” But “vulnerable group say comedian’s material was not offensive”, that’s less interesting as a story. So the people who are at fault in the second story are the people who created the story. And the people who created the story mightn’t be likely to run that story. It’s happened to me lots of times on a load of different issues. I’m so familiar with it now, I know how it works.

"When I say my style has matured, I hope, it hasn’t become less dangerous or less anarchic; it’s just that I whisper now as well as shout every now and again." – Tommy Tiernan

GM: And you had the anti-Semetic charges.
TT: Absolutely the same thing. One-hundred percent the same thing. What happens, I think, with the Jewish community is that once you get tagged as saying something anti-Semetic, it’s a whole other world. It’s a world of huge hurt and often kind of irrational judgment. I met the Canadian Jewish Congress and I had a great dinner with him and we had a great conversation and got on very well. The whole thing was the work of journalism. But when it became a story, and you get called racist and anti-Semetic, it’s unbelievable. It’s like sticking your finger into a bee’s nest – you’re unlikely to escape with just honey. (laughs) It’s hard, it’s hard.

GM: When I read the quote out of context, it didn’t sound like you were joking.
TT: No, because there’s no joke in it. It was a rant done that made sense in the context of the whole interview. If you go see a comic and he does a characterization of an old person, the lines themselves aren’t funny but the context in which it was done... There’s an adage in comedy that in a ridiculous situation, the more normal the stuff you say, the funnier it is.

GM: So was that a character you were doing?
TT: Absolutely! The whole interview lasted for about 45 minutes and this took about, I dunno, 12 seconds. But the journalist knew what they were doing. It wasn’t a... em...

GM: … a mistake, a misunderstanding.
TT: No, it wasn’t. And the newspaper – which I’m delighted to say has gone into receivership since. It was a newspaper called the Sunday Tribune and their sales were going down. And they adopted a policy of trying to attract more readers through more salacious headlines for about six or nine months, and I was at the start of that. I had to bear the brunt of it but it was absolutely not my doing.

GM: When you’re in the middle of it, do you think, “Uh-oh, there goes my career”, like Michael Richards, or do you think it’s great because you get the publicity, or what do you think?
TT: It was a headache, to be honest with you. It was unpleasant. I never like to hear people being upset. When people come along to a show of mine, I want them to laugh; I don’t want them to be annoyed or feel hurt or anything like that. That’s not my job. I have no interest in that. What it did do was it happened at a period of time in my stand-up where I was frustrated with the way I was performing, and it made me kind of re-evaluate what I was doing and the style in which I was doing it. That, actually, then led to... I said I want to change my performance style. I thought the material was getting a bit too aggressive. I felt as if I was kind of trapped in a slightly too combative a persona on stage and I didn’t know how to get out of it. And I’d been feeling that for a few years. I felt that the playfulness had gone out of the stand-up. So what I did was I decided the best way to find my way out of it would be to talk my way out of it. So I did a 36-hour show. My reasoning was, the only way I’m going to evolve my style... I’ll go up on stage one night and I’ll stay there until I can’t be aggressive anymore, until I can’t be combative anymore and I’ll see where that ends up. And it worked. I think probably six or eight months later I found myself on stage being able to do things, knowing how to do things I’d wanted to do before but couldn’t find the door. When I say my style has matured, I hope, it hasn’t become less dangerous or less anarchic; it’s just that I whisper now as well as shout every now and again.

GM: When did you go through that change?
TT: I’d say, uh, 2009.

GM: Now are you overly sensitive to any potential misunderstanding? Do you find yourself holding back a bit because somebody might take something the wrong way?
TT: No, absolutely not. Not at all, no. When you’re on stage, whatever you’re thinking, you have to say it. So the brakes are still off but I’m just better at going around corners. (laughs) Do you know what I mean? I haven’t become more careful; I’m just not as thorny, maybe.

GM: So are you taking some responsibility or are you saying it was all on the journalist? It seems like you were thinking you should also ease up a bit.
TT: No, not ease up. It happened around the same time. I’d been frustrated with my style of stand-up for about a year, maybe even two years. So it just contributed, it was an ingredient of lots of other things. I felt myself as if the shows were too kind of one-dimensional. And when a crisis like that happens, the amount of trouble I had gotten into with that, it just all adds up. I just said, Okay, what is it that you do? What is it that you want to do? One of my favourite quotes is from a guy called D.T. Suzuki and he might have been a Buddhist monk. He said one of the characteristics of Zen is a walking away from respectability. And that still inspires me. To be, not disrespectful, but to be irresponsible on stage, I get great joy out of that. The full quote is probably available online somewhere. I can’t remember it but his name is D.T. Suzuki and one of the lines is, “One of the characteristics of Zen is a walking away from respectability.” And that still inspires me, you know? The thing of, when I walk out on stage, of undermining myself, of undermining society, civilization, of being unpredictable, but all in a kind of a joyous way. That you’re joyfully disrespectful as opposed to angrily disrespectful. I wanted more joy and less anger.

GM: And that’s in your personal life as well?
TT: There’s another Zen quote, I think, or maybe it’s Oscar Wilde, that says, “Every artist must choose.” Maybe it’s William Butler Yeats. “Every artist must choose perfection of the life or the work.” (laughs)

GM: So you go for the work.
TT: Sometimes. (laughs) Sometimes.

GM: When did you move to the lavalier mic? Does it give it a more theatrical feel?
TT: I’ve gone back, actually. I’ve gone back to the traditional handheld now.

GM: Oh, good. That’s my preference. I don’t know why. It’s a silly thing.
TT: It’s much more stylish, I think. For about a year-and-a-half now I’ve been back using the handheld. I won’t even use a radio mic. I love the cord coming out of the mic as well, you know?

GM: It’s a bit of a dance, moving it around, stepping over it.
TT: Yeah, absolutely. Maybe it’s a bit like if you’re an electric guitar player. There are archetypal images in your mind of a rock guitarist. And for me there are archetypal images of performers. I get a great kick out of watching people like Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and the shapes and body movement they would have on stage and how they can twist and contort themselves, and it’s always with a handheld mic with a cord coming out of it. So I use that, as well. I use that kind of imagery in my head to adopt a pose.

GM: It’s funny none of those are comedians, those images you have.
TT: No, they’re still funny, though! I mean, Leonard Cohen is hilarious. Tom Waits is hilarious. They’re almost like refugees, as well. They’re kind of in constant exile. You know, it’s the Clint Eastwood gunslinger thing of a man on his own on stage. I’m drawn to that as well.

GM: Do you have comedic heroes?
TT: Absolutely. Lenny Bruce.

GM: You’re younger than I am, I think. How did you come to appreciate Lenny Bruce?
TT: I think I got into Lenny Bruce through Dylan. I went from Bob Dylan to people like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. And all these people are kind of linked. And from Ginsberg and Burroughs I got into Lenny Bruce. These are counter-culture heroes of the sixties. There’s an album, Live at Carnegie Hall, which I used to listen to. Actually, just before you called I was listening to one of his albums. I just listen to them over and over again. A lot of the references are lost on me because they’re very much time- and country-specific, but there’s something magnetic about his style that I’m drawn to. And I don’t fully understand what it is. So, yeah, I really like Lenny Bruce. He wouldn’t be someone who makes me laugh a lot because I think our humour is a bit more... Like, we would find Will Ferrell a lot funnier than Bob Hope because Will Ferrell is the comedian of our times. So I really love Lenny Bruce but he doesn’t make me laugh as much as, say, somebody like Steven Wright or even contemporary comics like Maria Bamford, Doug Benson, Arj Barker, Greg Proops. You know, I have an endless list of comics that make me laugh a lot. But in terms of a kind of style and persona, I’m very attracted to Lenny Bruce.

Friday, July 29, 2011

July 31: Larry Miller

What an exciting weekend this will be, What's So Funny?-wise. It turns out it's also a holiday. Who knew? As it turns out, we have a very special episode of WSF? on Sunday (I always used to love to hate those "very special episodes" of sitcoms back in the day, but this is nothing like that.) The great Larry Miller will be our guest.

Larry Miller may not be a household name but he's one of the best stand-up comics of his generation. He was on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show about 25 times and I probably saw all of them. I used to watch Carson religiously and would pay extra special attention any time a comedian was on. And Miller was one of my favourites. Maybe you're a baby reader and weren't around then. Okay. Fair enough. If you don't know the name, you'll certainly be familiar with the face and voice – he's one of the top character actors around. His first biggish supporting role was in Pretty Woman but you've seen him in the Christopher Guest mockumentaries like Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind and Best in Show or such mainstream hits as Princess Diaries, The Nutty Professor and Bee Movie. On the tube he's been Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Boston Legal and 10 Things I Hate About You.

Last Sunday night I heard Miller dropped in and did 15 minute sets at the Comedy MIX on Burrard both Friday and Saturday night. I was devastated that I didn't know about it since I'd never seen him live and was such a big and long-time fan. But a little birdie told me he'd also be dropping by on Tuesday and Wednesday. So I went down on Tuesday and finally got to see him. What a treat. And what a prince of a guy. I asked about recording a show with me and he couldn't have been nicer. He said he had time the next afternoon and he welcomed me to his hotel room where we chatted for about 70 minutes. If he didn't have to run and do a conference call, we could have talked for another hour, easy. So this show will run long (now that we have no show immediately following us). My levels, it turns out, were a little lower than his but that's okay because he did the bulk of the talking.

We touched on his appearances on Carson, his days starting out in New York with Jerry Seinfeld, his connection with other comics of any level, and he exhibited a refreshing perspective about life and show business that more people should adhere to. So mark this on your calendar. Chances are you don't have to work Monday morning so you can stay up. We get things started, as usual, at 11 pm on CFRO 102.7 FM, and you can livestream it here. Next Sunday, of course, it'll be available in podcast form.

And while you're at it, check out his blog/clog and his podcast, This Week with Larry Miller.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Podcast episode 242ish: Dave Burleigh

From Vegas, comic Dave Burleigh discusses the stigma of doing impressions, the genesis of a Las Vegas show, and explains why comedy and breakfast don't go together. Along the way, we're joined by BC's own Richard Kiss, now residing in Sin City, and a few of Burleigh's celebrity impersonations.

Contest winner

Well, here we are. Monday, July 25, 10 a.m. Doug Stanhope's Oslo: Burning a Bridge to Nowhere CD/DVD burning a hole in my pocket. I'm all set to announce the winner... But there isn't one to announce. So instead I'll hand it to a random person I meet. Maybe it's better that way. Maybe it will create a new Stanhope fan.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

July 24: Roy Zimmerman

Any regular listener to What's So Funny? knows I'm a huge fan of Roy Zimmerman. I've played his political musical satire on the show many a time. Tonight, we actually get to hear from the man himself. He was in town playing an under-publicized gig and he took the time to sit down with me and chat that afternoon. The guy is, without a doubt, the best and funniest singing satirist since the legendary Tom Lehrer (and just as good, I'd say). In fact, the reclusive Lehrer even said, "I congratulate Roy Zimmerman on reintroducing literacy to comedy songs. And the songs actually rhyme, they don't just 'rhyne'." He sings in the folk tradition, but even non-folkies like me can appreciate his brilliance. But the folkies like him, too. Joni Mitchell said, "Roy's lyrics move beyond poetry and achieve perfection." And they do. During the hour we'll listen to a few of his tunes and talk about his lefty leanings.

Tonight at 11 PST, as always. Co-op radio 102.7 FM in Vancouver or live stream it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Giveaway update

We're one day in on the big Doug Stanhope CD/DVD giveaway (see Friday's post) and so far nary an entry. There are a number of possible reasons:
  • 1. Everyone who wants the prize already has it.
  • 2. Nobody wants the prize.
  • 3. Nobody wants to bother trying to answer so many questions.
  • 4. Nobody reads this blog.
  • 5. People are hard at work researching the answers to the ten questions.
Let's take these one at a time:
  • 1. Possible
  • 2. Highly doubtful
  • 3. Possible but see 5.
  • 4. It doesn't get huge numbers but I have the benefit of statistics and I know the page has been viewed many times.
  • 5. Possible, but keep in mind if you're the only entrant, you need only get one question right. Hell, if you're the only entrant, you could take away the prize with no correct answers.
So get on it! You've got about 36 hours until the contest is over! Once again, send your answers (or at least your address) to

Friday, July 22, 2011

CD/DVD Giveaway - Doug Stanhope, Oslo: Burning the Bridge to Nowhere

How about the first ever What's So Funny? blog merchandise give-away? Sounds like a plan. I know you're all big fans of Doug Stanhope, as well you should be. I've got a copy of his latest CD/DVD, Oslo: Burning the Bridge to Nowhere [Roadrunner Comedy] to give to one lucky, and skilled, reader. As the yellow sticker on it says, it features over 75 minutes of new material recorded live in Oslo (that'd be in Norway) and the DVD includes the full performance plus bonus material.

But I can't just open this up to the first responder. We need some sort of skill-testing question. Let's see... I don't want to make it too easy. Then again, it shouldn't be ridiculously hard so that only diehard fans who'll already buy the product will win. How about just time-consuming? Maybe that's the ticket. I'll ask ten questions and whoever gets the most right by Monday, July 25 at 10 a.m. PST wins. In the case of a tie, whoever answered first will win. I'll post the winner's name here on Monday then mail the package out to wherever you are in the world. How's that for a deal? So don't forget to include your mailing address with your answers to wsf1027fm AT yahoo DOT ca. And yes, residents of Quebec are eligible. Okay, here we go:
1. Doug recently recorded his latest CD in what U.S. city?
2. What's So Funny? included a half-hour phone interview with Doug. What comic took up the other half of the show?
3. On his album Something To Take The Edge Off, Doug says every vice is a punishment in itself. What is his example of the punishment of watching too much porno?
4. Besides his hidden camera series on Fox, Doug hosted (or co-hosted) two other projects he's embarrassed by. Name them.
5. What's Doug's middle name?
6. Doug created a website to raise money so what famous pregnant woman could get an abortion?
7. Which political party is Doug most closely aligned with?
8. Who did Doug endorse for president of the U.S. in 2008?
9. What was notable about Doug's version of the joke told in The Aristocrats?
10. Who finished second to Doug in the 1995 San Francisco International Comedy Competition?
There you go. Have at 'er. I know, it's a lot for just one CD/DVD but you want to feel you earned it, right? Okay, maybe it's ridiculously hard but remember you don't have to answer them all correct if nobody else does; you just have to answer more of them correct than anyone else, or at least get your answers in more quickly.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Podcast episode 241ish: Brian McKim

If you've ever read (and if you haven't, you really should), you'll know that Brian McKim speaks his mind, in tandem with his wife and co-publisher and fellow stand-up comic Traci Skene. In this podcast episode, we hear from the male half of the staff himself about some of the controversies that have riled up readers in the past. We also learn how drugs led him to the stage and why he doesn't judge comedy genres against each other. Oh, and there are a couple good street jokes thrown in for good measure. What's not to like? Besides, we recorded our conversation at Hooter's in Las Vegas! Have a listen right here, if you like. Or if you want to wait until you're working out or painting the fence, go download it at your favourite podcast depository, such as your iTunes and the like.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 17: Dave Burleigh

In the last of our Las Vegas broadcasts we've got a guy I had never heard of prior to the day of the recording. Former Vancouverite Richard Kiss, who now resides in Vegas, suggested that Dave Burleigh would be a good guest. Who am I to turn down a recommendation? So Richard brought Dave up to my room at the Flamingo and a minute later we were sitting down talking into microphones. And an excellent recommendation it was. I had a lot of fun talking to Dave, a California comic who recently moved to Vegas where he hopes to put together a regular nightly show complete with band. We discuss the genesis of the idea, along with the stigma of doing impressions on stage, his worst corporate gig ever and Olivia Newton-John not talking to him. Along the way, we're joined by Mr. Kiss with cameos by Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Christopher Walken and John Travolta. So tune in tonight at 11 PST to CFRO 102.7 FM or livestream it here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Podcast episode 240ish: Graham Clark & Dave Shumka

Together again for the first time. On What's So Funny?, anyway. Graham Clark and Dave Shumka made their first appearance together on the show last week after numerous times individually over the years. And what a show it was. I had prepared lots of questions for the hosts of the internet sensation Stop Podcasting Yourself but we got derailed in an attempt to break the WSF? call-in record. At the very least, it gave Dave and Graham the chance to interact with their "bumpers", as they call fans of SPY, in a way they're unable to on their pre-recorded program.

Did they break the record? You'll have to listen to find out. Click below or download somewhere else, like, frinstance, iTunes, as but one example.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

July 10: Brian McKim

Tonight's show was recorded about three weeks ago at the bar in Hooter's Casino Hotel in Las Vegas. After the Dirty Joke Show upstairs, in which tonight's guest participated, I sat down for an hour with's Brian McKim. With beers flowing, we discussed the magazine, the perception of stand-up comics in the lamestream media, controversies such as the Tracy Morgan brouhaha and the Guy Earle ballyhoo, his appearance on NBC's Last Comic Standing with his wife and cohort Traci Skene, and told a couple of street jokes for good measure. It was a good time and I hope you'll join us. Show starts at 11 PST. You know the deal. CFRO 102.7 FM in Vancouver, or livestream it here.
Photo from McKim's website

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bumbershoot fest comedy line-up

There were a few years, back more than a few years ago, when I'd drive down to Seattle every year to catch comedy at the Bumbershoot festival. Haven't been in years now. Don't know why. Maybe it's because comedy is cool now and I can't bother fighting the crowds. Like Groucho said, I don't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member. Maybe it's because the comedy is all of a kind now. That is, it's all the cool kids, that posse of hip alt-comics that are all buddies with each other, that do each other's podcasts. I love those guys as much as the next fella, but I like a little variety, too.

Whatever the reason is, I should rectify the situation and get back there this year. My memories of Bumbershoot go back to seeing Elayne Boosler. She was a comic I never liked on TV (and she was on all the time back in the day) but I quite enjoyed her live. I could totally see why she got so much TV work. Another year I saw a young musical act I had never heard of to that point, and I doubt many others had, either: Tenacious D. They were awesome. Then there was the time Jon Stewart was supposed to perform (this was pre-Daily Show) and I was stoked. But he couldn't make it. So they got Margaret Cho, who had yet to reach superstar status and was still an alt-darling, to replace him. That was kind of disappointing. Fred Armisen, pre-SNL, also stood out, playing his Kaufmanesque bongo player who'd tell a bad joke in a thick accent then throw his hands in the air saying, "Just keeeding!" (I believe he took that character with him to SNL.) The first time I saw Janeane Garofalo perform live was at Bumbershoot. She was a special surprise guest and it marked the first time I'd be disappointed with her act, but not the last. I saw a joke-off between Doug Benson and... David Cross maybe? (I definitely saw Cross perform his gay Jesus bit there solo.) Bumbershoot was also the first place I ever saw Patton Oswalt perform, long long before King of Queens or Comedians of Comedy. Possibly the last time I was there was some time between 2001 and 2003 when I saw Sarah Silverman perform. So I'm due back.

They just announced their comedy line-up. Have a look. I'm sure there's something there for you.



Seattle, WA Bumbershoot: Seattle’s Music & Arts Festival, which takes place September 3-5 at Seattle Center, announces this year’s Comedy lineup.

While Bumbershoot gets the bulk of its attention due to its diverse musical offerings, it also boasts a similarly stellar arts lineup that includes theatre, dance, literature, visual arts — and, for the past 14 years, at least one dedicated comedy stage.

This year, the festival’s laugh-inducing programming stretches across three stages, offering festivalgoers more opportunities to catch some of today’s best and brightest comedians — whether they’re culled from Seattle’s backyard (courtesy of the People’s Republic of Komedy) or hand-picked by Comedy Central exec Lisa Leingang.

"Bumbershoot has been proud to consistently present many up and coming comics over many years,” says One Reel Programming Director Chris Porter. “Now famous acts including David Cross, Sarah Silverman, Flight of the Conchords, Fred Armisen and many others have graced the Bumbershoot comedy stages as they were rising stars. We are almost assured to see a future TV star each year within our line-up."

Doug Benson let the cat out of the proverbial bag early, but we’re pleased as punch to tell you who else will be joining us over Labor Day weekend. Heeeeeere’s our lineup!

Doug Loves Movies and we love Doug Benson! Doug invites you to join him and his friends as they podcast their affection for all things cinematic.

Scott Aukerman has rubbed elbows with Zach Galifinakis and David Cross, and not only lived to tell the tales – he’s broadcasted them. His lively podcast Comedy Bang Bang is a treasure trove of comedy gold, with celebrity guests and all around hilarity. His Bumbershoot performance features the prodigious talents of Paul F. Tompkins.

Yell out an inspired title and you might be the inspiration for The Improvised Shakespeare Company’s current sketch, delivered in grand Elizabethan style. Each of the players has brushed up on his “thee’s” and “thou’s” to bring you off-the-cuff comedy using the language and themes of William Shakespeare.

Eugene Mirman is a Bumbershoot veteran, a music fan and a world-class comedian whose albums have been released on Seattle labels Suicide Squeeze and Sub Pop. He probably needs no introduction. He might need a beverage.

Who are The Gregory Brothers? Glad you asked. You might know them as the folks behind the wildly popular internet sensations “Auto-Tune the News” and “Songify This,” or perhaps through their “country & soul, folk & roll” EP, “Meet The Gregory Brothers.” Strangely, one of them is not male.

Hari Kondabolu plays with race the way that some people play with kittens. His comedy is playful, irreverent and spot-on, turning the spotlight on hypocrisy with a surgeon’s precision and a comedian’s rapier wit. A Comedy Central favorite and a regular on the Seattle scene, we’re delighted to welcome him to Bumbershoot.

Anthony Jeselnik was awarded album of the year by Punchline magazine for his album, Shakespeare. He’s worked as a writer on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and roasted Donald Trump. Comedy Central named him one of the breakout comedians of 2009, and the rest of that graduating class likes to call him the most attractive of their bunch.

Kurt Metzger’s made Comedy Central’s 2010 Hot List, was a regular on VH1's Best Week Ever and is the voice of Randall on the Comedy Central program Ugly Americans. If you missed him on television, you can catch his album “Kurt Metzger Talks to Young People About Sex” on iTunes in June. Ask him how he feels about Jersey Shore.

Deon Cole got his break on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, after an on-air performance landed him a job as a writer for the show and the show’s untimely demise led to a slot as the featured comedian on Conan O’Brien’s Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television tour. A gifted actor as well as a comedian, he’s been featured on Comedy Central’s “John Oliver & Friends,” Lopez Tonight and Laffapalooza; HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, BET’s Comic View, NBC’s Showtime at the Apollo and Starz’s Martin Lawrence’s 1st Amendment.

Wayne Federman’s Woody Allen joke was voted the #4 joke of the year in the New York Post last year. You might also have seen him in one of these movies (Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, 50 First Dates , Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Legally Blonde,) on The X-Files or The Larry Sanders Show, through his own stand-up performances, or unwittingly have been exposed to his wit through his time as the head monologue writer on the inaugural season of The Jimmy Fallon Show.

Amy Schumer’s wholesome, girl-next-door looks give her edgy comedy even more of an impact. A rapidly rising star (who made her debut by coming in fourth on Last Comic Standing in 2007). she’s a favorite of Ellen DeGeneres and a master at heckling hecklers.

The London Evening Standard called Kyle Kinane “bleak and misanthropic,” which he still feels may be a compliment. He made Variety’s “Top 10 Comics to Watch of 2010” and his episode of Comedy Central Presents premiered in February 2011.

Bumbershoot veteran Rory Scovel returns to dazzle audiences with his spontaneous creativity and absurd view of the world. Well known for his improvisational skills, he’s been a festival favorite.

Julian McCullough is a self-proclaimed “super fun guy,” and his take on relationships and life as a cat-owning, single straight guy in NYC is enough to induce fits of giggles in even the most curmudgeonly. He’s also had his own Comedy Central special and may or may not be soliciting funds to protect his neighbors by buying curtains for his apartment.

Freestyle Love Supreme operates on a simple principle – get words from the audience, use them to inspire new rap songs and build a hip-hop community. Word.


The Pacific Northwest’s not just a rich environment for indie rock, it’s also a veritable goldmine for indie comedy. This isn’t regional pride speaking, folks – it’s fact. Check out the roster below for a full listing of some of the PNW’s best and brightest (and funniest) denizens.

Laff Hole

Laff Hole is Comedy Stage West's flagship show. Every night at Bumbershoot The People's Republic of Komedy presents Seattle's most exciting stand-up, sketch, and video, helmed by a special guest.

John Keister – former Almost Live! host John Keister is a staple in the Seattle comedy community and a pioneer of Northwest humor.

Andy Haynes – Laff Hole vet and NYC transplant Andy Haynes returns to his hometown for a reunion with his Laff Hole pals.

Blood Squad Reunion - The wildly talented improvisers/terror experts of Blood Squad (Brandon Felker, Elicia Wickstead, and Molly Arkin) reunite one last time.

Stop Podcasting Yourself
Comedians Graham Clark and Dave Shumka present their podcast live. Part of the Maximum Fun podcasting network, Clark and Shumka bring together comedians and friends to discuss things both trivial and momentous in Vancouver's top comedy podcast.

The Ashley Judd Comedy Hour

The Ashley Judd Comedy Hour formed when its celebrity creator gathered Seattle's six funniest juvenile delinquents and molded them into a tight comedy unit. Now they perform a brand new hour of sketches, characters, and stand-up every month at the People's Republic Kafe.

Weird and Awesome with Emmett Montgomery

An ecstatic coming-together of Seattle’s comedy and performance scenes, Weird and Awesome is an eclectic comic spectacle. Comedian Emmett Montgomery presents stand-up, songs, stories, videos, and more. Assisted by child prodigy Barbara Holm.

The Humor Program

The Humor Program follows the hilarious hijinks of Jake Barker and his sidekick David Tveite, with music by Devin Badoo and The Humor Program Band. The show features stand-up, interviews, puppets, and much, much more.

Sketchfest Showcase
Seattle Sketchfest, the hub of the Northwest sketch comedy scene, curates this showcase of Seattle's best writers and performers of sketch.

Kitty Cats in Pirate Hats

Based at West Seattle's Shipwreck Tavern, Kitty Cats in Pirate Hats is a showcase of the area's most talented young comedians. Featuring the show's creators Zach Gabriel, Edrease Peshtaz, and Adam Firestone.

Luke Burbank's Too Beautiful To Live is a podcasting sensation. Burbank, America's foremost “Imaginary Radio Host” (a term he invented), invites comedians, writers, celebrities, and every other kind of fascinating person into his studio to gab. Now TBTL is live.

Funbucket is an improvised comedy extravaganza. Featuring some of Seattle's most skilled improvisors, it’s a mainstay of Wing-It Productions. Sharing the stage is Charles, the sketch comedy twosome of Charlie Stockman and Chuck Armstrong, who are known for cerebral humor bordering on sheer arrogance.

Comedy is O.K.
Portland's favorite sons Mikey Kampmann, Paul Schlesinger, and Andrew Michaan bring their formidable irreverence to Bumbershoot. A powerhouse of Northwest comedy, Comedy is O.K. is not to be missed!TICKETS

Single-day tickets, three-day passes and Gold and Platinum passes for Bumbershoot 2011 are available for purchase at

Monday, July 4, 2011

Podcast episode 239ish: Lorne Cardinal & Monique Hurteau

I had a great time on last week's episode. It was my first time meeting actor Lorne Cardinal (although I managed to snap a photo of him on a press junket to the set of Corner Gas in Rouleau, Saskatchewan, as seen on the left), and my first real conversing with, other than in passing, stand-up comic Monique Hurteau. We talked about their individual and collective careers. Cardinal, best known as Sergeant Davis Quinton on Corner Gas, told how portraying a cop on TV has its privileges but when he's on the rugby pitch it has its downsides. Hurteau discussed what it's like going to eleven different schools as a kid and how that led to her stand-up comedy career. Together, they talked about the workshops that put the humour in health, or vice versa.

Listen here or download somewhere, like, oh, I dunno, iTunes. You know how to get there, but if not, I've supplied the hyperlink.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 3: Graham Clark & Dave Shumka

Oh, we're going to have maximum fun on tonight's episode of What's So Funny? Graham Clark and Dave Shumka are together again for the first time. They've each been guests on the show multiple times but tonight they're on with each other. That's right, the co-hosts of the internet's most lovable comedy podcast, Stop Podcasting Yourself, will be in studio to tell us all about their most recent trip to the City of Angels, where they recorded shows with the industry's biggest and brightest stars. We'll also, no doubt, discuss Graham's filthy beard paintings, Dave's upcoming nuptuals, Graham's behind-the-scenes work on The Debaters, Dave's behind-the-mic work on CBC Radio 3, and generally get to know them. So tune in, bumpers, for a side of Clark & Shumka you don't get to hear on SPY.

ADDENDUM: I just thought of something. All the SPY bumpers out there don't usually get the chance to interact live with Graham and Dave so I thought I'd give them that opportunity tonight*. Should anyone want to call in and ask a question or give a comment between 11 pm and midnight PST, the studio number is 604-684-7561.
*Providing the phone system is operational.