Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Zach on SNL

With great anticipation, I watched my DVR recording of the most recent SNL with Zach Galifianakis as host. Choosing him as host could be inspired -- if he were allowed to do his thing, not simply plugged in to weak sketches.

I'm happy to report SNL did exactly that, giving Zach more time with the opening monologue to perform as he does as a stand-up, with even a little bit of his trademark surreal one-liners delivered while playing piano.

The episode wasn't completely a slam dunk -- time was wasted on the pointless and unfunny recurring Kenan Thompson sketch, "What's Up With That?" -- but there were at least two other pieces where Zach's sensibility reigned.

What could have been a terrible sketch -- one where he played half of a couple (with Kristen Wiig) obsessed with the bidet in their hotel room, worked mostly because of Zach's reading of lines and phrases like "bidet-wise." And the other piece, one that Zach might not have put together on his own, featured him strolling through the backgrounds of various other shows. The greatest of these being where he was obnoxiously talking on his phone right behind Law & Order's two detectives as they surveyed a murder scene -- saying, "Yeah, I'm right here on the set of Law & Order right now," and disrupting the actors into asking for another take.

Just coming up with two memorable and potentially classic skits with a host like Zach, who has his own distinct comedic sensibility, ought to show what SNL could have if it went more in this direction picking hosts -- less Jennifer Lopez or Taylor Lautner and perhaps, even more, Betty White -- as some online speculators have proposed. She's certainly got comedy chops. Failing that, how about one of Zach's fellow "Comedians of Comedy," like Patton Oswalt or Maria Bamford?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Vegas Memories

While in Las Vegas, it’s hard to resist one of the new modernized burlesque shows. But if you go to “Fantasy” at the Luxor, you’re in for an unexpected surprise. Comedic impressionist and performer Sean E. Cooper pop ups between costume and set changes, entering suddenly at first with a James Brown impression emphasizing the Godfather of Soul’s sometimes unintelligible speech.

Cooper is self-effacing, remarking “I bet you’re wondering what’s going on here and where have all the girls gone,” but gets the audience on his side very quickly with other impressions throughout the show, especially of Tina Turner and of Michael Jackson. And in both of these he teases the lucky guy who was picked from the audience to romp onstage with the girls, flirting while in drag as Turner and crotch-grabbing as Jackson while remarking about him.

It takes a great performer for you not to mind that the girls in a show like this are offstage, but Cooper pulls it off.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Jeff Garlin

Taking a break from packing for my Vegas trip ... I am reading Jeff Garlin's book "My Footprint: Carrying the Weight of the World," and I haven't yet made it through the whole thing to give it a full review, but I can say this: It does what any good comedy book should, and that's giving the reader the feel of the performer's voice -- meaning one can imagine while reading it that the prose was being spoken by the author.

So far, up to page 88, there have been a lot of laughs as Garlin carries out his premise -- that he will take on both dieting and being green at the same time to reduce his carbon footprint. He alights upon the kinds of things that could easily come out of his character's mouth on Curb Your Enthusiasm -- like Ed Begley Jr.'s saintliness for making driving a Prius hybrid car his fifth transportation choice, after walking, biking, public transit and a fully electric car. Or having to hire a coach to play sports with his son because he's too out of shape to do it himself.

If those two examples make you laugh, getting the whole book is a good bet. And its author is all over New York this coming week, with appearances at Barnes & Noble, 97 Warren St., on Feb. 23; Brooklyn's Bookcourt on Feb. 24; Caroline's comedy club Feb. 25-27; and the 92nd St. Y on Feb. 28.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why I Should Be at Genesis' Rock HOF Induction

I would like to take a moment to diverge from my blog's usual comedy subject matter to state my case for why I should be present for Genesis' induction into the Rock Hall of Fame in March. There is no bigger Genesis fan in New York City. I have been listening to their music since I was 11 or 12, and quickly discovered the Peter Gabriel-era material as a kid, even though I wasn't fortunate enough to have been of age when it was originally created. I've carried my love of their music well into adulthood, and I maintain that I even might have a had a little something to do with their 2007 reunion.

Hearing that Phil Collins would be performing on the Rockefeller Center Plaza for the Today Show in 2006, I trooped down there early in the morning and got a prime spot by the stage with a banner reading "Phil: Genesis reunion?" (with "Genesis" in the angled lettering of the band's best logo). Holding the banner high while Phil was between songs, I caught his eye, and got a shrug and a smile. But I like to think I planted the seed ...

So if the guys are out there reading this, please designate a seat for me in the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom March 15. I hope Phil and Peter both make it, even if Phil can't play drums right now.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conan's Last Tonight Show

On watching the last Conan O’Brien Tonight Show last night, after seeing one of the highlight montages of various stunts Conan had done in his seven-month run, including bits of the cross-country run through various landmarks that opened his first episode, it occurred to me that Conan had racked up more classic, truly funny highlights in seven months than Jay Leno probably has to show for 17 years.

Some of Conan’s stunts in this run -- being “bowled” down a lane and smashing into giant pins, tipping over rows of people in domino formation, and the like, definitely came from the line of Steve Allen and David Letterman stunts. Still others had Conan’s own personality to them.

20 years from now, or when Conan and Leno are both long gone, I’ll bet Conan’s work is going to be much more well-remembered and cited as innovative than Leno’s. And, in keeping with my takes on SNL, especially in this most recent review, I hope -- nay, predict -- Letterman and Conan should individually and collectively both trounce Leno in the ratings on his return.

As in the commentary linked to in my previous entry, sure, it could be said that all Leno ever wanted was the Tonight Show, and so one should understand his machinations now to take it back from Conan, but what was or is the point of having this show when Leno puts so little of his skills as a stand-up into making it a good program, rather than a middle-of-the-road accessible one. At least Conan pulled no punches.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Men of a Certain Age

Awhile back, I pointed out that I thought Ray Romano had done a good job in the small independent film "Eulogy." In the past month or two, his talent for playing other types of characters, a shade different than the version of himself he played on "Everybody Loves Raymond," has come through on the TNT series, "Men of A Certain Age."

On this show, Romano, as actor and producer, mines comedy out of a different set of foibles -- those of a divorced forty-something and his two closest friends -- an out-of-work actor played by Scott Bakula and struggling husband and father played by Andre Braugher. Bakula's skirt-chaser is the diametric opposite of his best known role from the 1980s sci-fi show "Quantum Leap," and Braugher, too, plays someone different from his usual more kinetic detective and professional characters.

They provide unexpected good counterpoint to Romano's portrayal of his character's own struggles as a divorced dad -- shaping a whole episode recently around the re-telling of his first serious post-divorce date, interspersed as longer flashbacks between brief banter with Bakula and Braugher interrupting the re-telling. Imagine the banter of diner scenes from Tarantino movies, delivered by Tarantino-caliber actors, who know the right places to pause in delivering a line for utmost comic effect. That's what I'm seeing, week in and week out, on this show.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Booknotes and other notes

Been several months since I've had time and ideas to blog about here ... A lot of other life stuff took over during the fall. So I'm just back on now to give a couple quick recommendations of comedy or comedy-related books, in lieu of full reviews, since these books have been out a couple months already.

Richard Belzer's "I Am Not a Psychic!" is his follow-up pseudo-detective novel, where he in effect plays himself solving a case, this time related to a decades-old murder and political scandal that swirled through Las Vegas. With this book, Belzer stakes a claim to making this concept or formula into a long-running series.

Tracy Morgan's "I Am the New Black," an autobiography, shows the serious side and struggles of the SNL and "30 Rock" star. Morgan lets his offbeat and loopy side, which is put to such good use on "30 Rock," come through in the pages. Morgan's got a strong point of view about being true to oneself in life, not just in comedy, and that also comes through in this book, which is what really makes it a compelling read.