Sunday, May 22, 2011

Faye Lane's Beauty Shop Stories

Jester correspondent Bethany Trottier has reviewed Faye Lane's "Beauty Shop Stories" which continues its run at the Soho Playhouse in New York today and next Sunday, May 29. Because I am out of town and unable to access the site's mechanics, the review didn't make it to the main site in advance of today's performance. Here it is, and it will appear on the main site this week.
Go and see this show all you jaded souls! That’s it, that’s my review. Ok, let me add to this. If I ever wanted someone to write and sing the story of my life, Faye Lane would be that person. She conveys her story in a way that is both genuine and amusing. Even though this show is super-polished, it is still very spontaneous and alive. This woman could write lyrics about anything, and it would be funny and clever.

Lane sings and chats her way from her childhood years through her early 20s as she grows up in her mama’s beauty shop in Texas. Throughout the journey, she recalls the personalities and anecdotes of her mother’s clientele, all lined up under the dryers, her first (albeit captive) audience and her dreams of being a star.

The moment she hit the stage, Faye was off and running and the audience was right there with her. We got to hear about her first starring role in “Peter Rabbit,” the musical. She had the part of a green bean in the garden, which she made all her own by going nuts with a bedazzler on her costume and declaring herself the “Green Bean Queen!” (This girl really likes sparkles, come to find out. I believe it’s a Texas thing.)

She is relentlessly teased for being fat, all the kids joining in singing “fatty fatty two by four, can’t fit through the bathroom door!” Lane does the voice of one of her mama’s customers saying “honey, you ain’t fat you are vo-LUMPT-uous, like me.” Another lady keeps moonpies in the bottom of her purse especially for Fay. Right next to her gun. Which may or may not have the safety on.

Apparently, each and every one of those ladies was a would-be beauty queen. Lane presents great songs about the various crazy ways they got robbed of their crowns. Somehow this leads to one of the funniest bits of the show, a Civil War reenactment story told with sock puppets – both with googly eyes, and one with a quite a jaunty mustache.

Lane’s voice is great both for singing and story telling – and she convincingly channels the personalities in the show. She can see the charm in everything -- a rare talent. The whole show is so well-crafted. It’s obvious that Lane’s piano accompanist has worked with her for some time, making the music seamless, but still leaving room to be spontaneous and improvise within their script, since they are on the same wavelength. Her producer and lighting manager – one person handling both roles -- also adds to the polished quality of the show. Now off you go!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pandora Adds Comedy

As reported in today's New York Times, the Pandora web radio service announced that it will add a comedy station. If you don't know, Pandora allows users to make customized music stations, starting by filling out lists of their favorite artists, or importing those lists already made on Facebook profiles, and then further customizing the stations as the listener gives thumbs up or thumbs down to tracks that come up.

From the initial data, and the continually added data about a listener's likes and dislikes, Pandora determines and adds in other music the user/listener might like. With the new service, Pandora intends to do the same with comedy. According to the Times story, Pandora picked 100 traits common to jokes to make a "genomic composite" to generate suggestions just as with music. However, I think it's questionable whether artifical intelligence like this can really understand comedy, because what people find funny is often such a matter of taste. Are Chris Rock and Bill Hicks really exactly the same comedically, as Pandora might say?

Other questions also arise with this development. Will it be a boon to the comedy business or not? The Times piece says that the most successful comedy album right now is Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk With Me (reviewed here), with just 3,400 in sales. That figure isn't that far off the amount of paid attendees for live shows by Demetri Martin, a comedian at a similar level of success -- Martin told Adam Carolla on a recent podcast that he gets between 800 to 1,200 audience members per show, which at a ticket price no doubt higher than an album, is probably a comparable income, if not better than what Birbiglia may see from such a successful album. Martin also is getting this for every show he does, while the album is a single product.

The point of all this comparison is that if Pandora's new service ends up boosting comedians' album sales, it could indeed bring huge benefits to comedy performers. Someone like Demetri Martin might end up attracting even more fans to those lucrative live shows, when promoted by Pandora's online airplay.