Sunday, December 23, 2012

Serious About Satellite

Another benefit of time off, as far as what I've gotten to take in and enjoy in comedy programming has been SiriusXM's OnDemand service, started a few months ago. There's a wealth of great material on there to be had -- some of it only running for a fixed time, and some of it apparently evergreen. Among the highlights so far: an hour of Opie & Anthony (filed under "The Worst of O&A", in the Entertainment section) with Louis C.K., Ricky Gervais, Jay Mohr and co-host Jim Norton together shooting bull about comedy on the heels of Louis and Gervais appearing in HBO's "Talking Funny" special last year. Their personalities were so dominant that you didn't even hear much of Opie & Anthony themselves getting any word in -- and actually, Mohr was only heard occasionally in the hour as well.

Norton turns up again in another fun O&A tidbit -- an appearance by Donald Sutherland on the show, where Norton, to his credit very knowledgeable of Sutherland's film history, geeks out in the actor's presence. Louis C.K. and Gervais are almost omnipresent in SiriusXM OnDemand programs, including the "Getting Late" show, which consists of interviews that run about 15 minutes. While not comprehensive, these pieces are still entertaining and interesting. Paul F. Tompkins and Bill Burr also appear in episodes worth catching.

The point of all this geeking out over SiriusXM content is to emphasize that for comedy fans, satellite radio with this new added feature that lets listeners find exactly what they may be interested in, is well worth the subscription. Currently, the OnDemand service is only on the mobile smartphone app, but it should hopefully be added to the web streaming version soon.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Back To Black

I remember blogging awhile back that it had started to seem that every performance Jack Black was giving, in both movies and talk show appearances, was the same kind of mugging or shtick. But as I've headed into an extended holiday break, I've caught two overlooked movies Black was in last year where he gave great and very understated performances, "The Big Year" and "Bernie."

In "The Big Year," Black plays a down on his luck birdwatcher, divorced, living back with his parents, and dreaming of achieving what's called a "big year," recording the most bird species sightings within the bounds of a calendar year, Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. It may be hacky to say it, but Black's characterization in this movie has heart, and gives the viewer someone to care about moreso than Owen Wilson's veteran but sneaky birdwatcher and Steve Martin's more privileged dabbler. Not to malign those performers -- their characters in combination with Black give the movie its dynamic, but it's Black's character you end up caring most about.

"Bernie," unlike "The Big Year," is less earnest and more arch -- a black comedy, but oddly enough based on a true story. Black is very tightly restrained in playing the title character in this film, a sweet, kind funeral director who snaps under the weight of Shirley MacLaine's domineering widow, Marjorie, who hires him as an all-around companion, gofer and assistant after meeting him at her husband's funeral. It's remarkable how Black inhabits Bernie Tiede -- speaking in an effeminate voice, wearing a conservative haircut and clothes reflecting his sense of propriety and, as the story progresses, conveying his exasperation with Marjorie with just a look in his eyes or slight change in facial expression. For a movie like this, Black, working with Richard Linklater, his director in "School of Rock," finds just the right performance to match the tone of the movie, and thus leads it to becoming a classic that will find an audience over time, rather than a misfire.

So should you have time on your hands over the holidays, "The Big Year" and "Bernie" are two movies well worth catching. Black's performances in them invests the comedy in them, whether light or dark, with a real human element.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Lately, I haven't been able to devote as much time and energy to Jester ( as I might like, but from time to time, I'll still be adding new reviews and content. This became more obvious to me this past month or so, as I had two books I planned to review, but the time for honestly reading them became scarce due to a lot of other additional commitments. I'm only just today getting a review posted of the R. Crumb comics compilation, published last month. I've had the review copy since this past summer and feel a little bad it took me this long to get to it. But that review is now up, and another book just published this month, which I also got a review copy of this summer, will be reviewed soon. Thanks for your patience.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Louis CK on SNL

In short -- I was a little disappointed with how SNL used Louis CK as host last night. The monologue was great because they let Louis simply do some of his stand-up, as they should. There were two great bits -- the filmed parody of his own show "Louie" with him playing Lincoln in similar loser-ish situations and with the exact same tone, and then a sketch buried late in the show with Louis and Kate MacKinnon as the last two drunks hooking up at a bar at last call.

Other than that, I really don't know what the writers were thinking, having Louis CK do odd funny voices as he did as the FEMA spokesman on the "Fox & Friends" parody and the hotel clerk reciting a litany of unlikely charges to a guy trying to check out. Impersonations or characters aren't Louis CK's thing. The writers didn't seem to be thinking about playing to his strengths as a comic actor. And the sketch where Louis played a deluded Norseman annoying everyone by repeatedly blowing a giant ram's horn didn't really go anywhere at all, characters or no characters.

People say you can tell how the SNL crew liked the host or vice versa by the closing bows -- are they standing close to them or hugging them, or as far away as possible? Louis CK was flanked by the musical guest, .fun, in the end of the show -- but that seems to be more of a failing of the cast and crew to really do him proud rather than Louis being an asshole to anyone, I would guess. About five hours before airtime, Louis sent out a great email to fans being thankful for the opportunity and especially in the moment of New York trying to recover from Hurricane Sandy. It's too bad that SNL didn't really support him in helping relieve the drama of the news when showtime came.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Journey to the old country

A viral video, particularly for our English friends:

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Post Script on "Love Junkies"

Following the Jester Interview conversation with writer, director and co-star Karina Arroyave and co-star Gary Hilborn of “The Love Junkies of Hell’s Kitchen,” which has its closing night in the Theater for the New City’s Dream Up Festival on September 2, another dimension of humor and comedy in the play came alive at the August 31 performance.

Arroyave’s character, Chula, tries humor to defuse her feelings and distance herself from her own dysfunction of retaining feelings for a husband who may or may not be coming back. She goes off into angry, but very funny rants, into the camera set up in the foreground of stage that serves as a reminder that Chula is recording everything that happens as her own reality show.

As a writer, with this play, Arroyave has used comedy as a building block for the drama, and between the laughs, she gets across the truths about the characters without ever spelling them out in the dialogue. And the funny dialogue of these characters makes it all the more touching when the dramatic moments surface in the play – especially when Chula’s deflections no longer are enough.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Risk's rewards

Something in Amy Poehler's interview show at the 92nd Street Y last week echoed what comedian Carl LaBove had said in the interview he gave Jester. At the end, LaBove talked about risk being key to creating the best comedy material. Asked about the difference between performing comedy and being a fan of comedy, Poehler said it's willingness to be vulnerable on a stage, and be embarrassed. In short, she said, it's "taking risks."

This is just two performers pointing to the same thing, but it strikes a chord. To be funny, a performer has to take some sort of risk; to be funny, a scene or a comedic work has to take some sort of risk. They have to cross some sort of line, and take a chance. And that certainly can apply to more than just comedy.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Book Expo

Managed to catch a little bit of the BEA Expo, the publishing industry's big annual show in New York, this week. At one point waited in the line for an autographed book from comedian Kevin Pollak (which will be published in the fall). I thought it worth noting here that Pollak went above and beyond what I've seen from most authors at this show, having been twice before in prior years.

Although he had high demand for his signature and a long line, Pollak brought a professional photographer with him so anyone who wanted could have their photo taken with him, without holding the line up. He also had questions and patter ready for every attendee. It really was a masterful marketing effort on his part -- above and beyond what I've experienced from other publishers, who can't be bothered to even respond to review copy requests that could promote their products, at a time when publishing is suffering.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Decline of AMC Theaters (and all movie theaters, for that matter)

Had a less than satisfactory experience at the AMC Orpheum movie theater on the Upper East Side last night. Gabi & I ended up there after I played softball in Central Park -- we bought tickets for a 9:50 pm show of Men in Black 3, and went to have dinner nearby before the movie. We had a little bit of leftovers in a bag with us by the time we went to the theater. They had a ticket taker and security person at the door that seemed more appropriate for a club than the movies, and they hassled us about the leftovers and wouldn't let us in.

I went immediately to the theater manager, who was basically no help. Apparently no one is ever supposed to eat dinner in the neighborhood and go to their theater to see a movie afterward. They offered to hold the food for us, but frankly, after being hassled like that, I wouldn't trust them with our food. I demanded and got a refund, and we ended up not seeing the movie and not giving this theater our business.

It is beyond stupid on their part, when home video is quickly surpassing movie theaters in attendance/business, to turn away customers with this lack of discretion. I'll certainly never go to that location again. We're already less often going out to the movies, because the ticket prices and concessions are so greedily inflated, and this pretty much seals it for me -- as far as the whole AMC chain goes, and maybe movie theaters in general. Who needs to be treated like this? Even if we were going to eat our outside food in the theater, which we weren't, why turn away paying ticket buyers when this location was far from busy, or full?

I'll risk sounding like a pompous ass saying this, but having just taken a course on "Leadership and Change" as part of studying for a media management degree, I don't think AMC Theatres is really getting what they're up against in their industry if they think raising prices and lowering customer service standards is really the way they will survive. It's certainly evident that's their current strategy from the experience I just had.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Carl LaBove update/postscript

A brief update to the review of Carl LaBove’s May 8 show is in order, after having caught a second performance of “An Outlaw’s Tale” on May 29. On this night, at the end of his run at the Laughing Devil club in Long Island City, Queens, LaBove had come a long way since earlier in the month – stringing his stories together more seamlessly and with a more logical order, building dramatic tension more effectively and adding other untold stories to the performance. LaBove has developed this show into a full-fledged theater-worthy piece, apart from his stand-up comedy. He plans more performances in the coming months in Long Island and Manhattan. We’ll keep you posted in our shows calendar.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Googa Mooga Extras

Also in the Extra Mooga section of the Googa Mooga festival on May 19, comedians played a part in the foodie-oriented presentations, with Aziz Ansari in particular greatly livening up a panel with chef David Chang, longtime food writer Ruth Reichl and musician/DJ James Murphy.

Ansari, whose new comedy album and special arrives soon and will be reviewed here, made light of eating samples presented to the panelists during their program. He repeatedly reacted to unintentional slips of the tongue by Chang, saying they would start race wars or other explosive activities. Chang, Murphy and Ansari had recently traveled together to Tokyo to do a piece for GQ, so Ansari was able to needle the others at times without genuinely upsetting them.

Food world personality Anthony Bourdain closed the Extra Mooga program of events as sunset neared, attracting the biggest and loudest crowd of any of the programs, garnering the most rock star-like status from the audience’s reactions. Bourdain had to play ringmaster by fielding audience questions for his entire program and the back-and-forth was rowdy, finding him raising his voice a lot to keep control of the proceedings.

This produced some highlights, but also a lot of not-so-thoughtful exchanges, like one question about who Bourdain “would like to deep fry” and another asking him if he had ever “sexted.” In one highlight, Bourdain did answer an eight-year-old girl’s query about how to cook unicorn. He also engaged in rants about favorite targets like the James Beard Foundation, and of course, foodies and hipsters. “Chefs are not rock stars,” Bourdain said, but in this program, it certainly seemed Bourdain was getting treated like one, and maybe even playing to that a bit.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Story Arcs in Miniature

I've been away from this blog for a little while, and couldn't quite stick to the mission I set out at the start of the year of turning this into a meta-comedy-in-the-media-critic sort of enterprise. This entry might seem a little inconsequential, but it's something I noticed.

People do go on about how attention spans are shrinking. I think I saw another piece of evidence of this. On the new HBO show, "Veep," which features Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, and which I like so far, the opening credits set out the whole backstory in what must be an unprecedentedly brief amount of time. It's a quick, animated progression of news headlines about Louis-Dreyfuss' character, a senator who ran for president but didn't make the cut in the primaries and ended up becoming the running mate and then vice president. That whole arc is communicated in what must be less than five seconds, and then "Veep" leaps into its first scene.

The show itself, particularly its dialogue, is pretty rapid fire, to the point where Gabi finds it stressful to watch, but I like the wit and sarcasm, the writing and situations, enough to keep it on my list. I wonder if I may be accelerating my ability to focus, a bit too much though, by becoming a fan of it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

NYT story on monologues

NYT story on monologues

Interesting piece -- will drill down on these performers when I get a chance. The Jester site has written about Ophira Eisenberg and Dave Hill in the past.

I'm glad baseball is back

Chicago vs. Chicago: Round 1 from Nick Offerman

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Where are they now update

Through Jester's monthly shows calendar, the site has been able to show when performers and shows that were previously featured are turning up again. But it's occured to me that this doesn't quite capture when performers previously featured from shows in New York have gone on to Los Angeles and made their mark in TV and movies, so I'm also going to start using this blog space to call attention to some of that.

Lennon Parham (see interview, 5/20/08) and Jessica St. Clair (see review, 11/18/05), it was recently announced, are going to be prominent in an upcoming NBC sitcom, "BFF," debuting April 4.

Also, as you may have seen, Jason Mantzoukas (see interview, 9/9/07), who co-starred with St. Clair in the show reviewed and linked above, is also now L.A.-based, has been turning up in numerous shows, both as a writer and performer, including Fred Armisen's "Portlandia."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Espresso Book Machine

The Espresso Book Machine

I found out about this in looking for interesting media ventures for one of my graduate classes, but thought it might also be of interest to readers of this blog and the Jester site.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Aereo -- savior for cord cutters?

This New York Times story last week noted plans for Aereo, a new service being backed by Barry Diller, and set to launch in New York next month (March). Aereo will set up arrays of small broadcast TV antennas in remote locations in Brooklyn and elsewhere. Subscribers, for $12 a month, will be able to rent their own single antenna in the arrays. These antennas will be fed into the Internet to stream broadcast TV content to Roku boxes and similar devices for home TVs, along with embedded DVR capabilities.

I'm really pleased to see this venture making plans to launch, although it seems a bit tricky that there may be a waiting list and they haven't responded to a sign-up inquiry yet. I "cut the cord" from Time Warner back in August after getting frustrated with their poor customer services and callous attitude about their excessive subscription costs. The cable companies' greed in this respect has worked for a long time. I'm surprised that with the Roku technology available now, more people haven't cut the cord as well. I think that Aereo could very well be the tipping point for cable TV. It's a momentous development that will affect all entertainment.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

SNL: Ranking episodes and performances

Awhile ago on Jester, I used to do little takes on Saturday Night Live seasons as they got a few episodes under their belt each fall (2008, 2007, 2006). These tapered off after some time, as it felt less necessary or pointed to do in-depth critiques of the show. It's still possible to do this intelligently, though, as Mike Ryan of Moviefone and the Huffington Post proves in this piece, reacting to last weekend's Zooey Deschanel-hosted episode. (Haven't caught all of the episode myself yet, but so far the Clint Eastwood commercial parody featuring the always-inspired Bill Hader seems like the best thing in it).

I have my own favorite and not-so-favorite players out of the current cast, and also favorite and not-so-favorite characters. Sometimes cast members I don't normally like do come up with something good, and vice versa. Taran Killam, who Ryan notes got the most screen time last week, is a good chameleon and can play a lot of characters, but doesn't quite generate an anything-can-happen, anarchic type of feeling that one gets from Hader, or even Kenan Thompson at times.

The current cast is also without a Phil Hartman or Darrell Hammond type who can convincingly take on older characters with more authority. Jason Sudeikis does fill this role to some extent, but it would be interesting to see someone already known join the cast in this capacity, even now, or at least next year.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hearing the Bugle's call

A quick and brief entry tonight. Just belatedly discovered yet another comedy podcast to add to my list -- the Bugle, a weekly affair that has been around awhile, but only recently debuted on iTunes. It features the Daily Show's John Oliver with partner Andy Zaltzman, riffing on politics and the news. On a recent episode titled "Playas gon play," listeners can see why Oliver's segments on the Daily Show often have the most fire and life to them of anything on that program -- because he exhibits the same cutting attitude here at much greater length.

Monday, January 23, 2012

NBC Must See TV column

In this column, and a lengthier podcast that expands on the column, Grantland's entertainment writers Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan deliver a spot-on critique of NBC's Thursday night comedies, as well as other current TV series. In particular, they identify and explain in detail some of the issues "The Office" seems to be having since Steve Carell's departure. These are worth checking out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Letterman fallout/Another recommendation

To follow up on a previous blog post here, according to Mirth, Eddie Brill is now out as booker of comedians at the "Late Show With David Letterman," mainly because of one small remark quoted in the New York Times story about him. Mirth's editor wrote an insightful column probing that remark that may have called attention to a problem with Brill's comments and the attitude they represent, perhaps leading to his departure from the booking role. I would recommend Mirth as a source of interesting news and features to comedy fans.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Letterman, Steven Wright tips

Read with interest this story on Eddie Brill, the veteran stand-up and longtime booker for the Late Show With David Letterman. I thought it was interesting because it tapped into some dissent among comedians about Brill's booking practices -- notably that he books mostly only friends, and that the show has only had 22 stand-ups over the course of the past year. Anthony Jeselnik was sharply critical, saying Brill trades on Letterman's name for his own comedy classes and hints that studying with him will give a performer a shot at getting on.

Speaking of Letterman, also out there, on Twitter, is @BernhardOnDave, an unofficial campaign to get Sandra Bernhard back on Letterman's show. She had several memorable appearances, but at some point got blackballed from the show and hasn't been on in years.

Overall, what both these items make me think about is that -- and this is probably stating the obvious -- Letterman hasn't been a place to actually catch creative comic talent in a long time. That's long been ceded to Conan, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon -- the next generation.

Lastly, had to devour Marc Maron's latest WTF podcast while riding the trains today -- an interview with Steven Wright. It struck me that in Maron's interview with Wright, you actually get to hear Maron draw Wright almost all the way out of his sleepy comic persona. Together, the two comedians connect and riff so well in the conversation that Wright's voice actually becomes fast and animated. It's fascinating for Steven Wright fans -- a must-listen.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Louis C.K.'s B.S. Report appearance

In the spirit of the last post, and re-purposing this blog, I will try to give more regular recommendations of various bits of coverage of comedy in the media. For this one, I'd like to point people to Bill Simmons "B.S. Report," previously cited as a Jester favorite among podcasts. It's a few weeks old, but the Dec. 15 two-part interview with Louis C.K. is a must for comedy fans and media aficionados. In the interview, Simmons goes in-depth into the comedy and entertainment business with Louis C.K., following his successful and groundbreaking marketing of his latest one-hour special indepedently online. Together, they get into the economics of both the special and producing his "Louie" series, as well as touring as opposed to looking for a movie career. It's interesting and also inspiring as an example of how there is a path to do creative work if one creates it for oneself.

P.S. Thanks to Anthony Malakian of "Good Shot At Losing" for reminding me about this one.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Blog shift

I'm going to set out to repurpose this blog. I used to, less frequently, post short observations on comedy, which I may still do, but I'd like to add a bit of "comedy media critic" aspect to it. That will start as pointing out other coverage about comedy from other outlets that I've found insightful and interesting. They have the time and focus to do the kind of reporting and coverage that I may not, so the least I can do is recommend it.

To that end, a first stop: Already posted online three days ago, this is the cover story of tomorrow's New York Times Sunday magazine. In short, it looks at how Stephen Colbert is expanding his comedic persona by applying it to the US political fundraising system by starting his own Super PAC (political action committee). By actually using the Super PAC system in wacky ways -- to fund nonsensical ads, get referenda on ballots and support the owners' side in the recent NBA lockout -- Colbert is showing what a farce the rules and regulations are.

But I'll leave it to you to read more there. I give this teaser about the story to get you interested, as I'll do in future posts.