It's all about bouncing back

Thursday, July 31, 2008

On my way to where the air is sweet! Can you tell me how to get . . . ?

The good folks at PBS recently released an advance reel of clips from Sesame Street's upcoming 39th season. For those of us who started a family late in life and who therefore had a 30-year gap between watching the show as a child and listening to it in the background of our daily routine, it is always surprising how much effort the show puts into entertain parents. From parodies of primetime shows that toddlers never watch to cameos by some of the season's hottest stars, the preschool powerhouse never disappoints.

The show's producers have admitted that since an entire generation has grown up watching it and now enjoys it with their kids, it is extremely easy for them to book even the season's hottest stars. (Especially if those stars have kids themselves. What better way to gain cred with your three year old?) In fact, apparently, it is one of the hottest gigs in Hollywood. The show's producers have said that top stars frequently come to them and ask if they can have a cameo on the show. They never run short of big names and usually have more stars than parts to fill. During the height of the "Sopranos" mania James Gandolfini came on and did a very funny piece about being afraid of the dark. It was wonderful how it worked on two levels. To a youngster, it was played straight as a bit of advice about how to use your nightlight and teddy bear to calm yourself to sleep. To an adult, however, there are few ideas funnier than imagining that Tony Soprano is is afraid of the dark.

This year, apparently, will continue the tradition. From cameos by Jack Black and Seth Rogan to a spot on 30 Rock parody, the show is as timely and fun as ever. Check it out:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why I Love the Peep Show

The subject of the Rabbit's fascination and adoration for this week is Channel 4's amazing BAFTA award winner, "Peep Show" starring England's popular comedy duo David Mitchell and Robert Webb.

I realize that, relative to my best Britcom buddies, I'm a bit late to the party on this one, but since the show is still on the air in England (Channel 4 has just commissioned season six) and it hasn't had much U.S. exposure yet (only Season One has aired to date on BBC America)I hereby dub this post both "timely" and "relevant."

"Peep" is a sitcom featuring two former college buds, about three years out, sharing a flat in south London. Mark, played to alarming perfection by David Mitchell, is a well-intentioned introverted bumbler who responds to the stress of modern life by "doing what's expected" of him -- which amounts to listening to Radio 4 and working as an office drone loan manager. (Mitchell's naturally unthreatening appearance -- featuring wide-eyed expressions that simultaneously signal naivety and unending fear -- draws an impressive amount of sympathy for Mark's daily trials). Mark's friend and housemate, Jeremy, is a painfully immature and irresponsible musician who has no idea that his desire to avoid a real job will forever outweigh his creative talents. (Robert Webb is so strong in this role that he has apparently been alarmed at how many viewers assume that his portrayal of Jeremy must reflect his own personality. During a post-BAFTA interview a somewhat exasperated Webb blurted "I hope I'm not quite as stupid, dishonourable, deluded, selfish, feckless and thick as Jeremy." I certainly couldn't develop a more apt string of adjectives to describe his character. Webb obviously knows Jeremy well).

Overall, therefore, the premise is certainly nothing new. (The show's producers, for example, have compared the simple "odd couple" setup to "Spaced". In the States, you could just compare it to -- well -- "The Odd Couple."). As in most shows of the genre, Marc and Jeremy superficially have little in common, but they retain a functional friendship that each can fall back on during the inevitable failures that result from their daily interactions with the prickly and overwhelming "real world". So, if based on such an ordinary premise, what makes the show special and what causes it to continually garner such impressive reviews?

One unique twist is that the events of the two main characters' lives are seen almost exclusively from their own points of view and those of other characters they interact with. The camera's viewpoint is generally tightly focused on the face of the character being addressed, giving each scene an uncomfortable intimacy. The show also deepens our connection to the characters and their motives by using voiceovers to share aloud the inner thoughts of the two protagonists. Frequently, the writers use this device highlight how far Mark and Jeremy's thought range from the actions they are actually willing to take. The show's chief writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain explained that their use of first-person perspective was influenced by a Channel 4 documentary series "Being Caprice". "Caprice the model had a camera on her sunglasses and it was like a POV shooting style, which I guess was nicked from Being John Malkovich,’explains Sam. "So it’s a third-hand steal, really. We thought it would be great for comedy, hearing someone else’s thoughts. The voices give you a whole other dimension in terms of jokes".

Even the clever point of view arrangement, however, is in no way sufficient to explain why the show is so charming, magnificent and repeatedly honored. (The Guardian recently referred to it as the best television show of the decade. And yes, they are including "The Office". It's a tough call, but I'm starting to agree). The real strength and joy comes from the quality of the show's writing and it's amazing lead performers. The writing uses such clever phraseology that Peep is the most readily quotable show since Python. (In fact, Channel 4 maintains a web page of favored Peep Quotes from each season and there is even a popular Facebook page called "Peep Show Quotes.") It's fairly rare, however, to find perfect dialouge so lovingly delivered. In the great tradition of John Cleese and Larry David, Mitchell and Webb manage the nearly impossible with ease: they draw sympathy and genuine affection for two otherwise completely unlikeable characters. It's such an impressive feat that I never tire of watching it and, frankly, it has really drawn me in. It took a few episodes, but now I am fully addicted. It's so intimate that it brings back youthful memories of watching my own friends endure the pains of growing up. I absolutely and honestly cannot wait to find out what whether Marc and Jeremy will ever find a way to cope, adapt and find happiness in the world. That is a rare and treasured feeling.

Bitter much? The Maron Episodes on You Tube

Okay -- you all know I love Marc Maron. But even as an avid fan, I really haven't known what to make of these silly You Tube episodes he has been posting recently. Like most of his work, they range from the funny (I like the cats and political commentary mixture -- clip below) to the rambling and bitter. Recently, though, bitter has definitely been winning out.

Let me know what you think:

Cats and Politics:

Cat Poops, Class and Scones:

Scones Pt. 2:

Dreams to Do Come True

Very busy at work at the moment, so not much time to write today. Just dropping by to say that a small dream of mine came true today -- found a clip that somehow magically features both Keith Olbermann and Simon Pegg. (Pegg in the U.S. this week to promote the U.S. release of "Spaced" on Region 1 DVD -- so we can all fall in love with it again. Now if only Amazon would deliver *my* copy . . .)

Anyway -- I'll be back soon. Till then, here 'tis:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Louis CK Interview on XM Unmasked

Thanks to Sean over at Comic's Comic, I found this link to the hour-long interview that Louis CK did with XM's Unmasked last Saturday.

I haven't had a chance to listen yet, but I'm told it's a fairly in-depth discussion of his work and technique. Sean called it an "Inside the Comic's Studio" approach -- so it sounds like a real treat! Enjoy!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

ComiCon for non-Comic Book Comedy Nerds, Pt. Deux: MST3K 20th Anniversary Reunion

From the Comicon website:

Friday, July 25

7:15-8:15 Mystery Science Theater 3000 20th Anniversary Reunion— From 1988 to 1999, the long-suffering captives aboard the Satellite of Love wisecracked their way through hundreds of cinema's problem children—those delirious B-movies of yesteryear created by twisted imaginations and, possibly, the need for a tax shelter. To celebrate the show's 20th Anniversary, join a historic reunion of cast and crew, including creator Joel Hodgson, producer Jim Mallon and fellow writer/performers Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, Paul Chaplin, J. Elvis Weinstein, Bridget Nelson, and Bill Corbett for a Q&A panel hosted by self-professed "MST3K nerd" and comedian Patton Oswalt (The King of Queens). Room 6B"

Patton Oswalt is hosting as well?!?! Why don't they just name it the "I think I Died and Went to Nerd Heaven" panel? Jesus.

Mind you: some of the pain is dulled by the fact that I already saw most of my favorite folks on this list perform at the Ford Theater earlier this summer. And, frankly, I was always firmly in the Joel camp -- Mike Nelson just doesn't make my knees quiver. But, still: for however many lucky folks can fit in "Room 6B", this will be a once-in-a-lifetime memory.

Laugh Hard, Die Young

As per Intelligent Life magazine, chortling too hard may shorten your time on the planet:

"One popular field of research is the effect of humour on health, which is widely assumed to be positive. The results so far are inconclusive, and slightly disturbing for anyone who likes to laugh. Rod Martin points out that if humour is good for health, then it should be associated with longevity. Yet it appears that cheerful people live less long than their gloomier peers, perhaps because they are too jolly to worry about their aches and pains. It may be true, as the proverb says, that he who laughs last laughs longest. But it seems that he who laughs longest does not last."

Well, that's as may be. But who are you going to believe -- a bunch of "doctors" or Eric Idle? Because I'll take the less-scientific and more Python-esque approach every time:

"For life is quite absurd
And death's the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow.
Forget about your sin - give the audience a grin
Enjoy it - it's your last chance anyhow."

So which theory do you accept?

My long-suffering spouse has agreed to play "Always Look on the Bright Side Of Life" at my wake -- so you know where I stand.

Love, Rabbit

"Spaced" Region 1 DVD Release and Simon Pegg at Comicon

When did Comicon become the place to be if you are a comedy nerd who never reads comic books?

I haven't read a comic book since age 8, but I'm certainly dreaming that I could be there now. For starters, Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Jessica Hynes be will be on hand to discuss and screen episodes from the brilliant and charming 1999 series "Spaced". I adore that series and could watch it over and over again. The script is quick and clever and it manages to be a sweet, warm, timeless friendship story while also remaining a perfect period piece -- a memory of happier times for those of who came of age during the 90s. Above all, it does a wonderful job of exploring how difficult it is to find your creative voice in your youth and how tricky it is to sort out the feelings of love and devotion that seem to sneak up on you without warning when you spend time with someone who just "gets" you. It reminds me a bit of the original Office in its exploration of that latter theme (even though the Office explored it from the view of folks who happen to share an job space rather than individuals who are forced, by economic circumstances, to share a flat). As I think about it, it is an especially impressive feat when you consider how many other shows over time have done a horrifyingly corny job of exploring the "mismatched roomies thrown together in wacky circumstances" meme.

In happier news for those Yank Britcom fans who can't be in San Diego this weekend, "Spaced" was just released in Region 1 DVD! Yippee!! You'll have to buy it, of course, because it has new material that your old copy doesn't have including, as per Amazon, " . . . everything Spaced's fervent following would demand. Each episode is complemented by the original commentaries as well as newly-recorded gabfests that also feature American friends of the show, including Kevin Smith, Patton Oswalt, Quentin Taratinto, Matt Stone, Diablo Cody, and Bill Hader. There are deleted scenes and outtakes, and, best of all, an hour-long 2007 Q&A with Wright and the cast, in which Pegg allows that, had there been a third series (and we can still dream), it would have provided viewers hoping that Tim and Daisy would ultimately get together with "a moment to make every hair of your body stand on end." You will see such a moment if you "skip to the end" of the essential near two-hour series retrospective." Oh, really? When can I see this?!?!?

But loyal fans should def hold on to your original Region 2 copy if you want to maintain your Nerd cred.

Note: Demand was apparently grossly underestimated by Amazon staff as they are already sold out and if you order today you'll have to wait a bit before they can send you a copy. But that only builds the sweet anticipation, doesn't it?

Back to Tim and Daisy dream land.

xoxo, Rabbit

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Maximum Fun at Bumbershoot

The demand -- and the lines -- for comedy at Bumbershoot are growing exponentially each year. As a happy result of this trend, the festival now sports three stages of funny stuff with big-name acts performing nightly. So how can a lesser-known show attract a consistent audience in the middle of the afternoon? One will manage simply by promoting its audacious claim to be, alternately, "a public radio show about things that are awesome" and, simply put, "Maximum Fun."

"The Sound of Young America", hosted by Jesse Thorn (who pokes fun at his own relative anonymity by introducing himself weekly as "America's Radio Sweetheart"), is a series of in-depth interviews with artists, musicians, authors and comedians. That sounds painfully ordinary, but TSOYA is definitely a standout in this genre and worth going out of your way to catch for several reasons.

First, as the show's playful title suggests, Thorn has honed a style and content mix that blissfully contrasts TSOYA with the panoply of public radio shows written and developed for the Boomer audience. That counterpoint is regularly evident in the guest list of offbeat artists that Thorn develops, in part, by engaging with the online community of his loyal listeners. "The bookings on the show are an amalgam of my own personal taste and that of my audience," says Thorm. "I'm always hearing from audience members about folks they'd like to hear on the show – I solicit suggestions on the air, on the forums [at the show's website], on Facebook and MySpace, everywhere. When people suggest guests, I always check them out." Over time, the result is a program that makes many of the show's hipster followers feel as though the material was designed particularly to address their tastes and interests.

But a cool guest list – even if it sports all of your quirky favorites – is hardly enough to elevate a show to the level of "Maximum Fun." TYOSA is actually a gem because Thorn's interview style is lively and funny, but also surprisingly respectful and incisive. It offers the type of performers who frequently aren't given a full hour on "Fresh Air" or "The Actor's Studio" the same opportunity for thoughtful discussion of their work and process. "My goal," Thorn told me, "is to give serious consideration to things that others might not take seriously. And have fun doing it, of course." That desire to delve into conversations that reveal the best about the frequently overlooked is especially refreshing and noticeable in Thorn's interviews of comedians. Rather than following the dated late-night formula for interviews of stand-ups which expects them to throw out bits, Thorn (obviously a devotee of the art form) engages them in careful analysis of the craft, reviewing the unique method of each performer in relation to the material and the profession. His singular ability to engage them on this level allows us to learn about these artists and their work from a fresh perspective. His past comedic guests have included Mike Birbiglia, Tim and Eric, Patton Oswald, Bob Odenkirk, Joel Hodgson, Greg Proops and David Mitchell. You can find those past interviews in the show's archives.

Finally, TSOYA is also noteworthy as one of the best examples of how to use the internet to reverse the traditional model for broadcast success. Supported entirely by a set of loyal listeners, TSOYA demonstrates that with sufficient high-quality material and clever self-promotion, one individual can create an intelligent and entertaining show on his own terms, build an audience and only then sign a broadcast agreement. The show has more than 10,000 supporters donating as little as two to five dollars a month to keep it going (all conveniently deducted from one's Paypal account). Only recently, starting in July 2007, did the show gain distribution through Public Radio International. Patiently building the show in this manner has undoubtedly helped Thom retain TSOYA's appealingly fresh and independent flavor. And as any artist or comedian will tell you, maximum freedom yields maximum fun.

No word yet on who Thorn will interview during the Bumbershoot shows.

"The Sound of Young America" is currently scheduled for afternoon performances at 2:45pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday on Bumbershoot's Comedy Stage South. You can find more information about Thorne and "The Sound of Young America" at

Onion Headlines

Yesterday, The Onion had a job posting for freelance writers on its website. One part of the application required the applicant to come up with 10 proposed Onion headlines. I ran home and hit the computer and quickly came up with my ten and sent them off -- only to be greeted by an auto-reply saying that they had more than enough applications and that they would consider me for the next round, which opens in December. (Apparently they rotate their freelance team every six months).

So, bummer; but I'll try again in December. Regardless, writing the headlines was fun. Here is my submission list (won't be able re-use them again in December in anyway as I tried to keep a number of them timely). Let me know what you think and please feel free to post your own! They are terribly fun to write.

With love, Rabbit

My ten Proposed Onion Headlines:

1. Imminent Government Overthrow Thwarted by Clever, Timely Blogging
2. Area Waterpark Dangerously Below Seasonal Average Levels of Toddler Urine
3. Scientists Determine Furballs are Form of Feline Social, Political Commentary
4. Nation Announces New Democracy by Changing its Status on Facebook.
5. Salmonella Detected in Regional Pop Tart Supply.
6. Congress Promotes Investment in Auto Fuel Derived from Fear, Denial and Caribou Excrement.
7. Area Man Still Yammering about New iPhone
8. God Clarifies, Updates Stance on Bacon; Pigs Issue Blanket Statement in Response
9. Porcine Aviation Breakthrough Signals Possible McCain Victory in November.
10. NBC Retracts Fallon Deal for "Late Night"'; "C'mon -- Just Kidding" says Peacock Network

Bonus: Top Reasons the Baby Still Isn't Asleep:

1. Lullaby about cradle in treetop too scary;

2. Crappy vanilla soy milk in bottle;

3. Some asshole took pacifier and he must pay.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Andrew Maxwell and the Irish Hipster Oxymoron

So we've already established that Irish funny men leave me weak in the knees. I've never been sure of the real reason; but a certain portion of the charm lies in a relaxed approach that abandons the drive to appear "hip" on stage.

One possible exception, however, is young Irish stand-up Andrew Maxwell. Maxwell comes as close as anyone I've seen to defeating the commonly-held assumption that the phrase "Irish hipster" is an oxymoron. At a still-young 34, Maxwell's on-stage persona is current and fierce (though blissfully not ironic). Proudly Irish, but also a serious hip-hop fan who likes to play African American clubs in the States: put that all in a blender and hit puree -- that's Andrew Maxwell.

It has been a successful mix for him so far. Maxwell was nominated in 2007 for the if.comedy award for the best show at the Edinburgh Fringe (still not quite sure why he didn't win, either, as he seemed to have a loyal following.) He also used to host his own weekly late-night comedy gig Fullmooners (though tickets don't seem to be currently available -- so it may be done now). The show had a cult following and had featured appearances by a number of name comics including Russell Brand and Simon Pegg.

Despite all of this success, however, I frequently had trouble finding much of his stand-up material on the web. The first bit I ever stumbled onto of his was the clever "Who Here's Ever Had Fun with Muslims?" -- included here at 4:33 of his stand up pilot Chief Fullmooner: .

If you watch the rest of the bit you'll see that Maxwell also enjoys poking fun at Americans and American stereotypes. At first I thought that seemed too easy, but now it's growing on me because his approach is playful and focuses more on accent oddities and contrasting the everyday colloquy of American youth with the approach of their Irish counterparts. So he avoids the more common jokes currently in vogue about how American politics are ruining the planet (those are the truly easy applause lines in Europe these days).

Until quite recently, the only other full routine that I'd found of his online is this appearance at the Secret Policeman's Ball in 2006 wherein he starts with a cute jab at his own relative anonymity and then moves into a somewhat timely bit about fear:

Thankfully, over time, I've been able to find more material. I went back yesterday to see what new gems might be available and found this quick piece "Lucky Charms", which I thought you might enjoy. Yes, as the name suggests, it deals with having to face stereotypes of his own people as he travels through America, but as with the "Muslims" piece it brings him back into the long-form story style that suits him so well. He's an engaging storyteller.

This bit is actually even more humorous in the context of Maxwell's most recent work: he has been making a series of travel films for the Guardian and Tourism Ireland. They are actually quite charming -- it's a series of six touring shows covering the best of Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Derry, Kerry and Shannon. So he's obviously proud of his heritage.

Please stay exactly as I remember you

Falling in love is easy; staying in love through the years can be tricky. Maybe that's the reason why, while perusing trailers for upcoming summer comedy releases, I've realized that I am forever expecting my favorite funny people to stay in the roles that first made me love them (or at least something along the same lines).

I know it's unfair to these performers and their creative need to express themselves in various voices and stlyes; but somehow I can't stop myself. For instance, I love Steve Coogan and nearly everything he's done; but somehow I can't get excited about "Hamlet 2" solely because he appears in it using an American accent. I greatly admire Ricky Gervais' work to date, but I'm not thrilled about "Ghost Town" just yet because my brain can't fathom the former David Brent as a big-screen leading man.

Am I pathetically shallow and narrow-minded? Wait - don't answer that.

But I would be curious to hear whether anyone else is excited about these few remaining big-name summer releases. You can catch the Ghost Town trailer here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Drunk History, Vol. 1

Just because I love you.

Volume 1, In re: Aaron Burr v. Alexander Hamilton, featuring Michael Cera

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Monday, July 14, 2008

Music & Comedy Festivals, Pt 3: Sub Pop 20th Anniversary Festival, July 11-13

Sub Pop Records is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year. To celebrate its success, the history of grunge, and, of course, the label's Seattle roots, Sub-Pop hosted an amazing three-day festival here over the weekend. And, in keeping with the growing trend I've been discussing in this blog, the label intertwined the celebration of its top comedy and music acts with great popular success. The festival kicked off with a concert featuring a terrific line-up of Sub-Pop comedy artists at the Moore Theater on Friday night, July 11.

Sub Pop has had its share of success with comedy recordings, but I was still surprised to see them feature this concert as the starting highlight of the weekend-long festival. The concert worked because the label does have a strong line up of comedy artists including David Cross (Sub-Pop released "Shut Up You Fucking Baby!" in 2002 -- first comedy release on the label, for you trivia buffs), Patton Oswalt ("Werewolves and Lollipops" went out on Sub-Pop in 2007) and Eugene Mirman ("En Garde, Society!", Sub-Pop 2006). Todd Barry also performed and Kristen Schaal hosted. (Flight of the Conchords, also signed to Sub Pop, played during the music portion of the festival on Saturday). It was a very fun night. For those who missed out, the good people in Sub-Pop's publicity department have been kind enough to upload a wonderful slideshow of the evening over at Flickr.

P.S. Oh yeah -- then -- over the rest of the weekend -- in Marymoor Park - the festival featured performances by Mudhoney, the Vaselines and Green River. No biggie. It almost seems to perfect to believe, right? Seattle Weekly has the photos to prove it here.

Also: the sun was shining.

I may have dreamt that last bit.

American Comedy, Music & Arts Festivals, Pt 4: Bumbershoot

The demand for comedy is growing at music & arts festivals around the country and Seattle's own annual Bumbershoot is no exception. In 2007, the festival hosted three stages solely for comedy and even more funny acts are in the works for Labor Day weekend 2008.

In the line up so far are: Human Giant & Friends (Aziz Ansari, Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel and pals), Satiristas (to feature Marc Maron, Janeane Garofalo, Rep. Richard (Dick) Martin and Tom Rhodes), PRI's "The Sound Of Young America!", Tig Nataro, Michelle Buteau, Zach Galifianakis, TJ Miller, Nick Thune, Jessi Kline and two showcases from the People's Republic of Komedy. For starters.

Bumbershoot's comedy shows have become so popular that this year the event has put together a comedy pass that you can collect early in the day in order to assure yourself a seat at the comedy stage of your choice through the afternoon and evening.

Updates to follow.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hamlet 2 trailer

Okay -- I'll admit -- the trailer doesn't thrill me; but I'm looking forward to it anyway.

Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Elisabeth Shue in cast and Pam Brady writing? I know I won't be able to resist.

For those of you who live further south, Coogan, Brady and others will be at Comicon to promote the film. Lucky you.


Last night was truly an entertainment jackpot. After the concerts, we came back to find that Turner Classic Movies "Underground" was showing the 1968 Otto Preminger gem "Skiddo"! This was a rare treat because the film isn't available on home video and it's rarely (if ever?) shown on television. So you really have to get lucky to score a viewing.

Of course, mind you, there is a good reason why the thing is so scarce: this star-studded classic is a bouillabaisse of bad. A random jumble of barely connected elements (mobsters! hippies! mobsters on acid! Jackie Gleason!) which tries to portray gangsters as bumbling goofballs who are easily turned away from their life of crime by hippy wisdom (and more acid). The best (?) part is the spot-the-star (is that really him?) cast, including Gleason, Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Peter Lawford, Richard Kiel, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, George Raft, Cesar Romero, Slim Pickens,Austin Pendleton (AWESOME in this!), Kirk Douglas and an older Groucho Marx as God (as per TCM, this was his final film role). Though it's very tough to choose - is the key highlight watching every one of those stars debase themselves in what TCM's own reviewers calls a "garish clusterf*ck"? Or is it the psychedelic hot-air balloon escape from Alcatraz? Or is it the dancing garbage cans? How can I choose?

If you get a chance to catch it in the future, maybe you can help me with this trivia question: I want to figure out whether the role of Gleason's daughter, Darlene, was played by Leigh Taylor-Young, the female lead in my other favorite 1968 hippy comedy, "I Love You Alice B. Toklas!" Does anyone know? The voice is similar; but all hippies sounds alike. IMDB doesn't credit the role and even TCM's very detailed background story of the film doesn't mention who played Darlene.

Edited to add: Oh my word -- how did I miss this? TCM's Underground website has been kind enough to post a series of awesome clips here -- come watch Jackie Gleason's acid trip!! You will *not* regret this and will be thanking me for years to come . . .

Also: found this Wikipedia article which credits the role of Darlene to Alexandra Hay -- remember her? She actually had her first television role in an episode of The Monkees. Yup -- I think that's probably right.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Eddie Izzard, Stripped, Seattle's Paramount Theater, July 11, 2008

The title of Izzard's current U.S. tour certainly puts one in the mood for a sexy evening. Which of course leaves the average concertgoer wondering -- can he still put out? I can't speak for everyone in the audience, but I certainly left satisfied.

But, then, it's always especially gratifying to see a natural at work and Izzard has that sparkling gift, given to so few comedians or lovers, of making even the spectacular look spontaneous, energizing, fun and -- God forbid -- easy. He hops and skips - literally sometimes -- from topic to topic and readily ponders the escape strategy of a giraffe (where *does* something that big go to hide from a speedy carnivore?) alongside the challenges of speaking Latin to convey time-sensitive information (or to describe an elephant to someone who has never seen one before [a backwards squirrel atop an oversized pig, of course]).

He has continued to perfect his lighthearted spontaneous style and it quickly seems to put the audience at ease. I think that emphasizing this "play along with me" approach more in the first hour (before working up to an impressive rabbit-paced delivery in the second) also makes him seem vulnerable and open in a way that gains our trust. And that trust frees him up to tackle any subject -- including the suggestion that God is either non-existent or blatantly stupid -- without raising hackles.

My favorite part of watching Izzard work, though, is observing how skillfully he uses his amazingly intricate and unique face -- especially his penetrating azure eyes -- to reinforce his favored stage emotions of joy, wonder, thoughtfulness and befuddlement. As a result, I've always thought it somewhat criminal to hide any of his blessed features behind makeup; but I'll freely admit that this evening's bright blue eye liner was, like everything else, spot on.


Seder v Maron, update

For reasons that aren't clear to me, Blogger is making it tricky for folks to post comments -- so I will try to fix that.

In the interim, though, kind fellow Maron/Seder fans have written to let me know that Maron called in while Seder was guest hosting for Mike Malloy last night and apparently they are still developing the project and looking for a new technology that will make it run more smoothly.

Yay! Thanks to Nancy Cunningham for the update.

Seder v. Maron -- Gone forever?

I visited the Sam Seder Show website several times over the past few days in search of an update. It used to sport a large banner about the Seder v. Maron show at the top of the home page along with updates about the scheduled time of the next show. Now, even that banner is gone.

I am officially heartbroken. Does anyone know the full story?


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rain of Madness

Yes -- I know -- three posts in one day. Too much?

Not when you see what I have. How can I pass up a clip that mixes two of my favorite things -- "Apocalypse Now" and Steve Coogan?

You already know that there is a comedy feature due out this summer called "Tropic Thunder" wherein the actors making a big budget war movie become involved in a real life conflict. Frankly, that didn't interest me terribly until I saw that they had gone to the trouble of making a promotional clip for another movie which is supposedly about the making of "Tropic Thunder", but which in style imitates "Heart of Darkness" -- the film about the making of "Apocalypse Now." It's called "Rain of Madness" and here's the trailer:

And why I am not at all surprised to see Coogan featured? Since it is, as with so much his best work, a parody of a send up twice removed. I can't help but love.

So is this an actual separate movie? Here's hoping it's true since I had no interest in seeing "Tropic Thunder", but would definitely see "Rain of Madness". Seems too good to be true, though, so I am betting against.

Which really only makes it funnier.


Proops Chat Show. Just Go Already.

An old friend of mine -- a comedy devotee and successful comedy writer -- told me yesterday that he lived two blocks from LA's Largo for years(the old location on Fairfax) and didn't know that Greg Proops regularly hosted a brilliant chat show there. Really? That seems unbelievable to me; but if he doesn't know, then perhaps you don't know. So here we go.

The charming and very smart Greg Proops chat show hosts guests in the cool and cozy Largo space for discussion and performance and whatever else comes to mind. It has now migrated over to the new Largo location on La Cienega, but this great tradition continues and you should catch it while you can. Past guests have included Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, Joe Walsh, Janeane Garofalo, David Cross, Maragaret Cho, Dave Eggers, Joan Rivers, Aidan Quinn, Jeff Goldblum, Kathy Griffin, Lewis Black, Patton Oswalt and John C. Reilly. And guests are really just the icing on the cupcake. I'd go just to check out Greg's suits. A sampling of the beautiful thing here:

Although I haven't had the pleasure of seeing Proops perform live in years, I can highly recommend the show because I have seen some of his most recent video and it is obvious that he has really been kicking ass again lately. Of course, I am somewhat biased because I'm a long-time fan and I especially love it when he is speaking to folks of our generation, as he does with this awesome recent bit about Evil Knievel:

But the Big Chat Show is friendly to all generations -- example: upcoming guests include the Flight of the Conchords, who will be joining him at New Largo on July 26. (Although the challenge of mixing Proops with the New Zealanders is that it is almost too much adorable for one stage to bear -- so one has to hope that the new Largo has undergone stringent seismic reinforcement). But hosting the younger set seems appropriate because the Proopsdog is nothing if not constantly hip and relevant. In my eyes, ageless and timeless.

You may be wondering at this point: why should we believe that a stand up comedian and improv master would necessarily make a solid chat show host? Easy. Proops is one of the most stunningly intelligent comedians alive and he is fastidiously well-informed. His opinions are better formed than his hair, and that is saying something.

Edited to add in a tasty video sampler of the show -- here is a holiday special (probably not typical, but none of these shows are):

I know I've said this before, but if you are stuck in LA anyway for a time, go see him. Just do it. Oh -- and before you go -- call me so I can pop down to join you.


Do You Believe in Gosh?

Word from Punchline this morning that "Do You Believe in Gosh?" will be the title for the posthumous Mitch Hedberg CD that Comedy Central plans to release on Sept. 9. According the magazine's earlier reporting on the subject, it will contain almost entirely unheard materials.

I always feel odd listening to or looking at any art that isn't released until after the artist is gone. It feels exploitative, even when it is intended to be respectful. I tend to ponder whether the artist was ready to put this stuff out there yet -- but, in this case, since we are talking about a past live performance, it doesn't bother me as much. Presumably, Hedberg was happy with the material at the time he took it on stage, right?

Besides: I can't pretend that I'm not happy at the prospect of adding more Hedberg material to my collection. I adored his relaxed style, puppy-dog looks and innocent musings. I never grew tired of his approach and we lost him way too young. I miss him.

Here's the first bit I ever remember seeing him perform live -- simple enough, but I never forget it and still quote it regularly today -- typical of his sweet style:


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

American Comedy Festivals, Pt. 2

Comedy is art. To me, that's an unquestionable truth. But since the relocation and subsequent repackaging of HBO's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival last year, no one has launched (to my knowledge) a new annual event in the U.S. that celebrates the best of the art form -- showcasing a combination of this country's best stand up, sketch, improv and sitcom work. Why?

Yes, there are many fine smaller events which are continuing with varying degrees of success. You can find a fairly comprehensive list of stand up showcases, competitions and sketch festivals, for example, here. In fact, the list actually seems to be growing -- with new ones launching fairly regularly. And, if you are really craving something big, you can always grab your passport and skitter off to Montreal or Edinburgh -- but why should our best and brightest need to go abroad for wider recognition?

There's certainly an argument to be made that the internet provides such an effective and comprehensive showcase of current work that there isn't a need for performers to travel to tiny alpine ski villages to find representation or market themselves to the networks. Fair enough -- maybe this is more efficient -- but what about the fans? What about community? Isn't there a value in bringing everyone together once a year just to celebrate unique achievements and revel in work that we love and admire? The internet is no substitute for the thrill of sharing a live performance or the simple joy of meeting new companions who share your passion.

To support my position, I would point out that the opposite trend is taking hold in music. The music festival was all but gone in the 80s and only started to regain popularity slowly in the 90s with the rise of Lollapalooza and the scattered growth of radio-station-sponsored summer outdoor multi-band concerts. As this decade starts to sunset, though, huge multi-day camping outdoor music fests are thriving. (By the way, what a great time to be a teenager! Our sixteen year-old babysitter goes to Sasquatch every year with her friends. Three days of camping and partying music and art with no parents?! Are you kidding me?!?!? Oh, sweet Lord, to be young again . . .) Bonaroo sailed through its 7th year with a crowd of nearly 70,000; I believe the Coachella Music and Arts Festival topped 150,000. Of course, these events aren't as industry-centric and music will always draw a bigger crowd; but I still believe it is a small indication that there is clearly a need and desire to get out and commune with performers and fellow fans. There must be some effective way for the comedy community to tap into that desire.

One option is the apparent trend towards mixing comedy in with the big summer music and arts festivals. Bonaroo and Sasquatch both had comedy line-ups this year and those performances were apparently well attended. So that's encouraging and if the trend continues, I'll certainly be making the rounds of major festivals next year. (Which will be somewhat hilarious since I haven't been camping in over a decade . . . .) But I still contend that, if done correctly (in the right location, good mix of performers and fair price point) that a truly national comedy event and celebration could be joyful, worthwhile and fiscally successful.

Am I going to have to organize this myself? Do I have to do everything around here? *sigh*

BTW -- side note -- if you want to see a stunning example of how well this can work, check these really beautiful pictures that Louis CK took from backstage at Bonaroo. From his vantage point, we are looking out at a crowd of 65,000 fans screaming for Chris Rock, even though they are stuck in the rain. Awesome.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Seder v. Maron -- Where are you?

Over the past year, Sam Seder and Marc Maron have been doing a fun and fairly adorable weekly web show. Broadcast jointly from what looks like Sam Seder's basement and Maron's living room (sometimes patio), they discuss subjects ranging from politics to Maron's second divorce (pending and apparently brutal) and why Air America fired both of them (a terrible shame -- no one funny left over there at all now).

It is shaggy (seems to rely too heavily on Maron's laptop webcam) and prone to idiotic technical difficulties as well as oddball rants on the lack of true creativity in our society, but I love it nonetheless. Two wonderful middle-aged comedy talents, seemingly bored and lonely, bitching about the world in the same voice my friends might use -- albeit frequently funnier. I never miss it.

Recently, though, Sam switched over the server for his website (which "hosts" Seder v. Maron) and the show has gone MIA for the past two weeks. I really miss it and am hoping that it will come back soon. In the interim, if you're interested, you can check out re-runs of the show, posted as Video on Demand (VODs) at Sam's website.

Brush yourselves off and get back in the saddle, guys!!

With love, the Rabbit


What Happened to U.S. Comedy Festivals?

Sharing this old post from Dead Frog today because I've been thinking a great deal about the state of comedy festivals in the U.S. and I really thought this analysis was solid. I'll have more to say on this subject myself in coming days (especially on the growing trend of mixing comedy in with music festivals as we saw this year at Bonaroo and Sasquatch, among others), but for now, I'd be curious to know whether you think that the Frog has this one right.

Lifted in its entirety, but with full credit, from this page of Dead Frog:

TBS and Just For Laughs Team for a Chicago “Very Funny Festival”

In the Summer of 2009, Just For Laughs and TBS will pair up for the “Just For Laughs: A Very Funny Festival” which will be held in Chicago. The only top line talent mentioned right now isEllen Degeneres, but there’s also the obvious tie of working together with Second City. No exact dates have been set for the five-day fest as of yet.

A while back I talked about if we need a new festival after the loss of Aspen’s US Comedy Arts Festival. Although I’ve seen some suggest that this is the replacement for that, but from my read the Very Funny Festival seems far more consumer oriented. Also, considering the likely closeness to the industry heavy 2009 Montreal Festival also produced by Just For Laughs, I don’t see this as an Aspen replacement.

TBS will also be taking “The Comedy Festival” off HBO’s hands. With that fest and this new Chicago festival, TBS is making a big play to be Comedy Central’s main competitor. The “very funny” theme has been a part of TBS for a while and with its concentration on sitcoms, to me it marked itself as the less-edgy competitor for Comedy Central. With both fests under TBS, this could be a big play to become a major player in stand-up on TV, something which Comedy Central has had mostly to itself for quite a while.

Comedy Central, of course, wouldn’t let their territory go easily. They have their own fest now, the South Beach Comedy Festival. It’ll be interesting to see if Comedy Central takes on a second fest as well.

When I questioned the need for an Aspen Comedy Festival, I wondered about the point of holding a fest when the web seems to bring comedy talent out of the woodwork. These latest developments have answered my question: comedy festivals are branding opportunities for networks. They’re to say to the public, particularly in TBS case, “Hey, we’re where you can find the funny!” Hence almost all the big USA fests having a more consumer appeal. They’re not deal making events, they’re a synergistic diversification of a business model.

You might wonder if any city besides Chicago was in the running for this new fest. Well, I have a completely circumstantial hunch that New Orleans was considered. Again, totally circumstantial.

But don’t be disappointed for the Big Easy, one of those old-fashioned homegrown fests is currently in the works. The New Orleans Comedy Arts Festival will be taking place on April 3rd to the 5th at the La Nuit Theater. How quaint!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin

If you grew up in the 70s and your parents were proud Angophiles with an anti-establishment sense of humor, then you need to come to my house for a cup of tea because you and I will become fast friends before the Earl Grey cools. I know this because I feel certain your parents let you stay up to watch Monty Python at age 9 and likely even let you study another BBC counterculture classic The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. This brilliant piece of Britcom, although lesser-known in the U.S., shaped more of my world view than I would ever care to admit and that's why I feel a need to promote it here, for those of you who haven't yet had the pleasure.

A three-season series launched in 1976, the first season tells the story of 46-year old Reginald Perrin, a senior sale executive with Sunshine Desserts, a company that sells and promotes flavored ices. A normal-enough man with a normal-enough life, Perrin slowly starts to lose his sanity in the face of continuing his solidly uneventful and mind-numbing suburban commuter routine. He rebels against normality -- almost unintentionally at first -- fantasizing quietly inside his own head about breaking free -- and then openly, in front of friends, colleagues and family. Unable to accept another day of inventing new ways to boast about flavored ice, he craves escape, but - like nearly everyone else in his circumstance - he just doesn't quite know how to manage it. He starts with a standard mid-life crisis agenda -- talking back to his boss unexpectedly and having an affair with his secretary -- but even that starts to feel sadly pedestrian. And so, in a fit of desperation, he fakes his own suicide -- leaving his clothes on an abandoned beach -- and starts a new life.

Soon, however, Perrin misses his wife Elizabeth and returns (under a false name, though his wife pretends not to recognize him) and remarries her. In the second series, he starts a new company, Grot, openly selling useless items at obscenely inflated prices. "So much rubbish is sold these days under false pretences", Perrin tells a customer, "that I decided to be honest about it." His goods include square footballs, round dice, silent records, and tins of melted snow -- and so it is, of course, a huge success. Horrified, Perrin makes numerous failed attempts to destroy Grot, and eventually just gives up again -- faking his own suicide once more, though this time accompanied by his wife.

The plot sounds simple enough in its 70's-style morality, but the series was really brought to life by the very tight writing and the performance of an impressive cast -- most especially its leader, Leonard Rossiter, who played Perrin. Rossiter was a natural at portraying the stereotypical English suburbanite; yet also managed to keep that subversive twinkle in his eye as Perrin grew odder and odder.

Personally, my favorite aspect of the show was always the catch phrases. Catch phrases have a terribly bad name in today's comedy; but in Perrin they were used properly -- as a simple device for illustrating the painfully repetitive nature of Perrin's day. Like passive worker bees, Perrin's office colleagues literally used the exact same words to respond to every situation presented to them. For example, two junior "yes men" sale colleagues at Sunshine Desserts, bumblers who quivered in the face of authority, were rarely ever permitted to say anything other than "Great!" and "Super!" respectively, no matter what they were asked. It sounds extreme, but it truly works well -- even today, it reminds me of too many folks that I've worked with in offices through the years. It's an odd little trick that really holds up. Similarly, the boss at Sunshine Desserts, CJ, could never start a sentence without the tired phrase "I didn't get where I am today by . . . " blah blah blah. And even to a 9-year old, it quickly became apparent why Perrin needed to get away. Of all these, the one I always enjoyed most, however, came from Perrin's ne'er-do-well hippy son-in-law, who never quite managed to get a grip on anything. His phrase, as befitted his life, was "bit of a cock up on the XX front." As in, when asked about his new job, "Well, bit of a cock up on the employment front." Where's the food? "Afraid there's been a bit of a cock up on the catering front." Poor Perrin's life never changed; yet, somehow, for the viewer, it never got old. (BTW, you can't imagine the constant temptation, as a grade-schooler, to sidle up to my teachers and announce "Ah, yes, bit of a cock up on the ol' homework front today." Real missed opportunity there.)

There are times, certainly, when the series feels dated -- not just in fashion and setting, but also in its 1970s style of rebellion. I still feel, though, upon a recent reviewing, that there is a timeless quality about Perrin. For as one older review that I found of the show mused: "As long as there is industry, capitalism and a human longing for a life less ordinary, there will always be a Reggie Perrin sentiment present in the world."

The series was based largely off the the 1975 novel "The Death of Reginald Perrin" by David Nobbs. Nobbs was an established comedy writer in Britain in the early 70s. He was a writer for The Two Ronnies when the BBC invited him to submit an idea for a play about social problems in contemporary society. The synopsis he submitted concerned a man slowly going mad from his daily routine and it was rejected as unsuitable. Thankfully, Nobbs he held it and converted it into the Perrin novel.

Sadly, there aren't a great number of clips available online from the original series to show you, though there is this fun show post-show analysis / retrospective:

and this quick couple of bits from a similar retrospective, intro by Ronnie Barker:

Thankfully, you can still buy the entire series from Amazon UK (for the time being), though you will need to have a multi-region DVD player to see them. If you ever get the chance, do see it. And then stop by my house for tea and flavored ices.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Infatuated? Like, Totally -- So What's Next for Dylan Moran?

If you are tall, Irish and extremely funny, then chances are good that I've already fallen in love with you three or four times over and, at this point, you're just wishing I would lose your phone number so that you could avoid all the hassle and paperwork involved with getting a restraining order (that can take weeks -- who has the time?) And that pattern probably best explains the reason for my ongoing infatuation with comedy's most delicious mophead, Dylan Moran.

If you're an American and already know Moran, that's probably because you were lucky enough to catch one or more seasons of Black Books on BBC America. Created, written and developed for Channel 4 by Moran, it chronicles the struggles of crumedgeonly drunken bookstore owner Bernard Black.

Bernard is a throughly unlikeable inebriate, but Moran relates him to the overwhelmed-by-the-modern-world bookworm inside many of us who just wants to be left alone. With his two long-suffering friends -- equally unmotivated shop owner Fran and painfully underconfident Manny, (played with equal strength by Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig) -- they seek refuge in the bookstore and hope that the rest of London will just let them be; but it never does. Customers continue to drop in with the unreasonable expectation that they may browse or purchase volumes without being heckled. If that wasn't annoyance enough, soon a bright and cheery chain bookstore (with crass corporate customer service provided by a steely Simon Pegg) moves in next door -- and then the customers *stop* coming. As with all of comedy's greatest characters, it seems that there is no way for poor Bernard to win. The only hope for all three characters is to tolerate each others eccentricities long enough to form a family-style bond and barrier against the outside world.

"Black Books" was well-loved by fans in the UK and abroad -- and even the critics chimed in approvingly -- it won a BAFTA in 2002 for best sitcom. All of the episodes are gems, but I'm especially fond of "Elephants and Hens" (in which Bernard and Manny write a children's book); and the final episode, "Party", in which Bernard tries to explain why he has been so grumpy and misanthropic all these years. Frankly, though, I recommend that you buy all of them.

To date, Dylan has been fairly cautious about maintaining creative control over his work and that has definitely been to his benefit. Much of what he appeared in has been of his own design (although in 1998, prior "Black Books", he did star in another charming but less popular series called "How Do You Want Me?" which was written by Simon Nye, who also wrote "Men Behaving Badly.") The rare movies he has done have been ones written and led by friends with equal talent. For example, he has worked with Simon Pegg (including his key role in "Shaun of the Dead" and his heroic effort as Pegg's friend and trainer Gordon in the most recent [but not quite as funny] "Run, Fat Boy Run"). He also held a great double role in "Tristam Shandy -- a Cock and Bull Story" as Dr. Slop -- the "modern physician" who delivers the lead character. (A key premise of the original novel being that the narrator continually tries to tell the story of his own birth but is constantly distracted by other story threads). He pairs that role, as do all of the actors, with interspersed scenes where he appears as himself -- an actor in the film. (For fuller background on the post-modern nature of the film, see The Resilient Rabbit: Knowing Me, Knowing You) This is best near the end when all of the actors view a screening of the final product and Moran is chatting with Gillian Anderson about why all of her best scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. (Have I mentioned before you that you really must see this film? Seriously. It's an overlooked gem. But once again I digress).

Dylan rarely grants interviews -- he doesn't seem comfortable around reporters (a point that was played up for humorous effect during a short that precedes the opening of his "Monster" stand up DVD). And even when he does talk, he is reticent on the subjects of himself, his family, his history and the creative process. So much of all that remains a bit of mystery, which probably adds to the charm.

Moran is only 37, but the bounce back question still comes to mind for me. "Black Books" wrapped back in 2001 and I've been ever-so-curious to see what he comes up with next. He is apparently still doing stand up in the UK -- check out dates for his "What It Is" tour here -- and if his two performance DVDs, Monster and Like, Totally, are representative, then he is definitely worth checking out on stage. Moran started out in stand up and even won with Perrier award at Edinburgh before he began work in television, so he definitely knows how to work an audience. And though the "Monster" DVD still shows him performing his signature glass of red wine in hand, he says that he has grown bored of the prop -- and of performing while plastered generally -- so I would be even more intrigued to see what his stand up looks like now.

Here's hoping that this Rabbit -- and the rest of his infatuated American audience -- will be lucky enough to find out more soon.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"Raw" Data

Poor Eddie Murphy makes one off-the-cuff comment about possibly returning to the stand up stage and the rumor mill goes berzerker!

Not that one can blame his fans -- who wouldn't want to see *that*?

Although, I am deeply sad to report, the beautiful red leather suit of "Delirious" fame has apparently been ruined and retired.


A Doll of the Dude

Big Lebowski action figures -- coming soon!