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Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

Photo: Mike Birbiglia
Behind the scenes of one of Birbiglia’s virtual comedy shows.

My older granddaughter is having a birthday this week, and her joker dad told her she wouldn’t really be 8 until after the pandemic. Maybe sometime in the summer.

She is on to his tricks, but I laughed as I unnecessarily reassured her over What’s App that she would be 8 on her real birthday. Gotta be grateful for any wisp of humor in a pandemic, even goofy humor.

Comedian Mike Birbiglia always knew that laughter was important, but since he started putting his comedy online, he’s learned just how hungry people are to laugh in difficult times.

At Vulture, Birbiglia how his virtual shows got started. “On March 10, 2020, I drove from my apartment in Brooklyn to a weekend of club shows in Buffalo, New York, to work out new material for a theater tour. … I like Buffalo because I like the people at my shows and the hotel near the club and the people at the hotel and the coffee shops near the hotel. In general, those are the folks I encounter when I’m on the road.

“And I love being on the road. I like meeting people from all over the country and performing shows. … The further you go into more remote locations, the more people seem to crave live comedy.

“When I was 24, I was asked to perform in Seward, Alaska, which has a population of 2,700 people. I was booked there by, I believe, the town of Seward. If memory serves, I was pretty terrible and the crowd was pretty great. Same with Fargo, North Dakota. I remember driving there with my brother Joe through many feet of snow and thinking, This show is gonna be as bad as these roads, and then it was one of the most appreciative crowds I’ve ever played for. …

“These types of shows are typically called ‘hell gigs’ by comics — shows that don’t take place in clubs, but instead loud bars, town gymnasiums, bowling alleys, sometimes even laundromats.

I’ve performed in the center of all-night college walkathons and in the deli lines of cafeterias in the afternoon. I’ve shown up to at least 30 shows that didn’t have a microphone and 100 that didn’t have a stage. Hell gigs are part of the job.

“But the location actually doesn’t really matter. People just want to watch comedy. Everyone’s reason for watching comedy is different, but for me, it’s the shared catharsis of a person onstage talking about the same anxieties you might be experiencing. …

“At its best, stand-up comedy is one person taking the mic and providing the audience with an hour of escapism from the predictability of life. … In one moment, it shocks us, and in the next, it hangs a lantern on the universality of the absurd.

“Stand-up comedy on TV can shrink the format. It can feel like reheated pizza. When you show up in Fargo or Seward, you’re delivering the fresh, hot pizza of comedy right to their door. Showing up in people’s towns cements the communal upside of comedy, which is that it isn’t just the comedian who is seen and heard, but it’s also the audience.

“On March 11, 2020, I was driving to Buffalo via Ithaca, listening to epidemiologists on NPR weigh in on the spreading virus. I stopped at a local pizzeria called Thompson and Bleecker and sat down at the communal table. I was sitting with a couple of strangers who just drove in from Maryland, and they were concerned about the virus too. The guy said, ‘We were listening to Joe Rogan, and he had this scientist on, and we’re starting to think this is really serious.’

“That was the moment I knew I had to drive home. When the Venn diagram of Joe Rogan intersects with NPR, I know there’s something of a national consensus. Things are bad and are about to get worse.

“I drove the four hours back to Brooklyn. We postponed the Buffalo shows for what we thought was a shocking amount of time: four months. My agent asked me to consider doing some virtual shows, to which I was completely resistant.

“The next person I talked to was comedian Sam Morril, who [said] to me, ‘I actually get a lot out of it. I also didn’t expect that not only are you performing for people who can’t leave their houses from the shutdown, but you’re also performing for people who maybe couldn’t even leave their houses before COVID.’

“That’s when I decided I would try this at least once.

“In summer 2020, I did one night of Mike Birbiglia: Working It Out Virtually for 500 people who were located around the world. It was weird. And fun. Then I decided to do more.

“I started adding virtual crew members: a cinematographer, a sound technician, a director. We added three more iPhones to give us new camera angles. We lit my brother Joe’s Rhode Island office like a TV studio. It became this strange hybrid stand-up comedy interactive talk show.

“What I discovered was that the same thing people enjoyed about the live shows were things they were able to enjoy on the Zoom show. One of our producers noticed that during one of the shows someone wrote in the live Zoom chat: ‘I can’t unmute! I want to laugh!’ Those folks were unmuted by the hosts. They were seen. They were heard. …

“People Zoomed in from the most remote locations: living rooms with their cats and dogs and rabbits, gathered around bonfires with whiskey, families huddled in their children’s playroom because it has the best Wi-Fi, a woman knitting a shawl in her TV room, a couple carving a pumpkin with their family in the kitchen. Five continents and over 20 different countries were represented. …

“I’ve done about 18 of these virtual shows, and I’ve learned things from them that I thought I had long understood after 20 years of being a professional comedian. People need comedy. At very least, they need to laugh — particularly when life is most burdensome and unwieldy. People need to laugh to be reminded what laughter feels like and why anyone would have laughed in the first place. It’s the defibrillator that sends a shock to the heart to restore a normal rhythm. …

“I enjoy it because I feel connected to people all over the country and all over the world. I’m not saying it’s ideal. Arguably these are the worst conditions imaginable for comedy, but I think the people participating appreciate that I’m showing up at all. I mean, let’s be honest. It’s a hell gig.”

More at Vulture, here.

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Did I ever mention that John Cleese (“Monty Python,” “Fawlty Towers”) was the speaker at Suzanne’s college graduation? A very good choice if you like a bit of laughter with your deep thoughts.

Now an old video of the early Cleese has been unearthed.

The BBC has the story: “Two episodes of 1960s TV comedy ‘At Last The 1948 Show,’ which starred pre-Monty Python John Cleese and Graham Chapman, have been found after almost 50 years. The ITV programme, which was first screened in 1967, also featured Tim Brooke-Taylor, Marty Feldman and Aimi Macdonald. …

” ‘It represents a key moment in the history of British television comedy featuring the combined talents of some of its greatest exponents,’ BFI television consultant Dick Fiddy said. …

“The two episodes were found when Mr Fiddy was invited to explore the collection of Sir David Frost, who died last August, and who was executive producer on the show.

“They were contained on two reels of 16mm film and had been filmed directly from a television screen. …

“Cleese will present the two episodes, on loan from the Frost family, as part of ‘Missing Believed Wiped’ – the BFI’s annual celebration of recovered TV programmes — on 7 December in London.” More here.

Recently rediscovered in the effects of the late David Frost, a comedy featuring a young John Cleese. 

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I like the radio show “Studio 360” for its kooky interviews. Comedienne and multifaceted creative force Jenny Slate provided an especially fun one this weekend.

Jenny, now 32, graduated as valedictorian from Milton Academy in Milton, Mass., and suffered through the dubious distinction of being hired and fired by “Saturday Night Live” at a young age. The daughter of a poet and a ceramic artist, she is creative enough to keep reinventing herself.

Just for no reason, she made an oddball video that went viral, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” which her husband filmed using stop-motion. It’s about an extremely awkward and self-deprecating snail.

You can read more about Jenny at wikipedia, here. Listen to the interview at Studio 360, here, and look for Jenny’s “Catherine” series on YouTube. It’s even more offbeat than “Marcel the Shell.”

 

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Photo: Daniel Balter
Moby Disc, a creature sculpted from 6,000 CDs salvaged from landfills by Fireseed Arts.

Central Massachusetts is getting its own arts and music festival this weekend in Devens (what used to be the military base Fort Devens).

Nancy Shohet West writes at the Globe, “During her years as a university student in Austin, Texas, Monica Hinojos witnessed firsthand the way the city’s iconic festival, South by Southwest, grew meteorically from a music festival with 700 participants in 1987 to an amalgam of music, film and interactive media that drew 25,000 people to this year’s gathering in March.

“So it’s understandable that when Hinojos took up the reins as executive director for 3Rivers Arts, a Groton-based nonprofit whose mission is to support local artists and the arts while spurring the creative economy and enriching community life in the towns in and around Central Massachusetts, she arrived with grand visions.

“One of those visions will materialize this weekend in the form of ‘The Nines.’ The multistage music and arts festival’s inaugural edition kicks off Saturday at Willard Field in the Devens property off Route 2.

“Hinojos concedes the scale of the event might seem a little bit outsized for the normally low-key performance scene in the Nashoba Valley, but she says it is time to start building up local cultural offerings — and that’s why she’s choosing to do it with a bang.

“’ I had a vision of a music, film, multiart festival, modeled on South by Southwest,’ Hinojos said. ‘We want to provide a platform for artists in Central Massachusetts by which we can elevate their work. We have some world-class artists out here. My vision is to amplify their presence so that others throughout New England and the world can see it.’ …

“ ‘In the end, we found a little bit of something for everyone,’ she said. ‘Most of the musical performers are nationally touring, emerging acts …’

“Identifying local artists appropriate for the event was the job of 3Rivers Arts art director Christopher Cyr, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate now living in Pepperell. One of the studios he chose to highlight was FireSeed Arts of Framingham, known for its ‘art with a repurpose’ mission and focus on eco-design.

“ ‘We call it locally harvested trash,’ said Daniel Balter, a cofounder of FireSeed Arts. ‘We try to bring awareness to the role of repurposing trash as art. The Nines festival is a perfect opportunity to provide platforms for local artists, and create some great things.’ ”

“Gates open at noon; the music begins at 1 p.m. and will continue until 11 p.m. … www.theninesfestival.com or  800-653-8000. Children under 10 admitted free if accompanied by parent or guardian. ” More.

Photo: Colm O’Molloy for the Boston Globe
Monica Hinojos of 3Rivers and Benjamin Jachne of Great Northeast Productions are co-sponsoring The Nines music, comedy, arts festival in Devens.

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The NY Times had an article today about the subtleties of standup comedy in different languages.

Not only can jokes get lost in translation, but an immigrant from one country may be completely hilarious to an immigrant from another country while falling flat with temporary visitors from his own country.

Sarah Maslin Nir writes, “In a city where a priest, an imam and a rabbi really could walk into a bar on any given day — along with just about anyone from around the globe — what different cultures laugh at is as diverse as the city itself. …

“Cultural stumbles are a theme in immigrant comedy in New York, said Oleg Boksner, a Brooklyn comedian who is preparing a one-man show called ‘From Russia With Laughs.’ In it he has fun with his heritage through caricatures like the transplant from Communist Russia who tries to join in with the American custom of Halloween, but  scares away trick-or-treaters with his Soviet-style treats: a raw potato and an onion. ‘I’ve had people from Mexico relate to it as well,’ Mr. Boksner said of his act, ‘because they relate to the difficulties of being an immigrant in one form or another.’

“But when he played before a crowd of Russian visitors at B. B. King Blues Club and Grill in Midtown a few years ago, those jokes bombed. …

“And every foreign comedian must tackle the thorny task of figuring out which jokes just will not translate. Take the Mexican one about the chicken who was the height of foolishness. Why? Because he was looking for a pencil when he was surrounded by pens! ‘Plumas’ in Spanish, means ‘pens’ but also, critical to the joke, ‘feathers.’ ”

More.

Photograph: Yana Paskova/NY Times
Ali Sultan, a Yemeni-American comedian who lives in Minnesota and performed at the Comic Strip in Manhattan last month, claims to have studied at the University of I’ll Just Google It.

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Remember all the talk-show ridicule of the woman who sued McDonald’s and won big bucks for coffee that was too hot? Well, it turns out she was sitting still, she was badly burned, and McDonald’s had failed to correct the scalding temperature in spite of 700 complaints.

Now attorney Susan Saladoff, who believes that the tort-reform posse was defining the tone of the discussion, has made a movie countering the frivolous-lawsuits-run-amok mantra. She argues persuasively that lawsuits like the one in Hot Coffee protect the little guy from corporations run amok.

A review at American Prospect says, “no matter how many times the suit was used in Jay Leno monologues there was nothing funny about it. Liebeck [the complainant] was not careless, but spilled the coffee when she, as a passenger in a parked car, took the lid off the cup. The spill did not cause a trivial injury, but severe burns that required multiple operations and skin grafts to treat. McDonald’s, which served its coffee at 180 degrees [your home coffee maker is at 135 degrees], had received more than 700 complaints from customers, constituting a clear warning, but it nonetheless required its franchises to serve it at that temperature without warning customers.”

Stella Liebeck sued only after the medical bills overwhelmed her. Little of the settlement was left her after costs, and she didn’t live long to enjoy it.

More comments at AndrewSullivan.com.

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Before it got hot this morning, a yoga class was exercising at one end of the Greenway.

At the other end, carousel horses waited for riders.

Meanwhile in New York, an improv troupe approached a different carousel.

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