Monday, August 19, 2013

Oh My God - A Review

Louis C.K.
Oh My God
Celebrity Theatre, Phoenix, AZ

    Louis C.K. is arguably the hottest comedian in the world right now. In the past five years he has produced four comedy specials all the while creating one of the funniest television shows in recent memory in "Louie" and this is in addition to his burgeoning film career. He's reached a point in his career where any project that adds his name makes headlines and for a lot of comedians that would be enough. For a lot of comedians that would be the end of their stand-up careers. In fact in the 80's and 90's that was the formula; struggle on the road, get on Carson, get a sitcom and never look back but not Louis. He's different.

    With "Oh My God" Louis starts to take his place amongst one of the greatest of all time. He talks about a neighbor and her dog , the stupidity of posting videos on Facebook and confronting a total stranger all in the first 30min of the show. All of which are funny and will make you laugh out loud, but just around the 30min mark, Louis takes another step forward. It is here that he starts to talk about the process of dating and how our existence as a species relies on this seemingly out of date ritual and the joys of being lucky enough to be a human being and he goes on to talk about our anger while driving and a bit so special I'm not even going to describe it. It's pure brilliance though.

    I cannot help but feel Mr. C.K. knew exactly what was happening during this special and what it would mean to his legacy because from my perspective there are all kinds of subtle mentions to his idol(and mine) George Carlin. Firstly, the round theatre stage is reminiscent of Geogre's most popular special, "Class Clown". Secondly, while Louis is known for wearing a solid black shirt and jeans during his performances for some reason he chose to wear a top that was almost a blue and during "Class Clown" George was wearing not a dissimilar shirt. Finally on more than one occasion Louis uses his facial expressions to really drive home a punchline, a tactic that Carlin used liberally.

    Am I reading too much into it? Possibly, but I don't think so. Louis has proven that he is a very smart man with a strong understanding and appreciation of those who came before him and it would not surprise me to learn this was all done as a "tip of the cap" to George. Regardless, "Oh My God" only solidifies Mr. C.K. further into the "living legend" status he's been earning and inches the bar that much higher for the rest of the comedy world to jump over.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Dad is Fat - A Review

Dad is Fat
Author: Jim Gaffigan
Publisher: Crown Archetype
Release Date: May 2013

    Two months ago today I lost a man that was near and dear to my heart. My father-in-law. At the time of his sudden passing I was halfway through another book that I was very much enjoying but on that day everything changed, and I put that book down. Shortly after all of the ceremonies and family had dispersed some turned toward Religion for comfort, I turned to those who make me smile, comedians.

    Jim Gaffigan has been near the very top of the current comedian pile for a long time now(and one of my personal favorites for close to a decade) and I trusted that "Dad is Fat" would give me exactly what I was looking for during my time of need. Thankfully, Mr. Gaffigan delivered.

    "Dad is Fat" boils down to a series of very short essays(typically no more than 5 pages) on Mr.Gaffigan's take on raising his five children in a crowded New York City apartment. He tackles subjects ranging from what it's like attempting to get five kids ready to go to the park, to the importance of candy to a child to toddler-hood (my personal favorite chapter and well worth the price of the book alone). With each chapter and essay the book builds momentum and the laughs seem to occur at a much more rapid pace. Whether this was done intentionally or whether it was simply a writer/comedian getting more comfortable working in a different medium I cannot say for sure, however I can say with certainty that this book will make you laugh out loud on a regular basis.

    One of things that impressed me most about "Dad is Fat" is that it is not just a rehashing of Mr. Gaffigan's stand-up material. It would have been easy for him to simply use his stage material as a transcript for this book. While fans of his will surely recognize some of the premises and jokes they are few and far between. Ultimately what you get is a book that delivers consistently from beginning to end.The style, tone and pacing are reminiscent of a Bill Cosby book, and there is not a greater compliment that I can give to a comedian in this genre.

    As someone who lost a father figure, who has a father who is very active in his life and as someone who hopes to be a father in the not too distant future this book hit home when I needed it most. It allowed me to reminisce and reflect in an incredibly safe environment and for that I am forever grateful. Thank you Mr. Gaffigan.

Friday, May 17, 2013

We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy - A Review

We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy
Author: Yael Kohen
Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books
Released: October 2012

    It was about six months ago when I was on my honeymoon in a small "mom and pop" book store when I first saw "We Killed" on the bookshelf. The hot pink jacket and familiar title jumped off the shelf at me.(There is another book that I own "I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America's Top Comics") Since I was on my honeymoon and didn't want to spend the rest of it engrossed in a book I snapped a photo of the cover and reminded my wife that Christmas was coming. I finally found some time and got around to reading this gem of a book.

    It's hard to describe Yael Kohen's book without essentially repeating the title. In "We Killed" she examines the history, role and perception of women in modern day comedy. From Phyllis Diller to Sarah Silverman and everything in between Yael tactfully moves the reader through the struggles(perceived or otherwise) that have faced women through the years.

    The book reads like a transcript of a documentary with snippets of conversions and interviews intertwined to tell the story. Yael does her best to get out of the way in that regard and let's the people who lived the moments tell their stories. And to her credit Yael gets "everyone" to participate. There are stories and antidotes from Joan Rivers, Marget Cho, Lisa Kudrow, Lilly Tomlin, Paula Poundstone, Ellen DeGeneres, Chelsea Handler and the list goes on and on. Their insight is invaluable in providing context and depth to the hurdles that women had to, and continue to face.

    As an amateur comedy historian I found this book to be enthralling. I've read countless books on where the genre is and where it's been but rarely do women get anything more than a mention or footnote so it was nice to get another perspective on things. Furthermore, the pacing is brisk and I feel like Yael gives everyone and every topic the time and reflection it deserves.

    Finally the thing I found most fascinating was the message that was being delivered by the females themselves. I got the sense that some were hesitant to really open up and share everything they went through in an effort to protect how far they've come in the industry(as a group or individually). However the overwhelming theme from generation to generation was that in their eye's sex shouldn't matter and they should be judged solely on the quality of their work and nothing more. In the end, isn't that what we all want?


Monday, March 4, 2013

Bob Saget Live Show - A Review

I know it's been a while(too long really) but my new work schedule has given me precious little time for my passions in life. However this past Sunday I carved out a little piece of time for Bob Saget.

Bob Saget
When: Sunday March 3rd
Location: Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto

    At this stage in Bob Saget's career I feel it should go without saying that he does not work clean. In fact it's safe to say that he works dirty - very dirty. He does not get into religion or politics whatsoever and truth be told he's not overtly descriptive in his use of the "foul language"(like he was during his turn at telling the "Aristocrats" joke). However it is always present and I suspect there are no limits that Bob wouldn't be prepared to go to. So I have to admit I was a bit surprised to find a few preteens sprinkled into the audience, albeit with parental supervision but still. This show is not safe for children. 

    Before we got to the main attraction comedian Graham Chittenden (@grahamchit) surprised everyone by being an opening act. As someone who was really looking forward to this show I searched the internet on a regular basis on the days leading up to the show to see if there was going to be an opening act and only found out about him hours before the show. All that being said Graham knocked it out of the park. People were still filtering in as he was going through his set and I'm sure some, at first, had no intention of listening to him however when that many other people around you are laughing it becomes contagious. By the peak of his set(he's ripping on how easy HGTV makes home renovations look) he had everyone eating out of the palm of his hand. He did a very solid fifteen minutes in total and is someone I would gladly pay to see headline in a smaller venue.

    After a fifteen minute intermission for the mainly male audience to go outside and smoke Bob finally took the stage at around 9pm. As much as I was looking forward to his show there was a big part of me who had some doubts. His online reviews are not always favorable and I had watched his last HBO special countless times so I was worried that I may be hearing the same thing re-hashed several years later. My doubts were put to rest very quickly.

    Bob comes out and immediately starts picking out the drunks that are yelling at him and incorporates them into the show. This is unique in that it guarantees no two shows are the same. Every audience gets an inside joke that only they will get. They get a "you had to be there" moment, which is very cool thing for an entertainer to give to an audience. After about 10 - 15min of working the audience he tip toes into set material all the while calling back to the various comments and references constantly throughout the show. His material is based heavily on his own experiences in show biz with Full House being the most common topic or theme.(He even called John Stamos during the show and put him on speaker phone - the crowd ate it up) However, if Bob was simply trying to use his image as Danny Tanner for shock value the effects would wear off quickly. It's because Bob is a charming, charismatic individual he can get away with material I'm not sure others could. He works way dirtier than most and his material is not in the traditional sense, well crafted, but who cares about those things when you have 2,000 plus people laughing. 

    He ends the show with what is becoming his signature - his guitar. He sits down and sings a number of songs, none of which are safe for work and ends the show with the now infamous "Danny Tanner was not Gay". The crowd immediately stood up and he didn't hesitate  He told us to sit back down and he played one more "off color" song.

    You can be shocked by the language. You can be shocked by the image he's crafted for himself but no one should be shocked by the fact that Bob Saget is very funny.

Finally, Bob Saget telling the "Aristocrats"...NOT SAFE FOR WORK, CHILDREN OR PEOPLE WITH WEAK STOMACHS! were warned...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I'm Dying Up Here - A Review

I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand Up Comedy's Golden Era - Audio Book
Author: William Knoedelseder
Narrator: William Dufris
Publisher: Tantor Media
Release Date: September 7, 2009

    We all do it, we go to the dollar store for a single item but decide to roam the aisles anyway just to see if there's any other useless crap we may need for around the house. Well my friends, I finally left the dollar store with a purchase I am likely going to cherish for years to come, you see this is where I found "I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy's Golden Era" on audio book format for a whopping two dollars! I had never heard of this book before but bought it for a lark thinking I may get two dollars worth of enjoyment from it and after listening to it I would have gladly paid the suggest retail price of close to forty dollars.

    "I'm Dying Up Here" covers the rise in popularity of stand-up comedy in the 70's using the infamous "comedian strike" as it's major narrative throughout. This was my first experience with the audio book format and I was pleasantly surprised. I found myself listening to all seven cd's while driving myself to and from work to be incredibly relaxing. The narrator, William Dufris, does a good job with his tone, enunciation and pacing. At beginning I found his voice to be a bit on the mundane side of things but after reflecting on the material it may be due to the fact that in the beginning the story is on the mundane side of things. The biggest downfall to William's narration is that there is an awful lot of dialogue in this book and while William is no Rich Little he does vary his voice enough so that each male character and female character get a relatively distinct sound. 

    William Knoedelseder has put together one of these most comprehensive and important comedy history books I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.(*note - I really wanted to type reading but that's not true and typing the phrase "pleasure of listening to" felt wrong as well). William starts us off in New York at Bud Friedman's The Improvisation and describes how Bud is credited with establishing what is now the modern day comedy club. At this time Johnny Carson is filming The Tonight Show in New York and comedians are getting plucked right from Bud's stage to stardom, then The Tonight Show moves to LA and so does the comedy world.

    William has a unique perspective on what would go on to become "Stand -Up Comedy's Golden Era" in that he was there when it happened. He wrote articles on the scene while it was happening and wrote profiles of the future stars before they were a part of the pop culture movement. His passion for the work comes through in every word.

    The work is also very easy to digest, I found myself learning a lot about an important point in comedy history that I thought I already had a solid understanding of. The running time of the audio book is 8.5hrs so for the average motorist it's about a weeks worth of driving. 

    A single word of warning, this book is strictly for comedy nerds, I cannot envision someone outside of the comedy world really getting into this. While I would love to believe that others would care for the short lived CFC(Comedians for Compensation) or to hear the tragic story of Steve Lubetkin I'm not sure the average reader/listener will enjoy it as much as I did or as much as I'm sure you will.

    As an "epilogue" if you will to this lengthy review Bud Friedman was on the WTF Podcast with Marc Maron recently where they also talk about the rivalry between himself and Mitzi Shore and this era of comedy. Also, after reflecting on the main narrative of this book I couldn't help but think this would make a fascinating movie that would appeal to people outside of the comedy world and a quick google search reveals that Pajiba is reporting that Tom Hank's production company is working on a film based off of the "I'm Dying Up Here" story arc. Granted this report is several years old but one can be hopeful.