Sunday, December 16, 2012

Comedy With Curves: Witty Women, All

When my friend Pam Werts was asked to produce a show with female comics, she didn't think twice about it. She knew, as do I, that there are plenty of funny ladies in Western New York and an all-female line up would bring a needed dose of estrogen to The Comedy Club. It never crossed her mind that the night wouldn't be laugh-filled and successful.

Sure enough, the first Comedy with Curves was both those things. Successful, because 83 paying fans showed up on a Sunday night - yes, even I gave up some precious NFL hours - to hear Dewey Lovett, Anna Hall, Maryanne Donnelly, Anna Phillips and Pam talk about decoy sluts, go-to lesbians, suicide lines, balls to the face and mom's moist box. Laugh-filled, because they talked about decoy sluts, go-to lesbians, suicide lines, balls to the face and mom's moist box.

Every one of these women is funny, and each of them has a style/persona all her own. Pam rocks as a host because she has a take-no-prisoners delivery and pop culture reference points that span 30+ years. From Bon Jovi to Adele, human insurance agents to Geico geckos, Pam can paint a broad stroke of ha ha across a room. Dewey is so unexpected, her tiny frame and squeaky mouse voice are a sharp contrast to her sarcasm and innuendo. MaryAnne's stylized Sad Sack is a well-crafted and honestly maintained vehicle through which to deliver her smart word play. Anna H is quirky and upbeat, with a bit of a Caroline Rhea vibe, while Anna P provides some of the most hilarious lines of the night with a "funniest girl in the break room" casualness. These women rocked the stage, and made the Comedy With Curves show an instant hit.

Next week, on Sunday December 23rd, Comedy With Curves will present its second show. There have been grumblings around the town. "It can't grow without real sponsors." "There just aren't that many funny women in upstate New York." "It can't work without a known headliner." What do my kids say? "Haters gotta' hate." Success breeds many responses; always, among the well-wishers, will be some people who, for whatever reason, don't want to acknowledge the good. That's ok. I believe in Pam. I believe in funny women everywhere and I believe in these funny women, all of whom I am blessed to call friends.

So, here's what One Girl's Giggle is gonna' do. This blog is now an official sponsor of Comedy With Curves. This blog will put up money to pay the comics, who did the first show for the love of their art and a beautiful bouquet of flowers from Pam. And I will offer to pay the $5 admission fee for the first 10 people who contact me here on Blogspot or on my Facebook page. I will call out to Dario, Mike, Kevin, Bryan, Jimmy, Woody, Austin, Nate, Tim, Vince, Mikey, Law and any other local guys in my comedy click and say, hey, come support this show. On my dime or yours. Be here for Dewey, for Anna, for the girls who have always laughed at you and made you feel supported, loved. I will ask Natalee to be my guest and sit with me in the booth, laughing away some free time before the big holiday push. I will ask you to bring family members, friends in town for festivities, even strangers who look like they could use a giggle in this season of giving.

There will be both new and familiar faces on this line-up. That's simply a matter of holiday timing, NOT because there aren't a plethora of funny women in the area. Once the new year rolls around, there will be larger sponsors, and shows will be spaced out a bit. This is not a whim, an anomoly. I can't wait to see Rich Vos's movie, "Women Aren't Funny," but I know his talented comedian wife, Bonnie McFarlane, reinforces for him every day why that title itself is just another punch line.

Women may use, process and deliver humor differently than men. There is plenty of research, scientific and informal, to explain why. You guys are peacocks and making us laugh is another way of winning our favor. We have tits and ass. Your funny bone is the last thing you care to have us arouse. And that's fine. We, the fans of comedy, are all here for the same reason: to laugh. I'm behind anyone who can give me that release, whether you pee sitting, standing up or spinning distractedly in a circle while evaluating the tilework.

Come join me at The Comedy Club on Sunday, the 23rd, at 7:30 pm, for Comedy With Curves. You won't be disappointed. At the very least, you can watch the giggle jiggles as a room full of breasts heave with laughter. Most likely, you won't be able to stop yourself from joining in.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Tom Simmons

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde has long been one of my favorite Victorian-era writers and Brit wits. For years, I’ve enjoyed his plays, appreciated his poetry, and truly adored his social critique. As I sat down to write a review of Tom Simmons, it was the following quote from Wilde that jumped into my head.
“If you’re going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh; otherwise, they will kill you.”
Tom Simmons tells a lot of truth during his time onstage. Since that truth is not all easy to digest, it is rather fortuitous that Tom is one of the funniest comedians I know. I am simply in awe of his ability to weave seamlessly between the political and the personal in a way that doesn’t give the audience time to cool off or pull back. The level of skill needed to recognize the point of disconnect as it is happening and ease into something warm and fuzzy is a testament to his nearly twenty years onstage.  
The set opened with Tom sharing that he worries a lot about the world: the fact that no one reads anymore, that people are shooting their coworkers or shooting their families and then shooting themselves (why can’t they start by shooting themselves? There should be some kind of suicide assistance hotline, 1-800-go ahead). People tell him not to worry about the things he can’t control. (Who worries about things you can control?)

The bits fly by quickly as this master teacher stealthily slips knowledge into unsuspecting minds, much the way my mother used to serve my brother “spice cake” and smile to herself while throwing away the zucchini peels. There’s so much essential truth packed into a Tom Simmons show that I feel a little disappointed to know I can’t possibly catch it all with one viewing. Thank God there are five shows this weekend, a cd for sale and a bonus set available on iTunes. I need time with this guy.

 While you’re still here with me, though, let me share just a small sampling of what Tom Simmons brings to the game. Here’s a full day’s lesson on money, a sore subject in America these days. Pardon my paraphrasing:
My son came with me to do radio one day. I asked him why he wanted to go; he said famous people go do radio. I said no, famous people call in. He said if you are famous, then you get rich and everybody is happy. It kinda broke my heart. I said to him, no son, money is not what makes people happy in this world. He looked at me as if to say, are you NEW here?

 See what he did there? He made a human connection with this cute story about his son, and then reeled us in to drop some knowledge.

Money is just made up, it’s an illusion. There are rich people out there who have money, but they don’t own it. It’s owned by the Federal Reserve Bank. It’s deceptively named to sound like it’s part of the government, but actually it’s a for-profit private company that owns our money. They make it up out of nothing and then sell it to us at interest. Even Sam Walmart is like, what a great business model you have there…. And the people on our money were against the Federal Reserve; Lincoln, Jefferson, Franklin, Jackson, they all thought it was a bad idea, and then we put their faces on the money. That’s like putting Mother Teresa’s face on condoms and then passing them out at Planned Parenthood.

 Three minutes into a bit and we’ve had a father/son fuzzy moment, a history and an economics lesson. Now for some sociology.

Money is our God, it’s what we worship, what we work 40 or 50 hours a week for, what we think will make us happy. We have altars built all over the country in the form of banks that we bail out. Then, we stand in front of the ATMs and pray there’s $100 in there.

Need some pop culture?

Gold will hold its value. I used to think rappers were idiots for what they did to their mouths. Turns out those guys are monster investors.

 And how about some theology?
Jesus. Jesus was a pretty chill dude. The only time he used violence in his entire ministry was on the money changers in the temple. Know how evil you have to be to piss off Jesus?

 To show you just how smart this guy is, he even uses the money theme to make some dick jokes.

We give it different names, right? It’s the dollar here, it’s the looney in Canada, it’s the euro in Europe. The weirdest name by far that I’ve found is in Vietnam where they call their dollar the dong. Like, sorry, baby, I’m a little short on dong tonight.

It’s true that I love rant comedy. I love a committed performer sharing a wealth of information using an intelligent vocabulary executed with exquisite comedic timing. I’ve seen it done well, I’ve seen it done poorly. The difference, for me, is usually one of precision. It’s easy to be too heavily weighted on one of those elements and throw the experience out of whack. I started out being a Dennis Miller fan, loving the word choices and semi-obscure references that seemed to always serve the joke. Somewhere, though, it changed, it began to spin away from sharing thought and lean toward spitting invective. What once felt like collective snark, a mutual laughing at the world, has since morphed into a constant scolding by someone who just seems content to get off on feeling superior. Tom sometimes feels like gentle rant, moving the physical aggression into something more searching, with momentary floor gazing and the occasional shrugging of shoulders. I have seen very few live performers cover so many potentially controversial topics with so many punch lines.

His Bully the Bullies podcast takes a stand against militant religious types who use the pulpit to bully congregants, who then go out and bully others with their supposed moral supremacy. Please check it out on iTunes and make a contribution, if you can. So many people out there don’t have the words so easily at their disposal, can’t always articulate on their own behalf, and so are victimized by the gift of gab. One more reason I admire this guy is that he puts his gift to use for the underdog.

Tom Simmons is a bit of a revelation: his material can be racial, without being racist, religious without being proselytizing or denigrating. He finds the balance, being simultaneously challenging and supportive in what he wants to say. I get the feeling he cares about what you take away from his shows. It’s great that you laugh, it’s even better that you think. It’s not always easy for a comic to accept that he will sometimes have to forfeit a guffaw while some new piece of information is absorbed. And when you speak as rapidly as Tom does, you lose a few chuckles along the way because the listener’s brain has to let one line go to catch the next. There are so many great lines in this show, in fact, that I’ve taken weeks to write this review. I simply could not decide how to move forward, what to share and what to set aside. I want you to leave this page with the absolute understanding that this is one amazingly talented comic who pushes all my personal humor buttons.

So, here are a few more of my favorites, arranged more haphazardly, but no less loved.

“I was working in Tacoma, Washington, and on my way to the club every night, I saw this big red neon sign says ‘Jesus cares about you.’ Which is fine, but when I left the South, Jesus fuckin’ loved me. I don’t know why we have all the drop-off all of a sudden. In his defense, I have been seeing other people lately, like Buddha and science.”

“To the rest of the world we are like a really boring hot chick that won’t quit talking about herself…. We’re number one. Wow, really? Check your stats.”

“I try to be nice, I try to love everyone, but…have you met everyone?”

“Jesus did some interesting things. He turned water into wine and they said he was God.    My Uncle Stan did that in the shed and they gave him 7 to 10. There are no ‘What would Stan do?’ bracelets.”

“I see your Bible and raise you a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution.” 

 For me, this was one wonderful comedy weekend. Just as straight-forward and thought-provoking off-stage, I enjoyed real-people conversation with Tom. I know I’m looking at 20 years of master crafting, something that can have the feel of exposure without ever baring so much as an ankle. Still, he’s the kind of person for whom I would join a bowling league – although I’d rather it be a writer’s group – just to hang out every week and hear what’s on his mind. Without that option, I must be content listening to his most recent CD, Keep Up (available at Amazon and iTunes), checking out his Bully the Bullies Podcast (also available for free on iTunes) and waiting patiently for his return to upstate New York. You should check out all the above mentioned opportunities, and go to for access to videos, his blog and upcoming tour info.

 Next weekend, Tom will be performing with another of my close comedy friends, Kris Shaw. I am excitedly anticipating just how these two smart, unique men will perceive one another. Tacoma, Washington, I’m counting on you to treat them both with love and laughter. You’re in for a few nights of truth you’ll never want to forget.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


You never expect it to happen when you choose something you love. You think the inspiration will always be there, by sheer virture of your passion, your desire. You count on keeping your promise, on the vows being unbreakable.

And then reality and the day-to-day grind overwhelm you. The fantasy, the fire, gets lost as bills need paid, floors need swept, and the sound of your laugh grows faint.

I have so much to say, so much to do, and yet everything else seems to NEED to come first. I am stuck midway through Tom Simmons, desperate to get on to Rachel Feinstein and excitedly looking forward to Orlando Jones. I owe Guy Torry delivery on a proposition. I really do have something to say about Doug Stanhope. And locally, Dubland deserves a celebratory eulogy as it ends tonight, and Buffalo is still waiting for its accolades.

So here's my renewed promise.

I will do whatever I need to in order to catch up by the end of the week. That means I may have to condense the Buffalo shows into one piece. That means I'll pass on Eddie Griffin, who doesn't need my opinion to promote himself or his act. That means I didn't go to The Comedy Club this week to catch Gemini's show because, while I find magic everywhere and adore it, I'm not quite as enamored of illusion. That means I am still committed, but maybe I understand the journey a little better and can accept that it isn't what it once was.

And, hopefully, it will mean that we can get back to what we were doing here together in the first place.

Laughing, and loving every minute of it.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

10/11/12 Rich Vos, Jimmy LeChase, Tim Almeter and Dario Josef

T S Eliot once wrote, “Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity.” If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he was channeling an evening, far in the future, when Rich Vos was nervously pacing the back of a dark room, awaiting show time. Like a metal spring coiled to its limit and about to unwind, he was both ready to start releasing and nervous about the process. Nine months earlier, when Vos last came to The Comedy Club, his angst read more like anger to me; I felt a very different kind of energy when I met him briefly before that show. His crowd work seemed a little pushy, a little punishing. I wasn’t sure, once the set was over, whether or not I had enjoyed it.

This time, however, was an altogether different experience.
But let’s not start there. Let me give credit to Dario by saying he was an excellent MC, and the perfect guide on the side for this particular show; he primed the audience for Jimmy LeChase. The first/last time I told you about Jimmy, he was working his joke-joke material, funny but more standard-format riffs on weddings. Tonight was a very different show, albeit one I thoroughly enjoyed. Jimmy took us on a stroll through the city, introducing us to the denizens of Crazy Town in a casually-paced storyteller style. From the homeless guy who rebuked our agreed-upon social contract by begging up (You don’t have 43 cents? How about a dollar?) to the delightful assortment of humanity hanging out at the sketchy local gas station at 11:13 at night, when his PB & J jones got the better of him, it was an interesting tour. We met the mumbly guy in the corner complaining about the price of beer, the old woman in her pjs just holding a loaf of bread as the Alzheimer glaze spread across her face, the dude repeatedly scratching the same non-winning lottery tickets and being disappointed that none of them had magically turned into winners and, my personal favorite, the neglected girl with the handful of candy (that’s diabetes just waiting to happen!).

For his peers who tend to operate in a more traditional set-up/punch style, Jimmy can be hard to evaluate. They were listening for those laughter bursts that kinda’ follow one another like firework booms on the Fourth, and Jimmy received a few of them. Mostly, and maybe more appropriate to his style, the audience gave him a quieter but constant chuckle, a steady stream of laughs that showed they, too, knew that late-night stroll.

Tim Almeter's promise to self-immolate at the end of his set was newly spawned. He hadn’t planned a flaming finale. He asked Vos if there was anything he did or didn’t want him to do during the spot. Rich replied, “I don’t give a fuck if you set yourself on fire.” Tim shared the retort with the audience and promised, “So I’m gonna’ close with that.”  Alas, no alarms were sounded. Tim delivered a great set, and even gave Vos something to play with in return.
“I had cancer. Waaah! I’m following a cancer comic; I feel like I’m doing a fuckin’ fundraiser. Hey, I had a hernia 3 years ago, you don’t hear me bitchin’.”

I think if that exchange had happened last time I saw Vos, I might not have seen the wink behind it, I might have been tempted to interpret it as a bitch-slap to the young pup for taking a shot. But that’s not what was happening at all. Besides, 26 years sober can carry the same skewed weight as being a cancer comic. It can be lobbed casually into a crowd and played for sympathy. Or, in the hands of someone as skilled as Rich Vos, it can be mined for hard truths and used to produce instant laughter.

The topics bounce between casual commonalities and culture clashes: the costs of driving on the New Jersey turnpike (I went four exits, spent $8. You drive the whole length of the turnpike, at the end they take your car); the pointlessness of the Occupy movement (They have no demands. They weren’t protesting, they were camping.); the difficulties of gay interracial dating (Dad, I’m gay. Now sit down.); the void of service on planes (They took away pretzels? I didn’t care when they took the blankets – there was more DNA on them than under Gacey’s porch.); the bond between racism and anti-Semitism in America (We should combine forces. With our brains and money, and your strength and speed, no one could fuck with us.).

Vos is sharp, his random and extensive callbacks are phenomenal and his quickie lines are a thing of beauty. “’Know what I forgot to did?’ ‘Conjugate a verb? Pay for what’s in your hand? Stop having kids?’” “You look like a Roman nickel. You should be guarding a wall on Game of Thrones.” “Smoking three cigarettes a day is pointless. It’s like going to rape a girl, tearing off her clothes and then fingering her. You’re going to jail, you may as well fuck her.” “You look like an epileptic Marine cut your hair.” “’Do you have turkey burgers?’ ‘We used to.’ ‘Let me sit down, we’ll reminisce about the good ol’ days.’” If you had no understanding of tone or affect, if you couldn’t read body language, you could probably get really pissed off by Rich Vos.

And that’s the saving grace, that’s the best part. Between chewing madly on his Nicorette gum and that pre-show pacing, you can tell Rich’s creativity is fueled by anxiety, not anger; he generally wants to make you laugh, not piss you off. Every now and again, he’ll turn away or drop his head and laugh at himself, at the ridiculousness that just spilled from his lips, and the audience exhales with him, confident once more that he is, indeed, there for the joke. His material about his divorce, remarriage and three daughters is that balanced blend of pathos and punch line. His conversation with his 4-year old (It’s a house? No, it isn’t. It’s just scribble. That’s what you do, you’re a scribbler. Well, answer me this. Would you live in it?) is that thing that looks like reality, but is actually trompe l’oiel: deceiving to the eye or, in this case, the ear.

After the show Thursday night, Mark introduced me to Rich and asked if he’d chat with me a little, told him about the blog. Graciously, and at the expense of some downtime spent savoring one of those turkey burgers, he agreed. He started, though, with a question I’ve heard a number of times over the past year. “No offense, but what makes a person qualified to be a comedy critic?” He seemed genuinely curious, and I wasn’t offended at all. I told him of my passion for the art, my lifelong love affair with comedy; I mentioned that I’ve logged plenty of hours on stages over the years while acting, educating, motivating; I told him he could read the first entry in this blog if he was really interested; and I reassured him that I don’t think of this as critique. Reviewing what I see and sharing how I perceive it, I am trying to support the craft, educate an audience and do my small part to keep live comedy thriving. It was an acceptable answer. He was cool hearing my passion, and spent some time talking about the scene, about his upcoming projects (I can’t wait to see “Women Aren’t Funny”, a documentary he’s produced with wife Bonnie McFarlane), about the fact that he still gets so nervous before a show. He gave me a copy of “Still Empty Inside,” his third CD which you should pick up on iTunes – you will not be disappointed. And for some of my friends at earlier stages in your comedy career, take a look at his website ( This man has it together on so many levels.

His anxiety isn't just his handmaiden; it's his bitch.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Wow, I'm behind.

Rich Vos. Doug Stanhope. Eddie Griffin. Dubland. Rob's Playhouse with Dave Dyer. O'Comedy at O'Connells'.

I have been seeing an incredible amount of comedy in the past few months. There was a stretch there where I was at a live comedy show 17 nights out of 24, two of which involved two different venues and multiple comics. In my real life, my after school program kicked in, my spouse is home but we are separated, my side contracts are moving at hyperspeed and I am going so fast so often, that I have just not been writing anything that wasn't mandated or attached to a paycheck.

I am tired, people.


And yet, there's much to say about all of the acts mentioned above, and those who keep stepping onstage at The Comedy Club, Rob's, DubLand, The Space and other venues in this little corner of the world. I personally committed to telling you about them, trying to win you over, trying to get you to go spend your limited free time and money supporting something that literally can improve your physical and mental health. Laughter is an amazing tonic, a miracle elixir that soothes souls, warms hearts and builds bonds between people. Even if the jokes are dark, angry, or merely stupid, laughter is an essential ingredient in my happiness gumbo. I use it instead of okra - it's a texture thing.

Still, despite all the great comedy I've been seeing, I am tired.

I haven't been able to devote the time and care to this site that I mean to, that I want to, that I remain fully committed to.

So, I've taken a breather. It's almost over - I can see light ahead.

Tonight, I'll be seeing Tom Simmons at the club, and then, when I get home, I promise I'll sit down and write. I've started Rich Vos - I just want to do him justice, because the experience this time was so different than when he came to town at the beginning of the year. I'm excited to tell you about him. I'm excited to tell you that Doug Stanhope was so not what I expected that I am actually nervous about writing the review. I want you all to know that Rob's Playhouse is a good room for comedy and worth the trek to Buffalo. You need to know about O'Connell's, too, and not just because it's a great venue for an open mic. The food is awesome and the atmosphere is quite lovely. As a product of a dry house and a dry town, I think Dub Land could become the first bar I've ever enjoyed hanging at. And wait 'til I tell you how good Zack Johnson was mcing for Eddie Griffin, and how interesting it was to sit through Eddie back-to-back, as the champagne flowed and the room got rowdier.

I haven't been slacking on comedy. I've just not been sharing much. I've been spending more time in my real life and catching a few more hours' sleep, when I meant to be paying tribute to the jokes and jokesters that make it all a little easier to handle.

But, after tonight's show, I'll get back on track. I promise.

Hopefully, you will all still be here, reading and maybe even getting a little joy for yourself from my insights. If not, I hope you're out supporting live comedy in your community.

Talk to you in a bit.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

10/4/12 Marc Unger, Austin Lafond, Mike Gifaldi and Josh Potter

One of the greatest philosophers of my childhood, Charles M. Schultz, was able to use my favorite round-headed kid and his beagle to help me digest some very important concepts. I understood that unrequited love could ruin the taste of a good pb & j sandwich, that it was cool to have a rich fantasy life, that everyone had something to feel insecure about and that hope could always rise again, even in the most depressed of spirits. Charlie Brown was one depressed little guy. “Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask, 'Where have I gone wrong?' Then a voice says to me, "This is going to take more than one night.'" No matter how many nickels he put in Lucy’s tin can, there seemed to be no cure for what ailed him.

 Depression, like ADD and OCD, seems to be fairly common among stand up comics, although it’s still a chicken/egg question: Do depressed people use laughter to try to heal themselves, thus leaning toward comedy, or does the life of a road dog comic, with its hours of loneliness, constant travel, tight finances and interrupted intimacy, lead to depression? I have yet to hear a definitive answer. And on this Thursday night, it didn’t seem to matter. The whole room felt depressed. The audience was quietly eating, politely focused but not seemingly eager to laugh when Josh Potter took the stage to start the show. Austin Lafond delivered his set, but couldn’t get more than a chuckle or two from the group.

 Mike Gifaldi had a bit more success. As one of my favorite local comics, I watch him nearly every week at DubLand, and always enjoy a chance to see him at The Comedy Club. I like Mike because he’s sorta’ the opposite side of my coin. He’s all tattoos and metal, irony and darkness on the outside, and a generally nice guy on the inside. The thoughts he shares onstage are not for everyone, but tonight’s crowd seemed willing to go with him. He started by telling them he’s always nervous when he goes onstage, that “the voice in my head usually convinces me I'm going to be fine, which settles my nerves, but today I realized it’s the same voice that tells me I'm going to pull out in time.”  His jokes flow from the homeless dude who never begged from him to being bit by a feral child living in the local WalMart; from his “Charlie Brown with a drug problem” hair style to his actress girlfriend who said he never helped her become a star (I lit her on fire and shot her into space.). I enjoy guessing how Mike will go over in a particular room. Tonight, although the group initially seems unsure if laughter is even part of the program, they loosen up and laugh a little.

 Which is perfect, because the experience they’re about to have with Marc Unger is, for me, nothing short of spectacular.

Marc gets on the audience immediately: we don’t like anything, we were sitting at home, then we were clubbed over the head and suddenly found ourselves in an airplane hanger listening to Josh’s depression. In one fell swoop, he knocks the audience, the room and the MC, and I know I’m in for a fun night. First, we learn about Marc’s marriage to a beautiful 27-year-old special needs teacher (“My twelve-year-old autistic student tied his shoes for the first time today. How was your day?” “I watched six episodes of ‘Myth Busters.’”) and the issues that come up between two people looking at each other across two decades. “She’s 27, she loves sex. I’m 47. I love the History Channel." She steps out of the shower, glistening and ready for a romp; he’s glued to “American Pickers,” wondering if they’re going to buy the Shell Oil sign.  She wants kids, he thinks he hates them. The jokes are at once personal and universal.

Marc covers a lot of territory in this set. He leads us through drug legalization for seniors (If you make it to 65, all drugs should be legal. If you’ve raised kids and they leave you in a nursing home, every night should be Bingo and Blow night at Happy Acres.), the future of reality tv (Last Sad Guy Standing: get 8 really depressed people together in a house, each with a weapon, and America tries to text them into committing suicide) and the ignorance still alive in the good ol’ USA (You’ll never hear checkmate in Shreveport, but you might hear “I ain’t playin’ with those colored pieces.”) His political bits about Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and Anthony Scalia (so far right, he thinks Thomas is only 3/5 of a Judge) are smart and funny, without proselytizing. Some of the wittiest lines fly by so fast, I barely have time to scribble them in my notebook.

And yet, there is real depth to this material. “The way we get news, on our homepage, it’s all vomited together on the screen. We don’t know what’s important.” It IS both sad and funny that Snooki’s baby was #1 on Yahoo Trend, while a potentially planet-destroying asteroid was #5. It is a little abnormal that we can use the word friend to describe someone we’ve only met on Facebook (A friend helps you bury the hooker when you kinda’ fucked up, not send you a Star Trek quiz at 3 am.). Marc’s current show is great. Fortunately, you can find a good portion of it on his CD, “Dirty Truth,” available on iTunes, at amazonmp3 or in stores on December 6th. At, you can learn more about the other elements of his performance career: his acting and writing projects, his blog and radio show. 

Now, let’s get to the personal stuff, since it’s obvious to regular readers what I’m about to say.

I dig this guy.

 Marc Unger’s web site bio describes his humor as “fresh, edgy and brutally thoughtful,” and I can’t argue with that. It continues, “Armed with dynamic stage presence, his explosive rants … are not only powerfully funny, but provocative as well.” Again I agree, but for one thing. While his presence is certainly dynamic, I never felt like I was listening to an explosive rant, not in the way I’m used to. That description led me to believe I’d be hearing a delivery similar to Leary or Hicks, maybe even a Kinison rage. It could be that Marc toned it down a bit, given the somber beginnings of the evening. I should have asked when he graciously sat for awhile in the back booth and discussed his comedy with me; because I hadn’t prepared by doing any homework, I didn’t realize I’d feel this way until Friday, when I checked out his net presence.  Now it’s like I’ve somehow missed out on great opportunities because I didn’t know Marc Unger sooner. I would have gone to see his one-man show “Drinking Up the Pieces,” or any of the older ones (Nocturnal Emissions, Mindblanking). I would have watched the “Friends” and “Veep” episodes on which he appeared; actually, that’s one I can remedy, so I will watch those. How do I see “The Filchaks Take a Gamble,” which I’m sure I’d enjoy both as a new fan and as a fantasy football fanatic? I need more of Marc Unger.

“Drinking Up the Pieces” is about Marc’s two-year struggle with depression; he made a few references to depression throughout the show.  I have worked in and around the mental health community for years. I’ve had relatives, a spouse and close friends who have dealt with varying levels of depression, and went a few rounds with it myself over my lifetime. Talking to Marc one-on-one, I never got that feeling, that little drag that usually signals to me that I’m dealing with someone who’s dealing with something. He was funny, but not “on.” He was insightful. He was helpful. He struck me as an artist who knows himself, who has figured out several ways to express his understanding, and knows how to bring others along for the journey. The audience was grateful for that skill, and rewarded him with applause. I was grateful and hopefully can reward him by sending other people in search of his work.  

I took an entire week to write this review because I didn’t know how to start. Flipping back and forth through my notebook, Mike’s Charlie Brown reference kept drawing my eye. So I searched Charlie Brown and depression, and found a number of strips that spoke to me. Here’s the one I want to end on. “When you're depressed, it makes a lot of difference how you stand. The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because then you'll start to feel better. If you're going to get any joy out of being depressed, you've got to stand like this.” The drawing shows Charlie Brown slouching, shoulders dropped, head down. It’s the same position most of the audience started in on this particular Thursday night. But Marc Unger gave them a reason to lift their heads, straighten their shoulders and laugh.

"Laugh at yourself and at life. Not in the spirit of derision or whining self-pity, but as a remedy, a miracle drug, that will ease your pain, cure your depression, and help you to put in perspective that seemingly terrible defeat and worry with laughter at your predicaments, thus freeing your mind to think clearly toward the solution that is certain to come. Never take yourself too seriously." - Og Mandino, psychologist and essayist

Friday, October 5, 2012

9/27/12 Bobby Slayton, Dario Josef and Chet Wild

Dario and Chet both had short, but laugh-filled spots. Since I've said a lot about Dario lately, I'll say it was nice seeing Chet have an opportunity to do something other than host, even though he's a great MC. With most of his summer devoted to running the Funniest Person in Rochester contest, it was fun to hear him just tell jokes.

All too soon, it was time for the headliner, Bobby Slayton.

Twenty years ago, I laughed at a lot of Bobby's material. This night, not so much.

But many other people did, so - there's that.

I can't love 'em all, but that doesn't mean you can't love the ones I don't.

You can find plenty of Bobby Slayton on YouTube, at and a million other places. You can only find me here, so - there's that.


9/20/12 Dan Viola, Tim Almeter and Dewey Lovett

With a pretty full room for a Thursday night, Steve Burr MCing and Tim Almeter doing a spot, I was looking forward to seeing my friend Dan Viola headline.

We all know I sometimes have a hard time reviewing my friends, comics whom I know on a deeper level, comics with whom I’ve shared more than a show, and Dan is one of those people. We share that Tiny Glover connection, which never leaves my heart and has led me to some of the coolest people in my current sphere of influence. It’s an obvious bias with me that, if I like you as a person, I generally enjoy you more as a comic. If you’re an asshole, you better have damn good material – and, fortunately, many of you do! Dan is not an asshole; he’s a family man, a clean comic and someone I’ve enjoyed seeing come back to the stage.

Before I get to Dan, however, let me say that Tim Almeter is quickly becoming someone I’ll be writing about too often; in a world where so many variables have to come together to make a great show, Tim is X, the variable we’re always looking for. For a relative newcomer, he has a wealth of material that seems to hit more than miss. His fast delivery is an extension of his fast thinking, so he can change gears when a particular joke doesn’t seem to be connecting. He CAN change gears – he doesn’t always choose to. Trusting your own voice is an ongoing battle for any artist. I’ve said before that I admire Tim’s fearlessness; the stubbornness will prove to be an asset in a career that depends so much on opinion. That, and the fact that he cracks people up.

I also wanted to talk about Dewey Lovett, even though she did her guest sets on Saturday night. Apparently, I missed the most incredible show of the weekend, the Saturday early show, which all the comics agreed was amazing. I was a little surprised to hear that when I saw not one, but two bachelorette parties exiting the room. The second show was a little more laugh resistant. While sometimes the right move may be to ignore the crowd altogether and deliver your set as planned, Dewey used her improv experience to move through her bits and push the audience to react. In this, her petite frame and youthful voice were assets. No one could take offense when Dewey was sharing her glow bracelets with the heartbroken recently-single chick, or when she was questioning the short attention span men have while at the urinal. Her designated slut routine (He pulled me real close and said, “My pancakes come with sausage.” I was really thinking about breakfast, though, and said “I’m really more of a bacon girl.”) is a thing of beauty. I look forward to bringing you future tales of Dewey as she spends more time on The Comedy Club stage.

Now, on to Dan Viola.

Much of Dan’s material is centered on his family life, shared with a wife and seven children, and his experiences spending fifteen years as a public school teacher. His first big piece is about wishing he were bilingual, so he could have been more romantic on his wedding night. He runs through some lovely lines in the lilting sounds of Italian and French, then hits us with the “harsh, cacophonous and intimidating” sounds of German. His Deutschland Barney is a crowd-pleaser, and I admire anyone using the word cacophonous properly these days. Tonight there happened to be a girl from Germany in the audience, which was discovered only after Dan had goose-stepped his way across the stage. Everyone enjoyed the awkwardness as Dan and the girl exchanged a few sentences. He then quipped, “I asked, what’s for lunch? She said, I want to take over your country. So you’re a spy - I saw Captain America.”

He moves on to talk about his younger brother going back to college (Dual major in gynecology and jedi master – he’s going to be an ob/gyn kenobi) and does his bit about Acronym Based Content 101, or ABC1 for short. It’s the first of several fast-paced, dense jokes that require the listener to pay sharp attention, and it’s a style I really enjoy. Later, he’ll do bits about bathroom stall correction notes at Harvard and a fire-and-brimstone preacher teaching Biochemistry (Hallelujah, can I get an amino?) in the same speed-demon delivery. They all kill me.

Continuing on with jokes for local folks all about life in Hilton (at Prom time, all the good overalls are at the cleaner’s), a rant about today’s kids (even if you have smart kids, they have dumb friends) and their inability to get even the simplest order (black coffee! How do you screw that up?) right at Tim Horton’s, and he and his wife’s inability to get even the simplest concept (birth control! How do you screw that up?) right at home. He wraps up the show with his now-classic examination of Winnie-the-Pooh as seen through our current medication-fueled analysis (Owl is dyslexic and delusional. Eyeore? Depressed.) and earns a generous round of applause from the audience.

I try to  imagine what it must be like to be a student of Dan Viola’s; on this, and most nights he performs locally, I can get first-hand anecdotes from former students and team members as they stand in line, eager to shake his hand and share a memory or two. If you’re a fan of clean comedy, seek out one of Dan’s shows. He does a lot of fundraisers, so odds are you can enjoy a night of live comedy and help a great cause at the same time.

Next week, Bobby Slayton.

10/4/12 After Bedtime Addendum

While passing and receiving "attaboys" from the After Bedtime crew, I read the following post from Bryan J. Ball:  I got a great mention! Printing it and putting it on my happy wall!

At first, I thought that was just sarcastic ball-busting, as I hadn't mentioned him at all. Because his name was nowhere in my meticulous notes. And I had no recall of his being onstage.

So, let me fix this. Bryan J. Ball and Mikey Heller joined Kevin Ricotta in doing "Staff Revelations," one of my favorite pieces in the show because a) I know everyone they are talking about, b) even an audience of friends and family enjoy feeling like "insiders" and c) the jokes were hilarious. I stand by the fact that I took no actual notes during that bit because a) my lizard keychain light flashes like a mini-disco and wasn't a good choice in assisting my limited vision, b) I was so into what I was seeing/hearing that I couldn't drag my brain to the paper and c) it isn't only penis-based creatures who love Dewey Lovett.

So, my apologies to Bryan and Mikey. You'll learn more about them here in the future. Mikey won me over at an open mic night by referencing Othello and All About Steve in the same 6 minutes. In my brain, that's a great Saturday afternoon double feature. Again, guys, sorry for the miss.

And, Bryan, I hope there's still space on your happy wall.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

9/14/12 After Bedtime with Jimmy LeChase and Friends

Watching the birth of a creative endeavor can bring about all sorts of feelings in the observer, ranging from jealousy (wish I had thought of/was a part of that) to concern (it looks a little oxygen-deprived. is everything ok?) to utter delight (God, how beautiful! how precious!) or anywhere else on the current emotional map of the masses. I’ve felt all of those and more while watching friends debut their latest dance, sonnet, concerto or canvas. Sometimes I am so breathtakingly in awe of what I’m seeing that I forget for the moment that I, too, am an artist and have been through this process; I know that whatever pain it took to get that piece here will soon be forgotten in the sheer delight of its existence.
That’s a strange way to begin discussing the brainchild of a newlywed father of none, yet I feel the parallel is apt. Having a creative idea is not that novel – people have them every day by the dozens. There are incredible sketches, statues, stories and songs existing in the minds of your neighbors, your fellow travelers, every second, and I personally can’t wait for the day we can experience them telepathically. Until then, however, bringing the idea to fruition remains the responsibility of the artist; many of us struggle, not all of us succeed.

After Bedtime is a success story. Delivery complete, ten fingers, ten toes. Now all that’s left to do is raise this baby and abort this analogy.

Kevin Ricotta began the first show by warming up the audience and preparing us for what was to come. I love Kevin. He’s just got one of those soothing personalities that make you think everything’s ok if he’s on your side. While I admit that some of his jokes continue to puzzle me – I am the odd woman out when it comes to Charles Horses – his claim to the merchandising rights on “gravy boats and pool floats” cracked me up.

 It was obvious by his nervous energy that this project is important to Jimmy LeChase. When someone I’ve seen stand confidently in place and tell even underdeveloped jokes turns in circles, drops his head and delivers punch lines toward the wall, it’s because this show matters. But saying this was a live theater event that we’ll be embarrassed about tomorrow was completely off the mark. Cue cards and teleprompters exist, not just to help people remember lines, but to force them to look at the audience, the camera. I have no doubt Jimmy will grow more comfortable with his monologue with every new episode.

Vasia Ivanov and Mike Gifaldi’s debate to be Jimmy’s best friend was possibly the wittiest one I’ll see all year. Despite the passing of time, it’s still easy to make a bad Roman Polanski joke and, given the current kitten stranglehold on comedy, you never know who’s gonna’ go mad over mistreatment of the cuddly critters, but these two guys were hilarious. One being my favorite misanthropic curmudgeon and the other being someone I’d never seen until tonight, I really enjoyed this bit. By audience applause, Mike won.

When Austin Lafond, representative for sponsor Silent but Deadly, Inc., was introduced as Doctor Science, I giggled out loud at what I thought was a very clever throwback to Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater’s “Ask Doctor Science.” A comedy team from the mid ‘70s who brought sketch to NPR in the early ‘80s and were responsible for one of my true comedy heroes (Ian Shoales, the alter ego of Merle Kessler), their Doctor Science bits became popular enough to have a one-season run on Fox in 1987. I was delighted to think, for just a moment, that someone shared this reference. Turns out, Nate Clark just has a knack for the obvious when pressured to think up last-minute character names. Still, I’ll never think about Agent Orange, Strawberry, Chocolate and Bubble Gum the same way again.

Crowley was a great first guest, sharing stories about growing up in Alaska and dealing with drunk callers to the radio show. I think the audience felt a sense of pride when he pronounced, “the crowd is learn-ed” in response to one of his references. Jimmy seemed much more relaxed once he got behind the desk, which is what you want in a talk show host, right? Hand awareness, something many performers struggle with onstage, will come. I think many of the guys in this crew, enamored of or enslaved by their own beards, tend to put their hands on their face more frequently than they realize. No big deal when you’re practicing your Freud/pedophile look, but a hindrance when the camera is directly in front of you and the audience can’t control your volume.

 Rounding out the rest of the show, Rick Matthews was a good choice as the first stand up guest, and delivered accordingly; “Staff Revelations” was a great addition; Dewey Lovett’s Don’t Give a Fuck commercial (sorry, Dewey! I was enjoying you so much, I forgot to write the actual product name in my notes) was great; and I’m still a bit disappointed we never got to Nate Clark’s bit, although the costume was funny enough to make me hope it makes it to episode two.

 Of course, there will and should be a second episode, and many more after that until Jimmy’s ADD kicks in or everyone moves on to their own creative endeavors. After Bedtime is a good idea well-executed. I’m sorry I won’t make the second show (prior promise), but excited to know I’ll be able to catch it on YouTube. The rest of Rochester should hasten to The Space (1115 E. Main St, the Hungerford Bldg, door 2, floor 2) on Saturday, October 6th at 6:30 pm, and spend the best $5 of their weekend enjoying the growing pains of After Bedtime with Jimmy LeChase. Sorry, I meant to stop with the whole birth/baby thing, but I’m obviously ovulating for absolutely no reason at this point in my life and just couldn’t let it go.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

9/13/12 Ben Bailey, Tim Almeter and Dario Josef

I hadn’t yet rounded the final bend in the road that kept me from seeing The Comedy Club, but I worried. Summer was almost over, and things were starting to pick back up. Would this be the night? Would Ben Bailey, the comic, be a huge draw? Would Ben Bailey, host of tv’s “Cash Cab,” bring in a crowd?  I had my answer soon enough when I found myself parked on the far side of the pizza parlor next door. The lot was full, the tables were full; Ben Bailey was the man. A weekend of good shows and entertaining audience interactions solidified that impression.

I made a decision a few weeks ago not to talk about the MCs unless they were new to the role, new to the club, just to avoid becoming redundant. I’m deviating from that because I need to talk about Dario. I have seen Dario perform on six nights out of seven this week, and he is on fire. I’ve watched him take real risks, blending new jokes in with some tried and true material, and it’s paying off. The time he’s spending doing improv has made his crowd work quicker, less mainstream. His stage presence is more natural; his eyes are no longer on his feet. The transformation is a pleasure to watch and I find myself laughing every time.

Tim Almeter, like Dario, is also a local comic on the rise. Finishing third in this year’s Funniest Person in Rochester Contest, Tim takes the stage with an attitude of fearlessness. He assumes the audience will find him funny, and they do. He jumps right in to material that can be polarizing: talking about our differences. First up is the Indian woman on the train platform whose son said he wasn’t going to be a doctor, like some white person, to which she replied, “Shh. They’re right there.” Then on to a story about his coworker’s fear (Deer are afraid of white people. Black people are afraid of deer. White people are afraid of black people.) and the discovery of an anti-Semitic golf cart (Who’s on the golf course good-time hatin’ Jews?). Tim talks about things both common (speaking to your cat, wrinkling your girlfriend’s underwear) and curious (being “regal” at the bar) at a speed that occasionally requires you to play the joke back in your brain to make sure you caught it. Both these guys can be found easily on Facebook, or seen live at various open mics and Laugh Riot productions. It is well worth your time to seek them out.

Ben Bailey began by acknowledging the potential confusion that might result for people who had only ever seen him on “Cash Cab.”  He apologized for having hair, pointed out that tv isn’t real. “Know what else isn’t real? I’m not a cab driver.” He did a long riff on the guy down the road selling dirt and then proceeded to show us he’d done his homework on Rochester, noting that he was downtown earlier (just me, no one else. Tumbleweed, tumbleweed, government worker, one lone guy making Xerox copies) and checked out the Genesee (thought he’d found a beer river).

Ben’s show is packed with jokes. His rhythm seems to be premise, punch, punch, tag, tag, tag. He tries to see how far he can go without the joke weakening. Instead of that taffy-pull feeling where the humor gets stretched thinner the longer it goes, Ben’s jokes feel like they’re an incredibly long rope, endlessly uncoiling, until he gets bored and moves on to the next premise. He talks about things: traffic light countdowns, taking people to prison in the Oscar Mayer wiener mobile. He talks about places: the reaction of people in NYC when they see him in the cab (You’re going to be playing the Hudson River Challenge!), “I was down South, don’t go if you don’t have to.” He talks about people and how we talk: “Do what now?” It’s always Now now, stop specifying.” “I don’t understand all y’all. I thought y’all was already plural.” His bits on good ass toast and ordering multiple Guinesses were hilarious, as was the friend wanting to borrow a scissor to cut his pant into short. He also has a great bit about to-do lists: I woke up and looked at my to-do list. It said “all that stuff” on it. I thought I better get up. I got all that stuff to do and I don’t know what any of it is.

For myself and the other comedians who watched the shows with me, the most interesting parts of Ben Bailey’s weekend were his crowd interactions. On Thursday, there was the mini-fan club down front who brought him a Cash Cab drawing, “This is cute. Do you have jobs? If I were a gay man, this would be so important to me. You recruited a colleague? I thought you said collie.” And the drunk girl: “Don’t pretend you’re mad. You have such a crush on me. You’re like a little girl who pushes the boy off the swing because she likes him.” Friday was intense, as there was mounting conflict with a drunk guy who tried to be funny but just grew more annoying. Ben’s already fast pace picked up, his anger became apparent as he went back and forth with this guy. He reminded everyone that timing is part of the job, that he doesn’t just get up on stage and say random stuff, there’s work and an art to it. The audience was with him, and Mark had to go warn the guy that he was going to be escorted out if he didn’t stop immediately. Ben continued and, for a moment, I wasn’t sure he was as annoyed as he appeared to be. He smile/smirked a little as he tried to bring us back. Saturday had a mini-match with an audience member, as well.

I liked watching these near-collisions. No one truly seemed like they were gunning to screw up the show or mess with Ben Bailey – at 6’6’, he’s really not the kind of guy most people would test for the hell of it. The girls seemed a little star struck and the guys just seemed to have had too much to drink and no way to turn themselves off. Watching Ben stop one step short of losing it made the already fun show just a bit more enjoyable. In the final moments, I heard this: “If we’ve learned anything here tonight, it’s that you can’t learn anything at a comedy show.” Great line, but I don’t agree. I learn things at comedy shows all the time. This weekend, I learned how much I enjoy watching hecklers and comics collide just a little. I learned that Ben Bailey can get people into a comedy club. And I learned that I really enjoy premise, punch, punch, tag, tag, tag.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

9/6/12 Greg Warren and Austin Lafond

Austin has waited semi-patiently for this review. I keep telling him, I’ll get it done tomorrow, I’ll have it up tonight. He’s anxious, not because he doesn’t know what I think of him both as a person and as a comic, but because he knows our opinions vary widely on what constitutes a good set. I felt Austin did his job – he delivered the set he wanted, his way. He reworked his hacked street sign joke and it went well. He also added a new bit I’d only heard once before at an open mic, about hating to tell people he lived in New York. They always think, sky scrapers, traffic. “Then I have to remind them. Upstate New York – tears and suicide.” It gets a decent laugh, and will probably stick around for awhile.

Some of his regular killers just don’t connect with tonight’s crowd, and he experiences his usual post-show angst. I worry a little – I’d hate to see him suffering stress-induced ailments before he even graduates from high school. At the same time, I admire his seriousness. If I had focused that intently on my writing at that age, you might be reading this blog between chapters of my latest book, while waiting for my podcast to download. More experienced comics give him time and advice, and he applies it all. I just want him to remember that it’s supposed to be fun for him, too.

Listening to Greg Warren is a lot like sitting around the living room on New Year’s Eve, early evening, before the drinking is really underway, and laughing as your favorite uncle tells all the classics. His language is generally clean, his version of every incident is the funniest ever and nobody’s getting mad about any of it. No one’s sitting there, arms folded, face of stone. You’re all laughing, at each other, at yourselves, and at how ridiculously, humorously normal it is to have this much fun with family.

At least, that’s what I imagine as I sit here in the booth, laughing as Greg recites his dad’s many exploits: the way he “escapes” restaurants (We got out of there for $12!), the way he would distract his kids by sending them to look for arrowheads (I spent 15 years looking, never found one. There are only 4 and they’re all in a museum.), his role as Greg’s wrestling coach and the political attack ads he and Greg’s mom lob at each other over fixing anything in the house (Colleen Warren wants terrorists to invade this house.). With a relaxed pace and that storyteller’s gift for voices, Greg makes even the quickest encounter seem like a tale worthy of Shirazad.

There’s poor Shannon, the checkout girl who mistakenly comments on his 2 am oreo purchase (Shut your whore mouth, Shannon. A crack dealer doesn’t say “ooh, looks like someone needs crack.” No, ‘cause a crack dealer knows a customer when he sees one.). The little old men at the gym who love to warn him about the dangers of an untied shoelace. His queer girlfriends, laughin’ and lesbianin’ while he gets hit on at the gay bar. The disapproving contractor who always wants to kill the last guy who passed that shoddy handiwork off as professional. The three very different cabbies – in Saint Louis, Nantucket and Brooklyn – who each have plenty of advice to give and, thanks to Greg, the perfect, annoying voice in which to give it.

The two sweetest bits of this weekend are the one-star people and Huey Baker.

One-star people are everywhere. He’s encountered them in a four-star hotel, sharing the pool with their basset hound or hanging out in the fitness room, kids eating peanut butter & crayon sandwiches while dad works out in his jeans. He knows when one-star people begin a statement with “I’m just sayin’,” he’s about to hear a really ignorant comment. For more on this particular subculture, check out Greg’s current CD, One Star Wonder, available on itunes or on his website, You can also check out the hilarious song/video, “One Star People,” on YouTube.

When they think of Greg Warren, many people think of his Huey Baker bit. Huey was a black guy (still is) that Greg knew in school, a friend who gave him the nickname “Flute Man.” Never mind that the instrument he played was a clarinet, Huey was always down for a flute joke. “Hup 2 3 4, What the hell we fightin’ for, Flute Man!” “Where’s your flute, Greg?” “Know who Greg’s favorite football player is? Doug Flutie. Know his second favorite? Brian Picolo.” As the proud owner of a faded, unopened box of Flutie Flakes and a big fan of “Brian’s Song,” I almost bit my tongue trying not to overlaugh. That joke would be funny to me no matter who was telling it. But add Greg Warren’s distinctive Huey voice, and I am helplessly holding my sides.

Greg Warren is a nice change of pace for me. His humor is homespun, but not hokey, and he makes it all seem so effortless. Sitting at the bar before the show, you’d barely notice you were talkin’ about the game on the screen before you with the night’s headliner. There’s something real and comfortable and almost nondescript about this guy, until he takes the stage and the voices start coming out of him. Then, you just want to sit back and laugh at Uncle Greg.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

8/23/12 Paul Hooper, Julian Kross, Austin Lafond and Pam Werts

“Unless a man or woman has experienced the darkness of the soul, he or she can know nothing of that transforming laughter, without which no hint of the ultimate reality of the opposites can be faintly intuited.” Helen Luke, a strong Jungian and a lovely little old lady in her own right, in an essay titled “The Laughter at the Heart of Things,” talked about the vital importance of a sense of humor on the spiritual road to freedom and joy. It makes sense that a student of Jung would embrace integrating dark and light, things most of us see as opposites. In a nutshell, and not to bore you to death with my college psychology recall, Jung was a proponent of individuation, the joining together of opposites like the conscious and unconscious to become a whole being, while still maintaining the essence of each, their relative autonomy. He believed it to be holistically healing, and that those of us who achieve this state tend to be “harmonious, mature and responsible.”

I say all this not to impress you with my vast knowledge of useless information, but to share with you that, while the lightness is what I try to exude in my daily interactions with people, the darkness within is what allows the light to exist. And I love darkness, both in the natural state of a new moon night, and the psychological states of anger, fear and melancholy. Dark humor makes me laugh. Dark chocolate makes me swoon. The woman who has repeatedly referenced Pollyanna throughout these blogs adores well-written and masterfully-delivered rape and Holocaust jokes, lines that make me laugh and find myself a bit repugnant at the same time. I think that’s human, it feels right to me. So you shouldn’t be surprised that I love the weird, dark intensity that is Paul Hooper.

Paul is not the darkest comic I can think of, but he sure walks the same unlit alleys. After the raving I did last week about Carl LaBove bringing light to his village, it might seem a little discordant that I will rave equally for a comic who seems at the opposite end of the spectrum. I say, nay. These two men engage different parts of my brain, tickle different spots on my funny bone, delight me in ways that collectively leave me holistically healed.

First, though, let’s take a quick look at the other comics on stage this weekend. Pam Werts is handling the MC position and working in a medley of her “greatest hits” in preparation for the semi-finals of the Funniest Person in Rochester Contest. Her fans are hearing her classics – the commercials she feels are a testament to the dumbing down of America, her mother’s experiences with pot and at the Ob/Gyn – and laughing accordingly. While she’s still relatively new to hosting, she knows how to engage people and isn’t afraid to tell them exactly what she expects from them as an audience.

Austin Lafond is in the booth simply to watch, when he is asked to do a 5-minute set Thursday, late Friday and Saturday. Austin’s working in new jokes, as well as new segues and filler. His “not being PC” bit (My teacher didn’t like that I used the word midget. I guess the politically correct term was Asian.) and camp jokes stand out as dark enough to be a complement to Julian and Paul, despite coming from this squeaky-clean, cherubic face. I love his contrast, and everyone is impressed by his confidence. For me, watching Austin is a pleasure every time.

Julian Kross is a good friend of Paul’s who came down for Friday night’s shows. I know I usually only review Thursday, but Julian is worth writing about. He begins by helping us wrap our brains around the dichotomy of his look versus his accent. (My father lost his hopes and dreams in northeast London, and thought the first place he should look for them was in a trailer park in rural North Carolina.) He tells us bullies were stronger when he was a child, how it only took 7 8-year-olds kicking him over a weekend to beat down the influence of a 5000 year British monarchy, and replace it with an accent carved from 300 years of brown eggs, corn liquor and racism. He goes on to discuss his children, the ex-wife he completely forgot about and the art of truly fighting in a relationship. He breaks down the very strange dumb shit his mother says to him, especially her opinion on chicken and dog fighting versus baby fighting. He closes by explaining why female teachers who have sex with their male students should actually be part of the Make A Wish Foundation. Julian’s delivery is more than a little angry, but you get lulled in by the accent that lilts even as it spits and sputters. Check out his web site (, look for his book “What You Didn’t Expect When You Got Knocked Up” on Amazon or iTunes, find him on Facebook and get to know this comedian, writer, asshole – and really funny guy.

Now, let’s go back to Paul Hooper. He starts by telling us he’s a surly turd and claims it’s because his father left when he was three, and we are about to pay the price. That’s something you’ll remember long after the show ends, because he goes back to it ten or more times in the next hour to perfect comic effect. For the first twenty minutes or so, you learn why Paul will never have one of those “World’s Greatest Father” mugs from which to imbibe his coffee. When fuck stick is a synonym for child, when pumpkin-headed berserker is almost a term of endearment, there are probably no ties and cheap cologne in your Father’s Day future. “If you have eight kids, you’re never going to Australia – you’re going to Walmart.” A great rant about the Duggers and an acknowledgement that kids are faulty little droids brings us to this moment: I’m an only child, I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this.

The next big chunk begins with Paul just blurting out, “I think I was molested,” then proceeding to tell the audience a story of 6-year-old butt bumping, flustered stepfather intervention and learning that Santa doesn’t exist. It’s a great bit, and highlights the way he scaffolds his set. Each new idea somehow builds on an earlier one, making the overall impression of the show seamless. I would guess that’s a positive influence of his OCD. His rapid ranting and quick-draw pauses make you feel obligated to keep up and delighted to discover you can. Fourteen years in the business has taught him how to bring an audience along, like a comedy personal trainer who pushes you to go a little harder each time.

Paul’s set goes on with the atrocities he may or may not have committed while he was a suicidal alcoholic – did he or did he not set a cat on fire? He can’t remember; the owner could be lying. He knows if he drinks again, he’ll be like Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven”, only instead of attacking people for killing his best friend, he’ll take out anyone who talks about Tim Tebow. He shares the difficulty of crossing the border with a DUI on his record, while Tim Allen’s former drug trafficking hasn’t stopped him from playing theaters all over Canada. His Roman Polanski comparison (Which is worse, statutory rape or bad Santa movies? I don’t know, but, either way, a child shouldn’t be surprised like that.) lost a few people, but made me spit water all over myself. His line about Birmingham, Alabama, where the only thing harder to get than an abortion is sarcasm, is one I hope to tattoo inside my brain.

Because of how fast this man thinks, talks, I’ve only gotten through maybe a third of Thursday night’s set. I’ll speed it up a little by going all Barry Sobel on you and just sharing some of my favorite punch lines. “Don’t leave me stranded on a couch with an afghan and my inner turmoil.” “He’s an intense and uncomfortable person. Play with that.” “How far back are we going with these elixirs? Is this the War of 1812?” “My retirement dream is to drive cross-country in a convertible with my duck, listening to NPR.” “It isn’t all mouth spreaders and ass play with me.” “I finally want to fuck her and there’s an assassin guarding her vagina.” There is so much more. Go to and watch his bits about the Oklahoma moron girl, the NYC brothers who don’t work well together. Friend him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter to learn when the podcast, The Dreaded Hour, will be ready for consumption.

I guess by now you can tell I adore this guy. I have such a personal and passionate reaction to some comics, that it’s hard to keep even a hint of a professional voice in this blog some weeks. I’m not going to try any more. I’m just going to gush when it feels right. If you don’t like it, you should probably follow me, commenting every week on what I write. Remember to focus more on my strengths, quote my great lines, and be as encouraging as possible, maybe even gentle and Pollyanna-like. I think that’s how I learn best.

Next week, I am having my birthday dinner with an old friend on Thursday, so I will miss a showcase at The Club. Instead, I will regale you with tales from the Chet Wild Comedy Showcases Friday night, especially the Cringefest, for which I rescheduled my visit home. And I hope to pull together a piece called “Laugh Lines,” where I’ll just share with you my favorite jokes from the last six months of live shows I’ve attended.

Thanks for staying with me through whatever last month was. Thanks for getting that I do truly believe in the vital importance of a sense of humor on the spiritual road to freedom and joy. Thanks for promoting live comedy wherever and however you can. Thanks for making one girl’s giggle feel meaningful and shared. I truly dig laughing with you people.

Friday, August 24, 2012

8/16 Carl LaBove and Brian Herberger

Outlaws of Comedy. Sam Kinison. Friendship. Paternity. Support. Lien. Fucked up mess.

There. I got that out of the way for you, so you can focus on what’s important for the next few moments. Carl Labove is so much more than just THAT story, than just that guy’s friend. Carl Labove is an exciting, exquisite teller of tales and comic in his own right, and that’s what I want you to think about during this review.

First, let me mention that Brian Herberger had one of the strongest sets I’ve ever seen him deliver at The Comedy Club this weekend, and it was delightful to see the audience’s temperature and his pause rate meld together into something perfectly timed and well-received. Congrats, Brian.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the man who made me laugh out loud more times this weekend than I have altogether in the past month. Carl started out with a little priming of the small but eager audience by telling us he’s tired of crowds. He likes this intimate approach, he’s not into laughter like some comedians. If half of us are just staring at him, it’ll be fine. Naturally, everyone is now ready to go wherever he chooses to take us. And what a ride it is.

From his sphincter muscle tension during the puddle jumper trip to get here, to the breakfast line of air-conditioned stroke zombies at the hotel, every small moment of daily living becomes a shared chuckle, an embarrassing anecdote or an aberrant whopper to be hung over the mantle and marveled at en mass. There are few simple observations – they all seem to be integral parts of a bigger exchange. The sound effects, the pratfalls, the contortions and conniptions involving his every physical part make this show more than a comedy set. This is living theater.

While each of Carl’s five shows were different, either in content or organization, they all were filled with funny. This night, he takes us through stories about his $900 asthmatic Devon Rex kitten, an unplanned acid trip at 18 that led to his encounter with a talking vagina, getting a job on the water truck at the construction site, bull riding at Mickey Gilley’s place and his mother’s religious conversion. Along the way are lots of shared tidbits that seem like words of advice from a funny uncle. This is paraphrased, as I was listening and laughing too hard to write it verbatim. Ladies, if you’re on a date and you need to put an end to unwanted sexual tension, use your straw. Gag on it (simulated sucking and choking). Then say, oh, this straw is so huge! The next words out of his mouth will be, “Check, please.” Retold on Friday and Saturday, Carl uses the neck of his Corona bottle to the same laugh-inducing effect. Also a standout is his explanation of organized religion: it’s like Amway. The product is good, but I don’t want to hang out with the salesmen.

Carl keeps the audience included in the stories through comments like, “That’s the loneliest clap I’ve ever heard.” “I wrote that joke for one clap, but I bet it’ll be getting 15 by Saturday.” “This must be what a stripper feels like when there’s only one guy left in the club.” I’ll never get that dance out of my brain.

The bit that I connected with most strongly is the tale of his mother and her religious conversion. The description of her Christian Tourettes – random shouts of “Jesus Christ” or “Hallelujah” – is a little more animated than my own mother’s relationship with the Lord, but that one crying confession – “I wish you were going to Heaven!” – hit home. I’d been on the receiving end of that line many times throughout my years. I felt even more nostalgic when he shared his trick of faking his way through the hymns to shift the ever-present eye of Christian judgment to some other stranger in the chapel that day. When Carl belted out “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” I was both warmed by his beautiful voice and transported back to my church choir Sundays at Chestnut Grove. A bit that can evoke mirth and memory at the same time is a gift.

I guess there’s no hiding how much I adore Carl Labove. Every show was mesmerizing. I recorded an overwrought video note on my way home Friday night: in your review, say something about how in another time, on nights of angry skies filled with lightning, Carl would be the distracting voice around the fire, soothing children and reminding the elders of past storms weathered, bringing light of a more permanent kind to the darkness. He would be able to wear the mask of tragedy, but not without pulling it aside to wink at those who watched, to remind us that we can turn any story into a comedy, if we choose.

Many people tell stories, few people tell them so well, so completely, as Carl Labove. Another of my comedy heroes, Tom Rhodes, describes Carl to me as one of his favorite human beings on the planet, and I couldn't agree more. Check out for one of the coolest web site designs I’ve seen in a while. You can get info on his upcoming projects, including a possible movie of his personal story and a future book of his twisted tales. Support him live any chance you get, because he’s simply amazing.

On a personal note, I wrote in my Mid-year report that I have not found much joy with comedy recently. I told you that I shared that with my comedy angel, never expecting a reply – I talk to the dead often, they talk back only rarely. Apparently, Tiny just needed enough time to finish his holy set and make a few phone calls. I got the message, the reminder that my comic view has always had more than one channel, has always been bigger than the space I inhabit. There will always be friends willing to pass the punch lines and I need never feel lost simply because my comics are spread around this world or another.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Laugh Riot: A Bromance of Comic Proportions

You’ve read several reviews over the past few months that included Dario Josef either hosting or doing guest spots at The Comedy Club; what I want to tell you about now is his biggest project, Laugh Riot Comedy, and his comedy life partner, Kevin Ricotta. These two guys are making the scene funny all over the greater Rochester area in bars, in theater spaces, even on a boat!

Dario and Kevin are very different comics whose styles are a direct reflection of where they are in life. Dario has that new puppy energy, eagerness to please and willingness to learn new tricks. Kevin, on the other hand, has the married guy stability thing working for him, and a calmer nature. The two of them balance each other in good and interesting ways. Together, they are creating comedy rooms all over town that provide workshop opportunities and practice space for their fellow up-and-comers. I haven’t been to all of them, but I can tell you about the three I’ve checked out so far.

The first was, I think, a Sunday night at the Brickwood Grill on Monroe Avenue. The room is a little removed from the bar, but still fairly open, and the 13 of us (6 comics, 4 friends and family, 3 random bar patrons, if I counted correctly) were able to sit down to see and hear the whole show. Kevin and Dario led the pack, which I know included Marcus Cox and maybe Brian Edwards, but I can’t remember who else and I can’t find my notes right now. What I do remember is that it seemed like a night to build on.

The second time was on the Mary Jemmison cruise on the Genesee. Dario and Kevin both did stand up, while the Geva and Search Engine Improv groups performed various games for a mixed-age crowd. The show was an experiment that should continue. With a better sound system, and a guaranteed time for enjoying the beautifully distracting view, I would love for them to try this again.

Most recently, I’ve spent a few Tuesday nights at Dub Land Underground. The spot is tough: the speakers are set up 5 feet from the bar, there’s no cover charge so anyone who just wants to sit at the bar and talk can easily derail the comedy. Still, each of the past two weeks, I’ve seen at least 9 or 10 of my local faves standing at the mic and throwing out their newest, strangest or soon-to-be-retired lines to anyone who is listening. There’s a certain looseness that suits these guys and their styles, but there’s also a lot of distraction, a lot of uncontrollable factors. It’s been an interesting experience, especially this week when Katie Wood and Strawberry Shortcake nearly threw down in a comedy catfight. I can’t deny, however, that it’s fun to sit there and listen to some pretty dark comedy in a pretty dark room with some pretty funny comics.

Laugh Riot is an example of what’s good in the local scene. If you can’t find a stage, make one. If there aren’t enough places to perform, create your own shows. Kevin and Dario have the right idea, the right chemistry and the right initiative. What they need now is more of the right audience. What they need is support, help to grow. I’m on board. What about you? Find either guy or Laugh Riot Comedy on Facebook and get them on your calendar now.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

8/9/12 Joel Lindley, Chet Wild, Jordan Hernandez and Rick Matthews

It was a bonus night at The Comedy Club, with four performers slated to take the stage. Rick Matthews got things rolling admirably with his marriage and fatherhood material, quickies (Women can multi-task. I can’t even task.) and weight loss bits. My favorite remains his whole discussion around big guys getting nicknames, usually from their cute female friend who says they’re just like a big teddy bear who makes them feel safe. “Just because we can’t see our dicks doesn’t mean we no longer want to use them.” His turning the tables, wanting to curl up on those big bean-bag girls, gets me every time I hear it. Rick’s coming along as an MC, and will be performing in the semi-finals of the Funniest Person in Rochester contest.

Jordan Hernandez looks like he should be in a boy band, but can certainly hold an audience’s attention when he’s telling jokes. It seemed roughly 80% of the room had come to support him while he discussed not knowing how to pick up girls (who needs a GTO when they’ve got a GPA?), using song lyrics as pick up lines and being able to do jokes about Hispanics because he’s half Puerto Rican and therefore at least partially PC. Kudos for also bringing back the word “super duper” without being a bubblegum popping, pig-tailed tween or Big Gay Al.

Chet Wild worked the crowd with his usual flair, taking them through his grandma’s birthday card, missing kidney and social media bits with energy and ease. It’s no secret that Chet is one of my local favorites; he delivers more consistently than any other comic I’ve seen in the past year and he believes in putting in the hard work to better his act.

Finally, it was time for our headliner.

I made things a bit awkward with Joel Lindley by asking him, while sharing the judges’ booth during the quarterfinals of the contest, whether or not he had seem the review I did of his February show with Jim Norton. He said no. I told him he would not enjoy it, as I had not really found him funny. That led to a Q & A session about what it was exactly that I hadn’t cared for, after which I assured him I try to be in the moment for each show and review only what I’m actually seeing. I promised I would be listening with fresh ears this time.

As I explained in my Marianne Sierk review, if I don’t find myself enjoying a show, I always want to know why. I try to analyze every aspect, from physical presence and word choice to persona and delivery, attempting to pinpoint exactly what it is that isn’t reaching me. I listened with the intention of identifying those lines that did make me laugh, and I was successful.

Here are just a few: Jesus being a carpenter – not necessarily the sort you’d expect would go to trade school; Once you go white, you’ll be very pleased with your decision; I’m ready to meet a nice girl, settle down and then start cheating on her. I also really dug the two math-related questions: What’s 2A + 2B? ABBA? What’s pi r squared? Pop Tart? There were a few more sprinkled throughout the set. I also like the closer about going to a gun shop and messing with the salesperson.

There remain pieces of Joel’s routine that I still don’t find funny. The audience piece where he applies the bouncer voice to their real-life profession really doesn’t amuse me, but I can’t tell if it’s because the bit isn’t clever or if the voice is so overly annoying.

One thing hasn’t changed since February. The audience still loves Joel Lindley. He’s still professional, polished and popular. Joel is still everything a comic of his stature should be, and I can appreciate that. This time around, I even found reasons to laugh. Follow Joel at the usual places, Twitter and Facebook.

Next up, some words about Laugh Riot Productions.