Saturday, July 21, 2012

Brian Dunkleman and Marcus Cox

One of my favorite movies of my early years was “Some Kind of Wonderful.” Falling for someone outside your own social group seemed to be a universal experience, one that your best friend who secretly loved you said would end in utter rejection. Most of us kept those crushes to ourselves, accepting the hierarchy and sticking with the status quo. Every now and then, though, the stars would align or someone popular up top would need to teach someone else a lesson, and the working class soon-to-be hero would get a shot. You put yourself out there, supported by the rest of the underdog pack who hoped for your success. All but your best friend, who wasn’t sure what to hope for. Your night with Amanda Jones was interesting, and everyone learned a little something about themselves and each other. Still, in the end, that pairing was, well, off. In the end, as it was meant to be, Watts was the one on which to hang your future.

I was happy for Watts because I always loved the underdog. For years, I bought into the conventional wisdom that Brian Dunkleman was the American Idol underdog, a poor schmuck who let the big one get away, who came in a distant, forgotten second in the prom king contest of 2002. Since his own public discourse has changed from time to time (I was glad I left, I was going to be let go, I shouldn’t have left, it was the right thing, it was the wrong thing), I stopped giving it any thought. I also stopped watching American Idol, and couldn’t possibly have cared less about Ryan Seacrest, his career, his sexuality, his anything. It had never made sense to me why these two were co-hosts in the first place. One was clearly a comic, one was clearly a spokesperson. The show itself wanted to spotlight the competitors, and that required someone who could interview the kids, highlight the corporate sponsors and take us to commercial break. If there’s no place for original observation, improv or mockery, why hire a comic?

And Brian Dunkleman, truly, is a comic, funny and gifted, amazing with voices and really far too entertaining to simply introduce other people.

Before I get to Brian’s performance, however, let me tell you about the set Marcus had. Recent surgery for skin cancer left him with a bandaged ear and some new jokes. Apparently, the doctor who did the surgery reattached the skin too tight and made his ears a little uneven, which begs the question, “How badly does this dude suck at Mr. Potato Head?” From Dalmatian puppies who are born without spots, to the arrest of a 97-year-old Nazi at Bennigan’s, Marcus worked in quite a bit of new material. It’s odd for me, someone so focused on the words, to not recall or note the actual lines because I’m a little bedazzled by the show, but that’s what happened. I was excited about his delivery. Marcus is getting smoother, his beats between jokes, his transitions, everything seems more confident, more certain. When he asked if anyone else was doing the online dating thing and no one responded, “I’m the only one who’s lonesome – awesome!” burst from his lips without slowing his movement into the next set-up. It was a good night for Marcus.

And then Brian Dunkleman took the stage, saying, “How about a hand for the kid from the Breakfast Club, all grown up. I bought a computer cord from that kid today.” The audience laughed and then we settled back to see what was going to happen.

The Dunkleman show is surprisingly fun. The self-deprecating lines run the gamut from light-hearted (I get winded running a bath; I tore my rotator cuff playing Guitar Hero) to near-tragic (getting second billing in his obituary to William Hung). There’s plenty of Idol chatter, with jokes about Simon and Ryan’s sexuality, the laughter he sometimes incurs from people who think he threw away a multi-million dollar shot, and the unearned vehemence of Seacrest fans who seem to take Brian’s emotions as a personal affront (yes, that’s you, Cunty Cunt Cunt). And maybe those are the jokes people show up to see, maybe that’s material he can’t put down until the audience does. But it isn’t even his funniest stuff.

Brian is at his best when he’s talking about relatable things: being married to a feisty woman, choosing a non-rescue dog and possibly giving birth to very swarthy, hobbit-sized children. His advice for keeping a relationship together – the only way to win is not to play – is smart. His take on parents who give their children ridiculous names (Apple Martin – that’s only one syllable away from apple martini) is contemporary and witty. And his bit about not doing any more sit-ups, but still doing crunches (Nestles, Captain, Cinnamon Toast) is accompanied by the most adorable eye twinkle-nose wrinkle combination this side of a Christmas elf.

I have that elf image in my head because, Friday night, Brian broke into some unplanned voice work that brought the room to its knees. He referred to an older member of the audience as Burl Ives and then began singing, “Silver and Gold.” Soon, we were hearing Rudolph, Hermie, Yukon and Charlie-in-a-Box and another side of Brian Dunkleman emerged. The man’s voices are spot-on, and the story he launched into about how his friends used his talent to get laid in high school was priceless. I was laughing so hard, both impressed by and simply grateful for that bit of foolishness.

The other part of Brian’s set I admired were his one-liners. “Don’t you hate it when someone’s into you just for your brains? Fuckin’ zombies!” When he made comments about the wait staff and the audience jumped in – “Her name is Candace.” “Her name is Rachel.” – Brian quickly responded, “What is this, Webster, the Waitress Protection Program?” Having Chet Wild in the room Friday gave Brian a chance to play with a comedian friend, to open up and just let go. His mind is quick, his humor is mostly light, even if the subject is a little dark. The American Idol stuff still seems to carry a little heat, but I blame the rest of us for keeping that going. Go to and check out his work. Don’t skip the acting reel – it’s a bit of a revelation. And in the shorts column, “The Horror” is a must! You can also follow him on Twitter.

Look, I have nothing against Ryan Seacrest. Ten years after Idol, though, I can honestly say Brian Dunkleman is more interesting to me as a performer than almost anything else associated with that show. I admit, I love Simon’s directness, his smugness. It amuses me. But it doesn’t make me laugh like Dunkleman. And in the end, though a night with Amanda Jones is amusing, I still want the winner to be Watts.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Joe DeRosa and Adam Lowitt

While guest spots are fairly regular at The Comedy Club, it’s a rare treat when we have the traditional MC/feature/headliner arrangement onstage. Steve Burr welcomed and wooed the audience on Thursday, and Ralph Tetta led the way for the rest of the weekend. As you’ve read about them here many times before, I’m simply going to say they both handled the responsibilities with their usual funny flair, and move on.

Adam Lowitt describes himself as “a less muscular, Jewy version of Vin Diesel,” or “Stanley Tucci after a couple of days on the Appalachian Trail,” both of which are plausible. I’m starting with a physical description because a Google Image search in thumbnail mode made me initially think there was more than one Adam Lowitt out there. The facial scruff and glasses, the curly receded hairline pic in the “Jewish World” newsletter, the action shot from a college bulletin, all look like different guys, until you blow them up and see the same dark eyes and subtle smile in each one. It sticks with me because Adam does a joke comparing himself to an M. Night Shyamalan film: People think I’m a nice guy, and I am. For a while. It takes about an hour and a half of hanging out with me before people say, “Oh I get it. He’s been a dick the whole time!” If he is, he does a great job of hiding it.

Adam’s a story teller of the best kind. His topics are relatable – having a cell phone stolen, going on bad dates and trying to find similar-minded people to do things with. The pace is slow enough to let you absorb a lot of punch lines, but fast enough that you don’t lose the narrative. And among those punch lines are some real sparklers: at 32, my friends all do couch-based shenanigans; we prefer the term optically persistent; even before I sent it, my cell phone said, “Really?” I’m not teasing you this way because I’ve had Barry Sobel in my head all week. You should go to and hear the complete bits, or find some of his older material on YouTube.

I will give you a little more of two of my favorites. The first is not only a good joke, but unintentionally topical. He’s talking about a friend who wants to desperately be involved with someone. His friend says, “Sometimes I see these girls in the streets, I start having these passion attacks." I was like, “Wow, did you just try to redefine the word ‘rape’? I don’t think we’re allowed to do that.” Given the flurry of activity generated over Daniel Tosh vs Heckler Blogger, this is a great example of why I personally think there are no forbidden realms of discussion in comedy. I emphasize that this is my belief. Don’t waste time in your head getting upset – you’ll miss the rest of this review and I haven’t even told you about the pleasure of seeing Joe DeRosa for the first time. Stay with me.

The second bit is probably funny to .000000002% of the population at large, but cracked me up. Adam tells the story of playing in a celebrity ping pong tournament against Will Shortz. I know who that is; I am laughing alone. He explains to the audience that Will Shortz is the editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle, not the first person who comes to mind when you think of celebrities. He taunts Will: I’ve got a five letter word for what I’m gonna’ do to you. I’m gonna’ pummel you. Will fires back: That’s a 6 letter word. Let’s go. Adam loses 11-0. To us, he makes a call back: I got passion attacked out there. Good joke and geek appeal.

When introducing Adam, I didn’t lead with the usual “Emmy-winning Senior Producer of The Daily Show,” because, as much as I am impressed by that (I love you, Lizz Winstead!), it isn’t relevant. Adam Lowitt, stand up, is a very funny guy. Check him out.

Joe DeRosa is another very funny guy, with plenty of cool credits: regular on Opie and Anthony; short filmmaker on his own and in collaboration with Bill Burr and Robert Kelly; coauthor with those two of the book “Cheat”, coming in October; his own Comedy Central half-hour. I didn’t check out any of those things before the show. I thought I would walk in blind, like many regular folks who just come to the club for a night out with no real attachment to what they will see. It’s not always an easy thing for me to do, as my head, hard drive and bookshelf are all constantly full of comedy. The only point of reference I had for Joe was that he was a guest on Robert Kelly’s podcast, which I mentioned a few weeks ago.

Joe DeRosa has a unique type of confidence about him. The energy is right at the intersection of “I know who I am” and “Don’t you wish you knew me,” which seems like a strangely balanced place for a comic. Many come off two steps short of the first, or waaaayyyyy into the second. I had a feeling I was going to enjoy this show.

He started Thursday with a bit that reminded me of Dario Josef’s airplane girl joke (she says the stuff the rest of us are thinking), because not 10 minutes before the show started, I found myself arguing with another comic about the Tosh scenario. I love comedy for many reasons, one of which is that I am pro-communication. The more we can truly talk, honestly express our thoughts to one another, the better we can be as a collective. I have very rarely been offended by a joke in my life, and I have always been a fan of comedy with a conscience, material that forces people to think, to talk, to debate. I myself am fairly blunt when it comes to language, although I’ve learned the social grace of diplomacy and tact through the years. So, having said all that, here’s a paraphrase of how Joe DeRosa opened his show Thursday night.

A lot of comics have been getting in trouble lately. Daniel Tosh. Tracy Morgan. I’m so glad I’m not famous; I can still say whatever I want. I think of comedy as an art form, but I know there are people out there who have no idea what comedy is, they see one comedian and they think that’s what comedy is. Then they see someone else and get offended. We don’t do that with music. We don’t see Slayer, think that’s music, then go to the orchestra and get pissed off.

I was hooked. Joe DeRosa is my airplane girl.

Joe’s topics, like Adam’s, are the stuff of everyday life: nurses and health care, the difficulties of dating, the experience of shopping at IKEA. He talks about having moved back home with his mother for two months while she was recovering post-surgery (the sexual tension was so high you could cut it with a shitty misdirection joke). He uses the example of his 98-year-old grandmother to point out that God doesn’t always get it right, that sometimes wonderful people die too young and spiteful, passive-aggressive jerks get to stick around way too long. He reminds us that it gets harder to make friends as we age, that people are expendable when we are kids (You don’t like my Nintendo game? You are dead to me.), but that we become much less discerning as adults (My neighbor is an asshole – I think he beats his wife. But he’s the only guy I know who drinks. If I drink alone, I’m an alcoholic, so….).

He sprinkles his set with smart references – Malcolm X’s bamboozled speech, “there’s the rub”, looking for an apartment and going into his own “Glengarry Glen Ross” Mamet-speak about “man tits, Thailand, prostitutes, close.” He talks about the word cunt in a voice reminiscent of Judy Holliday channeling James Cagney. “I ain’t no broad, mister. I’m a lady, see?” His almost-closer, the Jesus blooper reel, had the audience roaring. His voice work is excellent and, without seeing any of his short films, I have a sense I’m going to enjoy him equally as an actor. The closing bit, the ballad of Bailey Jay and Buck Angel, is so well-written and delivered that you forget that you’re listening to a straight guy talk about which transgendered partner he’d most like to get busy with if forced to choose. With perfect timing and one conjunction – …or… – he brings us to the end, having earned a lot of laughter and applause along the way.

You can find Joe all over the internet. Start at, and make sure you check out his reel. Prefer a podcast? You can link directly to “Uninformedradio” with Bill Burr. Then, maybe jump to YouTube’s “The Warner Sound” channel for one of his web series, “What Are We Waiting For?” Since the written word is still my favorite medium, I’m certain I’ll pick up the book in October.

Rochester, it’s Saturday night. Aren’t you tired of standing around, fighting festival crowds? Come to The Comedy Club. Grab a seat, order a drink and enjoy a great night of comedy. And don’t forget the Funniest Person In Rochester 2012 contest continues tomorrow night, with shows at 6 and 8:30.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jamie Lissow, Katie Lane and Pam Werts

Josh Potter gets smoother, more relaxed, every time I see him, and this week his handling of the MC duties was perfect.

Katie Lane from Buffalo did the first guest spot of the evening. The tour she led us on included the homeless people sleeping in her $600 Craig’s List crackhead Beamer, the billboard reminder for men to “take time to be a dad today,” and the guy she’s currently seeing. Well, not seeing; he’s a one night stand that just won’t stop texting her. She says she’s no longer marketable now that she’s been spayed, but I believe funny, cute blonds with tied tubes will always be in demand.

Speaking of in demand, the second special guest of the evening was Pam Werts, who continues to improve every time she takes the stage. Pam was working some new material into her set – though Nascar itself is a fairly ordinary topic (always with the left hand turns), the interesting sights we’d see on the car cam if she were losing control in the middle of a race was a novel approach. Pam will be competing in this year’s Funniest Person in Rochester contest and I‘m looking forward to what she chooses as her best five minutes.

Two female guest spots is a rare happening at The Comedy Club, which Jamie Lissow acknowledged from his opening line, “Wow! The tits and then the jokes – I was not expecting that.” I don’t have a great segue into the next paragraph, but I liked that line so much, I didn’t want to leave it out.

Because we have the fortune of knowing Jamie as hometown hero and Wease show fixture, I think we sometimes fail to acknowledge how funny he is. We are a little jaded, the way I get when friends from other states tell me they can’t wait to bring their kids to the Strong Museum of Play and check out the National Toy Hall of Fame. I pause, blink a few times, and wonder why they’re so excited to enroll their child in the Future Wegmans Customer Training Derby (although any store currently being called the Anti-Walmart deserves my undying loyalty). I easily forget how much fun it was to find myself on Sesame Street that first time, using the giant magnet letters to spell out a love message to my future husband. When something is so close, so seemingly accessible, it’s easy to lose your appreciation for it. I think Jamie inherently understands this concept.

Spend a night at The Comedy Club watching him headline, though, and you quickly remember just how lucky we are to have him here. Armed with excellent timing and great physical awareness, he turns ordinary thoughts and common cliches (The Chinese put a woman in space. That’s a good place for her to be driving.) into sharp observations that always feel in-the-moment. His go-to audience work tends to hover around college – who went where, what was your major? He’s got a great list of lines ready to go in whatever direction the crowd leads: A history major? That’s the only major where you can be done. We’re up to today, let’s go drink until there’s more. His bit about performing in Alabama and asking about college feels like a classic, something I could be reciting to friends now the way I used to repeat Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” Well, you know, only friends who already know what a comedy geek I am. It’s probably not material.

Jamie runs the gamut from topical humor to everyday annoyances, but when he talks about his home life, his marriage and being a father, he is truly in his element. He’s still selling a little sense of wonder when he reminds the audience that they can actually make a person. He can’t make a desk, but he can make a little guy who runs around his house. The jokes come fast, and in no time we go from his son’s car bed and his unwanted Michael’s shopping trip, to times when wearing a wedding ring can be inconvenient. We relate the entire way. The other really fun element of Jamie, for me, is his seemingly endless supply of quickies: “The Civil War is a misnomer.” “People say they read the Bible every day. Finish it. It’s not that long.”

I could go on and on here, but why read my rewriting of great material when you can hear it for yourself? Go to and see what he’s up to. Buy “12 Drink Minimum” on iTunes. If you’re lucky, maybe you can score a copy of “Words,” an older cd that truly lets Jamie’s wit shine. Then follow him on Twitter – he’d appreciate it. And see him live, whenever, wherever you can. I know it’s hard to appreciate a treasure that sits in your back yard – Buffalo folks, visit the Falls much? – but don’t let proximity cause you to miss out. Jamie Lissow is an excellent comedian; the fact that he’s also a native son should only make you smile more.