Sunday, January 27, 2013

Earl David Reed

I have not been here for awhile.

I have not been able to go to the club, watch a show and then come home and immediately share the experience. There have been requirements and distractions for weeks and I have been challenged to keep my commitment to you, to these comics, to Comedy herself. I needed a jump start, a palate cleanser.

I needed tonight’s show.

I knew far too little about Earl David Reed, but I adore Tim Almeter and Anna Phillips, both of whom would be taking the stage on this Saturday night. We got to The Club a few moments after the start and squeezed into the first booth as Tim was telling one of my favorite jokes. It’s the one about the black friend from the group home who is afraid of deer – check the September Ben Bailey review for the awesome punch line. The room was filled with people who came to laugh, and they did, with and for Tim, for his whole set.

My last few comedy encounters with Tim have all been open mics, so it was a blast to be reminded how polished he is, how easily he takes that stage and transforms from young friend to professional comedian. Later tonight, Tim will insist that he’s giving it up, that he can’t do it if he can’t start making money. The truth of that situation is that he hasn’t positioned himself to, yet. While I remain convinced that Tim is the real deal, and will do well once he dives in, he struggles with his pro and con list, and I respect his struggle.

Tim brings Anna Phillips to the stage with the introduction, “This is one of the funniest people I know,” and he is not just spouting host hyperbole. We both love this woman, for her quick, dry wit and her unassuming nature, her ability to move an audience and her genuineness. Tonight’s audience seems to agree with us; they are roaring for Anna. I marvel in her vulnerability as she talks about going home for family gatherings and hearing their reactions to her weight gain; I dig her serial killer routine (Any serial killer who wanted to cut me up would need to make a lot of trips to the car. Dexter would need a two-part episode…You all deserve to die, and when I get that gastric bypass…for now, the only cereal I’m killin’ are these Honeycombs.); I laugh out loud every time I hear her “balls to the face” bit. Anna, like Tim, tried to convince me she was taking a break a short while ago; and Anna, like Tim, should not walk away from comedy ever.

Tonight is just what I needed. Tim and Anna have me and this room full of strangers laughing loudly, ready to openly engage with the man formerly known in these parts as Brother Earl. And five minutes into the show, I realize how much he scares me and how glad I am to be in the back of the room.
Earl David Reed is an exciting comic, a lightning-in-a-bottle comic. He takes crowd work to a place most can never hope to go, and the room rushes along with him like second graders in a Field Day race. Starting with simple questions we’re all capable of answering – What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do? – Earl builds his 50 minutes around the audience, and they love it. Tom loves being hung like a Tic Tac; his wife giggles knowingly when Earl says she has fresh breath. The guy who says he’s from Webster (oh, so you’re from here? Obviously. Obviously? You’re not from this room….) postures for just a second, then surrenders immediately. Travis’ future wife is thrilled to let him be the punch line (When you get a name like Travis, they gotta’ give you a truck.). Matt, the engineer, is almost bursting when Earl tells him he looks tired “from working on the railroad all the live-long day.”  A second later, he’s saying exactly what’s in my head: your wife named Dinah? Someone in the kitchen with her? I won’t say “will she blow?” The audience was howling from start to finish. I have seen very few rooms this engaged, this joyful to be part of the show.

Once I realized that what I was watching was not just the way Earl warms up a crowd, but his act itself, I had to switch processing gears. And it was a simple shift, because I recognized what was unfolding onstage. If you take a look back to July, you’ll find my first-ever review of Mike Dambra, a friend and comic whose photo makes me smile and whose act left me dazzled by its brilliance. I said this: “His written jokes…are delivered in and around audience play, which makes them appear more improvised than they really are. It’s what Robin Williams said he was doing in his stand up days: he wrote a lot of material that flowed so well with the stuff he was making up on the spot, the audience thought it was all improv. That style is a lot of work, no matter how easy Mike makes it seem.”

And here was Earl David Reed, with that similar gift, wrapping his jokes around the shoulders of whoever showed up tonight ready to play. I was at once impressed by his skill, and scared that he might eventually work his way to the back of the room. It’s a weird thing with me and, like most PTSD issues, one that I can trace back to a specific incident or two, but I absolutely hate to be engaged by a comic during his/her show. I watch differently than the average audience member. I’m listening to the jokes, but I’m also analyzing the audience response, the body language, the use of silence, the energy in the room, the wordplay, whether or not I’m laughing out loud. I once unintentionally derailed a friend’s bit because I couldn’t name a woman when she called on me. I was so busy admiring her body awareness that I couldn’t shift in real time, and the only thing I could utter was “Jesus Christ!”

I shared that with Earl between shows, that I enjoyed and admired his skill but was so grateful not to have been a part of it. He pointed out to me that he wasn’t asking for real engagement or deep thought; he was asking simple questions that anyone could answer, and then just riffing on whatever he’s given. He’s not making fun of his audience, he’s playing alongside them, sharing his toys. I see that, but it doesn’t alleviate my anxiety, and I’m grateful I was on the back wall. But I’m equally grateful I got to see Earl in action. He is truly talented, and a joy to watch.

I realize that I related to Earl on two other important levels. The first is his joke joke material: Time out was what my mother used to take when she needed a rest from beatin’ the shit out of us. Remarrying someone you previously divorced is like drinking sour milk, then putting it back in the refrigerator for the next day. These Civil War re-enactors asked if I wanted to hang out with them. I know my history, too. I told ‘em to call me when they get to the Motown years.

The second is the fact that he now lives about 20 minutes from my childhood, and for the first time in years, someone recognized the name of my hometown and didn’t smirk, giggle or roll their eyes. Anyone who knows Dillsburg and doesn’t immediately start in with the pickle jokes is a potential friend for life. I will make it a point to learn more about Earl David Reed, and so should you. You can follow him on twitter at @earldavidreed, check out his website,, and pick up a dvd or a tshirt. Earl gives at least half of the proceeds to breast cancer awareness projects, so you can help others while helping yourself to some serious funny.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Woody, Woody and Me

I fell in love with Woody Allen as a young girl, trying to survive the desolate Pennsylvania winters by reading things no one else in my peer group found interesting. Lying next to the heat vents after being dragged out of giant snow drifts by my very tall father, I wanted nothing more than to be warm, dry and somewhere else. Being nine, there was no option for my escape that didn’t involve words on a page; fortunately, that has and will always be my favorite form of travel, anyway. So I found this book called “Without Feathers” and felt super smart because I knew it was a reference to Emily Dickinson. I started reading these strangely funny short pieces, realizing quickly that I wasn’t understanding half the pages I was turning, but still laughing out loud every now and again.
It was “The Whore of Mensa” that won my heart. Yes, at that age, I was aware of MENSA, having spent hours in my aunt’s beauty shop rummaging through back issues of Reader’s Digest so I could take every condensed IQ and MENSA sampler quiz they published. I was kind of aware of whores, but less as a career concept and more as something boys called girls who liked fooling around. The idea of a woman’s mental companionship being valued equally as her tits and ass just rocked my little girl world. I think I really believed, premenstruation, that I might one day meet guys who would fall in love with me because I was smart and extremely well-read. Sigh!

This single book was my introduction to Woody Allen, and I enjoyed his writing without ever looking deeper. It wasn’t until college that my dear friend Jonathan Manitsky introduced me to Woody as a stand up comic and as a movie auteur. Jon’s greatest gift was his ability to retell, in the most charming Brooklyn accent I’d ever heard, the story of the moose (And there's a law in New York state against driving with a conscious moose on your fender Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.) It was laugh-out-loud funny to me, and never failed to pick me up when college was beating me down. But just listening second-hand wasn’t enough for Jonathan. He needed me to really know Woody, and wanted to be the one to finally introduce us. So I saw Love and Death, Sleeper, Bananas, Take the Money and Run, Manhattan, Annie Hall, Zelig and more. I became a fan.

Tuesday night, I found myself loaning my prized box set, Getting Even/Without Feathers/Side Effects, to another Woody.

Woody Battaglia hasn’t been doing stand up for very long. As a matter of fact, I think I may have witnessed his 64th performance this week at Acanthus open mic. Woody’s jokes are often about unusual things: like the way the Cold War might have been an entirely different event if Stalin hadn’t had to do his own laundry; tales of Citizen Kat, spelled with a K because Orsen Welles didn’t care about the soft C; bending his sex partner over the Scrabble board, so her rack bounces against the tile rack. I love these jokes: the Scrabble one, because the version of the game I invented in high school involved double-entendre answers that served as geek girl foreplay; the Orsen Welles references resonate because I, too, grew up with those horrible Paul Mason commercials (we will sell no wine before its time); and, finally, the Stalin starch adventure, because it reminds me of Woody Allen’s “The Metterling Lists”, the first piece in Getting Even.

Woody B is well-loved here in the Rochester comedy scene. He has encouragement for everyone who takes the mic, he’s fearless in his own right. His laugh makes every joke sound like a winner. While I am not certain stand-up is the right vehicle for his humor, I remain convinced he’s one funny, funny man. And so, Tuesday night, I placed my treasured books on a table in front of him and encouraged him to read. I’m hoping he is inspired and turns the Stalin bit into an essay. Maybe fleshes out the Orson Welles reference into something longer, quirkier, about Citizen Kat.

In the meantime, you and I are lucky! Woody and his friends have completed the first episode of “The LETTERHEADS”, a mocku-podcast from a creative writing group who strive to spread wisdom about the writing process to their listeners. You can download episode one free on iTunes, and look for future episodes every fourth Thursday. If, like me, you have any love for radio shows – I can’t imagine my life without the 12 original episodes of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy– you will appreciate this little gem. Download it. Give it a listen. You’ll hear Woody as Manny and you will probably note, as I do, the warmth and laughter in his voice that can’t be hidden, even when playing the awkward, not-so-effective leader of this little band.

So Tuesday night was a great moment for me. I was able to share an old love – Woody A – with a new friend – Woody B – and now, it’s just a matter of time.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Back in the Groove

The holidays were overwhelming, full of work and family obligations at a level I haven't experienced for a number of  years. The extra contract came with a big December event. The holidays required multiple visits to in-laws and an extra "yes" or two that I didn't really want to give. Still, it was mine to manage, and I did so poorly. I caught whooping cough, which laid me up for a bit, and I had a tidal wave of emotional scenarios to ride out. All in all, I'm happy to say I was even able to watch live comedy through the past two months.

Now I have pages and pages of notes, and no blogs to show for them.

There were some really great shows that I will be sharing with you: Rachel Feinstein, Orlando Jones, Brian Posehn and Bob DiBuono were here. Locally, there are new open mics and scripted productions and, coming all too soon, a farewell show that will leave me sadly optimistic for one of my closest comedy friends. So much I need to write about, and yet I can't seem to get back into the swing of it.

So, here's the deal. I'm just going to start tonight and write one review per day until I get caught up, until these scribbled pages, napkins and index cards lead to something I can share with you here at the giggle.

I will always, always tell you to go to The Comedy Club and watch live comedy. Yes, I know I can sit on my couch and watch the tv, my dvds, YouTube feeds, my laptop, and I can hear jokes that way. But a live comedy experience is about more than just the jokes. There is an exchange between audience and performer, there is a contract that is upheld or annihilated. There is a unique entity that exists for a very brief moment in any live show, and your presence makes you part of it.

I am approaching the one-year anniversary of this blog, and some of the comics are beginning to come through The Club again. If you didn't catch them before, but found something in a review intriguing, come see them this time. If the show is different, if something catches me unaware, I'll write another review. Rich Vos was certainly a different experience the second time. Pat Dixon's show was made otherly by a change in venue that brought out a different crowd. Those are things I think about, and will share with you if they seem worth your time.

It's no small feat to keep a club of any kind open for 5 years, given the current finances of the average American. Mark Ippolito puts his heart and soul into The Comedy Club and I am grateful, so very grateful, that he does, because it is the place where I laugh most publicly and most consistently. It is the place where I meet the Paul Hoopers and the Carl Laboves of the world. It's the place where I see Keith Alberstadt on the same night he's appearing on Letterman. It's the place I watched a room full of people burst into both laughter and tears together while watching my friend Tiny one final time. So go to and check out the upcoming schedule. Me? I'm looking forward to Dave Foley and Esther Ku, neither of whom I've seen live. There are two seasons of Kids in the Hall on my dvd shelf, and we all know how I feel about funny females. In addition, the returning favorites list is enough to make my head spin. Godfrey! Theo Von! And Brian Dunkleman! Throw in a road trip to see Paul Hooper and the phrase "March Madness" finally has some meaning for me.

And then One Girl's Giggle is going to expand.

While The Comedy Club will always hold my heart, I believe the only way we're going to sustain a real, thriving comedy scene in Rochester is if we educate and grow an audience. The media-soaked masses we have become are great for some forms of entertainment, and deathly for others. So, here in my own little corner, I'm going to offer more. There will be more reviews of local up and comers, more open mics and specialty projects. I'm going to tell you about Woody's podcast and Mikey's Goo Yard, share more on Jimmy's After Bedtime show and Pam's Comedy with Curves. I'm going to tell you about a documentary that I am supporting and a cd release party in February for another of my comic friends. I will review some projects you may not have heard about by pulling a dvd, book or cd off my personal shelves. Finally, I may toss a few of my own essays in here. It seems only fair to give others a chance to review my sense of humor, too. And, as always, I welcome reader comments and guest reviewers.

So, while it's been a tough couple of months, there's much to look forward to. There's more to write, more to praise, more to support.

More reasons to laugh, to groan, to snort, chuckle or guffaw.

But, mostly, more reasons to giggle.

See you tomorrow.