Thursday, September 27, 2007

Lebron James, the closest I've had to a basketball hero (I've been a fan of The Cleve' teams since birth, long story), will be hosting the premiere of the 32nd season of Saturday Night Live....uh, tomorrow. Fellow Roc-A-Fella family member Kanye West is the musical guest.

I suspect that Peyton Manning's successful hosting spot during last season will open the floodgates of athletes that think they can be funny on the small screen. The recent Jon Runyan commercials are a perfect example. Runyan must have been thinking as he watched Manning during the Super Bowl, "hey, I'm 6' 7" 330 pound right tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, I block for guys like Manning, why can't I be in a few commercials?" And why not, I suppose.

For Lebron its all part of his plan to become the first billionaire athlete. He has to be able to do everything, even comedy. But is he really funny? Let's review a few clips:

A wig is not always funny and this whole performance isn't either. But this illustrates how athletes always get the benefit of the doubt. If the guy makes a living hitting a small ball with a stick over 400 feet, almost ANYTHING besides that will be seen as funny. Also, we already like most athletes because if they are popular they are usually performing at the highest level in their sport. When they hit the stage you already have a history with them and anything beyond the dunking he usually does is gravy. Even if it's just wearing Hammer pants and singing out of key.

I've got to give him credit for his one, dunking a baby on national television is sort of gutsy (which isn't saying much for the rest of television, sure). Especially only a month after his girlfriend gave birth to his second child. He drew a lot of heat for this and he probably knew it would, but he did it anyways.

Ok, this whole thing sucks. And it's definitely not his fault. Did someone actually get paid to write and animate this? Bill Simmons wasn't a part of this, was he? I hope not. Horrible. But again, it plays off the "athletes not playing sports? OMG that's craaaazy! LOL!!!" aspect.

I've got to admit, Lebron is hilarious in his "The Lebrons" Nike commercials. A+ in my book. Can't wait for more, and there will be more. Greg Oden's injury guarantees this (agh, low blow, sorry).

So how's Lebron going to do on SNL? Loren Michaels, creator and executive producer of the show thinks he's going to be fine. In this phone interview, Michael talks about how athletes work well on the show because "they're used to being in front of a large group of people and not knowing how it's going to turn out" and because they are generally fearless. He'll be ok. The writers are good enough to make him funny and the others on stage wil always be there if he screws up. The cast has been solid the last few years, actually, and there haven't been enough stories about how the show is back.

Perhaps I'll live-blog the show if I don't have anything going on on a Saturday night. So yes, I will most likely be live-blogging the show.

SIDENOTE: Long gone are the late 80s when an athlete like Joe Montana or Wayne Gretzky would make a cameo and basically just grin the whole time. Sometimes they would only come out for one sketch and it was unexpected so the crowd would go nuts: "OMG, I'm in the same room as a Super Bowl champion quarterback! I watch him every Sunday!" All they had was smile, smile, smile until the applause died down, deliver their one line very awkwardly and smile some more. I kind of miss those days, really.

This week: Jimmy Pardo live

If you're sick of comedians talking about relationships and porn, you really should check out Jimmy Pardo. Well, maybe he talks about that stuff, but chances are he'll also spend time making fun of you too. His CD, Pompous Clown, released earlier this year on A Special Thing Records, consists almost entirely of him talking to the audience. Somewhere in between asking everyone's name and hoping it's Jerry, he said something about pot pies and...that's all I can really remember of actual "material". I know it doesn't sound funny to have your act start with asking people how old they are, but trust me, it works.

The man is still something of a mystery to me, no matter how much I read about him on this here internet superhighway. Does he have actual material? How could he ever become a successful comedian if he didn't? This performance on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson leads me to believe he does, as well as his half-hour special he had on Comedy Central. So why just the improv? How does he do it?

When he's not on stage, he's got a great podcast by the name of Never Not Funny, which is just that. Pardo seems like a guy that is just naturally hilarious, no matter what the situation. Sometimes those guys turn out to be comedians and sometimes they just make their friends crack up at the bar.

Anyhow, Jimmy is performing at the Helium Comedy Club through Saturday and you should go check him out. He's definitely an unique talent and who knows when he'll be around again. Hopefully he won't come with a lot of written material.

[You can watch more Jimmy Pardo videos here]

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

EPI. 1B: Anton Shuford on Student Loans

Here's more from Anton Shuford's set at the Helium Comedy Club a few weeks ago.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

And You Thought Kanye Vs. 50 was intense

Today was a big day for audio recordings of comedic acts, better known as CDs. With only one powerhouse label, Comedy Central Records, able to put resources into distribution and marketing of new stand-up material, this can be a rarity. This isn't to say that there aren't other record labels trying (A Special Thing and recently Sub Pop come to mind), but that's for another post. Needless to say, gone are the days when cool cats would stand around on a Saturday night smoking cigarettes and listening to the latest Lenny Bruce record between Miles Davis and John Coltrane albums.

Today (or rather yesterday by the time you read this) new albums by Mike Birbiglia (BTW, Mike Birbiglia is skinny and hilarious!) and Steven Wright were released. The two comics couldn't be any more different.

Mike Birbiglia seems to be the comic-of-the-moment since Dane Cook decided to take on the movies and World Series commercials. His audience-conscious and self-deprecating style seem like they would work well with any crowd. He takes it to the point that his acoustic guitar recap song at the end of the album seems to be only there to help the listener remember the funny parts that they will unfunnily recount to their friends later. On this album, My Secret Public Journal Live, Birbiglia uses the concept of the secret public journal to tell more stories than the straight "bits" of his last album. He pretty much always hits his remark no matter who he's making fun of and how much he goes off on a tangent. And when he uses a bit from his last CD, the rapist with that kind of mattress joke, he gets an even bigger laugh than last time. It doesn't seem like anything can go wrong for Mr. Birbigabugula.

Steven Wright, on the other hand, has not quite been in the spotlight lately. His last album, I Have a Pony was released in 1985. Practically a whole generation will only recognize him as the guy that slept on the couch in Half Baked. His style is far from storytelling and more like caustic, dry, cerebral one-liners. Often I find myself not actually laughing at his jokes, but wondering how he came up with such a concept. Other times I laugh and don't know why. Maybe one of the reasons why there's been such a gap between albums is that it would take a long time to test out these jokes until they were right. Imagine working on a bit over and over in clubs for months until it got the laugh right where you wanted it. Your hard work may eventually pay off with a few minutes of solid material that you can use. Now imagine that you did all that for about four seconds of material. Not to mention that perhaps a joke will only work after another joke. And also, what if a joke bombs? You'd have to dig yourself out of the silence with the next joke and your rhythm could be off. It's craziness.

There's more to this than just a shared date though. According to a Dead Frog interview from February '06, Steven Wright is Mike Birbiglia's favorite comedian. Birbiglia saw him when he was 16 and basically attributes Wright as the reason that he got into comedy in the first place:

When I was 16, my brother Joe took me to see Steven Wright live at the Cape Cod Melody Tent for my birthday. It was the first live comedy show I'd ever seen. When you're 16 you can have experiences that you're not completely self-reflective about. You can have experiences where, literally, your world is changed. You can't do that anymore. I think you reach a certain age where, Alright I know what's going on right now. I understand a chemical reaction in my brain is occurring.

So I had this kind of transcendental experience, of Oh my God, this is what I have to do. This is what I'm going to do. As a child, you have anxiety about what you're going to do with your life. I joke about it in my act, but I always had a lot of anxiety about what I was going to do. For a while I thought I was going to be a rapper. And for a while I thought I was going to be a teacher. Or a poet. Or this or that. But I wasn't sure. And then I saw Steven Wright; this is exactly what I want to do. There couldn't be a more precise thing that encapsulates what I spend my spare time doing.

So I went home and probably for two or three years, wrote Steven Wright jokes. I think everybody goes through a stage where you're doing somebody else. I was writing jokes that he could pull off but I probably never could.

So Bigbiglia tried the style of his childhood idol, but eventually grew into his own voice and the storytelling style that he uses today. This is yet another testament to the unique craft of Wright. Mitch Hedberg had success with the one-liners, but it was nothing like Wright. Others will try but won't be able to pull it off.

So who wins in the end? I'm not sure. Birbiglia's album is instantly hilarious and successful while Wright's doesn't really grab you at first. I'm thinking that it's more of a "grower" like a good rock record can sometimes be. My Secret Public Journal Live will probably outsell I Still Have A Pony, but I hope Steven Wright doesn't decide to quit the game because of it.

And all of this does not mention the dark horse of 9/25. Michael Ian Black, of Stella and The State, released his standup debut I Am A Wonderful Man on Comedy Central records. Why must Comedy Central compete with itself? More on that album next week.

Anton Shuford

Hello! Welcome! Mazel Tov! Comic Vs. Audience is a new blog about comedy, specifically comedy in the city of Brotherly Love, the city I love, Philadelphia.

Occasionally I'll be posting videos on local comedians and national comedians that come to town. There will also be news, album reviews, standup bits from the past maybe you haven't heard before and links! Yes, I will link to other websites on here! Aren't you excited?

Please bare with me as this whole "blogging" thing is new to me. I read in the recent issue of Ye Olde Publishing (still only half a pence after all of these years, but unfortunately it has shrunk down to one single 3" x 5" page) that this is what the kids are into nowadays and I figured it was time to throw my hat into the ring. My hilarious hat into the ring, that is!

Ok, that's enough. The first installment is on Philadelphia-based comedian Anton Shuford. He performed at the Helium Comedy Club last Wednesday and did about 30 minutes. The very next night, he opened for NYC mega-comic Patrice O'Neal. Not too bad of a week for Anton.

I'll post more from Anton's set later in the week.