With Apologies to The Hobbit: The Highs and Lows of Nerd Humor | John Wenzel
The multi-million dollar media blitz heralding the new Hobbit movie has likely made you unbelievably sick of hearing about it, so allow me to take a different path. Namely, one that deflates the movie’s violent, Biblical self-importance while at the same time embracing the gentle nuances and details of its beloved source material.
In other words: nerd humor. I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of nerd humor, anyway. And I don’t mean comedy for the general nerd population, or humor for people who are nerds about comedy. I mean comedy that laser-sights a specific target and blasts away at it from point blank range, splattering the source material in a way that only superfans can truly appreciate.
I’m talking about the Harvard Lampoon’s classic Bored of the Rings, which was reprinted last year to capitalize on the release of the first of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit adaptations. It was the book’s “sort-of-fortieth anniversary” (as press materials called it) and a fine excuse to dust off the adventures of Frito Bugger, Spam Gangree, Moxie and Pepsi Dingleberry. And who could forget the incorrigible Gimlet, son of Groin? That cut-up.
If those names mean anything to you, congratulations. You’ve either one of the millions who have watched the Lord of the Rings movies at least once, or you’re a J.R.R. Tolkien diehard in the process of adjusting your Elven undergarments. For the latter, actually sitting down and reading Bored of the Rings involves an impressive level of mental commitment — one born of the memorization and blind worship that is the hallmark of true nerd-dom.
The Rolling Beer Bottle: A Comic’s Material and the Immaterial | Matthew Love
My laminate blinds Tig Notaro. From the spiral staircase at the back of the Théatre Sainte-Catherine, a guy calmly, repeatedly says something incomprehensible about feces. A water bottle rolls across the stage. Each of these moments during Notaro’s Boyish Girl Interrupted at JFL this summer led to comic gold; but even if I could find the notes I took about them, these moments—some of the best of the show—would be the hardest to make sense of.
I can relate the bit about the invisible horse and some attempts to spell ‘diarrhea.’ I can even remark on Notaro’s contract with her audience, which stays with her regardless of the performance.* But something happened at that show that is slipperier and about which it is more difficult to talk. Coincidently, it’s a quality that all of my favorite stand-up shows have: Some magic moment of give-and-take between the performer and the audience.
Taylor Ketchum: The Highest Highs and the Lowest Lows | Julie Seabaugh
Taylor Ketchum co-hosts new biweekly show Hot Crowd, along with Joe Zimmerman and Jono Zalay, Wednesday at Over the Eight in Williamsburg. From college football star to homeless heroin addict to New York standup, his is a compelling story unlike any other in the comedy industry.
“I am from Los Angeles. I don’t tell people this all the time, ‘cause I’m not some kind of Hollywood fuckface, but I was actually in the movie Trainspotting…for about 11 years. I played Division I college football, and then I became a heroin addict, and then I became this. I’m not really sure what’s more tragic in that chain of events, to be honest. It’s kind of a bizarre trajectory for a life to have. It’s like: college glory, getting laid, varsity, letterman’s jacket, things are going well, hepatitis, death, abscesses, loneliness, ‘Eh, I guess you’re not hurting anybody.’”
I love Los Angeles. My family’s there, all my friends. I went to high school there. But I’ve always wanted to be a New York City comic. I like it here better as a comedian. It’s not always easy here. It’s not always comfortable or fun. But for comedy, it’s the best.
I don’t necessarily tell the whole story because I don’t have time, and not all of it’s funny. The addiction stuff, all you’re going to hear about is the nasty, good, weird stuff about it, not what led up to it. I try to be as honest as possible up there. If I need to edit something and get to the point and not tell the whole thing, then I’ll do that. I don’t make things up. All that addiction stuff is all real. It’s kind of CliffsNoted, but it’s all stuff that actually happened.
I always liked drugs and partying. But I played football, and it kind of babysat me. Whenever things were getting too out of control or too hairy, I always had this football thing to be like, “Oh, okay, I should go not be a scumbag now. I’ve got to play football.” I started playing in fourth or fifth grade. It was just what the kids in my neighborhood were doing. I just moved there, my parents had gotten divorced about two years before. I didn’t have a dad around. They were playing and I was just like, “Oh cool; I’ll try that.” I ended up being pretty good at it.
I smoked pot, and I got really into the rave scene when I was in high school. I was taking ecstasy. But then I would always get re-focused and really get back into football. I got a scholarship, and I went on to play in college [at Ohio University]. The last week, we were supposed to play North Carolina State. It was the last game I was ever playing. I knew it. And I knew that I wasn’t going to have that babysitter anymore.
Q&A with The Improv’s Budd Friedman | Julie Seabaugh
Epix documentary The Improv: 50 Years Behind the Brick Wall — featuring Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Fallon, Sarah Silverman and more — debuts tonight at 8 Eastern. Founder Budd Friedman was kind enough to speak with me…for L.A. Weekly, but this being the prime season for leftovers, here are some of his cutting-room thoughts on the film, the chain’s legacy and just who the hell Nerdist is again.
Was there a biggest surprise or greatest hurdle in the process of producing and releasing the documentary?
No real surprises. They did throw a few barbs in my direction, but that’s to be expected. But on the whole it’s a terrifically entertaining show, and we’re very pleased. We can’t wait to get on the air. It’s one thing to see it on my computer, but it’s another thing to see it on my TV.
Well, you know the comedians only kid the ones they love, so…
Oh yeah, sure sure sure. The biggest shock…it wasn’t a shock: I don’t mind being taken apart for a good cause, but one of the Wayans brothers says, “And when Budd introduced you, he’d first tell a joke and think he’s funny. And the audience just sits there; they’re stunned. And then he brings you up. You’ve got a dead audience. Instead of warming up, he warms them down!” That’s pretty funny.
Am I Stoned, or Is Doug Benson the Future of Comedy? | John Wenzel
Watching Doug Benson smoke pot on his video-podcast Getting Doug With High makes my lungs hurt. Dude barely takes a breath between joints, bowls, and bong rips, encouraging his comedian-actor buddies to puff with him for the entirety of the 50-minute show, but also gleefully toking by himself when they decline.
Few people have the superhuman tolerance of Benson, who name is as synonymous with weed these days as he is comedy, and that’s probably for the best. His humor can be rambling, non sequitur and punctuated with awkward moments, and it’s usually more relatable to people who understand pot culture than those who don’t. I wasn’t crazy about either of Benson’s well-meaning but boring stoner documentaries, Super High Me and The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled. And like any comic, some of his live shows fall flat.
But when my non-stoner friends jump at the chance to see him every time he rolls through town, I can’t help but think he’s more than just someone at the right place at the right time, or that he’s simply pandering to an underserved market. His style of humor is fundamentally goofy and open-hearted, and often surprisingly nimble — or at least as nimble as most non-stoned podcasts out there, which could often benefit from the constant self-awareness that comes with being high (or is it just paranoia, MAN?!)
Simply because Benson is talking about (and smoking) pot all the time doesn’t mean he’s inherently lazy. He’s a podcast champ and social media rock star primarily because he’s a gifted riffer and touring juggernaut, not because he’s hitched his wagon to a drug that’s going increasingly mainstream. He’s easy-going and funny, but harsh when called for, and his taste in movies and other comedians is uniformly great. In other words, he’s a comedian first and stoner second, and the format for his open-ended talk show works in spite of its potential to be a druggy trainwreck.
The Fart Machines in Purgatory Are More Realistic | Steve Heisler
“My friends are getting book deals from Twitter and I’m slow dancing with a robot for a case of free salsa. Everything’s just fucking grand.” — Kyle Kinane, a great Twitter warrior
The future has brought about new and exciting ways by which the worth of a comedian, at least among gatekeepers and decision makers, can be quantified. Podcast subscribers, album downloads, page views and, obviously, Twitter followers have replaced Nielsen ratings or focus groups as the way by which comedic impact is measured. Thank God, hard-working funny people will always get a shot—the existence of 30 Rock and Louie are blindingly obvious examples—but I’m talking about taking a risk on scrappy young upstarts with nothing but a niche to their names. There are now more metrics by which to justify the existence of said niche in the old, data-driven way of “making it,” so not all niches are created equal.
Obviously the best possible scenario is when really talented people with fervent fan bases get their due, like how Comedy Bang Bang transitioned from a joyous, friendship-driven podcast into a surreal take on the talk show format. That happens. But not every single time. Never forget Shit My Dad Says.
So what’s left is for great comics to sit in purgatory as their passion projects are put on hold in favor of taking calculated risks. (I get that Kyle Kinane’s travel pilot might not be for everybody, but at least Comedy Central gave us Adam Devine’s House Party!) Having a few irons in the proverbial not-lit fire seems to be the mark of a working comic nowadays, sitting around in the great, nebulous unknown between Joe Annoyance Theatre Level 1 and Lenny Bruce.
I am beyond thrilled to report that I have figured out HOLLYWOOD, and the secret is to invent a fart machine that sounds much more like an actual fart than what traditional fart machines can produce. Yes, the future is now. This is how I know for sure:
Turkey Day calleth, and we answereth with sighs
We could say something here about how we meant to put this up on Monday and regretfully inform you we won’t be posting during Thanskgiving week, thus depriving you of your incisive comedy writing for a period of seven excruciating days.
We could also move to Alaska and stalk Sarah Palin’s relatives in the hopes of a getting a wacky photo with them while dressed as a robot, but we’re not going to do that either because really, who would benefit?
We’ll be back next week with more tidings of great chuckle-tude and openly-roasted chesnuts of something or other, but in the meantime why not peruse our archives or move to Alaska and stalk Sarah Palin’s relatives while dressed as a robot? Happy Thanksgiving, Scratchers.
Mr. Show, Seinfeld and the Comfort of Misanthropy | John Wenzel
The proliferation of ads featuring cars wrapped in giant red bows means the holiday season is upon us, and what better way to simulate the warm familiarity of a yule log DVD than by listing my favorite funnies to wrap up Comedy Comfort Food Week?
Like Stove Top stuffing or a delivery pizza, this comfort food is usually high in calories and best enjoyed on the couch while wearing buffet pants, so put down that literary sensation and turn on the glowbox, you elitist dick!
Mr. Show with Bob and David
The 1995-1998 run of Mr. Show is the most perfect and straightforward example of sketch comedy I’ve ever seen. My wife and I have forced ourselves to not watch it so much over the years since we’ve memorized every word, but when I want the fuzzy embrace of rampant misanthropy and suffocating sarcasm, this is the first place I look. I shudder to think of the influence David Cross and Bob Odenkirk’s unholy union has had on my personality. See also: Kids in the Hall
Like you, your neighbor, her imprisoned brother, and everyone else in this Target, I grew up watching Seinfeld so its comfort factor is not surprising. But I also grew up with plenty of other sitcoms I don’t feel the need to watch from start to finish each time they come on TV. (And I own everything but the first couple season of Seinfeld on DVD, so it’s not like I’m hurting for it.) Seinfeld’s casting and acting are the perfect complement to its brilliant writing, making the best episodes feel somehow inevitable. When I’m watching a great episode I feel like I’m in The Zone. See also (to a much lesser extent): Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock
Mel Brooks’ 1974 Western parody works so splendidly on so many levels that it’s tough to pinpoint what makes it so soothing. Beyond the clever race and class commentary, or the brilliantly cartoonish meta-ending, there’s a well-written, well-directed core of sweetness and nostalgia that betrays Brooks’ innate love of show business. My dad also introduced me to the film at a young age, so it has the golden smack of childhood to it — however littered with profanity and sexy-sex some scenes may be. And anyway, who wouldn’t want to spend an hour and a half with the gentle Zen of Alcoholic Gene Wilder? See also: Annie Hall, Harold and Maude
Stolen Memories of Cedric and Salt-N-PeppAH | Matthew Love
Snippets of my favorite bits of comedy spin through my mind all the time. So when I seek refuge in familiar laughs, I don’t generally sit to watch the entirety of Ghostbusters or read Cat’s Cradle. Nope, I just quietly luxuriate in fragments of things I love entirely out of context, their original dimensions warped by time and then blown up, poster-size. I stare at them as I stroll through the grand humor museum in my brain; sometimes, I’ll lean over and say to the unfortunate soul next to me, “Ray, the next time someone asks you if you’re a God, you say… yes!” and wait for him or her to reciprocate my excitement. Something in me knows the quote is not exact, and I don’t care.
As fellow Scratcher S. Heisler pointed out, the exercise of engaging these comedic gems has changed now that the internet has most of them readily available in some form. Given that this is the case, here’s how technology is prodding its way into my nostalgic brain.
You Shoulda Hung Out, Maaan: Revisiting Dave Attell’s “Skanks for the Memories” | Julie Seabaugh
The other night I had the lonely bug. So I went out to this bar. I see a beautiful woman alone. I’m thinking, “She’s alone; I’m alone. Why not annoy the shit out of her?” So I walk over…I’m walking…I’m wearing clogs…and I notice she’s got a black eye. She’s got a shiner. I’m thinking, “Great, she doesn’t listen!”
Well, a couple of McNuggets and lies later, we’re back at my house. And we’re having sex doggy style. Now I didn’t plan on it; that’s just how she passed out. Thank you, slow gas leak! Fellas, have you ever had the experience of a woman yelling another man’s name out in the height of passion? Well this woman was yelling out names of men who have never ever lived; fantasy men. She’s like, “Give it to me, Chewbacca! C’mon now, give it! Work it, Spiderman! Not in my eye, Papa Smurf! And I’m thinking, “Is she crazy, like it says on her bracelet? Or is she just looking at my sheets? I dunno!”
But sex is not that important. You know what’s really important? That afterwards part, when you’re both naked and it’s warm and you’re watching the sun come up through the windshield. And you look in her eyes—you look in her good eye—and you know: you fucked a pirate.
Comedy Central Records released Dave Attell’s Skanks for the Memories on February 4, 2003. The artwork featured bleary-eyed, disposable-camera selfies of the then-Insomniac host surrounded by shirt-raising, tongue-protruding young ladies he’d encountered during his late-night visits to dive bars, after-hours eateries and seedy sex clubs. Track titles included “The Unf**kables,” “Midget Friend,” “Shaved Pubes,” “Sex Store,” “Amish Sex” and “Sex With Animals.” The liner notes included special thanks to “everyone else who has ever bought me a drink.”
Attell’s half-hour travelogue would air its third-season finale (“Long Island”) two days later, on Thursday the 6th. Going out with a bang while simultaneously offering product to sate fans through the four-month hiatus, Comedy Central timed the Best of Insomniac Uncensored: Volume 1 DVD to release the same day as Skanks, promoting the pair that evening with a signing at the Times Square Virgin Records.