In the documentary. Misery Loves Comedy, actor, comedian, creator and director Kevin Pollak asks his fellow comedians do you have to be miserable to be funny?
Since 2006 with Shameless Louis C.K.’s been producing some of the best stand-up comedy specials. When I downloaded his new special Live at the Comedy Store and watched it several times over three days I thought “Oh no, this is good but not great.”
What I thought about changed when I read this article from Wired Magazine, Louis CK’s Latest Email Is a Fantastic Elegy to Comedy Clubs. According to Vulture Louie “has described this new special as a tribute to the workshop tradition of comedy-club material.”
“Oh,” I thought, “So it’s like when a band makes a concept album or a group of friends has an inside joke.” Essentially, unless those previous specials this one is more of an experiment. He’s trying to capture what it’s like when you’re developing a setlist at a comedy club and you’re trying out the material in front of a tough crowd.
You can definitely tell. Some jokes are riffed, some are honed material, and others feel like he’s trying them for the first time. He’s not afraid to go off the rails or be silly. The only thing missing is crowd work but C.K. might not be the type of comic.
Still, unless you’re reading his e-mails on his mailing list closely, have a deep knowledge of the stand-up comedy business or are a stand-up comedian yourself you may download this special and not understand what’s he doing. That’s where the idea of it being an inside joke popped into my head. Like an inside joke, this special could be ostracizing to the casual viewer. Then again, considering the sales of the special I don’t think this will matter much in the end.
I just don’t think in the long run, this special will be as appreciated or seen as one of his best. However, I’d rather he try new things then try to stay the same.
If you like stand-up at all, you’ll have watched all the obvious specials that are on Netflix Instant Watch. Louis CK, Jim Gaffigan, Lewis Black, Aziz Ansari and Patton Oswalt.
If you’ve digged a little deeper you’re probably a big fan of all of the Bill Burr specials, you’ve watched Kevin Hart, Jim Norton, Jim Jeffries, and Russell Peters. Some were for you, some weren’t.
Here is what’s left that you should definitely check out no matter what flavor of stand-up comedy you enjoy.
Marc Maron’s Thinky Pain. I know a lot of people listen to his podcast, WTF with Marc Maron but I hardly ever hear anyone talk about his stand-up. In the past I’ve tried listening to previous albums by him unable to get into his jokes or find the Maron that I enjoyed on his podcast or his guest appearances on others. Then I watched his latest special and discovered he’s just one of those you have to watch. This special is done in a small venue, mere feet away from the audience and with no plan what-so-ever. His sits on a stool almost entire time during his set and basically tells stories of his life, his mid-life crisis and pain. Pain being a general theme with Maron but I appreciated it a lot more if I could see his facial expressions, his half open eyes and body language.
“I don’t really know if someone loves me if I can’t make them cry. Isn’t that the test for all of us, really? If you’re with someone and you really don’t know if you can make them cry I would go deeper. Can’t trust that bond.”
Eddie Pepitone’s In Ruins is stand-up comedy brewed with absurdities, rants and topped with an existential crisis. His rants are like a satire on the very serious and political rants of Lewis Black. He manages to take the pain of depression, of the sadness that comes with the absurdities of life and makes them silly with his yelling. There isn’t a lot of comedian who balance silliness with the personal which makes Pepitone’s special rather refreshing.
“Did you ever buy a hat where you like it so much, like, you look in the mirror like holy shit, this hat kind of makes up for a life that wasn’t well lived. Yes, I spent thirty years in a stoned out phrase masturbating to hockey fights but that’s because I didn’t have this fucking hat.”
Moshe Kasher reminds of a modern day Greg Proops, if Greg Proops had grown up in Oakland listening to hip-hop. In Live in Oakland, where he grew up with his mother, he pokes fun at his effeminate body language, his jewish background and his upbringing while mixing it up with the “I am intelligent and I am going to use it to make fun of you,” style of jokes. Kasher self-depricates enough to be empathetic but cocky enough to let the viewer know he deserves to be the center of attention. He has the perfect mix for a good stand-up comedian. A bit of a nerd with no filter, a lot of swagger and a not-giving-a-fuck-what-you-think attitude from a childhood balancing his drug-filled delinquent life in Oakland with his mother and his very strict Hasidic Judaism with his father in New York.
Reading YouTube comments on a clip of his joke: “And finally, fuck you, suck dick, never try to be a comedian again you stupid bitch. I hope you die from cancer so you can find out how foul really is, love Dad. That one hurt quite a bit. My dad’s been dead for ten years so it adds a layer of mystery to the thing. I didn’t even know they had the internet in hell. Turns out they do, it’s dial-up.”
Morgan Murphy has been a name I have heard spoken of a lot on comedy podcasts for several years but never actually seen until her stand-up special, Irish Goodbye, came to Netflix. The bombastic comedian and the storyteller comedian is so common now that it isn’t often you get the soft spoken straight forward joke teller like Todd Barry or Steven Wright. Morgan Murphy uses storytelling not just to tell a humorous situation with little quips that get a laugh but always ends her stories with a good punchline. Mix this all in with her subject matter which can take just enough of a dark turn that I enjoy and you have a new favorite comedian of mine. There isn’t enough dry wit in comedy.
“How weird is it ladies, how weird is it that we put penises in our mouths? That shit’s crazy. Like ladies and gay dudes but I’m not even including gay dudes because you have one so you get it but… we put penises in our mouths! Look at your wife, your girlfriend, look at her, your bestie, look at her right now. She has put so many penises in her mouth. Just shoved them in there where sandwiches go. That is sandwich space and we just do instinctively like we’re supposed to do it or something. Like if you put in front of me a mint, a chocolate milk and a penis and asked what does these have in common I’d go they go in my mouth, I’m not stupid.”
Like jokes about books, language, time travel, comic books, using complicated wordplay and lots of puns? Myq Kaplan’s Small, Dork, and Handsome is perfect for you then. It’s perfect for me.
“From childhood we learn, what’s the story? The Ugly Duckling. What’s that about? A duck was ugly but then it grew and found it was actually beautiful but also a different species. Sort of a M. Night Shyamalany twist at the end there that I don’t know how that is supposed to be inspiring to a kid. Hey, stop crying. Maybe you’re not a hairy ugly child. Maybe you’re going to grow up to find you’re a beautiful chimpanzee. You could be the chimpiest chimp, the chimp of the ball.”
These five specials are on Netflix Instant Watch right now, so go check them out.
I love podcasts, to a ridiculous level now. I listen to podcasts more than I do music and more than I watch television or movies. Think of it as talk radio but without the limitations of, well anything. Anything can be a podcast, and anything is a podcast.
One particular podcasts though that I’ve stuck with since it started was by stand-up comedian Pete Holmes, former host of the Pete Holmes Show that ran earlier this year. Beginning in 2011 with the running theme of talking about comedy, sex, and religion. At the beginning, when Pete is learning how to host a podcast this theme is strictly enforced but when it fades into just being the underlying themes of the show is when it really takes off while the length of the podcast starts to get longer.
It is essentially WTF with Marc Maron if it was hosted by Pete Holmes, but the host is what makes the difference. I’m not going to compare the two but Maron’s podcasts tend to delve into what has happened in the guests’ life while Pete’s podcast explores what the guest thinks about life.
It appeals to my brain on a couple levels, all having to do with curiosity. After writers, comedians tend to be the group that hold in the highest regard followed by musicians. So on Pete’s podcast I get a peek behind the curtain. I get to hear comedians not only talk about their own personal beliefs about comedy but about their lives. These are people I admire for their ability to make me laugh opening up about the screwed up childhoods, families, and experiences they had or their individual philosophies on what the meaning of all this is.
I don’t know what your perception is of comedians but if it is shallow in anyway I highly recommend giving any comedic podcast a chance, not just You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes because, and T.J. Miller put in nicely on a recent episode, the last generation of comedians such as George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks were activists on stage while the newer generation rising in fame in the 21st Century have become the philosophers. You’d be surprised at the depth these people get into, which I imagine comes from having to think about life in order to find what is funny about it.
On top of that it scratches that curiosity that comes from our culture of celebrity. These are people I admire, so in a sense they’re my celebrities. Therefore on Pete’s podcast I get the celebrity gossip of straight from the source. Some people read gossip magazines or websites but I get mine out of their mouths on podcast.
Another part, and I have this experience with writers as well, I get to learn about the process. Stand-up comedians are essentially a kind of writer, aurator, performer combination and just like writers, comedians tend to have narcissistic tendencies so of course they want to talk about the career they are passionate about. From Pete’s podcast you learn the jargon, you learn how comedians develop, how they develop differently, how they write jokes and what it’s like behind the stage. I didn’t know what barking was before listening to his podcast, nor did I know there was a difference between the comedy scene in Boston, New York and L.A. I learned which clubs, theaters and places are great to perform at in a certain city and state and how the comedy boom began, ended and how the alternative comedy scene rose to compete with the club scene.
The best part though is just how funny comedians are being themselves, not their ego version of themselves that perform on stage. When you listen to You Made It Weird it is like being in on the inside jokes, and you get to hear material before it’s material, when it’s just something they thought and decided to say. Then what happens is you hear about a stand-up you’ve never heard before become humanize and you say to yourself Oh, they have an special or an album out? I’ll check that out.
Pete Holmes stand-up comedy is fantastic, real great comedian. His talk show, now cancelled, was a sort of filter version of his podcast plus his stand-up. His podcast though? It’s an exploration of comedy on a depth that I explore stories in college as an English major. That’s why I love it and I highly recommend anyone giving it a chance.