Go ahead, be jealous.
I spent about a month working on this week's cover story about Memphis' emerging comedy scene. I visited a lot of shows and open mics, and talked to a lot of comics. And then, one terrifying Thursday night at the P&H Cafe, I even attempted a stand-up set. All I can say about the experience is this: I've been an actor, an emcee, a TV personality, a performance artist, a public speaker, and a honky tonk singer, but never in all my years on stage and in front of cameras, has my heart pounded harder than it did that night. That's what I get for wanting to know what it feels like to stand in the glaring spotlight, trying to make jaded Memphians laugh.
Tommy Oler, who hosts open mic at the P&H tried to warn me off. He said I should maybe try Dru's or RockHouse Live first, and work my way up. "P&H is a monster for new comics," he said. "It's actually the biggest and best open mic in the state, but it's also the meanest. I know cause I've been to, and done every one."
P&H audiences don't really turn on you— or at least the ones I've experienced don't. They just turn to one another and start talking. When a comic is dying on stage the room gets loud with chatter. I told Tommy I didn't think I had time to develop a set and hone it. I just wanted to go up cold for 5-minutes, with no prepared material, and the tougher the room, the better. Reluctantly, like I might be marching off to slaughter, Tommy put me on the list right behind Benny Elbows, and just in front of Richard Douglas Jones— two quality comics. Talk about a recipe for a shit sandwich. I wanted to be funny, of course, but this was the kind of research where flopping big could be every bit as edifying. And boy was I set up to flop.
There's nothing scarier than knowing that you're on in 5-minutes, and you've got nothing prepared. I figured it was probably best to tell true-ish stories and I hoped I'd seen enough standup over the years to know how to introduce and frame the material.
"And now, I'd like to introduce Memphis Flyer writer Chris Davis," Tommy said. Clapping happened, and the pressure was on.
"So I received a letter just a couple of days ago," I said. "A reader wanted to know how many blowjobs I have to give my bosses every week just to keep my job."
"That's more of a perk than an obligation, isn't it? I like my performance reviews. It beats making up a bunch of bullshit about where I see myself in the next five years, don't you think?"
That part went well, so I decided to stick with work stories for a while. I talked about the Elton John impersonator I'd spoken to earlier that week. And about the person impersonating the Elton John impersonator. When I ran out of work stories I talked a bit about the time in my life where it seemed like I couldn't go anywhere without discovering a dildo of unknown origin: "A lot of people find a dildo of unknown origin and are like, 'EEEWWWWWWWW!' I'm like, 'I need to show this to somebody!'"
Not everything got a big laugh, but nothing really bombed either, and a couple of comics even gave me the business afterward, swearing it couldn't have been my first set, and encouraging me to keep it up. The collegiality felt good, but I was done.
Yeah, it's fun being funny. When you're in the middle of a room and everybody's doubled up because of something you just said, the laughter kicks like a drug. And when the laughter's gone your cells get junk sick and crave more. It's easy to see how people get hooked on the stuff, which is one reason why it's probably best to leave funny business to the professionals. Besides, now that Patton Oswalt's consummated the relationship by liking one of my Tweets, I can die comically satisfied.
And speaking of professionals, it's Memphis Comedy Festival weekend. Go see some.
And finally we come to our number choice for best local Memphis Comedian...
And there you have it! The undisputed top 7 entirely made up comedians working in Memphis! If you'd like to see the real, hardworking, and funny local comedians in Memphis, this weekend’s Comedy Festival is the perfect place to start.
For a listing of shows, tickets, and venues go to MemphisComedyFestival.com. All joking aside, Memphis does have a very strong, very funny comedy scene and they deserve to be recognized. Go out and see a show and support local performers and artist. BE A PART OF IT!!!
Mike McCarthy is a standup comedian who is sometimes confused with Mike McCarthy the filmmaker and occasionally mistaken for the Memphis Comedy Horse. He is also a Wiseguy and contributor to Fly on the Wall.
Robin Williams is dead, and all our lives will be a little poorer for it. Particularly those of us in the comedy community.
I am a child of the 70’s . There are three comics who set me on a path to doing standup and improve comedy. Bill Murray’s film critic on SNL was an early influence in my writing style and my understanding of the mechanics of character based comedy. Steve Martin taught me the syntax of standup, and showed me that comedy can be stupid and brilliant at the same time.
And then there was Robin Williams. His frantic energy and rapid fire brain showed the pure adrenalin fueled side of performance and improv that few have ever or could ever match.
Martin’s 1977 Let’s Get Small and Williams’ Reality…What a Concept a couple of years later were among the first albums I ever owned. And I listened to both endlessly.
And, though I didn’t realize it at the time, all three of these guys proved to be so much more than comedians. All proved themselves to be brilliant actors — serious and comedic- and all showed great depth in their various work.
Sure, I’d later come to appreciate the brilliance of George Carlin and the importance of Richard Pryor. But in the mid to late 70’s Bill, Steve and Robin planted the seeds in my head that would eventually lead me to perform.
I can’t even guess how many times I saw Robin Williams’ various stand up specials on HBO. The man was a force of nature. The jokes and characters and voices were rapid fire (maybe fueled by a little more than brain power at times). And the act was more than jokes. It had heart and soul.
He proved himself to have the capacity to truly act. Not just be silly on camera, but to open himself up and serve raw emotion, humor and wit. No, not all his movies were good. But when they were, they were amazing.
Robin Williams faced his demons over the years. Sometimes he’d beat them down for a while. Ultimately, they won.
The shameful question here is could Robin Williams have been Robin Williams if he hadn’t had that darkness within him? Could he have bared his soul on stage and screen without that thing inside him that ultimately killed him?
I don’t know.
Comedians are often damaged people. It’s a cliché to say it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Performers in general, and comedians specifically, all to varying degrees have some demon they are trying to feed or keep at bay. Performance as therapy is pretty common. Unfortunately, a lot of performers also choose to medicate themselves to stave off whatever it is that eats at them. Drugs and alcohol are the all too common medications of choice. And they take their toll.
Society, and even comics themselves, forget how important their work is. Those of us who can get up on stage and make people really, truly laugh are working magic of a sort. I have had many people over the years personally thank me after an improv show because they had gotten through a terrible day and “just needed to laugh”. It’s not a rare message.
Do you comics understand how important that is? Do you understand that you really are honest to goodness HELPING people when you perform. The ability to ease peoples’ burdens, even if it’s for a few minutes is a gift. Take it seriously and own the fact that you are doing some good out there.
There’s a wonderful thing about comedy. Stand ups and improvisers are part of extended families of fellow performers. Dysfunctional families at times, to be sure. We fight. We talk bad about each other. We take vicious shots at each other constantly. We all think we are better than the next performer.
But, when it comes down to it , we actually do tend to care about each other.
Comics, use your family to help deal with the monsters. Watch each others’ backs. Turn to each other just to freaking talk when you need to. You probably aren’t going to slay anyone’s dragons, but maybe you can help them do it.
Comics, just know that there’s a real good chance that you have a group of fellow performers who actually give a damn about you. Use that to help yourselves tread water.
Robin Williams was a giant. A flawed giant, to be sure, but he gave a lot to all of us. Comics who grew up in the 70’s-90’s would cite him as an important influence. Even if the sadness behind the comedy was obviously intense.
Comics, keep the magic and your fellow performers alive. You are all too important to this world to do otherwise.
Due to insanely popular demand by one guy, we are continuing to run our potentially weekly feature in which we explain to you why the Sunday comics are funny!
In this episode, soldiers sing and fight! A wizard sleeps! Dennis goes on vacation! All that and more in this week's The Howling Monkey Reads The Comics!
The Howling Monkey Reads the Comics is a feature of The Howling Monkey blog.
Joey Hack is a regular contributor to The Fly On The Wall Blog and is a member of The Wiseguys improv troupe.
Sometimes you want to enjoy the Sunday comics, but just don't understand why they are funny. As a service to our readers, we provide "The Howling Monkey Reads The Comics".
The goal is to publish this every Sunday (more or less) at The Howling Monkey blog. Depending on how this goes over, it may appear here as well.
Anywho, in this week's episode: Arlo and Janis complain! Hagar enjoys cake! Earl’s dirty pants! School’s out! All that and more in The Howling Monkey Reads the Comics! (Look, we admit this isn't for everyone. But those who it is for will laugh and laugh)!
Joey Hack is a regular contributor to The Fly On The Wall blog and is a member of The Wiseguys improv troupe.
Tomorrow night (Thursday, May 29), the Poplar Lounge will play host to a trio of up-and-coming touring comedians: Chris Cubas, Jake Flores, and Josh Androsky.
Cubas hails from Austin, TX and was named one of Comedy Central's nine “comics to watch” in 2013. He's also a regular guest on Doug Benson's Doug Loves Movies podcast. Flores comes from Austin as well (though he now resides in Brooklyn, NY) and is a contributor to VICE Magazine and Cracked.com. But the highlight of the bill might be Androsky, an Los Angeles, CA-based writer/comedian who is perhaps best known as the 'shroom-tripping “Skateboard Rabbi” from TV's The Price Is Right.
Yep, you read that correctly. In May of 2012, Josh Androsky and a group of friends attended a live taping of the Drew Carey-hosted game-show while under the influence of multiple substances, including hallucinogenic mushrooms. Androsky was called up as a contestant at the beginning of the show, and the rest, as they say, was pure comedy gold.
Here's Androsky recounting the tale as a guest on NPR's This American Life
And here's the actual footage of his appearance on The Price Is Right as it aired on network airwaves:
Josh Androsky, Chris Cubas and Jake Flores perform Thursday, May 29 at 8 p.m. at the Poplar Lounge. Admission is $3. Local comedians Katrina Coleman and Josh McLane will also perform.
Last week Eddie Izzard told the Memphis Flyer all about his first performance in America, in a parking lot that is now the deck for Bosco's Squared.
While in town for his Orpheum date the comic visited the spot where he rode a 5-foot unicycle while escaping from handcuffs. And then, of course, he posted a selfie.
Technically, this shot is a little to the Southwest of the spot where Memphians, intrigued by the unicycle, encouraged Izzard to, "Ride that thing."
Every Part I deserves a Part II.
The Memphis Improv Cage Match is exactly like that only it's six or eight or a dozen or more beefy area comics who climb in the cage and hit each other with folding chairs. Only, in this case the cage in imaginary, and instead chairs it's zingers and whatnot. And it all goes down Saturday, Nov. 2
These occasional matches are an extended family reunion for Memphis’ Improv community and gives groups like FreakEngine, Running Gag, and The Wiseguys an opportunity to square off in what is being billed as, "a hilarious battle royale."
So this promotion isn't all a shameless selfie, but as I like to mention as often as I can, I get lots of help from the Memphis comedy community, and I couldn't do this blog without assistance from The Wiseguys and contributors like Joey Hack, Memphis ex-patriot Robert Callahan, and all the rest.
You can get all of the details here.
Do you like what you read here at Fly on the Wall? Do you dislike it intensely? Either way you'll want to know about Saturday's Wiseguys: Storytellers Unplugged event (Sept. 21) so you can come by to cheer or heckle, depending on your disposition. For I, your Pesky Fly, will be the featured storyteller. And, as anybody who knows me will quickly confirm, you never know what will pop out of my mouth. Or where it's been.
For me this performance already feels like a celebration. The new and improved Fly on the Wall is now three months old and I couldn't have gotten this thing off the ground without The Wiseguys who took a chance and agreed to participate in my weird little fusion of comedy, cool things, and community journalism.
In a very short time we've covered the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of the Memphis music scene. We've taken you on an alternative Elvis tour and exposed Janis Fullilove's deepest darkest secrets. We've been topical. We've been obscure. We've invented our own holidays and were even on the Miley Cyrus WTF beat weeks before twerking was the only thing anybody could talk about.
So, why did The Wiseguys join me in this endeavor? I have no idea. But for my part, the seed was sown the last time I was asked to be the featured storyteller and found myself, quite unexpectedly, telling a room full of strangers about an unsettling period in my life when it seemed like I couldn't go a week without being surprised by a dildo of unknown origin. (Yes, you read that correctly, and I apologize for the NSFW language, but that's the long and the short of it).
I'd go for a walk: dildo. My car would break down: dildo. I'd reach into a crack in the wall: dildo. It was like the universe was sending me some message: But what?
In the storytellers format the comics are tasked with creating original comedy performances on the spot responding to whatever tale the storyteller happens to share. I gave the Wiseguys dildos. They, in turn, showed me a good time. So when I needed to assemble a Fly-Team, able to roll with whatever story the news cycle threw our way, these were the guys I thought of first. And every so often I intend to write a post reminding our readers that I haven't assembled just any old Fly-Team. I've got The Wiseguys.
Please forgive this brazen act of shameless self-promotion. But I'm really happy to return as a featured storyteller and I wanted to say so here for any Fly fans who might care to join us.
Details below the fold: