Comedy

Thursday, April 27, 2017

You Look Like Money: Craig Brewer Teams up with the Memphis Comedy Community

Posted By on Thu, Apr 27, 2017 at 3:54 PM

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I can't remember when I've been in a happier, busier room. Everybody was grinning wide, and laughing, except for the writers — a who's who of local comedy talent — who looked grave and anxiety-ridden, which is how you could tell they were in the zone and having a blast. Memphis' man in Hollywood, Craig Brewer, has a plan. He wants to transform Katrina Coleman and Tommy Oler's You Look Like comedy show/podcast, into digital content for streaming providers. The popular game of competitive comic put-downs has fantastic web-sharing potential. It's exactly the kind of thing the internet was made for.

On stage the comedy is vicious. Things change after the loser makes a filmed "walk of shame."

"You got robbed," the winner of one round says, chasing down his not terribly disgraced opponent. "I know, I totally beat you," he answers. Nobody's mad. Love is thick. They're all in this together.

"I'm not drunk enough to cry," Coleman says, as the camera crew prepares to shoot the last five episodes of a ten episode trial season. "But set your watches."
Katrina Coleman, Morgan Jon Fox
  • Katrina Coleman, Morgan Jon Fox
Coleman, who looks like the person most responsible for assembling the big tent of modern Memphis comedy, gestures to a ridiculous crown spinning on a turntable just offstage. That's the winner's prize. "It's still the You Look Like show," she assures the "studio audience," acknowledging her shoestring budgeted show's many physical upgrades. "I made that motherfucker in my living room," she says, with a catch in her throat. A machine pumps fog into the room, standing in for the P&H's famously thick cloud of cigarette smoke. Local writer/director Morgan Fox orders the cameras to roll and the games begin in earnest.

The rules couldn't be more simple. Two comics stand face to face trading appearance-based insults like, "You look like heroin might improve your life." That's mild. Comics being comics, and built the way they are, the meaner it gets the more respect you can feel radiating from the combatants. When a roughing session ends the audience chooses a winner and the loser has to gaze into a mirror of shame and play the game all over again with his/herself. Simple. Perfect. And Memphis insult hero Tutweezy makes for an affable master of ceremonies.
Comic Amanda Walker and Craig Brewer.
  • Comic Amanda Walker and Craig Brewer.
Brewer discovered the You Look Like Show by way of the Memphis Comedy Festival. He had no idea that such a mature comedy scene had grown up in the tavern at the center of his own origin story. "I felt like grandpa," he says of the revelation. 
Memphis Flyer cover art by Memphis comic/artist Mitchell Dunnam.
  • Memphis Flyer cover art by Memphis comic/artist Mitchell Dunnam.
It's epic deja vous seeing Brewer at work in the P&H Cafe. That's where I met him. He was working on his first feature film, The Poor & Hungry and had had come into the bar to screen "rushes" of  footage he'd recently shot. Seemed like would be filmmakers were everywhere, back then, but Brewer was different. He was devoid of pretension, and radiated so much excitement for the work he was doing there was no way to inoculate against the infection. When The Poor & Hungry was accepted into the Hollywood Film Festival, I followed him and the P&H Cafe's late great proprietress Wanda Wilson to LaLa Land to watch an emerging local talent be reborn as a hot commodity. And there he was, big as life, back at the old smoke-stained bar — the place where it all began — doing the kind of thing he fantasized about as a penniless beginner, driving around L.A. looking for a strip joint that might run his credit card and give him enough cash for dinner and parking.  
In the "writer's room" with Richard Douglas Jones and Hunter Sandlin
  • In the "writer's room" with Richard Douglas Jones and Hunter Sandlin
Brewer has always looked for opportunities to export Memphis talent and weirdness. In the 90's he shot the city's bourgeoning burlesque scene. His team-up with MTV on $5 Cover brought a semi-fictionalized version of the Memphis music scene to the masses. In some ways Brewer's plan to turn You Look Like, into a streaming success is enhanced by a largely united comedy scene that's already accustomed to collaboration. As soon as a comic advances to the next round he or she is in the back room working with a solid team of local comics including Hunter Sandlin, and Richard Douglas Jones.

"I get paid the same if I win or lose," keystone comic Josh McLane says, praising a spirit of collaboration that brings competitors together to come up with the best worst things they could possibly say to each other. It doesn't matter who wears the crown. All that matters: Is it funny? To that end the whole atmosphere feels a little like old-school Memphis wrasslin'. The outcomes aren't predetermined, but everybody's working together to bring serious pain from the top-rope.
Tommy Oler looks like a very handsome comedian. Hunter Sandlin looks like he shouldn't have coveted the lost Ark.
  • Tommy Oler looks like a very handsome comedian. Hunter Sandlin looks like he shouldn't have coveted the lost Ark.
For financing Brewer turned to past collaborator David Harris, an executive for Gunpowder & Sky, an LA based digital first studio  Harris had previously worked with Brewer on "Savage County," a horror web-series. BR2, the "digiflick" company originally founded to market The Poor & Hungry is producing, as evidenced by a pair of director's chairs printed with the company's classic logo.

"We didn't have chairs the first time," Brewer quips as a Memphis media super team including co-producers Fox and Erin Freeman, Editor Edward Valibus, and Director of Photography Sarah Fleming all work the room.

I wish I had an appropriate insult to end this post. But all I can say is, You Look Like looks like it was a lot of fun to make. It's bound to be a lot of fun to watch. Now it's all about putting the pieces together, and taking it to market.
Fake smoke, real comedy.
  • Fake smoke, real comedy.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Wiseguys Biggest Hits: Goodbye to a Very Funny Tradition

Posted By on Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 10:06 AM

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After a long run filled with laughter and long, uncomfortable silences, The Wiseguys improv troupe is calling it quits. Sort of.

In addition to their twice-monthly shows members of this comic collective were also frequent contributors to Fly on the Wall for a couple of very funny seasons. This semi-retirement seemed like as good a time as any to roll out some of my favorite contributions. 
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When the state of Tennessee rolled out a poorly designed anti-DUI campaign all about how booze tricks dudes into having sex with unattractive women, The Wiseguys, and Fly on the Wall rolled out our own poorly designed campaign.

Once upon a time U.S. Rep Steve Cohen of Memphis suggested that White House security issues might be improved by digging a moat. He later claimed that he didn't mean a moat exactly, but some moat-like water barrier inhibiting access to the White Castle. It could be beautiful, he said. The Wiseguys, who are all crackerjack fake investigative news reporters, in addition to being fine comedians, discovered more of Cohen's alternative security plans.

The Wiseguys have written about social clubs, public incentives, Elvis, Trader Joe's, the weather, Jack Pirtle's gravy, pick-up lines that really work, the British Royal Family and Big Star fans. During the holidays, they even went caroling.



In addition to all the goofy stuff, The Wiseguys also broke huge news stories like the fact that Janis Fullilove is actually made of bees.

So, I guess what I'm saying here is these are some funny, funny folks. And they're having their last show (before the inevitable reunions) this weekend. If you've never seen them before, goodbye is a perfectly good time to say hello.  [event-1]

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Vicki Lawrence Talks Carol Burnett, One-Hit-Wonders, Miley Cyrus, and Touring with Mama

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2017 at 2:25 PM

Mama and Vicki
  • Mama and Vicki
Vicki Lawrence doesn’t want Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two-Woman Show to be just a retrospective. The Carol Burnett Show alum, who had a hit single with, “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” and a hit show in Mama’s Family wants to bring her most famous character into the 21st-Century and let her comment on current events. She also wants to give fans everything they expect from Mama, and maybe a little bit more.

Fly on the Wall: I was a tour guide at Graceland, and know what It’s like to be asked the same questions over and over again. Are there questions you get so often you want to answer, “Can’t you just ask Google?”


Vicki Lawrence: Ha! Maybe. But maybe it’s like your kids wanting to hear the same story over and over again, you know? Or maybe they don’t believe it, so they really want to hear it from the horse’s mouth, if you will. That said, what’s the question?

Oh, that WAS the question. As an interviewer, I’m a little bit obsessed with how people experience interviews, particularly the questions that come up again and again. And between The Carol Burnett Show, which is iconic, Mama’s Family, which is ubiquitous, and having this career anomaly one-hit-wonder with “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” I suspect you get a lot of repeat questions.

Well, you know, when I put this show together I knew all the questions people asked me over and over again, so I made my half of the show — because I call it a two woman show — I made my half largely autobiographical, because it’s the questions everybody always asks. I know if we turned up the lights — I do questions like Carol — this is everything everybody would ask. So, the first thing I answer is how I met Carol and how I got started, and how I became a natural red head, how I only had one huge hit record, how I met my husband, how Mama happened. I think by the end of the Vicki half of the show people know more about me than they probably ever wanted to know. I don’t know what they’d ask.

That was my sense of the show.

Well, I also think my life has been pretty comical, and pretty serendipitous, so it’s kind of a funny half of the show. It’s pretty incredible what happened to me. It’s nothing I ever intended. And it’s funny, because I grew up in very close proximity to Hollywood, my dad worked in Hollywood, at Max Factor, the entire time I was growing up. That’s where I hung out and went to dance classes and worked. I was lucky enough to go see the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl when they first came around. It’s where I hung out. But it never occurred to me to go into show business. I was going to go to college, study dental hygiene, learn to clean teeth, marry a rich dentist. I kind of feel like I got kidnapped by show biz.

But you were always a performer, weren’t you? How old were you when you were doing [teen singing group] The Young Americans?

High school. And yeah, I do have all that too. I auditioned when I was a freshman. End of Freshman year and sang with them all through high school.


So it was always there but just for fun?


It wasn’t anything that ever occurred to me as something I might do for a living. Or maybe I didn’t think I was good enough. Or, I don’t know. So the whole thing has been a wonderful, strange adventure.

Thelma Harper is such a complete character. So distinct from you, and you have shared a body for a long time now. Do you turn Mama on and off like a light, or is she always lurking? I’ve always thought it would be great to have a little Mama — like a cartoon angel — that just rode around on my shoulder, complaining about things.

I know her so well. It’s very easy to pop in and out of that character. And I do find, as I get older that I probably think a lot more like she does. You earn the privilege to not waste as much time anymore so you just say what’s on your mind. And I kinda understand that as I get older. It’s like everything that’s going on in Washington right now. Do you think I’m going to live long enough to see the movie? It’s going to be a helluva movie.

I feel like I’m not as prepared for this interview as I should be because instead of doing my homework I keep having to check the news to make sure all of that’s real and not the result of a bad potato before bedtime.

Right?


But back to you. You do get sucked into Show business young. Were you doing Carol Burnett while you were going to college, is that right?


My dad was a UCLA grad, and it was always his dream that I would go there. We lived near UCLA and the deal was, “Of course you can go to college as long as you’re at the studio by 11-o'clock in the morning. So I took everything I could take at 7 a.m. and didn’t have much of a college life. I made it through two years and had to declare a major. Decided I’d declare theater arts because it looked like that was what I was going to do. Started studying that, but once you sign up they expect a quarter of crew work, and they expect you to audition for shows when they come up, and that’s when the Burnett show was the busiest. In the beginning we blocked on Friday, pre-recorded Friday night, shot on Saturday. So I couldn’t do it. I was hiding from everybody. I was the kid who would dash around the corner when the professor would say, “hey you!” So I went to my parents and said I needed to change my major, and so I changed it to dance. And that was so depressing in college compared with what I’d been learning in Hollywood. I used to take jazz classes from guys who were the Jets in West Side Story. It was cool. So I dropped out of that. So I went to my favorite theater professor and said, “What am I going to do?” He said, “You’re where every kid in this department would give their right arm to be. My advice: Get a pad and pencil and go learn from the best people in the business.” And that just broke my parents’ hearts. My mom never went to college so it killed her. Till the day she died she said I needed to go back to college and get a degree so I’d have something to fall back on if show business doesn’t work. But I felt like I had no choice. And it was hard not to learn from Harvey [Korman] and Carol just by osmosis. Just sitting and listening.

I bet. Was it unusual to everybody that you were doing school and the show at the same time?

Well, I didn’t do a whole lot on the Burnett show when I first started. Going to school and getting to the studio wasn’t a problem. People do it all the time now. You hear about movie stars that went to Harvard and Yale — I guess they weren’t doing a weekly television show.

Yeah. Time off between movies is a whole different dynamic.

But in the beginning I was hired to play her kid sister, and that’s really all I did for at least a season and a half. Then they slowly broke me into other sketches. So it’s not like I had a ton to do.

And Carol and Harvey were your mentors. They took you under wing.

Well, Carol had a show to run, so she had a lot to do. But Harvey, just being the team player he was, took comedy very seriously. And he was a trained dramatic actor. So he decided he would take me under his wing and make me a comedian. He would say, you can’t find stage right, stage left, you can’t even find the toilet. So he set about to train me. He’d work with me on dialects, and my props. And he’d explain to me who I was in those movie takeoffs when I didn’t know. It was great to have Harvey Korman for a tutor.

People make so much of Tim Conway’s antics. But the secret weapon was Harvey…

He made it work.

So you were 24 when you start playing Mama?

Uh-huh.


A Hollywood youngster, playing a much older Southern lady from circumstances very different from your own. How did you find her?


First, I played a lot of older women on Carol’s show. Mama wasn’t the first, she’s just the one that stuck. But you’ve got to remember, it was Carol’s show. So, when Carol was playing Shirley Temple, I was playing the mean old school marm. And, while she was playing Rebecca, I was the wicked old housekeeper. She was Snow White, I was the wicked witch. She was Red Riding Hood I was… I don’t know. Who was I in that? Anyway, I played a lot of older women on that show. So Mama wasn’t the first. She was written for Carol, and I tell this story in the show. I call it another gift from Carol. Because she didn’t want the part. She said, “It doesn’t speak to me, I want to be Eunice.” The writers were very upset. She went to Bob Mackie and said, “Don’t you think we should make Vicki Mama? He said absolutely and the writers were doubly upset. Then we got to rehearsals and she said she wanted to do it Southern. The writers literally walked out the first time they saw it. They said, “You’ve ruined it.” This was their baby. They came from dysfunctional upbringings, and they wrote this beautiful homage to their families and Carol ruined it. Of course, what we know is Carol really didn’t ruin it, she was right. Carol and I were doing an interview together, for extended features on a DVD, and, because some of our sketches could get pretty dark, she said she always thought it would be a good exercise for an acting class to take one of our sketches and play it seriously first, then go back and add the accents. I think that’s why she added the accents. She always said it was like Tennessee Williams on acid.

On something. I remember being young and seeing those sketches and they upset me. Everybody seemed so unhappy and angry. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I got how funny they are. I remember sitting down with the family to watch Carol Burnett — this was family entertainment. But in retrospect, a lot of it was pretty dark. Like a dwarf crushed by an elephant during an act of lovemaking. It was pretty adult stuff.

It was. And those were arguably Carol’s favorite characters. The writers couldn’t write those sketches fast enough. It was al very close to real life. Much more than anything else we did.

Mama’s costume — it’s almost like a uniform — is there one part you put on that makes you feel complete? I’ve always guessed the support hose.

The socks I rolled down because it reminded me of my grandma whose socks were always sagging. It is like a uniform. I can’t imagine not doing it in any part of it. I did go out without my glasses one time though. I reached up to touch them and was like, “Holy cow!” I didn’t say anything and the audience didn’t say anything. Maybe nobody noticed. But I felt naked after that.

I bet. These characters — Chaplin’s tramp, Groucho’s Groucho — you take away the cain or the cigar — you take away part of the identity.

Yeah, I know. And I get pictures every year of people who dress up like her for Halloween.

Did you feel right away, when you started doing this, that it was special?

We did. The writers walked out and did not. Said we ruined it. But you can tell when something’s really rolling when you’re doing it and it’s funny. They wrote it as a one time sketch, but it got so much positive fan mail.

Over time did the writers warm to the changes?

I’m not sure. I guess they did. We took the writers when we went to do Mama’s Family and they didn’t warm to those changes at all. We did two episodes and I said, “This is not funny.” This doesn’t feel right.” And I shut the show down and said, please, please bring Harvey in. And so we did and I asked Harvey, “How do we fix this, it doesn’t feel funny?” He said, “Well, it’s a sitcom now, sweetie. It’s got to be silly. You can’t expect people to pop a beer, come home every week, throw up their feet and watch this old lady scream at everybody for a half-an-hour. She’s got to become a sitcom star. She’s got to laugh.” I said, “But I don’t think she’s ever even smiled.” He said, “What have I taught you — you ARE her. She is YOU. Anything you can do, she can do.” He was really responsible for turning her loose, and turning her into the peacock she became. And there was nothing the writers could throw at me that she couldn’t do, anything. From running for mayor to learning to drive to dirty dancing to falling in love. Anything. She did it all.

I’ve got to talk about “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.” I’ve got a friend who’d be upset if I didn’t. A 51-year-old man. Works out to your record— The first one. Knows every word to every song.

Oh. My. Well, you know I was married to the songwriter for like 10-minutes and “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” was the only good thing that came out of it. That and I got to keep the dog.

Does the fact that it was a troubled relationship change your relationship to the song?

No, the song took on a life of its own and was the ultimate demise of an already doomed marriage. It became this big huge juggernaut of a hit from the 70’s and you know— If you have one of those you have to sing it. And I feel okay. I got the last word, I was right. It WAS a huge hit. And I lobbied long and hard for the guy that arranged that record. His name was Artie Butler and he was on the charts with a number of other songs that I loved at the time. He was not the producer’s go-to arranger and they didn’t get along so great. But he was totally responsible for the way that song ended up sounding, but wasn’t called back in to do the album. I look back and think, “You don’t break up the winning team!” So the album I’m not proud of at all.It got done because it had to but it wasn’t the great experience of doing, “Georgia.”


How did you fit the music career in around the TV show?

I didn’t really have a music career. Back then, when this happened to me, you didn’t cross pollinate like you do now.

Unless you were like the Brat Packers.

But record stars didn’t really do Television, Television stars didn’t make records. Movie people were never on the small screen, ever.

And most of the ones that did happen, didn’t work.

Right. Now, if you’re not doing it all, and a line of makeup and clothing, you’re not doing it. Back then I’d do interviews in conjunction with the record and people would say, “Vicki Lawrence, where have you been?” I’d be like, “On the Carol Burnett Show for six years.” Or I’d have people call me Vicki Carr. “No.”

It seems so very separate. I wondered if, even then, people didn’t make the connection.

People come to the show who say, “I had no idea that was you.”


You mention that nowadays you have to do everything or you’re not doing it. You’ve obviously done the Disney thing working on Hannah Montana with Miley Cyrus. As a former youngster who had such incredible mentors, did you feel the urge to step into that kind of role?


Those producers on Hannah Montana set about to surround her with actors who were really good. Brooke Shields. Dolly Parton played her other grandmother. There were a lot of big stars on that show. And they would say. “She’s like a little sponge. We want to let her learn, so please impart your wisdom. It was a very nurturing environment. I remember the first day on the set we had a kitchen scene with a lot of props and we had to get something done during the scene. I used to love those scenes on Mama’s Family because our director would choreograph them like a dance. By the end of the kitchen scene you’d have something made, or in the oven. I’d associate my lines with my props, and it made it so much easier to learn. So we were having trouble getting something sorted out and I said, “Make your props your friend, Miley.” The first thing Harvey ever taught me. So we made it a little dance and it worked fine. Flash forward, four years later, I’m doing the last episode of Hannah Montana I ever did. And Mamaw and Miley are at a Tea Room and we’re all dressed up in our high heels. And I set my purse down in the middle of the table, and it just wasn’t working. I asked Miley what she did with her purse and she said, “I hung it on the back of my chair Vicki. Make your props your friends.”

We haven’t talked much about your show.

I'll share one of my favorite stories. When we first started doing it, we got booked in Laughlin, Nevada, which is about 90 miles from Vegas, and a world away. It's on the Colorado. Mobile homes. A much older crowd. So we're working this big casino there, and the fella that booked the show came down on the second or third night to say hi. We were all sitting in the dressing room talking — me, my husband, who produces the show, and my son, who directs it — and he asks, 'Would you like to know what the word is out on the casino floor?' And I said, 'Sure, what is the word on the casino floor?' He said, 'The word is, wear your Depends.' That's probably the nicest compliment I've ever gotten.



Friday, January 13, 2017

Memphis Bound Gilbert Gottfried Talks Trump, TV, Life on the Road

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 4:47 PM

This is what happens when you stay Up All Night.
  • This is what happens when you stay Up All Night.
Some things are just true. The sun comes up in the east, water flows downhill, and Gilbert Gottfried is funny. Obnoxious too. Grating. He can say some inappropriate things. And yes, he's always in trouble. But like the old lounge comics he takes his cues from, he's got zingers. And he'll get you, eventually.

Gottfried's long and varied career in stand up has taken him from U.S.A. Up All Night, to Disney Studios. He's been a reality star, a spokesduck, and a roaster to be reckoned with. But he still packs his bags and works comedy clubs all across America. He's coming to Memphis Jan. 20-22, for a gig at Chuckles Comedy House and Fly on the Wall got him to open up about life on the road, the quest for fresh material, and being fired by Donald Trump.

Or something like that.

Fly on the Wall: I don't think I've never asked anybody this question before. Certainly not so early in the morning. But I saw this on social media and wondered — What was it like when you were on Celebrity Apprentice and Donald Trump grabbed your pussy?

Gilbert Gottfried: I was both shocked and flattered.

I suspect so.

I thought it was a little forward of him, but I was very impressed by his success.

How strange is it to have done that show with the soon to be President of the United States.

It's definitely surreal. I start thinking what that might mean anybody else whose shows I've been on. I mean, Jay Leno could be President. David Letterman could be President. It's a surreal time. But I remember when the election going on and it was him and Hillary. Out of the entire United States it comes down to these two.

This is what I've observed. And I could be wrong. But you really seem to enjoy what you do a lot. Is that a good act you put on, or is comedy still a lot of fun for you?

It depends on the day. Sometimes it depends on that particular 15-minutes of the day. Sometimes I enjoy what I'm doing. Other times, like when I'm going to another state to do another show, I feel like I'm Willie Loman lugging his suitcase around.

I've toured a little and know that Willie Loman feeling.

And it's a funny thing, especially traveling, going to the comedy shows. Whenever TV shows show a politician or a rock star screaming out "I love you Chicago!" and they're not in Chicago, it's always played for a laugh. I'm always like, "Yeah, I know exactly what that feels like."

Is there any part of it you like more these days? The stand up? TV? Voice?

I like doing voice overs. I liked when they had more sitcoms on the air. More so than reality shows, though reality shows have taken over. I liked when they used to call me up and just go, "You're going to be Jack the Plumber in this episode." That was much more easy and fun. It's funny, with the reality shows, which I was avoiding for the longest time, then I realized, that is TV now. And the amount of people who watch it is pretty incredible.

I'm with you. I remember thinking, this is a fad. It will be gone soon, nobody's really invested in watching this. Jokes on me!

Oh, yeah.  After a while, before I said I'd do it, I started to feel like some old time stage actor who looks down on movies. And a funny thing happened too, when they were offering me these different shows, and I'd done one of those celebrity paranormal shows, which was pretty ridiculous.

I don't think I saw that one.

Well, you didn't miss anything. We're all — me and a group of other celebrities including former porn star Traci Lords —  were in some abandoned insane asylum and the ghost of an insane serial killer is still there. And they gave us these ghost packs. It had some kind of thermometer there. And if one part of the room was one degree higher or lower than another part, that was proof of paranormal activity. Cause, you know, abandoned insane asylums are known for their temperature control. If there's a breeze coming in, that's obviously a ghost. So I'd say no to these things. I'd think, "I want to be in a movie with Robert De Niro." And then I started to realize, the Kardashians have a bigger audience than Robert De Niro. And two, I wound up with a very small part in a Robert De Niro picture recently. So I guess the whole business has totally changed.


You have a real knack for saying things that get you into hot water.

I thought I'd keep that out of the press.

But most of the time you turn it around and it works for you. Gift or curse?

Oh, God. Employment-wise, it's a curse. But I always feel like, whenever anything happens to me, I always think twice and do it anyway. Bad part is losing work and the internet goes nutty on you. But the good part is, sometimes when something happens to me that's some big controversy, it's almost like slapping a "new-and-improved" label on an old product. When people start saying, "Gilbert Gottfried's career is over, what I realized is, when your career's really over, people don't mention your name. If the top story of the night is your career is over, it means it definitely isn't over, or they wouldn't talk about it.

Perfect point of reference — the time you tell the 9/11 joke, lose the room, then, unlikely as it might seem, you win them all back by telling The Aristocrats. Which is a completely different kind of perverse. But the okay kind, I guess. And that's the model. You always turn it around. Except for maybe with Aflac.

There they got rid of me, got loads of free publicity for getting rid of me, then hired a guy who sounds just like me for a lot less money, thus bringing closure to a terrible tragedy.

I asked readers what they wanted to know about Gilbert Gottfried, and they all wanted to know about your voice. But everybody asks about your voice. What I want to know, as a man approaching 50 who squints a lot, can you recommend I good, yet affordable wrinkle cream?

No. I just go with all the other actresses for Botox. And I'm going to get chin implants put in.

You've been playing this character for so long, with the squinting and the voice — does it bleed in and out of daily life, or is it something you turn on and off like a light.

I can turn it on and off. And the weird part about it, I've found after doing it for so long, it's like I have two personalities. One's not more relevant than the other.

That's got to be fun for everybody. Are there signs friends and family know to look for to know which Gilbert they're getting.

In any case the less funny one. With the voice or not.

You're inspired by a lot of older comics. But where do you look for new material?

That's kind of weird because I don't really look for material. Sometimes something will hit me and and I'll go up on stage and try it out and it gets expanded. But I've never actually written anything down?

Really?

Yeah, and I have a horrible work ethic as far as the idea of sitting down and typing out bits and all that. So I'll have it all in my head and I'll think I'll do this bit or that. Then I realize I've been doing a bit so long I'll ask, "Hey, any of you watch Bonanza?" Sometimes if I've been doing a bit way too long I feel like, wow, I'm on autopilot now. I could be working out mathematical problems while I'm doing this.

You said Bonanza. So I've got to bring this back to your podcast. Just a great repository for fans of 20th-Century show business.

With me it's a suppository.


It's a pain in the ass?

Yeah. It's one of those things. Years ago there were these shows like Fantasy Island and the Love Boat. They'd dig up these people like you thought were dead, and then you saw them and thought, 'Hey, they're just as good as they ever were."

Setting a course for adventure.

I was originally going to call it "The Before It's Too Late show" and a couple of times that's happened. I've called a guest, they agree to do it, and the day before they die. We've had several guests up their in their 90s. A few of them, and they remember everything.

Any favorite stories?

Unfortunately this happens. When the mic is off all of a sudden they come up with a great story. Dick Van Dyke told me, off mic, in school his nickname was Dick Nose. Whenever the teacher would ask a question and say, "Who knows the answer," all the other students would say, "Dick knows, Dick knows!"


Monday, June 27, 2016

"Memphis is Funny" Story Inspires New Website, Podcast

Posted By on Mon, Jun 27, 2016 at 4:19 PM

MITCHELL DUNNAM, BADASS.
Sometimes your babies have babies. And then those babies have babies. Cue "Circle of Life."

This week marks the debut of a new podcast connected to a slightly less new website inspired by a cover story I wrote back in March. (With bonus coverage here and here)
"Memphis is Funny," was my attempt to create a snapshot of the city's growing comedy scene. Memphisisfunny.com is a website devoted to all things Memphis and comedy-related. Memphis is Funny: the podcast is a weekly talk show on the OAM network. 

And guess who was the very first guest on Memphis is Funny: The Podcast? Never mind, I'll tell you. It's me
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Monday, April 4, 2016

Comedy is Hard: The Night I Attempted Stand-Up at the P&H Cafe

Posted By on Mon, Apr 4, 2016 at 4:30 AM

Did you know I'm "Eskimo Brothers" with Patton Oswalt? Well, comedy "Eskimo Brothers" anyway. It's true, see?

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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."

Actual comic Kyle Kordsmeier working out at the P&H.
  • Actual comic Kyle Kordsmeier working out at the P&H.



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."



Laughter.



"Have to?"



Laughter.



"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?"


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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. 


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And speaking of professionals, it's Memphis Comedy Festival weekend. Go see some. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Comic on Comic: An Insider's Guide to Memphis' Comedy Scene

Posted By on Fri, Mar 6, 2015 at 11:58 AM




Memphis is known around the country for its lip-smacking good BBQ, its toe-tapping Blues and Rock n’ Roll music, and, of course, its knee-slapping hilarious comedians! In honor of the 4th Annual Memphis Comedy Festival this weekend, we’ve compiled a list of the funniest, most recognizable local comedian types working in Memphis right now! 









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"My word, I've got a rather severe case of the giggles!!!"














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#7) Marquel (2Funny) Parram



Catchphrase:

“I can only tell you what I heard I did…”









Marquel (2Funny) Parram is one of the hardest working comedians on the scene today. You can find this Comedian anywhere there's an audience in Memphis, and I mean ANYWHERE!



“I wanted to get strong as a performer,” he said, “so I figured I need to practice in as many different venues and in front of as many different audiences as I could.”



Not only has Marquel performed stand-up at Memphis’s top venues, he’s performed on street corners, buses, trolleys, grocery stores, doctor’s offices, carpools, and even at the zoo!



“You know a joke’s not good when you can’t make a hyena laugh.”



Marquel has been on the Memphis Comedy scene for four years now and said he is ready to make the transition to full-time comedian. He has had semi-recent success opening up for the ducks walking at the Peabody. You can see Marquel (2Funny) Parram…well…anywhere!

2funnycomedy.com




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#6) Josh Feveret








Catchphrase: 


“I have a knife on me.”




Our number six pick is the wild Josh Feveret! Josh moved to Memphis from Chattanooga just three years ago. And since then he has shook up the local comedy scene. Josh has often made a habit of riding the lines of appropriateness when it comes to his standup sets.



“Comedians today have to be shocking in order to get any attention,” Josh said. “I may say things that might offend you, but that’s part of the art of standup.”



Josh did make local headlines recently when he briefly set himself on fire during one of his standup sets at the P&H café’s open mic night.



“I wasn’t getting any laughs that night, so I thought well… let’s kick things up a notch. In hindsight it probably wasn’t the best decision, but that’s what open mics are for. The paramedic did laugh a little when I asked her for a light before they took me to the emergency room, so I’d say the night wasn’t a complete waste.”



Josh will be opening for a local punk music band The Mindless Ripoffs this Saturday at Murphy’s bar.

Joshisonfireyall.com




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#5) Thomas J. Freeman 


Catchphrase:

“I thought this was a music open mic not a comedy one, but the host said I could do a few songs before you guys start.”








Thomas J. Freeman has been part-time musician in Memphis for the past 12 years. He doesn’t consider himself a comedian, yet will religiously show up to all the comedy open mics and shows in Memphis asking for stage time.



“Otherlands coffeeshop won’t have me back anymore because apparently you have to order something once in a while, which I am against,” he said. “Also they really only want you performing during the open mics, not to people trying to use the Internet.”



Thomas hopes to soon sell at least 10 of the CD’s he’s made of all originally songs he recorded in his sister’s boyfriend’s bathroom. The album is called “Echos by the Throne.” Buy it online here.

 




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#4) Jessica Talbert








Catchphrase:

“I may not know a lot, but one thing I know for damn sure is that airplane fuel doesn’t burn hot enough to melt steel!”





Young, energetic, and fearless are three worlds that come to mind when you think of this up-and-coming Memphis comedienne. Some comics like to do impressions, others tell stories of their personal life experience, but comics like Jessica like to go more political.



“It’s easy to make people laugh. I mean look at the New World Order!” She said. “Our reptilian shape-shifting lizard overlords have been laughing at our ignorance for years. Wake up people!”



Recently Jessica has taken time off from her full time job as a blogger for ChemtrailsAreBrainControl.com to focus more on her stand-up career. Although she has yet to finish a complete set without the microphone being cutoff, she is releasing her first full-length comedy album called “Live from Hollow Earth.” You can see Jessica perform at the back porch of most bars trying to get you to stop drinking water. Also check out her Podcast, “Tinfoil Hat Thoughts” on the Shut up and Listen Network.




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#3)Tim “The Biff” Johnson









Catchphrase:



“It’s Biffing time!!!”





This comedian has the largest and most loyal fan following in Memphis. His high energy comedy is a force to be reckoned with. It’s hard to find any comedy fan in Memphis that doesn’t enjoy a good “Biffing”. He is one of many headlining comedians working in Memphis, but what sets him apart from the others?



“It’s the Biff-Squad, definitely,” he said. “My fans are come out in full force waiting to get biffed, and what can I say? I always deliver.”



Tim Johnson has been doing comedy for 18 years now and has a career ranging from stand-up to movies to theater.



“The Biff has done Shakespeare before; the Biff can do it all.”



You can see Tim “The Biff” Johnson getting his Biff on at his comedy showcase at the Cooper Penny off Central Avenue the 12th of every month. Click here for official Biff Merchandise.










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#2) DJ Tickle-Cheeks







Catchphrase:

“Goo goo…haaaa HAAA Ppppppffftttt drrrrrppp ma ma ma….”





Who said this list was only featuring stand-up comedians? You may not recognize his face, but you’d definitely recognize his voice! DJ Tickle-Cheeks hosts the #1 podcast in Memphis, “Nap Time; Snap Time” on the OAM Audio Network. DJ Tickle-Cheeks got his start in comedy when he ate spaghetti for the first time. Combined with a deep appreciation for dubstep music, DJ Tickle-Cheeks has built a strong following here in the city of baby blues.



“We cannot wait till he gains more control over his motor skills and is able to actually hold his head up to the microphone, then there is no stopping him,” said audio producer Gil Worth.



Listen to DJ Tickle-Cheeks every Friday on the OAM Audio Network.




And finally we come to our number choice for best local Memphis Comedian... 



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A Horse







Catchphrase: (N/A)

It’s a horse guys, horses can’t talk.




As most of you know there is a horse that appears randomly in Memphis comedy clubs and venues.



“Oh shit, that horse is back” is a common phrases said by host and hostess at open mics and showcases.



“He just keeps to himself most of the time, which is fine when a show isn’t going on. But have you ever tried making an audience laugh when there is a 900lbs thoroughbred horse standing in the middle of the freaking room”, said one Memphis comedian. “He goes to like 80% of the shows in town, and he doesn’t even laugh! He just stands there knocking shit over.”



You can find the Memphis Comedy Horse at a majority of comedy venues in town.






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. 




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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Katrina Coleman Talks Memphis Comedy Festival

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2015 at 8:07 AM

Katrina Coleman
  • Katrina Coleman

This year’s Memphis Comedy Festival – which opens on Thursday, March 5 and runs through Sunday, March 8 - is shaping up to the biggest, and arguably best, in the event’s history. What originally started as a last-minute schedule filler for local “non-commercial” performance space Theatreworks, has evolved in four short years into full-blown comedy bonanza, with well over 20 individual shows and workshops spanning across a myriad of venues in town, including Theatreworks, Co-Motion Studio, the Hi-Tone, and Studio on the Square. The festival’s founder, comedian and popular Memphis tweet-er Katrina Coleman, spoke to FOTW this week about organizing the event and much, much more.

Fly On The Wall: What inspired you to start the Memphis Comedy Festival?

Katrina Coleman: Like all good origin stories, there are three that are all very nearly the same with one variance. I started the Memphis Roast Club to bring all the best comics I knew together and do work on the comedy scene. Larry Clark, an international artist, is based out of Memphis. He had booked Theatreworks for his nearly-yearly one man show, “Just Larry.” Circumstances and a busy winter kept him from putting together a whole new show to his standards in time, so he opted not to. He was talking with our close friend and stage manager Nathan Hiller about it and as founding members of the Roast Club, decided maybe we could use the theater for something. When they called me, we talked about a series of shows or a headliner or. . . why not all of it in a festive fashion? All three of us think it was our idea, but it was mine because I say it was. So in six weeks we pulled off the first one and it was so good, we had to again. And again.

How has the festival grown since that first year?


The first year, our banner was very carefully cut sparkly letters taped to a dollar store table cloth and I made stickers with a manual Xyron machine. This year, Lauren Rae Holtermann designed our posters and we'll have merch that, holy crap, doesn't look like a craft project. The shows have also come to include every kind of comedy, with so many in the weekend that no one person could physically see every single performance. The community support through sponsorships and volunteer efforts has grown by incredible and humbling leaps.

The thing that really gets better and better is the support we get in accommodating the comics. They generally crash on couches, they're fed every day, given coupons and passes and discounts from all manner of local businesses. This city just flings its doors open wider and wider so that when people leave to go back to their various homes, they feel like they've been the cool side of their family.

What would you say your primary role in the festival is? Who else contributes to putting it together?

Most of my time is probably spent just listening and nodding and saying things like, "We'll fix it. It's ok. You have to go tell jokes now. Blow your nose." In years past, I've taken crash course in promotions, organizing, scheduling, festival-ing in general. From making the interview appearances to plunging the "trouble toilet" again, my job is just to keep going. My role is also largely recruiting the right people. Every year the core team grows and changes, but keeps improving. Nathan Hiller has always been the guy who knows all about the stuff that plugs in. I tell him every year he has the job no one notices until he screws up, "And buddy, no one noticed you! Thanks!" Kate Mauldin has been our volunteer coordinator this year, thanks to her expertise in complimentary sandwiches. Cara McLane came on, and with Doug Gillon have made the marketing stuff just so beautiful it hurts. The Stanley Justice team organizes the entire film night, and Josh McLane has even taken the additional role of hospitality coordinator. Benny Elbows wrestles the monster that is our schedule and also is always awake when I text at 2 AM to tell ask him what I forgot to do today. Jada Brisentine headed sponsorship and she is very good at getting yes as an answer. Richard Douglas Jones is the sonic screwdriver of the festival, hosting shows, running cable, shaking hands, all things. Mike Degnan wrangles improvisors. Katie Wood comes by to yell when yelling's needed. Twin Face Kline, OAM Audio, Looks Like Lisa, all those teams are holding down a station. It never would have happened without the support from the beginning from Jack Pirtle's, who feed us every year. Every single year I get to watch a new person discover fried chicken livers. There are at least three dozen people I could list, and another dozen I wouldn't get to before you ran out of pages. Team effort doesn't even cover it, this is an army effort.

What is the booking/submission process like? Is it tough to decide who gets in and who doesn't?

Every year, we solicit comics all over the place to send us a video, bio, and a small fee. Then, we sit in a room and watch and yell and discuss and yell more. This year we only meant to take 27, and ended up with 32, because we simply could not bear to cut the list shorter. Every dispute is handled in a manner that may not be dignified but is certainly group effort. I've been outvoted more than once. This year, 127 videos played in Richard's living room and great battles played out to have our favorites here. There's an unofficial policy that if someone gets shoved over your submission tape, automatic entry.

How much importance do you place on showcasing local comics vs. bringing in out-of-towners?

There's always local talent, specifically as hosts, and a vast majority of our volunteers and staff are local comics. There's a local showcase specifically for us, but most shows we try to fill with visitors. We take a fairly Southern approach to hospitality, giving our guests the finest portions, as it were. We get the joy of Memphis audiences the other 361 days of the year, so we use our good manners and share.

What have been some of your favorite events or performances over the years?

Oh, that's a hard question. Comedy Secrets came last year. They do a show in which comics tell a true, personal story that has never been on stage. There's even a vow of secrecy at the beginning so I can't tell you much, but in an hour and a half I cried like a baby and laughed so hard I was choking. The Memphis Film Society gave us a live commentary over an awful sci-fi softcore movie from the ‘70s that included a game that got at least two people out of their pants. Jason Earl Folks comes here every year and every single year I find myself spelling his name for someone who just HAS to find him on Facebook RIGHT NOW. Twin Face Kline once interviewed Tawanda and Cordell Pirtle and I found out that Mrs. Pirtle is the funniest, sharpest woman in town. And she's not afraid to tell a comic to shut the hell up.

Is there something you’re really looking forward to this year?

The Stanley Justice guys haven't let me see the film submissions, so the anticipation for Don't Be Afraid of the Shorts might kill me. Unlockable Characters is a nerd-centric, queer-positive show that I have been begging Amy Sulam to bring to us for MONTHS. But Penny Wiggins may be what I'm most excited about and will be hiding from all responsibility in the booth to watch. She's just so very, very funny.

Tell me about Penny Wiggins, this year’s headliner.

Penny is better known as “Psychic Tanya,” the lovely assistant to The Amazing Johnathan. Since his recent illness, she's returned to her standup roots. She's an actress, too, so she also has a whole pocket full of characters. Happi Johnson, a locally based comic, but definitely an old pro - she used to write for Phyllis Diller - knew Penny and basically called in a favor for us. It's the right time for Penny as she's just begun touring again, and for us to have a chance to see her before she comes back through and has to play the Orpheum. Getting her here may or may have not included a promise to take her to Graceland.

Do you feel there is a legitimizing effect on the festival in bringing in more well-known performers like Penny and last year's headliner, Billy Wayne Davis?

Oh, absolutely, yes. For comics considering submitting, the headliner becomes a huge incentive to them. In addition, it's gained us much respect here at home. From tablecloth banners to hosting performers with resumes longer than my arm, I certainly think people believe we aren't just dabbling in this. 


As the festival grows, is it getting harder for you to personally attend and oversee every single show? Do you see yourself ever wanting or being able to step back from that?

Last year was the first year that one pair of eyes could not have seen all of every show, and I was so very proud of that. Everyone knows that at the Beale Street Music Festival you have to make difficult decisions, sometimes, right? Because so many incredible bands are around you just have to sometimes run from one end of the park to the other. Music is everywhere you look. The idea of a weekend like that with comedy, well, it makes my heart beat real fast. Last year, I was just able to check into every show and then run off to make sure the next was ready to go. At the very least, I was able to see each crowd for myself and get a feel for how it was going. This year, the schedule is such that I can't do that at all. I've got enough capable people that I can trust to make sure the lighting is right and the chairs are reasonably spaced. It's like my little baby has gotten too big for me to tie her shoes or walk her in to school any more. Maybe one day I'll relax and just enjoy the shows, let other people handle the way the tshirts are folded and what color cups we have and can I please have a ladder to adjust this light? Maybe I'll just relax. No, I won't.

How do you see the festival growing in the future?

Bigger. I always want it bigger. Scratch that, I want it stronger. I want it to be a thing that comics want to come to so badly that they send us bribes in the mail. (Rum. I like spiced rum.) If I got my wish, of COURSE I'd have Louis CK or Maria Bamford here. I still hold on to hope that Chris Hardwick will come back home to visit. Going forward, we've toyed with the idea of outdoor events, things that families might enjoy. I've also decided that by next year, I'll convince Tony Allen to do an open mic.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about this year’s Memphis Comedy Festival?

Buy a pass. Sit on the top row at Theatreworks. Hydrate. Don't be late, you'll miss something. Follow the @memcomedyfest so you know what's poppin’ off and where. Always be prepared to dance battle. And never, ever, EVER buy a comic drinks after midnight.

For tickets and schedule information, visit www.memphiscomedyfestival.com.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

W. Kamau Bell at Minglewood Hall

Posted By on Thu, Jan 8, 2015 at 1:54 PM

W. Kamau Bell
  • W. Kamau Bell
With the recent opening of Chuckles Comedy House in Cordova and the emergence of the local comedians guild Memphis Roast Club (which promotes Memphis-area comics and stages the annual Memphis Comedy Festival event in Midtown, bringing in comedians from around the country), the comedy scene in Memphis has never been stronger or more vibrant. That said, Memphis still misses out on most big-time touring comedians due to a perceived lack of audience and/or venues.

This Friday, however, will be an exception to that rule as Memphis plays host to San Francisco-based socio-political comic W. Kamau Bell at Minglewood Hall’s 1884 Lounge. Bell is perhaps best known as the former host of Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell on the FX and FXX cable networks, both subsidiaries of Fox. The show received rave critical reviews and developed a considerable following, but was ultimately cancelled after two seasons.

In addition to hosting Totally Biased, Bell has made numerous high-profile television, radio and podcast appearances, including Conan, Real Time with Bill Maher, WTF with Marc Maron, and NPR’s Fresh Air – just to name a few. He also co-hosts the semi-regular podcast The Field Negro Guide to Arts & Culture with Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid.

Here’s a clip of Bell performing stand-up at the prestigious Just For Laughs comedy festival in Chicago in 2012: 


And here he is discussing his “mixed-race baby” on Conan: 


Also appearing Friday night will be Boston’s Zach Sherwin, a comic/rapper who sometimes performs under the name “M.C. Mr. Napkins,” and local Joshua McLane. Tickets are $15 (plus a $3 service fee) and showtime is 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.wkamaubell.com or www.minglewoodhall.com.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Memphis Comic Remembers Robin Williams

Posted By on Tue, Aug 12, 2014 at 8:38 AM

Robin WIlliams
  • Robin WIlliams
I hope you’ll indulge me for a bit here.

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.

Joey Hack is a member of the Wiseguys and a regular contributor to Fly on the Wall. This story originally appeared at The Howling Monkey blog.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Howling Monkey Reads The Sunday Comics: 6/8/14

Posted By on Sun, Jun 8, 2014 at 10:51 AM

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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.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Why Read the Sunday Comics When The Howling Monkey Can Read Them For You?

Posted By on Mon, Jun 2, 2014 at 11:56 AM

When Arlo makes a promise he cant keep...
  • When Arlo makes a promise he can't keep...

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.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Comedian Josh Androsky Ate Magic Mushrooms and Went on "The Price is Right." This Week He Plays the Poplar Lounge

Posted By on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 12:24 PM

The Price Is Rights Skateboard Rabbi
  • The Price Is Right's Skateboard Rabbi

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.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Eddie Izzard Returns to the Scene of the Crime: Overton Square

Posted By on Tue, May 27, 2014 at 2:42 PM

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.

Eddie Izzard in Midtown
  • Eddie Izzard in Midtown

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."

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Comedy that Leaves a Mark: Shameless self-promotion part II

Posted By on Thu, Oct 31, 2013 at 10:59 AM

Every Part I deserves a Part II.

Cage-Match-300x227.jpg
Anyway, we all know what a cage match is, right? Obviously, it's a wrestling match where two, three, four, five, or even six beefy, screaming, steroid-pumped maniacs climb into a cage, or a barbed wire cage, or an electrified cage, and hit each other in the face with folding chairs. Like this...

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.

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