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Weekend Comedy Recap: See Something, Say Something, Laugh at…

This weekend I was in Timonium, Maryland performing at Magooby’s Comedy Club.  I had performed a couple of weekends at the club’s older space a few years ago, but had not been booked since.  But then I worked a weekend in Syracuse a couple of months ago with the brother of Magooby’s owner, killed it and got him to vouch for me to work Magooby’s (side note – this is why for the rest of the year I am putting together a “Working With Relatives of Comedy Club Owners” tour).  But like all my comedy recap stories, the comedy club is just one player in an ensemble of experiences over the course of three days.  So here it is:

On Friday I arrived in Baltimore and then proceeded another hour via light rail and bus to Cockeysville, Maryland where my hotel, The Ramada Limited, was situated.  The first thing that bothered me was that the place was listed as a hotel, but had the motel-esque feature of all rooms accessible from the street (the lobby was just its own kiosk and not an entryway for access to any of the rooms).  In addition to that was the fact that within 2 blocks of the Ramada Limited (the Limited stands for your chances of success in life if you have to stay there) there was a Chick Fil-A, a Five Guys, an IHOP and a Dunkin Donuts.  The message from Cockeysville was simple: if a drifter looking for a quick score doesn’t kick in your door and murder you, the food options will do it to you.

The first bad omen on the trip was when I checked in to the ho/motel I was sent to one room that had not been cleaned. I came back and was sent to another room. That one had not been cleaned either (I could see the dead hooker’s body through the window).  Finally I got a third room that was clean. #Blessed

I only stay in 5 star hotels, if you add up the five 1 star reviews they receive.

FRIDAY SHOWS

Friday night’s shows were interesting.  The first crowd was dead for the emcee.  Now sometimes I can see an emcee doing poorly and say either “crowd is not warm yet or the emcee sucks.”  But in this case there were some solid jokes that were not even registering with the crowd.  My set had some good laughs and plenty of almost inexplicable dead spots (like language barrier level dead spots).  Here is how I basically ended my first set:

“Well, this was fun, though it was more like a TED talk than a stand up set.”

Crowd – nothing

“Oh Christ, I did it again – you guys probably don’t know what a TED talk is!  Now my set is turning into an Inception of references you don’t get – like layers of things you have never heard of on top of each other.”

Crowd – nothing

“Oh, Inception. Sorry – this tiny movie that made like $300 million a couple of years ago.  I referenced two movies in this set – Avatar and Inception and you’d think I mentioned some obscure foreign film.” 

See a lot of politicians say things like “The American people are smarter than that…” to discredit opponent’s positions.  And many comedians focus on being likable or pandering.  To quote Danny Glover, “I’m getting too old for this sh*t.”  I understand if someone like Dennis Miller can throw people off with all his references, but if an analogy to Avatar or Inception in a joke doesn’t register (when it registers laughs 98% of the time) then yes, crowd, it is you.  So I will treat you with disdain and condescension (even more than usual).   I have never watched a TED talk, but I know what the fu*k they are!  As another example unrelated to my jokes, I have never watched Citizen Kane from start to finish, but I wouldn’t stare like a vegetable if someone made a broad reference to it.  But maybe the crowd was just tired from a long work week. Or stupid. Or both.

The second show went much better Friday and I sold a couple of CDs.  It was a hard earned split.

SATURDAY SHOWS

Saturday’s shows were both solid.  The first show was probably my favorite crowd. I celebrated with a couple of gin and tonics and a burger (important note for a later part of this story – the last thing I ate until 8pm Sunday was the burger at about 1030pm) and then Rob Maher and Joe Robinson of the Rob and Joe Show arrived at the club.  They run a very good podcast and we communicate often on social media, but it was good to hang out in person.  Of course I woke up today to see that I had fallen 10 spots on the Stitcher Comedy Podcast Rankings, which I think is directly attributable to my association with them this weekend.

3 podcasting legends in one place!

The second show was probably only the third best set of the week for me (nothing was going to be worse than the first Friday show unless someone shot me while on stage) but I felt like I ended the weekend with a 3-1 record.  However, the most eventful part of the weekend was just getting started…

SUNDAY FUN DAY!

I could not sleep well Saturday night. I was getting up at 8am anyway to begin my journey on the Maryland bus system to get to Baltimore Penn Station, but what should have been 6 hours of relatively satisfied sleep was about 2 hours of crappy sleep.  My stomach was feeling a little queasy so I decided to skip the “executive continental breakfast,” as the Ramada Limited called it, and went to the bus.

During the 80 total minutes I was on the different buses I started to get progressively more tired and queasy feeling, though travelling through several neighborhoods in Baltimore I could not help but smile thinking about The Wire because everyone had the physique and accent of Prop Joe (and half the characters on The Wire – either the white-ish Baltimore accent of saying words like “Coach” as “Cauch” or the one I heard much more common, the blacker Baltimore accent of saying words like “two” as “tseu” (I hope that is clear and if it is not, I blame you)).

By the time I reached Baltimore Penn Station I was sweating profusely and my stomach was reacting like I had just chugged a gallon of Mexican tap water.  As I result I ending up spending so much time in a Baltimore Penn Station bathroom I nearly qualified for adverse possession.  Feeling better and barely making a train I had been 50 minutes early for I sat down in my seat and started to feel a different kind of queasy coming on.  Not to mention the sweating got worse to the point that it might have been making fellow travelers uncomfortable.  I went to the snack car to have a water and a Gatorade and to get a little more space.  About 25 minutes into that I had the sudden urge to vomit. So I shuffled my way to the bathroom (by this time my back was hurting and all my muscles felt weak) and let forth a furious puke fest.  Now I was just left with back pain and a headache, but my stomach was much better.  I then went back to my seat to see someone sitting in it (to be fair it was a crowded train and I had been gone for an hour) and my backpack missing.  Turns out someone had seen a sweaty dude with thick eyebrows leave a backpack and told the conductor!  I could finally cross “be suspected of being a terrorist”  off of my bucket list.  To show how out of it I was, the conductor had walked right by me with my backpack – as it was at the table right next to where I had been semi-comatose in the cafe car.

An artist's rendering of me on Amtrak yesterday

So there it is folks – comedy, hostility, illness and terror threat – just another weekend in comedy.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on PodomaticiTunes and NOW on STITCHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe on one or more platforms today – all for free! 

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Breaking Bad – The Greatest Show of All Time?

Well, ever since the end of season 4 of Breaking Bad I have been wondering if it could finish as well as it started, I enjoyed it more than any show I had ever seen, but only Six Feet Under had delivered the ending (and overall depth) that its greatness deserved.  And off the bat I would like to say that if you are thinking of your favorite all time show and it has the word Homeland or Lost or Dexter or “CBS drama” attached to the title then you may leave this discussion. This is not the kids’ table at a holiday meal.  There are, in my estimation, only five to six shows that can be in the greatest drama discussion – Six Feet Under, The Wire, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

The West Wing deserves special kudos for being what I believe to be the greatest network drama of all time.  Sure it was inconsistent once Sorkin left, but people make too much of this still.  How about some respect for how well the final season, which pitted Jimmy Smits vs Alan Alda for the presidency, basically predicted the Obama-McCain election?  And the first four seasons were sheer brilliance.  The West Wing was the last network drama to feel on par with the explosion of top tier, next level, cable dramas.

Mad Men I include because of the fact that it won 4 consecutive best drama awards (also accomplished by The West Wing and Hill Street Blues).  However, that is ridiculous.  The show has been an art house favorite, giving people born in the 1970s and later a feeling of nostalgia they could never actually have.  The show is solid, but also incredibly overrated (and even ardent fans of the show admit that it feels like it has jumped the shark).  Just because nothing happens does not mean you have to say it’s great.

That leaves the Holy Trinity of HBO and Breaking Bad as the last shows standing.  At this point all the shows are great on just about every level.  Although Homicide: Life on the Street did many of the stylistic things that the Sopranos did, The Sopranos really is the founding father of the great cable drama.   It provided the anti-hero of Tony Soprano and both the exciting and mundane problems that could be expected and unexpected in the professional and personal lives of a mobster.  However, my problem with The Sopranos, besides the ending (which after having it explained really appears to be a great ending, but I prefer after one or two viewings to be able to discern the meaning of a show’s ending without scholarly interpretation) was that it was not perfect.  The first 10 episodes of Season 6 (the one fans waited 22 months for) was subpar to say the least. These were the episodes that focused on a closeted gay character who was at best a third-tier character on the show.  As if to say, as Jimmy Failla said to me recently, “I know they are murderers and awful people, but they ALSO hate gays!”  The shock value and the social value was nil and it felt like a wasted chunk of 10 episodes.  Just as network drama has a challenge of making 22 episodes a year that can compete with cable, so too do cable dramas have the challenge of removing all waste and The Sopranos has a 10 episode dump in the middle of its overall brilliance (had the show gone seasons 1-5 and ended I might have to have Sopranos sitting at #1).

The Wire – how good is it?  It became a cliché to say how good it is.  Seasons 1-4 of The Wire average out to an A.  Season 1 – A, Season 2 – A- (shut up already people who did not like season 2 – David Simon, the show’s creator, wanted to create a thorough picture of Baltimore and how do you leave off the ports?  But it was less compelling than the other seasons), season 3 – A+, season 4 – A+.  And David Simon, when thinking about a sixth season thought about centering it around the growing Latino community in Baltimore, but decided not to because he did not feel informed on the same level as other aspects of Baltimore to give it a proper authenticity.  This is a respectable artistic decision by someone concerned about maintaining quality (though Treme is hailed as authentic and the first season put me to sleep), but season 5 of The Wire, which I give a B+ to out of respect for its association with the other seasons, is a noticeable step down, partly, if not entirely because Simon had an obvious and well-documented bone to pick with the media, of which he had been a part.  This heavy-handed criticism, along with a weird, fake-serial killer plot that seemed out of place with the rest of the show, made the final season of The Wire its worst, even if the finale brilliantly showed that the cycle of poverty, crime, drugs and bad decisions remained in tact after the journey the viewers had taken.

So that leaves my two favorite, and in my opinion, best dramas I have ever seen: Six Feet Under and Breaking Bad.  First, Six Feet Under.  The show’s structure was brilliant – each episode brings you a death, sometimes comical, sometimes heartbreakingly tragic, which leads people to Fisher and Sons, the funeral home, run by the main characters.  The cast was perfect and the writing was as well.  There was a hiccup according to most fans in season 4 involving Lisa (I will give no more info for those who will decide to take up the show), but I found the show to be pretty much perfect.  I have never felt like I had learned to know people more in a show.  It addresses sex, sexuality, life and death – major concepts to say the least, with such a personal touch and such depth that you feel like neighbors and friends have been lost when the show ends.  Whereas shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, which show how realistically great writers can portray things that might never come close to happening to you, Six Feet Under showed how monumental the events of normal life can be.  It also stands as a landmark show in the portrayal of same-sex couples.  People can hail Modern Family, Will and Grace, etc. but Six Feet Under gave a same sex couple more detail and heart than almost any relationship ever in popular entertainment.  The show was full of great comedic and dramatic devices, had character growth and development better than any show ever and the finale is nothing short of a masterpiece.  For every fan of the Sopranos, or Lost of Dexter or Seinfeld that has ever complained about a show’s ending, Six Feet Under feels like a reward for all that disappointment and confusion.  I have cried exactly once during a television finale. And that was Six Feet Under.

And in the other corner we have Breaking Bad.  To cover the finale, it is obvious that Vince Gilligan has paid attention to the failed or disappointing finales of the last decade and took notes.  The final last night delivered the goods.  It was satisfying, thorough and had heart, but never packaged the good feelings with a bow and gift wrapping.  Not everyone forgave Walter and the forgiveness that was given felt realistic.  His death was well-played and he was finally honest to his wife.  He brought death to those who were worse people than him and he freed those who were better than him.  Of course, for all the hype that Ozymandias received (the 14th episode of the 16 episode final season), my favorite episode of the final season was the second to last one.  This was the one where Walt appeared finished with his son telling him to die and having to pay his smuggler thousands of dollars just to keep him company for an hour.  But the final scene of that episode, where Walter seems to be given the (angry) strength to finish the job, both of his life and the show, after feeling disrespected and dismissed by his former business partners on a Charlie Rose interview, gave me chills. The full version of the show’s outstanding theme song building until you see Walt’s unfinished drink, indicating that he is going to give himself and fans of the show the ending they want.

Breaking Bad delivered a show, perhaps more than any other ever, that was perfect on every level. The cast was great, the writing – both dialogue and story – amazing.  And on a level where many shows don’t focus, the art direction and cinematography were on a level with great, epic cinema. Sometimes you felt as if you could watch the show silently and still marvel at it.  It delivered big moments, heart racing action, and more than a handful of OMGs each season.  In short, it is great. It never slipped (people who criticize early seasons should recognize that, in the totality this plays as a brilliant 62 episode movie where all parts are necessary and all add to the recipe of greatness.  There were no weak spots (other than the acting of the man who played Gomie, Hank Schroeder’s partner), no weak seasons and it delivered the goods at the end.

So the question is, what is the Righteous Prick’s greatest show of all time?

Tie.

Six Feet Under has the greatest ending of all time (imagine a guy hit a walkoff grand slam in Game 7 of the World Series down 3 runs – sort of impossible to ever beat) and showed life so realistically and so epically, while still just being about every day life.  But Breaking Bad, did the opposite in equally brilliant fashion – it showed how using great writing and acting could bring cinematic brilliance and epic storytelling into our mundane homes each week.  Both shows lasted five seasons, which also showed the perfect sense that both Alan Ball and Vince Gilligan had to prioritize art and story over money (Hi Dexter – how did those last 4 seasons work out for you?).  So I declare it a tie.  But since today is about Breaking Bad here is how bad my life immediately turned after Breaking Bad ended:

My door lock broke and I was locked inside my apartment for 3 hours, like Jesse Pinkman with the white supremacists, minus the torture and ice cream.  Then a locksmith showed up at 1:30 am, charging a king’s ransom, all while wearing a “Party With Sluts” t-shirt (true story). Then I read that Mad Men will be splitting up their final season into two parts the way Breaking Bad did.  To show you what is at sake among the actual and merely perceived shows – for Breaking Bad (and Six Feet Under to an extent) the question was of mortality – who and how will characters die?  For Mad Men, I assume the question will be “Will Don Draper cry in the final episode?”  To be great something has to be at stake.  Six Feet Under and Breaking Bad, the two greatest dramas of all time – put it all on the line in their own way and our reward was the best entertainment.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic, iTunes and NOW on STICHER. New Every Tuesday!

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Tea Party Comedy Show

This weekend I was featuring at Magooby’s Joke House in the greater Baltimore area.  I emphasize “greater” and “area” because if you are thinking an urban crowd (a/k/a Omar, Bodie and the rest of the cast of The Wire) would show up you would be mistaken.  There were four shows.  The two shows Saturday were my kind of crowd and I was very happy with my sets.  But Friday offered many lessons in comedy and life, which is why I will share those with you now.

Season 2 of The Wire was the closest thing the Friday 830 pm show had in common with pop culture's best Baltimore reference - and it was not close

Friday April 9, 2010 – 830 pm Show

First show demographics  2.5 people of color, including myself (.5), 160 white people.  50% of the crowd was over the age of 48.  This would not damn me because I have been pleasantly surprised by crowds with not so different stats before, but this crowd would be an animal that I have never had before.  If the show were a children’s book it would be called “Where’s Negro?”

My second bit of the night was this:

So Sandra Bullock’s husband cheated on her.  Let’s just be honest – if you marry a tattooed man-whore and he goes out and sleeps with a bunch of whores that have tattoos, can you really claim to be surprised?  (Laughter) And come one Sandra – 46, no tits and expects to keep a man in Hollywood? (Silence with start of murmuring)  How arrogant Sandra!  You obviously made a deal with the Devil to win an Oscar of Meryl Streep and now it’s time to pay the price. (Silence broken by a couple of boos).

My girlfriend had warned me about making any jokes that got near the star of The Blind Side, which is treated by white people in Maryland with the same reverence that Hoosiers is treated with by rural basketball players in Indiana.  But one of the decisions I made with these shows this weekend was that I was going to do my best to not compromise a lot on the road.  I have the material to do NYC rooms and road rooms, but who I am as a comic is closer to the NYC material and I need to make crowds meet me a little bit more so at least my reputation will start to be based on who I really am as a comic and not just on an ability to be Jay Leno-ish one night and then more personal and edgy when I feel safer doing so.  But this crowd obviously loved Sandra Bullock because she saved a big black dude from eternal damnation, etc.

They probably would hate my short film, The Blind Side 2:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_oK6EPc6QA

My 5th bit of the night:

I took Megabus here tonight… I can’t take Greyhound anymore because it is like travelling with Hollywood celebrities – Hey there’s Precious (HUGE LAUGHTER), there’s a creature from Avatar and there’s that dude from that old movie Mask (laughter almost completely dies).

My comedy can sometimes be conservative, but it does not necessarily mean I want the support of fringe conservatives.  Another parallel is when I watch Jim Norton perform comedy.  I think the guys is absolutely brilliant, but he is also dirty, which draws a lot of fans to him that I don’t like.  He may tell a joke involving the words “pussy” and “cock,” but it is also brilliant comedy in there.  Some of his fans get it and some of his fans I think just get off on the usage of the words “pussy” and “cock.”  I feel the same way about some of my jokes that maybe take more conservative angles on abortion or entertainment or religion.  I want comedy fans to appreciate the comedy and thought in the joke, not necessarily to take it as an endorsement or a statement for a certain group.  Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, so the real point is to not bring all your agendas to the show and just laugh if it is funny.

Like the seam of her pants, Precious split a clear line between the two Friday crowds.

However, when I heard the all white crowd almost cackle at the Precious reference what I heard was, “Yeah, that fat black bitch is gross.” Which of course, she is but that is not the point.  This crowd was so sensitive to a millionaire white lady who helped an exaggeratedly helpless black man, but not to an impoverished obese black teenager.  You laugh at both or you laugh at neither in my book.

My final exchange of the evening:

I know you may not like this, but I’m not being political when I say I like Obama-

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Hey – great I just turned the show into a Tea Party rally –

a few laughs and some claps

Your closing act – Sarah Palin (joking)

Applause Break

I eventually got to my Obama bit and it went over well enough, but I was startled to be what amounted to a Tea Party rally.  I genuinely don’t understand people who are Sarah Palin fans.  I understand (diminishing every day), but disagree with many Republicans, but Tea Party people are from another planet to me.  Booing Obama, but an applause break for Sarah Palin, who is that magical combination of stupid and increasingly smug/arrogant the more money that gets thrown in her face for “speaking” engagements.  But that also explained why my comedy went over so poorly at that first show.  I was performing for a Tea Party.  Because I like the owner of Magoobys and enjoy playing there I will not connect the dots, but if you have read my blog I think you know what other “R’s” I associate with Tea Partiers besides Republican.

I expect the Teap Party audience to bring their guns next time.

Oddly enough on the 1030 pm show that same night – the Precious joke got near silence because about half the crowd was black.  That did not anger me as much, but it still angered me a lot because the joke is funny and the same way the Tea Party crowd let their cruel humor run rampant on Precious, the second crowd decided, as if they were a liberal arts college in the northeast, that they would let me know how attuned to the plight of poor and sad people they are and would not laugh.  The second crowd was overall 100 times better than the first crowd, so one annoyance did not break an otherwise good show and good crowd, but I still thought I should mention it lest a Tea Party Comedy member read the blog and comment, “See he’s letting all the African-American Nig-ers get off without any complaint.”

Overall it was a fun weekend at Magoobys (3 out of 4 shows a success – previous lessons of shaking off bad shows quickly came in handy), but just another reason for me to hate the Tea Party.  Before it was just business, but now… it’s personal.

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My Top HBO Characters of All Time

Being 2 discs away from finishing 6 Feet Under via Netflix I was thinking of how amazing the roster of HBO shows has been.  This also happened because I was watching Lost last night and thought, “Wow, this is supposed to be one of the best shows on Network television and it is basically a big budget mediocrity.”  Other than The West Wing and Arrested Development I don’t think I have seen anything on Network television to compare with HBO’s level of quality (all due respect to the CSI fans who adore that crappy franchise).  AMC is doing some good things (the slightly overrated Mad men and the very under-praised Breaking Bad), but HBO really is the cream of the crop (even though True Blood and Big Love, the two flagships shows at this point, are not close to the incredible things HBO produced last decade).  And I know that some people out there love Showtime, but having watched several episodes of Showtime shows they feel like a good junior varsity team to HBO’s state title winning varsity. 

So without any more explanations or caveats here are my top 13 HBO characters of all time (apologies in advance to the Crypt Keeper, the cast of Not Necessarily The News, everybody from Dream On (terrible) and The Larry Sanders Show (never saw it, but heard it was good stuff back in the day):

13) (tie) Dennis Hof – Cathouse and Lafayette – True Blood.  This is the only reality character on the list, but how can a guy who looks like Rush Limbaugh and acts like pre-wheelchair Larry Flynt not be on the list.  the Cathouse series, which follows a real life Nevada brothel features many women have sex, which is a relief because at least when you turn it on ou know what you are getting, as opposed to the HBO Real Sex series which could just as soon ambush you with a segment on nursing home gang bangs as they could with attractive women.  Dennis is the supreme scumbag that makes the show go with his array of women from the daddy issue-riddled, to the tranny looking one to the midget.  One thing is obvious – he has had sex with all of them.

Don't be fooled by her smile - he's definitely fu-king her.

Speaking to HBO’s diversity, Lafayette, the drug dealing, sassy gay black short-order cook/male prostitute on True Blood is only the first of two gay black men on this short list.

Hooker please.

12) Murray – Flight of the Conchords – The show’s first season was very good.  The second season was incredibly mediocre.  With all due respect to Jemaine – Murray was the extremely poor man’s Ari Gold on this show, literally.  Sadly, the actor that plays Murray is intent on beating the dead horse in a series of new commercials for some product where he is basically playing the same character, but with far fewer laughs.

Murray? Present.

11) Ralphie – The Sopranos. Sadly Ralphie only got two seasons on The Sopranos (3 & 4), but he won an Emmy for the second one and created a character hated above all in his first season and then, once accepted, became the funniest character on the show.  For me, his signature line will be after being confronted by Tony Soprano after beating to death a stripper carrying his child he simply yelled, “First of all she was a whoooour!”

Bad temper, good sense of humor - it's me!

10) Samantha – Sex and the City.  It would be hard, even for a misogynist, to leave off all characters from HBO’s third most popular show of all time. So I picked Samantha, who turned man-like sexual cravings into “empowerment” for women ages 17-60.  My favorite scene of hers may have been when she was dating Smith, a model who would be more likely to visit Samantha in the course of volunteer work at a nursing home than to actually bed her, and she runs into her ex-boyfriend Richard at a party. In front of Smith she goes upstairs with Richard and gets railed from behind and then comes down crying to Smith, saying “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”  Message? Empowerment.

That's the number of sexual partners Sam Jones established as meaning "empowered."

9) Lester Freamon – The Wire. The first of three characters from The Wire.  Quiet, unassuming and the best detective on the show.  My favorite moment, after coming up with evidence off of a soda can to potentially catch a cop shooter he is asked what unit he’s from. He replies with a straight face: “pawn shop.”  You have to watch the show to get that, but it was great.

The smart side of police work.

8) Tony Soprano – The Sopranos.  Nothing much needs to be said, except for the fact that he is only the second best character on the show (and no, the Bada Bing club is not #1).

Mommy issues.

7) Kenny Powers – Eastbound and Down.  Racist, stupid and angry. If he had not been a baseball player, he might have been leading a Tea Party movement.  Who knows if the shows subsequent season(s) will match the perfection of the first, but it takes a special character to make the line “I love you April, and not just in a make me come kind of way,” mean something, especially when said at an 8th grade dance.

Author of "I'm fu-king in and you're fu-king out!"

6) Al Swearengen – Deadwood. In a word? Cu*t.

Tony Soprano, if Tony did not have so much respect for women.

5) Ari Gold – Entourage.  This show is like watching the Cleveland Cavaliers play basketball a few years ago. It was LeBron James doing amazing things and four guys around him barely keeping up.  I thought after the first season they should have spun the show off and made it about Ari. They didn’t and now it’s a mediocre show with one dominating star.  But he still makes the show worth tuning in to each week that it’s on.

90% of all positive things on Entourage are a result of Ari Gold.

4) Omar – The Wire.  People reading this may have expected Omar at #1, but that would be too easy. I figured I’d sneak up on you like Kenard and… well, I don’t want to give away anything to the people who are just getting over their fear of Negros and Negro-filled shows, but Omar was the most entertaining character on the best show ever for sure, but he’s only my #2 from it.  Indeed.

If you thought he'd be #1 you were wrong.

3) Nate Fisher – Six Feet Under.  I don’t think any character on any HBO show (or any show for that matter – though Walter White on Breaking Bad is doing a nice job) has taken as varied an emotional journey as Nate Fisher.  At times he is both the most identifiable and the most polarizing figure on this unbelievable great show (Seriously, the fact that at one point HBO had The Sopranos, 6 Feet Under, The Wire all at the same time is like an NBA team having LeBron, Kobe and Kevin Durant at the same time – I think The West Wing would be Dwayane Wade for this analogy). 

Women would learn more by watching him than by watching Sex and the City (caveat - you may or may not like what you learn).

2) Tony Soprano’s Mom – Perhaps you forgot about her because she only made it on to the first two seasons of the show, but it says something that the show went from an A+ to an A without her.  The idea that a woman could be evil or just experiencing dementia, or possibly both was brilliant and gave Tony the best conflict on the show until he and his wife hit the skids in season 4.  Tony’s Mom was an absolutely brilliant character and played brilliantly.  Menacing and funny all at once. 

It's been a while, but don't forget how great/terrible Tony's Mom was.

1) Stringer Bell – The Wire.  I had a friend once tell me that she was going to see the movie Obsessed with that handsome black guy and Beyonce.  I replied that’s Stringer Bell from the Wire. She replied, i don’t even remember him from the Wire.  There are only two possibilities here and I will just propose the second – she missed the first 3 seasons of the Wire.  Omar got all the hype, McNulty got all the posters, but I found the intelligent criminal Cain to Avon Barksdale’s Abel the best HBO character of all time.  Watching Stringer try, but fail, to bring the Barksdale drug business into the legitimate world of Real Estate showed that the “legit” world is just as corrupt as the drug trade (as my brother told me – what is so different than the operation of Starbucks and the corner boys in The Wire – you give money and order to one person, then walk around to another area to pick up the product – he was kidding.  The difference is obvious – if coffee were made illegal a lot more white people would be killing each other than black folks on The Wire). 

On a side note, I was told a couple of years ago that the actor that played Stringer was a doorman at Caroline’s at night while he auditioned during the day.  More evidence that everyone in the comedy business except comics can make money. Congratulations Stringer Bell – you are #1.

Former doorman at Caroline's makes good.
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My Ten Favorite Things From 2009

No movies made this list (but I have already given you my Top Ten of the Year, so they don’t really need another platform anyway).  Not everything is from this year, but they were read, viewed, worn or observed by me this year.

10. Fred Armisen.  In a year that had some ups and downs, he represented both.  He gave what is the least funny impression ever on Saturday Night Live and he did it week after week.  To quote Forrest Whitaker’s character from The Shield, “It’s like he is pissing in my mouth!”  But the bright side of that is that one year in there is still a void for a decent Obama impression.  If ever there was hope for me in 2010…

You give me hope Fred Armisen.  Hope that SNL will change who does Obama.
You give me hope Fred Armisen. Hope that SNL will change who does Obama.

9. Arrested Development – I know this show is older, but I watched the first three seasons on Netflix this year and it is the funniest multi-season show I have ever seen (important distinction hint hint).  If you have not seen it, you should.

8. Laid Off/Full Time Comedian

According to my biopic script:

I walked out from the law firm that had crushed my soul with a defiant stride knowing that although I was taking a risk pursuing comedy full time I had the confidence of knowing that I would follow my dream and in the end be a success.  I was also touched by the slow clap I received from all my co-workers as I left on my last day.

According to reality:

I planned on going to do comedy full time in 2009 at some point, but given the economic climate and the generally good feeling of a swollen bank account (from a pretty nice place to work as law firms go) I probably needed the push, or shove, of being laid off to pursue comedy full time.  Now my dream still feels attainable, but is starting to resemble a bad acid trip as much as it does a dream on its way to fulfillment.

7. Steeler Super Bowl – This was cool because it was a great game and washed away memories of the only Super Bowl the Steelers had won in my lifetime – Super Bowl XL (40), which was the worst Super Bowl ever played.  I also cannot put the Yankees title on here, because although I like many of the players, something about that victory felt like cheering Goldman Sachs’ bankers when they date rape your daughter and your pension fund.  Of course the Steelers did not help themselves with their “ni-ger” shouting fans this season, but perhaps a poor season will be their punishment for having racist fans.

6. Obama’s Inauguration/Nixonland – Such a cool moment when Obama was inaugurated.  Even cooler was being able to predict how half of America would turn on him as soon as they could and how his young supporters would realize that politics is work and detail and compromise and not a pop culture reality show called For The Love of Obama on VH1.  I always bet on old people in the long term in politics and in 2010 the book Nixonland will prove quite prescient when the Republicans break through the 60 voting block in the Senate and win about 30 seats back in the House.  If you like politics or just want to predict the 2010 election read Nixonland.  But January 20, 2009 was still a great day.  The country was divided on September 10, 2001 and after 9/11 the country rallied around Bush (91% approval, after being dismally low before).  Do you think if the same happened today the country would rally around its President?  I am guessing not.

5. The West Wing – Watched the entire seven seasons on DVD in 5 weeks.  The greatest dramatic series I have ever watched not named The Wire.  Sorry The Sopranos I think you’re great as well, but the detail and the writing of The West Wing was intimidating in its brilliance.

4. New York’s Funniest Comedian – I am still waiting for an e-mail response(to a very politely and respectfully worded e-mail) from a certain comedy club as to why I never got a call back, despite being promised a spot in a showcase and simultaneously being denied a chance to audition because it was unnecessary.  This moment was a low point in my comedy naivete, but also a wake up call that was invaluable.  That is not to say that 40 years from now when I am sitting a lone in a mansion, miserably counting my money in the dark, that I won’t assault, with a bowling pin, some booker or manager or assistant sycophant who shows up to my home.  That reminds me, I think my next CD will be entitled “I’m Finished!”

Sure I will do your show.  But first you have to tell me that bringers and cattle calls are bullsh*t and that you have made false promises.
Sure I will do your show. But first you have to tell me that bringers and cattle calls are bullsh*t and that you have made false promises.

3. The Bonfire of the Vanities – The most enjoyable piece of fiction I have ever read.  Did for novel writing what The West Wing did for me in terms of television.  As Salieri said of Mozart’s music in Amadeus, “Remove one note and there would be diminishment.” That is how I felt about every sentence of this 600+ page novel, which is just as relevant today as it was 22 years ago.  Just don’t see the movie before or after reading it. 

2. Paul Millsap Jersey – I received this gift Christmas 2008, but I did not wear it until this hoops season.  If it’s the thought that counts, then I have never received a better gift in my life.  And I seem to be the only person outside of Utah to possess one, which makes it even more exceptional if you consider things in Utah fashionable. 

The jersey may look ugly to you, but when I got it as a present it made me very happy.
The jersey may look ugly to you, but when I got it as a present it made me very happy.

1. Eastbound and Down – So this is the answer to the question what could be better than great literature, historic national elections, pursuing your dream or seeing your team win a title?  That’s right – a fu-king redneck.  If Eastbound and Down ended after only these 6 episodes it would be like Guns N Roses dying after releasing Appetite For Destruction – a perfect debut to live on forever.  So apologies to my girlfriend, Barack Obama, Tom Wolfe, Jason Bateman, The Steelers, stand up comedy, and everything else that went on this year, but my favorite thing this year was a foul mouthed racist pitcher form Shelby, North Carolina – Mr. Kenny Powers.

And feel free to support Kenny Powers with a Kenny Powers jersey: Kenny Powers Jersey

2009 was your motherfu-kin' year Kenny Powers.
2009 was your motherfu-kin' year Kenny Powers.

Have a Happy New Year readers and fans.  All 6 of you.

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Will Work For Distraction

So I have been a “full time comedian” for a little over 4 months.  I have booked some feature spots,dropped 18 lbs (through diet and exercise – cocaine weight loss will be when I become a famous comedian and can’t make as much time for the gym) and was pleased with the one television audition I had (though every day I get increasingly nervous about getting the spot).  I’ve begun acting classes and writing beyond stand up.  The question now is, after e-mails, writing, working out, sleeping and performing, what do I do with the other 14 hours of my day?

One option is reading.  I recently finished The Bonfire of the Vanities, which basically set the bar so high that writing reality-based fiction seems to be too lofty a goal for a comedian and blogger.

Next option is more writing.  As I begin trying to write a script I am also using a lot of my time to watch The West Wing – I have banged out 5 1/2 seasons in approximately 4 weeks, which is the best streak of my career since I did 4 seasons of the Wire (a nerdy pre-Season 5 recap) in two weeks.  This show, more so than The Sopranos and even The Wire, has raised the bar on writing a serious show and has made me think that I should probably stick to shows with the depth of Two and a Half Men.

All work and no play makes J-L very good at watching The West Wing
All work and no play makes J-L very good at watching The West Wing

I have also found moments during this four month stretch where I have had e-mail and Facebook exchanges stretching into two hours in length, and not one was an in depth Twitter exchange on Iranian politics.

So I am pretty sure I can keep this up for another 6-12 months (and financially for 18 months), but the question is what to do with my time before I start hatcheting up a hotel?  And that is scary considering my bench and squat numbers are back to my college level (idle time is apparently the Devil’s creatine as well).

What too much time in the gym and at open mics can lead to without the offsetting of an annoying day job.
What too much time in the gym and at open mics can lead to without the offsetting of an annoying day job.

I guess at some point a job may be needed just to keep my sanity.  But I think I should pick a job that would at least enhance some episodes of my show if based on my life. 

  • One option is working at a Starbucks across the street from my old firm.  A few priceless moments of awkwardness. 
  • Or I could work at the oddly placed porn shop near my apartment – never thought of Turtle Bay as a mecca for seediness.  Those scenes would show my putting down my notepad or a Pulitzer Prize winning biography to ring up Anal Sluts 4.  Seems a little too gimmicky.
  • Try to make money the easy way, by frequenting the OTB across the street from my apartment building – making me the only person there under the age of 50 and not smelling of tobacco. 
  • Get cast in a few commercials as “tall, racially ambiguous male #1”.

Whatever – time to go to the gym.

Blog

Inside My Acting Studio

Tonight I begin taking an acting class.  I figure if I can expand my skill set beyond stand up and add acting to my entertainment resume I will double my chance of exposure and “making it” to 1 in 500,000.   Getting into comedic acting seems to be like getting into  SUV manufacturing in Detroit.   Great dramas are not really being made either.  The Sopranos, The Wire and The West Wing have given way Jay Leno’s Comedy Hour on NBC and the largest collection of stupid, unrealistic crime shows ever compiled known as CBS. 

CSI: Crummy Sh*t for Idiots - NOW CUE THE WHO!!!!!!
CSI: Crummy Sh*t for Idiots - NOW CUE THE WHO!!!!!!

So, with the American people and television executives conspiring to produce cheap, thoughtless entertainment I asked the acting coach one question: Can You make Me A Reality Television Star?

She responded with many more questions for me:

Are you an abrasive black woman?  No.

Are you a wealthy, bitchy white woman between the age of 16 and 54? No.

Can you sing? No.

Are you morbidly obese?  Not yet.

Are you incredibly stupid? No.

Can you dance?  Not really.

Can you cook? No.

Are you flamingly gay and good at knitting? No and no.

Are you in a terrible relationship and feel like doing a lot of travelling? Nope.

Are you poor and in need of a new home?  Not yet.

Have you appeared in any sex videos or done anything to completely shame your family? Not to my knowledge.

Do you have a ton of kids and are willing to be a terrible and abusive parent by putting their lives in front of a camera for a voyeuristic and increasingly stupid American people? No and no.

Well then it looks like you better hope that stand up comedy works out for you. 

Welcome to the reality show douchebag track.
Welcome to the reality show douchebag track.