Posts Tagged ‘stand-up comedy’
As most dedicated Seinfeld fans know, the initial concept for what would become one of the best live-action sitcoms of all-time was an exploration of how comics get their material. The pilot episode was edited such that the action cut back and forth between Jerry’s life and Jerry on stage. And while the next few episodes maintained this format, the stand-up segments of the show were gradually scaled back, soon only appearing at the beginning and end of every episode, then only the beginning, and by the end of the show’s run not at all. By that point, of course, the show had evolved into the “show about nothing”—as opposed to a study of the life of a comic—that we all know and love.
Last night’s premiere of Louie on FX, though, is almost a look at what that initial concept could have looked like. Whereas Seinfeld quickly abandoned the stand-up conceit in favor a more general sitcom formula—with secondary characters and sets and cohesive plots—Louie’s first two episodes show no traces of those things. Instead we see C.K. play a man named “Louis C.K.” who, like the real C.K., is divorced with two kids who attend public school, lives in New York City, and works as a stand-up comedian. We see him on stage performing, and then we see little short films or vignettes that flesh out the ideas he talks about on stage. In some ways, it’s kind of like that old Comedy Central show Pulp Comics, except not awful. Continue reading
Comedy is a broad subject. It’s not confined to any one medium, genre, style, or format. It’s hard to define and almost impossible to quantify. But here at NPI, we take comedy very seriously. The comedy of the Aughts in particular will always have an important role in shaping our senses of humor. So today we present a list, in no particular order, of people who helped to truly shape the comedy of the decade. This is not a list of people who were funny once or twice, but people with a body of work that is both rich and impressive. This means that a lot of people had to be cut. Great stand-up comics (Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari), some hilarious supporting comic actors (Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman), and even some groundbreaking comic teams (Flight of the Conchords, Stella), couldn’t make the list. And that’s because the following individuals/groups reached a level of success, both in terms of popularity and quality, that helped define the comedy of the decade.
The cast of Arrested Development
Arrested Development has the funniest ensemble cast in the history of comedic television, and it’s way ahead of whatever’s at #2. Tim has already extolled the virtues of Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth, but the fact is that the main character is about the sixth-funniest cast member on the show. Michael Cera gave a breakout performance for three years as George Michael, completely selling every awkward quirk of the character, including (and especially) his love for his cousin. David Cross played Tobias’ obliviousness and physical awkwardness to perfection, conveying every sexual inadequacy and illicit implication (“She said ‘single,’ right?”). Will Arnett made a magician named Gob come off as arrogant, creepy, and sympathetic. Portia Di Rossi played Lindsay’s self-righteousness and laziness as mutually coexisting. Jeffrey Tambor, as the family patriarch, managed to make the character so memorable that they had to keep him as a regular, even though he was supposed to remain a guest after the pilot. Tony Hale’s Buster, Jessica Walter’s Lucille, and Alia Shawkat’s Maeby, rounded out the cast, ensuring the show didn’t have a single weakness. Even guest stars, like Henry Winkler, Ed Begley, Jr., and John Michael Higgins, manage to turn their characters into memorable comic stars.
Most important, though, was the way the cast interacted. Plenty, if not all, great comedies have breakout characters and star performers, but few entire casts have had the chemistry that this cast had. Exchanges between Michael and his son, for example, are so great not just because of the dialogue and each character’s eccentricities, but because of the interplay between the two characters. Their ability to talk over each other, fill in each other’s awkward gaps, and respond nonverbally to the other’s lines are as funny as anything in the script. Continue reading
What we read while going for it on 4th-and-2…
- It’s been a few weeks since we had an NY Times heavy medley, so we figured we’d catch up on old tricks all at once. Here’s Stephen Pinker’s review of Malcolm Gladwell’s newest collection of essays, which does to Gladwell kind of what South Park did to Family Guy a few years back. In that same book review is David Gates’ look at Vladimir Nabokov’s latest (and last) The Originals of Laura. Gates’ review vacillates a little between warnings that Nabokov’s incomplete and posthumously published work (we’re not assuming all our readers know Nabokov is long deceased) can’t possibly live up to the standard of his finished work and light urgings to read it anyway. (Our favorite part: There’s a character named Hubert H. Hubert; he takes an interest in a so-called nymphet. We’re not sure, but we imagine some hijinks ensue.)
- In a post way back in June, John S discussed the future of TV–a topic only now addressed by Nicholas Carr in the NY Times Magazine.
- In case you ever wondered why the Wall Street Journal doesn’t focus on sports, it might be because it churns out ludicrous stories like this one on the underdog status of Iowa Football. Now, we’re not here to say that Iowa isn’t, relatively, an underdog in major college football; it is, after all, located in Iowa. But, to write this story, after the Hawkeyes lost, when much much MUCH bigger underdogs such as TCU, Cincinnati, and Boise State are still unbeaten, was a bit shortsighted.
- Speaking of college sports, Tim has already indicated his love of Michigan basketball coach John Beilein, but he’s not the only one who loves that guy. The Michigan Daily tried to figure out just how Beilein has put Michigan basketball on the map.
- Keeping tabs on some NPI favorite comics: Aziz Ansari, from this summer’s Funny People, has a new Comedy Central special and DVD coming out in January. Hannibal Buress, who made our top 5 list, is now hosting his own weekly show in Brooklyn. Kumail Nanjiani,who hasn’t been mentioned on NPI before but was the face of “New York’s independent comedy scene” in a recent NYT profile, showed up at last night’s inaugural show.
- Wait a second, not all black musicians are rappers?
In honor of today’s festivities, here is Jerry Seinfeld with some thoughts on Halloween:
John S: The Joan Rivers Roast wasn’t the best roast Comedy Central has ever done, or the worst; at this point the franchise has become so entrenched that consistent viewers know who and what to expect. The target at this point is incidental to the mere act of roasting. I’m not really a Joan Rivers fan, and I certainly wasn’t tuning in to see Kathy Griffin, but I think these Roasts are an underrated comic venue. The knock against them is that they seem to be exercises in repetition: Each comedian takes his or her turn making the same jokes. For this particular roast, the jokes seemed to oscillate between “Joan Rivers is really old” and “Joan Rivers has had a lot of plastic surgery.” What’s great about a Roast, however, is that it allows each comic on the dais to showcase a personal flair and interpretation of the same basic jokes. Sure, some of these comedians turn in jokes that are stale and boring and probably written by some intern, but plenty of comics have turned the Roast into a personal showcase. Gilbert Gottfried and Jeff Ross have each created a distinct voice in Roasts, and both were in traditional form at the Joan Rivers Roast. By far the funniest man on the dais, however, continues to be Greg Giraldo, who always seems to find the perfect balance of edgy, clever, and original humor. Giraldo is the Michael Jordan of Comedy Central Roasts, and he turned in another stellar performance on Sunday. Do you think Giraldo lived up to his own high standards?
F.P. Santangelo: Sure, Greg Giraldo was great. Of course, you’d probably forgive a guy that talented if he didn’t bring his best material to a Roast of someone like Joan Rivers, but I thought he turned in a solid set. Hopefully he’ll catch a little more publicity after his upcoming special (“Midlife Vices,” Sunday, August 16 at 10 pm on Comedy Central). I agree that he represents the gold standard for roasting, but what also distinguishes him is his versatility as a comedian. I’ve never seen Jeff Ross or Gilbert Gottfried excel in any other venue (Aladdin doesn’t count), but Giraldo is a great stand-up comic. I guess it’s just interesting that to be branded as a lethal roaster might have been the best thing to happen to Jeff Ross, and only a bittersweet success for Greg Giraldo. Of course, what’s frustrating is that many members of the dais aren’t even comedians, so the supposed opportunity to “showcase a personal flair” is often replaced by mediocre material delivered by terribly unskilled celebrities like Maureen McCormick, Donald Trump, and of course the completely inept Farrah Fawcett. If laughter really is the best medicine, that’s probably why she died. Continue reading
What we read while waiting for our “higher calling”:
- One of us (guess which one!) lost his favorite football player of the last decade early Saturday when former Titans’ quarterback Steve McNair was killed. McNair, author of the first great 3rd-and-5 play in Super Bowl history (here’s the other), is memorialized well here on Fanhouse. But all you needed to know about Air McNair was what Rams’ DT DeMarco Farr said in the above linked video: If he ran on that last play, no one could have stopped him.
- Malcolm Gladwell, who blogs every six months or so, is starting a new trend of “author as performer”, according to the Financial Times, due to his incredibly popular book tours. Josh might have something to say about that, given its promotion of the solo lecture. Meanwhile, in this week’s New Yorker, Gladwell reviews a new book by Chris Anderson of Wired. The review is, of course, very good, except if you’re, well, Anderson.
- Tim wasn’t the only one heaping lavish praise on Mariano Rivera this week: Joe Posnanski did the same thing, with a lot more Ernest Hemingway references, for SI this week. As usual, his blog was very good this week as well.
- We at NPI all have an interest in comedy (see John S. and Josh’s Anchoring Symposium for how this interest has led us to intense if obscure economic debates) so we naturally found a study of where stand-up comedians fell on the “Big Five” personality traits to be particularly intriguing. Here is the actual paper.
- We never really need an excuse to post anything about Journey, especially an exploration of the enduring (and really, ever-increasing) popularity of “Don’t Stop Believing.”