Posts Tagged ‘stand-up comedy’

Louie Louie Louie: Airport/New Jersey

As Season Two of Louie continues on FX, John S and Josh will be offering NPI readers their reactions to each episode. At the end of the season, they will rank the episodes. Get excited.

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Louie: The Life and Stand-Up Of Louis C.K.

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

Aught Lang Syne: The Funniest Comedians of the Decade

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

Monday Medley

What we read while going for it on 4th-and-2…

  • 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.

Happy Halloween

In honor of today’s festivities, here is Jerry Seinfeld with some thoughts on Halloween:

The Roast of Joan Rivers

Comedy Central aired the Roast of Joan Rivers on Sunday, so NPI Roast connoiseurs  John S and newcomer F.P. Santangelo (not related to the former Montreal Expo) sat down to discuss it:

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 Happens to Funny People?: A Review

“You know what would make a good story? Something about a clown who makes people happy, but inside he’s real sad. Also, he has severe diarrhea.” —Jack Handey

 This Deep Thought—if you replace the word “diarrhea” with “leukemia”— kind of sums up the conceit of Judd Apatow’s new film (technically only his third as director, but his influence as a producer/writer has been felt everywhere in comedies recently, from Pineapple Express to Superbad), Funny People: Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, a beloved but lonely comic on the verge of death, who befriends/employs an upstart comedian, Ira Wright (Seth Rogen).

Simmons is in some ways an analog of Sandler himself (an important difference, however, is that Sandler, unlike Simmons, is married with two children): A stand-up comedian turned star of popular, critically panned films—Re-Do, about a man-baby, Sayonara Davey!, about a white man living with a Japanese family, My Best Friend is a Robot, about, well, you can probably figure it out— that bear a certain resemblance to Sandler’s own filmography.

While these films bring Simmons fame, fortune and success with women, they don’t bring fulfillment, and when Simmons gets sick, the only person he tells is his new assistant, Wright; Simmons has no close friends or family he feels comfortable confiding in. The movie, then, presents Simmons as the proverbial “sad clown”: He makes other people happy, but not himself.

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Monday Medley

What we read while waiting for our “higher calling”: