Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

Bill Maher: Bitingly Funny No Matter the Venue—Comedy

September 15, 2014

Bill Maher enjoys such a devoted fan base that people (including me) will come to his show even when they’re not exactly sure what show they are seeing. Do we have tickets for HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” or our tickets for a live taping of an HBO special of his stand-up? In the September 12 crowd in which I stood outside DC’s Warner Theatre, we finally realized we were to be a part of Maher’s comedy special following his also live “Real Time” at DC’s Sidney Harmon Hall. Confused? No matter as long as you‘re entertained and boy were we ever.

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Turns out Maher’s warm-up act was Maher himself as we watched his  “Real Time” show on the television provided by the theatre. Once that concluded our audience was treated to a play-by-play account of Maher’s motorcade/foot race to the Warner Theatre by none other than Keith Olbermann and filmmaker Michael Moore. Moore had a very funny line referencing Maher’s donation in the 2012 presidential election, by commenting that a “million dollar donation to the Obama campaign evidently buys one a police motorcade.” Whatever. On stage, Maher seemed no worse for wear from doing back-to-back shows. He opened his act with, “I had to run three blocks at breakneck speed to get here. Thank, God, I’m white.” And with that we were off.

Keith and Michael

Despite Maher’s liberal leanings, no one is safe from his caustically funny routine…not Democrats, the President nor the Clintons. But he saves his special bites for Republicans, Congress, racists and religion. Surprisingly, the only person to come out relatively unscathed was the Pope, referring to him as the “Joe Biden of Catholicism”…affectionately calling him, “Frank.”

One line that brought the house down was about the Republicans wondering how they could have lost twice to “Cedric the Entertainer.” But then he went on to say how hard it was to feel sorry for them when they “nominated the world’s oldest man for President who then chose the world’s stupidest woman for his running mate.” The partisan crowd absolutely lost it at that point. Some of Maher’s best small bits were about Donald Trump’s feud with him and John Boehner’s evident hormonal problems which cause him to cry.

Maher admits to showing his age when it comes to social media and taking and posting pictures of one’s private parts, saying he “associates typing with term papers, not sex.” His hour of levity ended with what else—a not to be repeated penis joke.

A Bill Maher comedy special comes with no applause signs. None are needed. The man is smart, energetic, and most important of all, hilarious. The next time his show comes your way, should take every opportunity to go see him…even if you are a religious Republican. Just bring your sense of humor and you’ll have a terrific time. For now, check your local listings for both his HBO shows—”Real Time” and the “Live From DC Special.”

4 nuggets out of 4

Joan Rivers: Yes, Let’s Talk

September 5, 2014

“Oh, grow up.” I guess I’ll have to now that the world just got a lot less funny and a lot less honest with the too soon, yes, too soon death of Joan Rivers. At 81, Joan Rivers had to be the hardest working woman in show business and still the funniest woman on the planet. How someone with so much vitality can no longer be with us seems unfathomable to me.

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If you only know Joan from her ground-breaking, hilarious work on the Red Carpet or from winning “Celebrity Apprentice,” or possibly from her hysterical “Fashion Police,” you are missing out on so much. First and foremost Joan was a stand-up comic…an absolutely, positively, great stand-up comic. Watch her early appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” or “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and you’ll see how terrific she was. Joan’s initial work was all self-deprecating and boy, did she ever zing herself. While I laughed listening to her tell how she couldn’t get anyone to wait on her at the Bloomingdale’s makeup counter, that story later filled me with anxiety the first time I entered the NYC store. Remembering her routine, I was fearful that I, too, would not be able to get someone to wait on me.

Talk about reinventing oneself and growing—that was Joan. She was never, ever stale. She kept up with current events and changed as the times changed. Yes, she was raunchy and biting, but most of all she was still funny. She never took her success for granted because she knew from sad experience how easily it could disappear. For her, no gig was too small. Watch the wonderful documentary, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” and you’ll see exactly what I mean. She loved to entertain, tell jokes and hear the applause and laughter. Her biggest fear was not getting that gig…of having an empty calendar…of losing a booking to Kathy Griffin or Sarah Silverman.

Those who read my blog know that I have dabbled in stand-up. It never would have even occurred to me to think about this without Joan Rivers. Every female comic owes a debt of gratitude to her for paving the way to make it possible to  earn a living telling jokes, and if the jokes are raunchy…who cares…as long as you are smartly funny. She was my idol…my hero. One of my biggest thrills was seeing her perform a few years ago at the Strathmore’s Music Center, outside DC. It was a packed house and she did not disappoint. She exceeded my expectations. Brilliantly uproarious, sharp and physical…at 77! It was an absolutely astounding, amazing performance.

At times like this, it’s customary to say, “Rest in peace.” If there is a heaven, I can’t believe Joan is resting. I’m sure she’s competing with Robin Williams for laughs as we speak.

 

 

Lewis Black’s The Rant is Due: Paid in Full—Comedy

April 13, 2014

Lewis Black was in vintage form for his Thursday, April 10 show, “The Rant is Due,” at DC’s Warner Theatre. That is a good thing. Full of rage, venom, and just out-and-out funny, Black was on fire.The Rant is Due

So what was it this time? Black is from the DC area and given the fact that the show started late because he was stuck in Cherry Blossom traffic, he was certainly handed a jumping off point from which to rant. And rant Black did…beginning with the once upon a time stupidity of two-lane Virginia vs. three-lane Maryland. Then it was on to pedestrians and  traffic patterns. And don’t get him started on the tourists. Their poor ears must have been burning.

Is there anything Lewis Black does like? Tahiti. Dear God, how he loves Tahiti. To quote, “Lose your f**king kids in the store…get out and get on the plane. It’s the Garden of F**k Eden.  His best line about Tahiti was: “I was confused about my feelings about Crimea and after three days in Tahiti, I don’t “f**king care.”

Then it was back to what he hates. What Black seems to despise more than anything and anyone are politicians…especially the ones responsible for the government shutdown. While he was going on and on, I had a thought—perhaps if these politicians came to his show and listened to what Black had to say and the audience’s reaction to him, they might think twice about ever shutting down the government again.  Calling John Boehner “the mood ring of politicians,” and taking on President Obama for the healthcare web site failure…no one and nothing was safe from his hysterical ire.

Some of Black’s best barbs came in response to the audience’s demeanor. For whatever reason, some audience members felt it was OK (it’s not) to shout out. Given his disposition, this was risky, but Black handled them masterfully and one of his top lines of the evening was, “perhaps we should decorate the set with library books so people will know to be quiet.” Ouch!

Black had two opening acts—John Bowman and Joe Kashnow. Bowman, Black’s long-time show companion had some terrifically droll observations about performing at Penn State during the Sandusky trial. His riff about Justin Bieber was very funny, calling him Michael Jackson in reverse (think about it and it will hit you). Kashnow was recently profiled in the Washington Post. He is a wounded Iraqi war vet who was one of several chosen to appear in the recent documentary “Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor.” Kashnow did about 10 minutes and shows a lot of promise. His bit about dying on the installment plan was extremely clever and amusing.

But face it—folks came to hear Lewis Black say things many of us think, but pay him to say it funny. He didn’t disappoint.

4 nuggets out of 4

John Oliver: Stands and Delivers at DC’s Warner Theatre—Comedy

November 13, 2013

John OliverSubbing for Jon Stewart as the host of “The Daily Show,” John Oliver was a smash. But was that a fluke…the result of good “Daily Show” writers? Judging from the non-stop laughter at his Friday, November 8 standup performance, John Oliver is one wittily funny man all on his own. Playing to a very diverse audience at D.C.’s Warner Theatre, Oliver provided gentle digs at everyone, including himself.  He immediately had the audience on his side with just his self-introduction. From there the rest of the evening was a piece of cake.

Born in England, but living in the U.S. for the past seven years, Oliver has a unique perspective from which to do standup. He’s one of us, but he’s not one of us. He pokes with affection at the blunders of his birth nation—“how could they send their most hardened criminals to Australia, paradise on Earth? What was the thinking?”  But then he goes off on a riff of U.S. political foibles—Congress has a 10% approval rating…however, polls don’t record sarcasm…badaboom.  No one is spared…not White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Rick Perry or others too numerous to mention. Many American “traditions”—t-shirt cannons, home-run derbies…the list goes on and on—come in for their share of jabs. But to our credit, Oliver says that while America may be a bad boyfriend, the rest of the world is a bad girlfriend.

Many comedians come to the District and flatter us by saying that DC audiences are the smartest. While I like to think that is true, I live here and know that might not be exactly correct.  It’s possible that we’re more up to speed on politics, but otherwise we’re pretty much like everyone. Case in point—in starting a story, Oliver threw out the question to a woman in the front row—“What first comes to mind when you think of Egypt?” Her response? “Sand.” That was definitely not the answer he was expecting. It sent him into peals of laughter. When he recovered, he went off on that response for a good 10 minutes. And with the dexterity of a skilled comedian, came back to that response over and over again.

While Oliver’s routine is splattered with f**k’s throughout, his commentary is clean, good-natured comedy. An evening with John Oliver is like sitting next to your high-school class clown for about 90 minutes of just all-out fun. If you love Oliver on “The Daily Show,” you’ll love and appreciate him even more after seeing his show.

Future performance dates can be found at iamjohnoliver.com.

4 nuggets out of 4

Bad Grandpa: Welcome Surprise—Movie

October 27, 2013

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” would seem to be a bit of an interloper in the month of October when Hollywood rolls out its prestige movies. But not so fast. Directed by Jeff Tremaine  with story by  Fax Bahr and Adam Small and story and screenplay by Tremaine, Spike Jonze and Johnny Knoxville, “Bad Grandpa” is funny, witty, well-executed, and yes, raunchy, but some days that’s exactly what is needed. “Bad Grandpa” promises nothing more than solid laughs and humor at America’s expense and it delivers.

BadGrandpaposterStarring Johnny Knoxville as 86-year-old Irving Zisman and Jackson Nicoll as his 8-year-old grandson, Billy, the film is about the road trip the two take from Nebraska to North Carolina following the “death” of Irving’s wife and the “incarceration” of Billy’s mother to deliver Billy to his father. Along the way the two pull some outlandish punks on the unsuspecting citizens of small-town USA. While some stunts are more successful than others, what’s always funny is the reaction of the people who are punked.

Knoxville and his pint-sized partner in crime, Nicoll, have terrific chemistry. Jackson Nicoll is especially fun to watch. He’s so seemingly earnest and genuine, even when making some of the most outrageous comments to total strangers, you almost believe what he’s doing is on the up and up. Other than the bits with Nicoll, Knoxville’s best moments are with women—any age or ethnicity. They may think him strange or even vile, but he gets a pass because of his age and likeability.

As noted not every stunt is a thigh-slapper; some will have you grimacing. However, the “gentlemen’s club,” diner and beauty pageant gags are hysterical  and there are lots of other laughs in between.

I have to go back to Jackson Nicoll. What does the future hold for him? I hope he continues a career in film. Maybe that’s the ultimate punk of “Bad Grandpa.” Without necessarily meaning to, the film has actually gifted us with a real star in the making.

I’m not sure what “Bad Grandpa” says about the American people—we’re gullible and sometimes downright stupid for sure. But the reactions of many in surprising locations show that we do have heart, too. That’s a good October surprise.

3 nuggets out of 4

This is 40: This Puts the Fun in Funny and Then Some—Movie

December 26, 2012

Laugh out loud funny…relatable…clever…profane…and  did I say laugh out loud funny?  I did, but I can’t say it enough. “This is 40” is all this and more.  Married, single, with children or not…it doesn’t matter. If you have one scintilla of a sense of humor you will love this movie.

Written and directed by Judd Apatow, “This is 40” spends a year in the lives of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann). The film is billed as a “sort of” follow-up to “Knocked Up.” Perhaps, but I know I didn’t laugh as much at that movie and, frankly, it doesn’t matter if you’ve seen it or not. Just know that This is 40 posterPete and Debbie are back and have this movie to themselves, along with their two daughters, fathers and friends.

Debbie, who owns a small boutique, has just turned 40 and is not happy about it. Pete, a retro record label producer, is having major financial problems. Not grounds for comedy? Wrong. In Judd Apatow’s world everything is good for a laugh.

I am an unabashed Paul Rudd lover and feared he would never find a comedy worthy of his talents. Thank goodness “This is 40” came his way. It suits him perfectly. Rudd is one of the funniest straight men in movies today and because he can really act, is terrific when the script calls for pathos…emotion. His scenes with everyone are just sheer perfection.

Leslie Mann is a gifted comedic actress. Her real-life husband, Apatow, knows how to take advantage of that little girl voice of hers and has gifted her with a script that fits like a glove.

The rest of the cast is equally awesome. The two Apatow daughters, Maude and Iris, as Sadie and Charlotte respectively, are fabulous as Pete’s and Debbie’s children. Iris, in particular, seems to have a real flair for comedy.  Albert Brooks as Paul Rudd’s father and John Lithgow as Debbie’s father each have memorable scenes…some funny, some not…but very authentic.  Both fathers have new, younger families and Brooks’ scenes with his identical triplet toddlers are hysterical. A real treat in a small, but meaty role is the hardest-working woman in today’s cinema, Melissa McCarthy, as the foulest-mouthed, in-your-face parent ever (stay through the credits for some of her best work). Jason Segel, Megan Fox and Chris O’Dowd help round out some of the supporting players.

In addition to a talented cast is the terrifically witty dialogue. It’s meaty, sometimes, mean, but oh so funny. Will I ever be able to look at a long-term single guy without “Cloonyfied” coming to mind? I think not. And the fear of becoming “Schwimmered” for some men will really hit home. There are digs at John Goodman and “Mad Men,”  just to name two. And the running tribute to “Lost” is genius…pure genius.

Does every scene work? No. One scene toward the end is particularly hard to watch, and given the country’s climate after the movie’s release date, would probably have been left on the cutting room floor if Apatow could have a do-over. Is this movie for children or teens? No! A thousand times no!

If you’re over 18, leave your sensibilities at the door and be prepared to laugh your head off.  “This is 40” is the most fun to come your way at the movies in a long time.

4 nuggets out of 4

WIT’s in Full Bloom at the Capital Fringe Festival

July 20, 2010

Laughs, groans and more laughs were in abundance Saturday evening as WIT (Washington Improv Theater) rocked the Capital Fringe Festival at the Source Theatre. Special for the Festival, WIT’s theme is iSchool Musical. Although the topic, high school, is a given, the rest of the production is improvised in song by ideas from the audience. Saturday’s suggestion was a high school field trip to Quebec, Canada, where love was most humorously in the air. Not all troupe members had voices bound for Broadway, but all had impeccable comedic timing and were especially quick on their feet.

Unlike other Festival participants, WIT is a local presence, and performs regularly at the Source Theatre and other local venues. Not only is musical improv performed, but more traditional improv is also showcased. WIT also offers classes in improv. More information on WIT can be found at washingtonimprovtheater.com.

Ischool Musical will run on Friday, June 23 at 8 p.m., Saturday, July 24 at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Visit capitalfringe.org for information on other Capital Fringe Festival performances.

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Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work—Movie

July 7, 2010

Before there was Wanda, Roseanne, Sarah and Kathy there was Moms, Totie, Phyllis and Joan. Moms Mabley and Totie Fields are dead. Phyllis Diller rarely performs these days. At 77, Joan Rivers stands alone…working, working, working. And when she’s not working, she’s worrying about not working. And worrying about Kathy Griffin taking her gigs.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work takes an intimate, not always flattering but always entertaining, look into nearly a year and half in the life of Rivers. For those who only know her from her Red Carpet appearances or for her numerous face-lifts, directors Ricki Stern‘s and Anne Sundberg’s documentary shows how truly funny Joan Rivers was and is.  And her funny cannot be underestimated. Rivers’ standup performances on Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show demonstrate that she can do comedy with the best of them and just how hard she works at her craft.

A Piece of Work, filmed in 2008, takes us inside River’s palatial NYC home and down into the bowels of some of the worst clubs imaginable.  We also watch as she prepares for a one woman play based on her life with hopes of bringing it to Broadway. It’s truly hard to fathom how, over a period of 14 months, she managed to begin her run on Celebrity Apprentice,  preview her play and continue to perform standup wherever booked…literally wherever. And all of this at age 75.

Rivers has experienced many highs and many lows in her life. As funny as the movie is, it’s also very moving. From  Rivers herself, we hear about the many obstacles she’s incurred, professionally and personally. It’s not done in a “pity me” mode, but offered matter-of-factly. But it’s sad just the same.

There are two excellent documentaries on the life of the standup…I Am Comic, which goes behind the scenes of what it means to make a livelihood as a comic…and Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedian, which shows how difficult it is to get started again. Now we have Joan Rivers:  A Piece of Work which tackles the struggle to stay relevant.

The documentary is not perfect. The directors don’t delve deep enough into her back story. Why is Rivers so insecure? And how did someone with such an inferiority complex end up in one of the toughest of the performing arts—one in which you are completely vulnerable.  Those questions aside, A Piece of Work is a must-see for lovers of standup, for the craft of standup itself and most especially for Joan Rivers.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

A Fistful of Lemonade—Comedic Nugget

June 11, 2010

The BP oil spill in the Gulf is horrible.What’s happening to the people, the wildlife and economy is terrible and BP should be made to pay through the nose for what they have done.  But they say when life throws you a lemon, make lemonade.  Philippe Cousteau, you are my tall, tall drink of lemonade. Yikes! Where have you been hiding all these years? It’s awful, I know, but I find myself going from coverage to coverage in hopes of seeing him. I want this oil crisis resolved as much as the next person…but what will I do without him? What about the levels of lead in the DC water supply? Our President drinks, showers and bathes from this water. I think Philippe needs to come to DC stat and cover this potential crisis.

Color Me Dull—Comedic Nugget

April 26, 2010

This Sunday I was checking out the list of local best-sellers and was shocked…maybe horrified is a better word…at what I discovered. What does it say about DC that the #2 bestselling nonfiction paperback is The Official SAT Study Guide (Second Edition)? The SATs?? This is what Washington, DC, our nation’s capital is interested in? To quote John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious!!” Over the years, I’ve tried to defend DC’s fashion sense when NYC and LA fashionistas refuse to believe that we wear anything but beige or one color pantsuits. But SATs. This is indefensible. Even I didn’t know DC was this dull.


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