Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger

It's somewhat uncommon for a comedian to enter the spotlight and, after 20 years in front of the cameras, continue to find fame and fortune in front of a microphone doing stand-up comedy rather than sitcoms or counting DVD residuals. Lucky for us, Chris Rock understands the value in making sure that his history as the guy in the back of the Red Lobster scraping shrimp off a plate is shared with you, the American (and international) public.

After getting his start on Saturday Night Live nearly 20 years ago, he's gone on to movies, In Living Color, HBO specials, and the narrator and creative force behind Everybody Hates Chris on UPN The CW. Oh, and he also scored a minor novelty hit with "No Sex (In the Champagne Room)" which didn't seem to teeter over to the realm of being unpleasant. (Examples: "Boogie in your Butt" by Eddie Murphy and "You Look Mahvelous" from Billy Crystal.) Because Rock is consistently funny, he doesn't have to apologize for his past works, they can just be dusted off and enjoyed. And with any luck, this special will receive similar accolades from the comedy fans of tomorrow.

Kill the Messenger aired on HBO this past weekend and is one of very few comedy specials that, in the first ten minutes, I said to myself "this ought to win an Emmy for outstanding editing." Rather than having two or three cameras set up in a single venue, Rock performed the same show in South Africa, England, and New York-- and stitched together a special taking elements from each, often cutting mid-sentence from one continent to another. The effect is a little jarring for a comedy special, but it worked. The sound editors made sure that the audio was consistent, and because Chris Rock tends to repeat the general themes of his jokes (i.e., "there are a lot of differences between men and women,") this technique really, really works well. It shows the world responding to his humor while keeping his technique intact. Oh, and it's really funny.

The 90-minute set is unlikely to spawn another single, but that's OK. With themes as overdone as "men and women are different," it's tough to come up with new, good material-- especially while saying that very quote to your audience. However, Rock pulls it off in a way that, to describe it here, would only make me look like an asshole. This performance is by someone who has refined his craft-- which is appropriately raunchy and hilarious-- in such a way that to even discuss it would be to do you a disservice. It's very funny, well-paced, and absolutely worth seeing. Unfortunately, no DVD or CD releases are currently scheduled so you'll just have to watch it on one of the many HBO channels or crash at a friend with a good cable package.

Of course, the standard disclaimers for Chris Rock stand-up apply. Don't let your kids watch it. Don't let your parents hear you listening to it. Heck, be careful about your spouse or significant other. But if you have cool friends at work? This is a fine topic of discussion for all. It's great to see someone get to talk about things at his job-- like how his audience owes him for getting them laid, for example-- that aren't great fodder for some of us office dwellers.

The special does run a little long, but it doesn't feel that way. Typically, comedy specials last about an hour or so-- 90 minutes of comedy is a hard thing to assemble, so it's great to see someone put it together like this. It might be tough to fit on a single CD but that's why man invented the MP3.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Found Footage Festival (Vol. 3, 2008)

The Found Footage Festival
Currently Touring the Country

If you are tired of those film festivals featuring good films? Would you rather watch a film festival filled with videos found at thrift stores and garage sales? Then the Found Footage Film Festival is for you.

This festival, organized and hosted by Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, features a bunch of videos so bad they are good, which means they are horribly bad. It's not unlike staying up late and watching Public Access anywhere. There are many such films organized into categories like How To, Training Video Footage and The Best of Harassment.

All the films have been edited to bring you the most unintentionally hilarious bits. Which, if you are a purist and like to watch terrible videos from start to end, then you may be disappointed. If you are the type of person who has a life, then this is perfect. Also, it since this is a festival it helps to keep the overall show to two hours.

Some videos are improved a lot by editing, such as the Best of Harassment, where Sexual Harassment educational videos are edited just to show what not to do. Also, in the case where an Angela Lansbury workout video is edited to be shorter - merciful.

This is not to say that there isn't a whole lot of disturbing videos to see. Certainly not for children.

In addition to the unintentionally hilarious vidoes there are some intentionally produced satirical videos by Mr. Pickett and Mr. Prueher. The funniest one is a fake public access show "Talkin' Beards" which guest stars Chris Elliot, and involves -- well, I'm sure you can figure it out.

If you go to the show, you can pick up a DVD of the videos in the festival for ten dollars. Which is a nice little thing to take home and disturb the family with.

This particular showing of the festival was witnessed by me at the very fine Loft Cinema in Tucson, Arizona.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Ricky Gervais Show - Series 5

The Ricky Gervais Show, involving Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, creators of The Office and Extras and Karl Pilkingon who does nothing, slides into it's last series of shows with the energy of a woman waking up for a ten hour shift at Denny's with three hours of sleep and a hangover.

For those who don't know, the show (once podcast, now audiobook) centers almost entirely around the off-the-cuff discussions between Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington. While this may not sound like much it is - Karl is a very strange, stupid human being and Stephen and Ricky are two intelligent human beings with sharp senses of humor. Put them together and you have comedy gold. Usually, Ricky and Stephen find some aspect of Karl to look into and examine, like his diary entries, and then marvel at how Karl can write about things like doing absolutely nothing on his vacation and saving bugs from certain drowning. Ricky and Stephen then ask the questions that everyone wants to ask, like "WHY?!?!"

However while the previous podcasts were great, this one feels thrown out there. The Fifth Series, (named so because they are counting the various specials as the Fourth Series) is only an hour and a half compared to the four to six hours you would get with the previous series, yet costs the same. Sure, seven dollars is pretty good for an hour and a half worth of material, but seems like somewhat cheapened in comparison to the amount of material you got in the previous series.

Also, the material in this series just isn't as good. While previous series had "Monkey News" (Where Karl would make up absolute bullshit stories about monkeys) and mor readings from Karl's Diary. The only memorable discussions tha stick out in my mind about this podcast are where Karl is asked what would he banish from existence and he says "slugs" and a discussion about Nazi Germany and how Karl would casually tell Jews hiding in his attic to take off if they were up there too long.

Other disucssions just seem tired. They talk about the chairs they are sitting in and spend a good deal of time talking about how long they have been doing the podcast. They at least seem to realize that as they are doing it, the show has sputtered to and end and this being the last series seems to confirm that. It's somewhat sad to see such a terrific show end with a somewhat lame encore, but at least it was good while it was around.

Horribly shamless whore-like advertising link: other fine Ricky Gervais stuff available on Ricky Gervais

Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People - Episode 2: Strong Badia The Free

For Wii and PC
Released in September 2008 by Telltale Games and Videlelectrix.

This second entry in the Homestar Runner-themed games comes in a month after the first which means it gets to the gamer at least 24 times faster than the Half-Life 2 Episodes of which Episode 3 should arrive sometime around 2012.

As in our review for Episode One of the Strong-Bad game, this is again a game that if you like the Homestar Runner cartoons, you'll like this, and if you don't like Homestar Runner cartoons, you might not like this.

This game is (surprise) again an adventure game. In my opinion, this episode presents a more compelling plot than the first episode. The King of Town has suddenly imposed a harsh tax on e-mails. Since this affects Strong Bad the most, and he isn't going to pay, he gets an explosive device fitted around his neck that will go off if he tries to leave his house. Of course, this leads to the first part of the adventure - trying to get out of your house without your head exploding. Once that is done, Strong Bad decides to rebel and form his own country, hence the title.

Everyone else decides to rebel too and pretty soon everyone has their own country, from Bubs' Concessionstan to Pompomarania. Strong Bad wants to unite these countries under his own flag and go after the King of Town. So, with a Maps and Minions board (A game not unlike RISK) for a map, he goes on a quest to conquer all, complete with a History-Channel like narration and grainy sepia-toned film to narrate successes in his endeavor.

It's got the usual good writing from the Brothers Chaps. Funny, clean, with pop culture references thrown in. For the Homsar fans (The incredibly strange man based off a typo) this episode contains a lot more Homsar and his floating strangeness. There's even a chance to bring him down to a sane level in the game for a brief time. Excitement abounds.

There's a few side games like before, like doing cave paintings of "Cave Girl Squad" and collecting the instruction manual for the Atari-like game Math Kickers Featuring the AlgeBros.

The graphics in this Episode are slightly improved. It's not saying much considering this is not meant to be something to run your graphics card into the ground, but you can tell they spiffied up the textures a bit and the animation seems a little smoother. There's a few glitches from time to time like the first episode, but nothing major.

The game itself is not too hard - the puzzles are relatively easy once you figure out the right interactions. Actually, I've found it to be slightly easier than the first episode, the only part that gets a little frustrating is the end game which actually involves a game and strategy and---thinking. Ergh. Why don't I just play Myst? From the 1990s? (It was a game involving puzzles)

Even with this little endgame of frustration, the game shouldn't take more than ten hours of play to complete. It's a good little funny game for the Wii, and considering a lot of what's been on the Wii lately has been utter crap, this might be one you want to pick up. Unless you have a PC. It's out for that as well. Then you may have to weigh your options a bit.

Saturday Night Live: Michael Phelps & Lil Wayne

Originally aired September 13, 2008. Written prior to the airing of the second episode of the season.

Since the early seasons of the show, critics frequently invoked the phrase "Saturday Night Dead" to describe what they perceived as an increasingly weakened show. If art can imitate life, it seems art can imitate criticism as well. The season opener from last weekend managed to bring back last season's cast mostly unchanged, save for a new fat guy who is being widely described as the love child of Horatio Sanz and John Belushi. So as you may have guessed, the Season 34 opener managed to skillfully pick a wide variety of comedic low-hanging fruit.

During an election year, SNL frequently acts as yet another place for the TV news media to turn to when filling the hours of dead air-- and as a result, you can bet a lot of these sketches are becoming increasingly sound byte-friendly and the show itself is generally going for a broader audience. There's nothing really wrong with making sure people get your jokes, but the Tina Fey cameo as Sarah Palin was almost insultingly obvious. After Sarah Palin was introduced on the world stage, people said two things. One, "VPILF." Two, "Golly, she looks like Tina Fey." Casting someone as their doppelganger isn't particularly innovative. Now, if you brought in Cookie Monster in a brown wig and glasses to play the part? That'd be something.

Michael Phelps himself managed to do what most stunt hosts do best-- play themselves, read the cue cards, and play themselves yet again. Michael Phelps got to play Michael Phelps at least twice, lending to the show in authenticity what he couldn't deliver in hilarity. As a pop culture victory lap, SNL has allowed a number of sports personalities, politicians, and musicians who may not be comedians by trade get a shot at making America laugh. As an added bit of toothless satire, Amy Poehler played Phelps' mom during the monologue-- and his actual mother was two seats over from her. Oh, the sneaker upper. Always a favorite, that.

Throughout the show fans were treated to the usual mix of music and comedy which makes America thank their creator(s) that TiVo exists. One sketch had Phelps and Poehler as a couple eating dinner with a waiter that kept coming by to talk about pepper or other things that someone thought was funny that really wasn't worth the snicker. On the other hand, Andy Samberg came through with a digital short on the Space Olympics that was delightfully amusing, and Will Forte played a (and I'm simplifying here) dancing swim coach on an equally amusing bit. (Actually, that's a lie, Forte was funnier.)

We're not going to make it a point to post reviews of SNL here regularly, but it is tempting to write up some sort of report card. Like always, some of it works, some of it doesn't, and a lot of it seems like it would have been more at home being dropped after the early rehearsals. Cranking out 90 minutes of comedy (well, maybe 40 minus Weekend Update, music, and ads) is a difficult job, perhaps a reduced running time could help amp up the funny-- after all, shows like Human Giant and Whitest Kids U Know managed to do well with 30 minutes.

...and speaking of 30 minutes, Saturday Night Live will be airing a few 30-minute Thursday night episodes in October. It's likely they're aiming for that sweet, sweet Daily Show with Jon Stewart buzz but interviews indicate that they're going to do some sketches as well. Here's hoping we can't see them coming a mile away.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Do You Believe in Gosh?

Mitch Hedberg: Do You Believe in Gosh?
Released by Comedy Central Records
September 9, 2008

Every February 24th I think of a lot of things, one is that I've gotten another year older, and that Mitch Hedberg would have gotten another year older, but he is fucking dead. Then I get doubly depressed. He was a comic who could write very snappy jokes and had an un-snappy delivery, and it all came together is something that was damn funny.

It was a pleasant surprise to find Do You Believe in Gosh? A new CD featuring Mitch Hedberg. Unfortunately he was not resurrected; instead the CD is an album recorded two months before his death at the Improv in Ontario, California. It is a performance of mostly new, some untested material that was meant to go on a proper CD later in that year. There's a lot of good material, a bit of rough material, like "Tea Ski" in which he wanted to "go to a lake and tea bags in there, like a hundred of them for a week and then, Tea Ski."

The recording is done at a live show and appears to be minimally edited. This gives the album a more intimate feel that Hedberg's other albums lack.ed. It's nice, especially wehn you hear the hecklers and Mitch Hedberg's response to them. One man yells from the back that he "has something to put in his pipe" to which Hedberg replies with "Oh, I bet you do! Only you don't think about the fact that there might be police around! What have you got, you got some dope? Fuckin' doper! Arrest that dude!" It's good to see an example of Hedberg being quick on his feet, despite his laid-back demeanor.

It's overall a good, but bittersweet album. You know, the usual "Shit, I wish he were still alive making comedy, fuck," kind of album. The booklet included makes it even sadder with the inclusion of pages of comedy notes written by Hedberg and a whole lot of pictures. The physical copy wins over the digital download solely because of this extra.

It's nice. It is a final album obviously put together with care and respect, and not too expensive. If you liked Mitch Hedberg you will want to get this one last album. Unless of course, he and Tupac are secretly hanging out somewhere, which we can only hope.

Back of CD:

Inside cover with disc:

Some pages from the booklet:

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget

This review of the Comedy Central Bob Saget Roast comes late as every time I tried to watch the roast, my TiVo had already deleted it. I think perhaps my TiVo was trying to warn me as when I finally did watch the roast, I realized there's only about fifteen minutes of actual entertainment in it.

Bob Saget. He's not funny. Full House and America's Funniest Home Videos are complete shit. He's gay, yet he molested Kate and Ashley Olsen. Also, Cloris Leachman is old. That is about 90% of the jokes on this special. There's a lot of swearing in this show, a lot of pretty much every word you can't say on regular television. The show is hosted by John Stamos, which is appropriate. I would make a joke about that but there were already several terrible jokes in the special said about him already.

The special is shot on this lavish set. If I were producing this I would not have a lavish set. I would do it in a dirty basement with an audience of five masturbating hobos. Instead you get an audience full of celebrities, from Alan Thicke to Scott Bakula. The cavalcade of stars!

So, Saget is brought out, visual gag suggesting he likes to have sex with goats ha ha bleck, then on to the "roasting."

Let me just go through who I considered not to be funny:

Greg Giraldo - Read jokes from very large pieces of paper. I wanted the papers to gain the magical power to leap on to his face and suffocate him.

Jeffrey Ross - Called John Stamos "Chachi." You know, from that show nobody remembers anymore.

Susie Essman - not funny, from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Made a joke about how she heard a "Fat Lady singing" in reference to Saget. That's pretty much summed up her act.

Jeff Garlin - not funny from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Does this absolutely retarded character of "Saul Schwartz" who is supposed to be the person who put Full House on the air. Only good thing about it was that I can now sympathize more with Jeff Garlin as in watching that performance, I feel like I have suffered the same stroke he had a few years ago.

Brian Posehn - Usually a funny guy, felt like he was totally out of his element and needed a nap for a few weeks. Had the funny closer to Bob: "In all seriousness, I hope horrible things happen to you, tonight and for the rest of your life."

Sarah Silverman - Appeared in a video clip. Not really that funny. Had an actress pretend to be Saget's mom and talk about---oh, you'll never guess---wanting an abortion.

Jim Norton. Blarggggghhhhh. Stab in face.

John Lovitz. Known for beating up Andy Dick and killing any show he gets on. Sang a song about how Bob Saget isn't gay. "Bob Saget isn't gay, the sky isn't blue, grass isn't green and I'm not a Jew." Continues to imply Saget is gay. Makes up a fake diary entry about Saget in which h claims as a boy Saget would run to the church and ask the priest if he can volunteer for things: "Can you blow out the candles?" and Bob would say "I don't know, can you light your dick on fire?"

Now for the people who I thought were funny.

Norm McDonald - He was reading the newspaper the whole time when he was not at the podium. Looks up from the paper indicating he "Was looking for something funny, so I'm reading Marmaduke." When he gets up to the podium he reads from giant note cards, and he looks at them as he reads them. None of them are funny, which is clearly on purpose. I don't have any verification of this, but I heard that he simply Googled "funny roast jokes" and read some of those. Seems like it might be true with jokes like -

"Bob Saget was born not with an umbilical cord but with a bungie cord."

"You have a lot of well-wishers here meaning they want to throw you down a well, meaning they want to murder you with a well."

"Bob has a beautiful face like a flower, yeah a cauliflower. No offense but your face looks like a cauliflower."

He ended his jokes with deadpan stares. Which of course, made them funnier.

A disheveled Lewis Black showed up on video. "Full House - are you kidding me! What the fuck was that about? I think it's based on what passes through the brain of a comatose child molester?" Continued to tear up Bob Saget for a few more minutes. His anger completes me.

Gilbert Godfried - "Why would we pick Bob Saget who raped an killed a girl in 1990. First of all it's not true that Bob Saget raped and killed a girl in 1990. If you have any proof that Bob Saget raped and killed a girl in 1990, stop gossiping and go to the police with it!" He's a peach. The fact that his voice annoys others is almost a whole other peach.

Cloris Leachman - the old Mel Brooks player. People give her standing ovation. Clearly the funniest person there.

"I'm not here to roast Bob Saget I'm here to fuck John Stamos," This is what this seemingly nice old lady opened with. "John Stamos, you shouldn't talk so much your mouth is cancelling out all the hard work your ass is doing."

After taking so much abuse all night for being old, she had the joke of: "I don't know who any of you people are - that's because I go to the movies and watch television and read the trades."

Says of Bob Saget: "You didn't just kill sitcoms you raped them and left them for dead in a ditch, just like I did with Gavin McCloud."

What made all these jokes is that she delivered them with the appearance of a nice old lady. It was kind of like watching your grandmother casually disarm a mugger and then stab him in the neck with a ball point pen.

She ends her set with kissing John stamos full on the lips.

Finally, someone I can't quite classify:

Don Rickles - essentially Don Rickles. "Bob, you have no talent. Get a harmonica, stick it in your ass and try to come up with a tune." "Bob, do yourself a favor. Move to Israel and get picked off. Get Hamas to knock you off. It's all over."

Bob Saget ends the night and they shoudn't let him have a voice. He just says a of swear words. Almost as if he was actually mad, but I think he was trying desperately to be edgy.

Overall, this roast is likely about as funny as this review, except this review is mercifully short.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Brian Regan: The Epitome of Hyperbole

Named after a punchline in the special, Brian Regan's Epitome of Hyperbole is a surprise in a number of ways. For starters, it was developed for Comedy Central, it's clean, and it's funny. Seriously, when is the last time you've seen a comic do a set for more than a few minutes without being bleeped? After appearing on numerous shows and giving us catchphrases like "Take Luck," it's good to see that the man can still tell a joke-- even if the set is fairly impersonal and surprisingly timeless. This is both great, and not.

A lot of comics lean heavily on pop culture, politics, and current events. I don't think there was a single Bush reference in the entire show, which is pretty amazing considering about, oh, 100% of the stand-up you'll see has something to do with the man in the White House. Instead, Brian Regan goes for some fairly general subject matter. Like books. Also, he does a few minutes on the word "manslaughter," which is the closest his set really gets to the level of a PG-rated movie.

This is not edgy comedy. It's not bad, and it seems like it'd be a difficult set to pen. Rather than call other people or groups out on being stupid, the bulk of the laughs are at Brian Regan's expense. For example, he doesn't know a lot about art, or mingling at parties-- and the jokes work really well. I feel like a tool trying to write them up for you right now because trying to explain the set is a fairly difficult process. It's funny. You could let your mom watch it, or even your kids, and odds are you won't feel like a dork for laughing along. If you were a kid and you discovered comedy through this act, you wouldn't hate yourself down the road like you might were it any of a number of people who have had specials on Comedy Central as of late.

The Comedy Central special is so squeaky-clean you almost feel like you can't trust it. It's like a bag of M&Ms-- timeless, fairly enjoyable, and likely to be aired on Comedy Central constantly for years. (Well, maybe not the last one.) A DVD of the special will be in stores like nowish.