One thing that it seems we see less and less of these days are showcases for stand-up on TV. On talk shows, most comedians turn their material into Q&A sessions on the couch. Comedy Central has a special here and there, but rarely is there a program where you might be able to check out sets featuring multiple comics. Thankfully, HBO has realized that we've got a massive gap from when VH-1's Stand-Up Spotlight was dropped, and decided to give us a new show with less bleeping and more (any?) funny.
The format for Down + Dirty with Jim Norton is as follows: Jim comes out and tells us jokes. His musical guy is Lemmy from Motorhead. Four comics come out and tell us jokes in 30 minutes, making this a pretty manic show. The episode I caught featured Whitney Cummings, Artie Lange, Jim Florentine, and Anthony Jeselnik-- and it was pretty good. Despite the fact that herpes jokes infected multiple sets, the half-hour went by pretty quickly and the comics had at least a couple of really good laughs. Being an HBO special, it seemed going blue wasn't so much an option as a requirement.
You might be asking "so column writer, who are these people?"
Host Jim Norton is a foul, funny man best known for not being particularly well known. I first saw him on Colin Quinn's Tough Crowd, but he also turned in great performances on the HBO series Lucky Louie as a depraved, often underdressed shell of a human being. In other words, he's the perfect vehicle for comedy.
The first guest Anthony Jeselnik I've never heard of before. Apparently he's been on Deadwood and he does a lot of stand-up. His material was certainly pretty good-- he actually writes jokes, rather than observations or funny voices, plus he has more than a few topics to go on. Worth seeing? Yes.
Next up was Whitney Cummings who, again, I have never heard of. We've been pretty good on this blog about not making the typical "woman not funny" jokes, and this lady is indeed amusing, but she's also a one-trick pony as far as her set goes. Pretty much the entire set was "hi, I have a lot of sex." As comedy nerds, we cannot connect with her on this subject, which made up the lion's share of her set. A little variety would have been nice.
If you blinked, you missed Jim Florentine. Best known as a contributor to Crank Yankers, his set was short and sweet-- also funny. Artie Lange was the show's headliner, and I swear I've heard a lot of this material beforer. Lange is a funny guy, known primarily for his Howard Stern connection but he's actually done some interesting stuff. Who can forget "My White Momma" on Mad TV? His material also kicked off by getting the audience on his side by saying what we were all thinking-- how the Hell is this guy still alive? Don't get me wrong, I like the guy's act, but watching him on stage was more than a little uncomfortable. If he isn't hanging out with the grim spectre of death when he goes backstage, I'll be surprised. Here's hoping he doesn't die before his time.
All in all, it was a good showcase of talent-- some were funnier than others, and if you're the kind of person exposed to comedy mostly through network television this would probably be an unpleasant experience for you. It was certainly entertaining, and it's really wonderful to see a TV show giving me a chance to see multiple comics in rapid succession. It almost felt like the only way you'd see comedians on TV were as talk show guests or in half-hour specials... so kudos, HBO, for having the balls to try this format again. I'll keep watching.
Future guests include Andrew "Dice" Clay, Patrice O'Neal, and several people who I do not yet think I've seen. I look forward to seeing how it turns out.