Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An Extremely Slow Week for Funny

It’s the week of the 4th of July, which means very little actually happens anywhere, least of all in the world of comedy.


There isn’t anything out this week, but Weird Al Yankovic is hitting the promotional circuit pretty hard – he was on Web Soup on Sunday, and Comedy Death Ray Radio a week or so back, which means he has a new CD out soon (and by "soon" we mean "next year"), and it’ll probably be about things nerds like and recognize, so that means they’ll laugh at it. Perhaps there’ll be a polka about Digg.com?


Eastbound & Down: Season 1

6 episodes of predictable comedy from Danny McBride, who is beloved by critics and lauded as The Next Big Comedy Thing for playing the same exact character in every single thing he’s ever been in. If you’ve ever wanted to see Danny McBride play a big arrogant stupid redneck slob who does gross, inappropriate things, now’s your chance! You can also see him playing this character in The Foot Fist Way, Tropic Thunder, Pineapple Express, Observe & Report and Land of the Lost. Just in case you weren’t aware of what Danny McBride does.

The IT Crowd, Season 2

I haven’t seen this show but it’s supposed to be good, based on the reviews I’ve heard from everyone who seems to blindly love BBC comedy.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li

The worst thing in the world is when a shitty movie comes out and your friends tell you “it’s so bad it’s good!” and it winds up just being shitty and boring and not funny at all. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li is actually so horrible and misbegotten that it’s absolutely hilarious from start to finish. This is, unquestionably, the funniest movie released this week.

Parker Lewis Can’t Lose: Season 1

Parker Lewis Can’t Lose is only remembered by people who were addicted to shitty FOX programming in the early 90’s; it’s a blatant Ferris Bueller rip-off, and it’s now available on DVD for the 50 people who might actually remember it. Maybe now they’ll finally release the live-action Bill & Ted TV series, to the delight of no one.


Almost everything is in repeats this week, with the exception of Stewart & Colbert, which means you'll probably be attentively watching episodes of The Colbert Report where he ironically yet respectfully interviews someone who wrote a book you'll never read about the Hard-Wired Economics of Global Elections because there isn't anything else on.

If you're really hard up you can watch John Leguizamo prostitute himself for Ice Age 3: Nobody Gives A Shit on Regis & Kelly. That's happening this week.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

It's Bad For Ya

George Carlin
Laugh.com Records
Released in 2008

Like a lot of celebrities these days, George Carlin is dead. In fact, he died at around this time last year, June 2008. Considering he survived a cocaine habit, alcoholism, two heart attacks, and seven decades on this planet, it's pretty remarkable he was still standing at the end---not only standing, but doing stand-up, and he was just as sharp as he had been in the past decades, if not sharper.

This album, recorded just a few months before his death at age 71, is perhaps one of his better albums recorded of his last few. The anger, the pure twisted "don't give a fuck" observations of the world come out like a rapier dipped in shit, ready to stab into the sacred cows of the word and give them sepsis.

Being aware of his mortality, he talks a lot about being old, spends a good deal of time talking about crossing out friends who are dead from his address book and not really giving a shit who he pisses off.

The usual targets are there, religion, government, general rules of society. If you're easily offended, especially about attacks on God, then you won't find this album funny in the slightest and may write an angry letter to---well, I don't know, Carlin is dead, so you can't write it to him, and even if he was alive it would probably just give him more of an excuse to attack religion on stage anyway.

I guess if there's one disappointment to this album is that the packaging is so sub-par. It really looks like the artwork and graphic design was put together in five minutes on someone's home computer. I guess that might be because this is one of the albums released on Carlin's own invested label, Laugh.com and they just didn't have enough money to pay someone to do this right. His previous release, Life is Worth Losing has some very nice, diginified picture an layout to it. This just looks kinda goofy.

Ah well, maybe they'll re-do the cover for some future release. There are enough bitter, angry people out there in the world who see a lot of the bullshit for what it is and for those people there will be some George Carlin to listen to.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


DATELINE HOLLYWOOD: June 25th, 2009 3:47 PM


It has been confirmed via multiple sources that actor Abe Vigoda is alive as of Thursday, June 25th, 2009.

Vigoda is perhaps best known for his performance in The Godfather and his many appearances on late night television. He is reported to have had wheat toast and a cup of Sanka for lunch; reports that Vigoda laid down for a nap around 2:30pm this afternoon are unconfirmed.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Road Trip Album Picks: Pennsylvania Macaroni Company (Comedians of Comedy)

WHAT: Stand-up with four comics going at once: Maria Bamford, Eugene Mirman, Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn
LABEL: Chunklet
GOOD IF YOU LIKE: Any of the Comedians of Comedy

While the label says Patton Oswalt on it, that's something of an incorrect announcement. The 3-track, 18.5-minute recording features Oswalt as well as Posehn, Mirman, and the Bammer basically goofing around on stage explaining what it's like to be in a tour van together. There is much hatred and screaming.

Given that The Pennsylvania Macaroni Company is extremely short, you might assume that it's also good. You would be right. This album manages to pack in an astonishing amount of conflict and funny in a short period of time, and it's pretty accessible stuff-- you could probably play this for your non-comedy nerd pals and they'd love it.

The title track is a nearly 8-minute long riff on the restaurant of the same name, and the little songs that Patton improvises in a Leon Redbone voice. If that sounds like something you can't live without, and trust me when I say that it is, you should pick this up if you have the means. I realize it's expensive for what you get on a per-minute basis, but it's also funnier than what you're used to. So buy it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Comedy Death Ray: I Done Seen One!

If you're a comedy fan you've no doubt either heard of Comedy Death Ray or seen the surprisingly cheap double-CD at a fine record store near you. After dragging my feet this week, I saw that Todd Glass and Jen Kirkman were on, so I went. Jen Kirkman did not show up, and we were sad. I assume. Her CD was good and we wanted to hear more.

If you haven't ever been, here's the score: it's at the Los Angeles Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and if you want a decent seat you need to show up early. Conversely, if you want every performer to reference you, have you speak in their ass during crowd work, or make out with you, perhaps you'll want to be there late-- because you'll be sitting on the stage. As in, without a chair.

This week was hosted by Tig Notaro, a comic you may recognize as one of the cops on Comedy Central's The Sarah Silverman Program. Tig's ability to warm up a crowd and perform is nothing short of astonishing, and while we don't want to give away all of her jokes, as mentioned above, she did totally kiss some dude in the audience as well as perform in complete darkness for several minutes. If you have the opportunity to see Ms. Notaro, take it. Pay whatever she's asking. She's worth it, particularly since it's pretty likely you've never seen her perform before.

The roster included:

  • Rich Dicks (Nick Kroll + another comic whose name I unprofessionally did not get), both live and filmed character segments featuring two coke heads. Good times.
  • Greg Barris. Next.
  • Aziz Ansarai brought video of an upcoming-- we presume-- DVD extra for Funny People, which was indeed funny and involved people. The in-character documentary is something I'll be making sure to remind you to go watch if it shows up somewhere because if you're the kind of person who is annoyed by some of the trappings of a few comedians in particular... you're gonna love this.
  • Angry James Gandolfini (character, didn't catch the guy's name)
  • David Feldman, a former writer for Bill Maher, very funny. Had an Ed McMahon joke. (Too soon?) Great set.
  • Todd Glass. Obviously, if you read this blog, you must go see Todd Glass live at least once. Highlights: doing his jokes as both Colin Quinn and Brian Regan... and the audience totally loved it.

The whole set lasted about two hours, and cost $5 a head. And apparently everyone in the audience decided to sneak in booze. Next time I go I'll take better notes.

A Slow Week for Funny

Well, I scoured Amazon and sifted through the DVR and it looks like it's a pretty slow week in the world of comedy.


There are really only two significant releases this week that are advertised as comedies, although neither of which seems particularly deserving of the title: Confessions of a Shopaholic, starring Amy Adams Isla Fisher, and The Pink Panther 2: The Sequel Nobody Fucking Asked For, starring Steve "paycheck" Martin. Like I said, slow week.


The only new comedy album out today is an album called Half Breed by comedian Al Madrigal. I listened to the samples on Amazon and it's pretty standard race humor. Not worth your time.


There are a few bright spots in this week's late night offerings; tonight, Larry David will be on The Daily Show promoting Whatever Works, which will doubtlessly challenge Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen for box office supremacy this weekend. David was on The Tonight Show last week, looking a lot more like an old man than he ever did on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Speaking of The Tonight Show, on Friday, Sacha Baron Cohen is showing up in character as Bruno. It'll either be hilarious or boring and predictable, and frankly, the trailers plus muted reaction to the Bruno film so far point to the latter rather than the former. But hey, maybe it'll turn out brilliant. Who knows?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Late Night Reminder II: The Legend of Curly's Gold

Yet another milestone happens tonight on Conan: the return of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

People were skeptical that Triumph would make it to the 11:30 show, but he apparently taped a remote at Bonnaroo, and it's on tonight. No, we're not going to link to the Star Wars video.

But we will link to this one:

Also tonight, Jimmy Fallon has Our Lord and Savior Jeff Goldblum, and Mike Birbiglia, who doesn't appear to have anything to promote, so maybe he'll just show up and be funny. Who knows?

Things to spend your money on that are not 'Year One'

So Harold Ramis' new comedy, Year One, opens today.

I went to see it, specifically to review it for this blog. As expected, as every critic has said, it was terrible. I did not laugh once. In fact, I spent most of the film thinking about leaving early.

Now, sometimes it's fun to write a bad review, especially when the bile flows easily. But Year One drained me. I have nothing to say about it except to tell you not to see it. It isn't worse than The Love Guru, but I'd sooner swallow a cyanide capsule than watch either film ever again, so I guess it doesn't matter in the end.

So, instead of going on and on about the utter failure of Year One, instead I will list the other, better things you can spend your time and money on this weekend.

1. The excellent Comedy and Everything Else podcast has not one but two shows out this week: an hour with Chris Hardwick, and then 2 hours with Patton Oswalt. Combined, these shows last a full 90 minutes longer than Year One, and contain approximately 200x the laughs.

2. And speaking of Patton, if you're in Los Angeles, The Silent Movie Theater is having Comedy Death Ray night tonight; Oswalt will be presenting God Told Me To, an exploitation flick from the 70's with Andy Kaufman. There will be beer and hot dogs, and the whole shebang starts at 8pm. Tickets are $14, which is about what you would pay to see Year One, except the odds that you will laugh at this event are astronomically higher than the odds that you will not want to kill yourself and everyone in your vicinity during a screening of Year One.

2. And speaking of Comedy and Everything Else, host Jimmy Dore's Comedy Central special, Citizen Jimmy, just popped up on Netflix's streaming service. So if you're a fan of the show and missed it, now's your chance to watch it from the comfort of your Xbox. Todd Glass makes a cameo appearance, too. Notably, the special is a bit old - it's from Summer 2008, so there's a ton of Bush material and some election stuff, which is incredibly dated, but still much, much funnier than anything in Year One.

3. And if you have Netflix Streaming, you can watch the entirety of the 10-episode borderline-brilliant, utterly hilarious original Starz series Party Down, a single-camera comedy which you will wind up watching in a single marathon session. It is good enough to alter your brain chemistry to where you will no longer be able to perceive the existence of Year One, meaning you will be able to go to the movie theater and you will not see it on the marquee. Which will be a blessed event.

4. Finally, a twist ending: you can take the $13.50 you would have spent on Year One, a comedy written and directed by Harold Ramis, and instead apply it to the purchase of his other mega-hyped project out this week, the Ghostbusters video game, which is a whole lot of fun and surprisingly funny for a video game. Ramis admitted recently in an interview that he and Dan Aykroyd didn't have much to do with the script, which might explain why it's actually funny and clever.

Co-Ed Prison Sluts: The Musical

In Chicago, the longest-running musical is about a girl named Alice who is sent to a co-ed prison after killing her parents. While there she learns the ropes from a variety of prisoners who have interests from swearing in a theatrical prose to having sex with anything that moves. She also learns to fear...The Clown.

This production of The Annoyance Theatre was originally put on in 1988 and ran until 2000 when the old Annoyance Theater was demolished to make room for a Blockbuster, because there just aren't enough of those. Also, Mick Napier, author of the play, had his dog Kahlua as a cast member. Napier said the play would run until his dog died, and indeed the dog died.

The show was brought back for a limited run in July of 2008 in honor of its 20th Anniversary and it proved so popular it was given an open run.

So, the play itself now in 2009 is still not something you would want to take your Grandmother to. There's lots of swearing, songs about swearing, murder, cross-dressing and auto-erotic asphyxiation, but it all seems nice and quaint now. The play not as mind-blowing as I'm sure it was in 1988. I mean, in that time, we've had South Park.

Still, there is a reason that this show has run for so long - it's got some really catchy songs, it's really funny, and it's got a series of special guest dog cast members eating fake hamsters. If you are in the Chicago area on a Friday night and got $15, it's a good thing to see.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Road Trip Album Picks: Jen Kirkman's Self Help

WHAT: Stand-up album from young comedienne you've never heard of before
LABEL: AST Records
GOOD IF YOU LIKE: Maria Bamford
WHERE TO FIND IT: AST Records, iTunes

Rather than pick it apart, we'll keep it brief: Jen Kirkman recorded a reasonably short but very funny album called "Self Help." And when we say "funny," we mean "if you're a person of discriminating taste, you'll probably really love this." (Our apologies to the oeuvre of Jeff Dunham.)

In it, she discusses various superstitions and defecating one's pants. There's also material involving airplanes here that won't inspire groans, which is no small feat. The only downer is that it's a little short. But if you're going on a summer road trip of any significance, you'll need a few things to fill the silences. "Self Help" should be on your playlist.

UPDATE: Ms. Kirkman will be appearing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles on Tuesday, June 23 at Comedy Death Ray.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Extremely Useful Gif of the Week

Tell me you can't think of at least a hundred occasions where using this animated gif would be appropriate.

It really does have a use in every situation.




Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This Week in Potentially Funny Media


Steve Martin: The Crow - New Songs for the Five-String Banjo

Steve Martin seems to have hit a point in his career where he can pretty much do whatever the hell he feels like, and this is a CD of new banjo songs, so we have further evidence to support that notion. There’s some comedy on this album, I hear.

Rifftrax DVDs: Little Shop of Horrors, Swing Parade, Missile to the Moon, Reefer Madness, House on Haunted Hill, Night of the Living Dead, Shorts vol. 1 & 2. – These’ll run you about 10 bucks a pop and they’re all out today. We had no idea they were even releasing these, but at that price, most of them are worth it.

Ghostbusters (Bluray) – Conveniently timed to match the release of the mega-hyped videogame. Harold Ramis was on Fallon last week and commented that this was designed to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Ghostbusters, and that it was notable nobody was celebrating the 20th anniversary of Ghostbusters II. We applaud Harold Ramis for being self-aware.

Spaceballs (Bluray) – When’s the last time you saw Spaceballs? Was it more than 5 years ago? If so, prepare to discover that this movie hasn’t aged well and isn’t really funny if you’re over, say, 10.

Dr. Strangelove (Bluray) – Some consider this to be Stanley Kubrick’s finest film, which is a pretty big claim to make, but that it’s one of the most enduring and sharp comedies of all time – still endlessly quoted and referenced to this day – ought to mean something. Some have complained about the picture quality on this Bluray edition to be a little heavy on the film grain, but hey, it’s an old movie.

What’s Up Tiger Lily - Woody Allen's first movie, rereleased to coincide with the premiere of his poorly reviewed feature-length episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm (which you can find in theaters under the title Whatever Works). Here, he redubbed an old kung-fu movie. Lots of egg salad jokes. Absolutely reeks of the 60's. Watch it while wearing go-go boots and sipping from a martini glass.

Family Guy vol. 7 - Normally we wouldn’t cover Family Guy here, but this box set contains the amazingly hilarious Surfin’ Bird episode from last season. Seriously, that episode was great, haters be damned. They should’ve ditched the lame Jesus plot, though, and just did 23 minutes of Surfin’ Bird gags. In fact, just ignore this box set and go watch the episode on Hulu or something, and skip past all the Jesus bits.

Comedy Toxic Waste of the Week:

Rodney Carrington: El Nino Loco

Doing “research” for this feature I stumbled upon this guy Rodney Carrington who has a new album out tomorrow and it turns out his entire act is comprised of novelty country songs. I haven’t heard the album outside of some clips, and won’t hear any more out of principle, but based on the title there’s probably some racist shit in there somewhere.

This is the sort of thing that gets purchased alongside a Ron White DVD and a ticket to a Fathom Events Glenn Beck “comedy” concert. There isn’t anyone who would listen to this that you wouldn’t (or shouldn't) hate on a basic human level.

New Spinal Tap Album Released: Back from the Dead

This Is Spinal Tap is arguably one of the absolute finest comedies to come out of the 1980s. Unlike most other funny films from the era, it holds up extremely well and remains a watchable, quotable, fun movie. The band continues to perform in character, and made an unwatchable, un-fun movie called Return of Spinal Tap a few years later, plus a more or less digestible sequel album Break Like the Wind.

Today, the Tap release their third album Back from the Dead. The band actually demonstrated the packaging at The Tonight Show, and it comes with a bonus DVD (the album with commentary tracks) and a fold-out cardboard stage diorama with the band being represented by flattened versions of their Sideshow Toys 12-inch action figures from nearly 10 years ago.

We haven't heard the album yet, but will post here if/when we get our hands on a copy. Feel free to post in the comments if you heard it, as we'd love to know. It appears 11 of the 19 tracks are new versions of older material.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Live Audience Diaries: The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien

Zac and I were lucky enough to score tickets for The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien for Episode #11, which taped a few hours ago. We've been to precious few live tapings, and this was the first time either of us got to see Co Co live and in person.

Warm-Up: Comic Jimmy Pardo, best known for his "Never Not Funny" podcast, did a little crowd work and presented all the legalese regarding emergency exists. He also started to ferret out potential attention whores, one of which was ejected later in the evening. Pardo's quite the talent. If you go to the taping you'll notice that either Andy Richter is a giant or Jimmy Pardo is a member of the Lollipop Guild.

The Guests: Tonight, we saw Spinal Tap, Will Arnett, and some old guy from some sport which was quaint thirty years ago. (Joe Torre, LA Dodgers manager.) Tap played "Heavy Duty", Arnett basically goofed around and quasi-plugged G-Force, and Torre I tuned out. Sorry, I hate baseball. Due to the band playing, there's zero chance of you hearing what Conan is saying to the guests during the breaks, or your own child scream. It turns out Weinberg runs a tight ship and an extremely loud band.

The Swag: You get a little note card that beckons you to go to the official site, give them your name, and then you can post this to your blog.

The main purpose of which is apparently to get you poor suckers to go to the Tonight Show web site.

What You Don't See At Home: Local affiliate teasers are made after the show ends, which aren't particularly funny. But they're there. Before the show, there's a fairly energetic opening number with the band, in which we saw members of the former Max Weinberg 7 (now "The Tonight Show Band" with 8 people) go through the audience and generally get people worked up. The band also plays between segments, although sometimes they'll stop and switch to pre-recorded music, going back to live music right before "coming back from commercial." Aside from Max Weinberg's musical circus of fun, you really don't miss much as a home viewer.

Should you go?: If you like Conan on TV, you'll like Conan live. Tickets are free and available from NBC's web site. Parking, however, is not-- expect to pay about $10. It's just down the hill (a steep hill, I might add) from Universal Citywalk, where you can go after the show for overpriced mall food and $18 mugs. Zac brought up a great point-- tapings of shows like this one are great date materials, so you can ferret out undesirables for much less than the cost of other comedy venues. There's just enough live stuff at the taping that you'll probably be glad you went, particularly if the guests are good-- and ours largely were.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

CLIP SHOWDOWN: tosh.0 vs. Web Soup

In the past few weeks, two new clip shows focusing entirely on garbage from the internet popped up on cable: Comedy Central’s tosh.0, a direct ripoff of The Soup, starring up-and-coming comedian Daniel Tosh, and Web Soup, an officially sanctioned, Joel McHale-endorsed spinoff of The Soup, hosted by up-and-coming comedian Chris Hardwick. It’s buried in deep cable on G4 TV at 9pm on Sundays.

They are, effectively, the same show; snarky comic stands in front of a greenscreen and mocks Youtube clips both fresh and not-so-fresh. There are some differences; Tosh’s show obviously has a bigger budget, so in addition to viral video mockery they do a weekly remote bit where they track down some viral superstar (Afro Ninja, Miss South Carolina, et al) and give them a chance to “redeem” themselves. Last week they introduced a new segment, ‘celebrity video’, which for now is a series of short comedy videos by lovable veteran character actor David Koechner. Web Soup is a bit more spare and directly follows The Soup’s format, with a few sketches here and there, but it’s pretty straightforward; video plays, Hardwick cracks a joke, and on to the next one.

So naturally, since the shows are so close in format and intent, they’re going to live or die based on the strength of their respective hosts, and it’s here where one of these shows works and the other doesn’t.

Simply put, Daniel Tosh just isn’t that likable. He has this constant smug smirk and dresses in a hoodie and an ironic tee-shirt, like the smug smirking hoodie-wearing college roommate you had that wouldn’t stop forwarding you mildly amusing YouTube videos. His show seems to be centered around him more than the content itself – the remote bits play out exactly like the sort of remotes you’d see on Conan O’Brien or Jimmy Fallon, except Tosh doesn’t have Conan’s timing or his sense of absurdism nor Fallon’s self-deprecating manic energy. So basically, it’s your smug smirking hoodie-wearing college roommate trying to be zany around faded internet superstars. It’s not terrible, but isn’t very appealing. Not only that, but Tosh’s delivery is a little flat – he seems very self-amused.

Not to rag on the guy too much – obviously he has an audience that appreciates his stage personality, and his fans will probably love what he’s doing here. It just isn’t my particular brand of vodka – I probably wouldn’t like a clip show hosted by Dane Cook, either.

Hardwick’s show, by comparison, is much funnier and sharper. The jokes are fresh, the format is familiar (being officially sanctioned by McHale helps; Tosh’s show has the “we totally stole this concept” stink on it), and Hardwick himself is a much more likable host. He’s sarcastic without being annoying, leaves the smugness at the door and goes for genuine laughs rather than banal snark. The show has the same “we’re shooting this on a budget of $4 and a handful of bottle caps and we’re doing the best we can with that” vibe that McHale’s show has, and as a result, it’s more comfortable and loose. They also seem to have a lot more freedom in terms of what they cover, meaning they can show you some incredibly gross (and hilarious) stuff that likely wouldn’t make it into a show that’s on during primetime on Comedy Central. Thankfully they also have a short ‘palette cleanser’ bit that features some adorable animal or whatever to scrub the gross out of your brain before moving on. All in all, the format works, and Hardwick was a perfect choice to host.

Final Verdict: Web Soup works, tosh.0 doesn’t, for now. Check out the former here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Important Reminder: Norm Macdonald on Conan Tonight

Comedy nerds have probably been looking forward to tonight's Conan even more than the show's premiere a few weeks ago, and that's because the legendary Best Talk Show Guest Ever, Norm Macdonald, will be on.

A brief reminder of the magical things that happen when Norm is on Conan:

Postmortem: Best Week Ever

It was announced this week – first via Twitter-happy comic Doug Benson (who is also the man behind the awesome and entertaining I Love Movies podcast) and then confirmed through various other sources including Tompkins himself – that VH1’s weekly clip show, Best Week Ever with Paul F. Tompkins, was going on “hiatus” until 2010.

What this probably means is that Best Week Ever with Paul F. Tompkins is not likely to return to the network, which is really not at all a surprise, considering that the show aired on VH1 and Tompkins did not have to eliminate a broken, alcoholic Los Angeles-area stripper each week. Instead he had to riff on the same exact reality show clips Joel McHale already made fun of a half hour earlier every Friday night.

Tompkins’ run hosting Best Week Ever was a really interesting experiment to watch. The show started out without a proper host, as a way of extending VH1’s seemingly endless “I Love the [Decade]” series, where underpaid comics made cracks about old pop culture artifacts. Initially they tried to translate that series – a bunch of talking heads making jokes about pop culture - into a weekly half-hour format with familiar comics from the show commenting on current events (rather than moldy 80's sitcoms), including folks like Hal Sparks, Mo Rocca, Michael Ian-Black, and Frangela.

What it eventually became - after extensive retooling - was basically a competitor to The Soup, where host Tompkins would riff on clips from reality shows, network dramas and the occasional viral video. They had a few distinct segments – The Sizzler, which was all strained tabloid comedy with comedian Chuck Nice, a Tompkins green-screen interview with some celebrity or a chat with the most recent American Idol loser, and a bit featuring the dry comic stylings of the aforementioned Doug Benson.

To be honest, the show wasn’t great. Paul F. Tompkins is an extremely talented comedian but the show felt suffocating. He wasn’t given much room to breathe, and everything came across as way too scripted. He was stuck making fun of the same 8 clips everyone on the internet had already mocked days beforehand, and his immediate competition (and by that we mean The Soup) was already far enough ahead in the ratings and recognition to leave this show behind by a wide margin. Not only that, it suffered from a lack of energy; there was no in-house audience. The union crew on Countdown with Keith Olbermann is allowed to laugh at the host’s jokes, for god’s sake. For some reason, Best Week Ever felt like poor Tompkins was talking to an empty room.

Given that there are now no fewer than 2 Soup spinoffs and Best Week Ever always felt a bit like an also-ran, it’s pretty clear VH1 is essentially throwing in the towel on this one. Hopefully we’re wrong, and when the damn thing "comes back" in 2010 (which, let's face it, is a longshot), perhaps they’ll have found a way to make it work while still employing all the great comic talent they had for this go-round. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Review: SuperNews!

10 Episodes – Now in repeats on Current, airs Friday at 10pm.

It’d be pretty easy to argue that right now there’s nothing worse than an unfunny Flash cartoon, especially an unfunny Flash cartoon that was clearly trying really really hard to be topical. They’re the modern-day equivalent of Clinton-Lewinsky novelty songs that would run on FM Morning Zoo shows in the late 90’s. In other words, comedy poison.

So by that metric, there’s no good reason SuperNews!, an all-Flash animated half hour cartoon sketch series that runs on Current (a network few people actually have and fewer people actually watch), would be worthwhile. Live-action sketch comedy about politics and culture is hard enough to get right; with the lead times associated with animation, you have to assume they’re just now going to be making lame, tired jokes about Hillary leaving mean messages on Obama’s MySpace profile.

As it turns out, SuperNews! is surprisingly pretty decent, even if it is wildly hit-and-miss. When it hits, it’s downright clever, funny and often insightful, and when it misses, well, that’s what fast forward is for.

SuperNews! is absolutely at its best when it’s satirizing broad social trends and the blind narcissism of the current generation. The writing team – if you can call it a “team”, since the show seems to have a tiny, tiny production staff – really has a solid and appropriately cynical grasp on internet culture. Their sketches about Craigslist and Twitter could’ve been hacky trainwrecks, but instead they’re very funny deconstructions of those services. The best kind of satire involves harsh criticism, and the SuperNews! writers seem to have that aspect of the art nearly mastered.

The best recurring sketch on the show is easily “Hipsters in Space”, which follows four – uh – hipsters (with names like “Captain Art School” and “Dr. Blog”) as they travel through space in a giant sneaker, using the ‘Judgmentotron’ to determine if things are lame or rad. Each segment is a fairly brilliant and dead-on skewering of hipster culture. Considering how many comedians, bloggers, open mic night stand-ups and TV writers are currently shooting at the fish in the hipster barrel, that this bit works so well and rings so true while also being hilarious is a small miracle.

That said, there’s a lot of material on SuperNews! that doesn’t work. For whatever reason, the show is downright unwatchable when it tries to take on celebrity culture and reality TV. There’s a recurring sketch called ‘Project Britney’, with Tim Gunn hosting a reality competition show between the 5 stages of Britney Spears’ career. That doesn’t even sound funny, and it isn’t. By the end they bring on Perez Hilton as a guest judge, and frankly, even typing that description out it’s hard to believe they managed to write more than one of these bits without realizing it sounds like a comedy sketch assembled by using words cut out of last month’s wrinkled-up copy of Us Weekly, mashed together with a healthy dose of copy-pasted Gawker comments. They also seem to indulge in the usual lame American Idol jokes (although to be fair, the FCC has apparently mandated that any topical comedy show has to contain a certain percentage of dull American Idol material).

Thankfully, the show is deliberately produced in such a manner that the episodes are designed to be carved up into viral video-sized chunks, and if you visit the show’s page at Current, you can pick and choose which bits you want to watch. Here’s a handy viewing guide:

  • If the sketch is about a current social trend – especially related to the internet – watch it.
  • If the sketch is about a celebrity or a reality show – avoid it like the plague.
  • If it’s about politics, watch it for their flawless, dead-on-accurate Obama voice, but you probably won’t laugh, unless you just love “Joe Biden is crazy” material.

Right now there are 10 episodes available, and frankly, these folks are producing enough decent stuff per episode that it’d be a shame if Current (or some other network) didn’t order more. They just need to stay the hell away from the tabloid material.