Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Review: Tracy Morgan's "I Am The New Black"

WHAT: Collection of stories in book form, very of-the-moment
GOOD IF YOU LIKED: Tracy Morgan's career thus far
WHERE TO FIND IT: Throw a rock, you'll find it
PUBLISHER: Spiegel & Grau, 224 pages
BY: Tracy Morgan with Anthony Bozza

I Am The New Black is, in effect, less an autobiography and more of an ongoing talk show transcript. Covering the comic's personal life and vast career, which includes SNL and 30 Rock, you get a really strong feeling of what Morgan's life is like. Basically, the story of his life is this: Come from nothing. Become something. Succeed wildly. Fail. Repeat.

The book's writing is very much in the voice of Morgan, with allusions to robots and other craziness, which really does prove that the writers on 30 Rock aren't kidding when they say they follow Tracy around for a day to come up with episode ideas. The man's a factory of strangeness, and is clearly some sort of manic genius.

At a very breezy 200+ pages with pictures and illustrations, the book goes by in a flash. It feels like it could almost have been posted via Twitter, in that there are a number of brief anecdotes that all go by quite quickly. Also like Twitter, this book is very now-- there are references to real-world events, which season of 30 Rock just finished, and so on, making this book already feel a little dated. You can pinpoint when certain sections were drafted, which is really all the more reason to read it now if you're going to at all.

There's not a lot here that feels like some amazing revelation-- if anything, it shows that his affable, eccentric persona on TV is pretty much spot-on. Stories about his days in sports, his upbringing, and why you need to move out of a bad neighborhood in the middle of the night after achieving success ring true, as do the many stories of his early TV gigs. Particularly engaging are the tales of his first attempts on the stage, succeeding one week and then bombing the next because he trotted out new, untested material that the audience didn't seem to go for.

Like many books about the business, there's a clear journey here, although it seems each chapter is pretty scattered. It starts off being about one thing, than jumps into his personal life or a friend or something else entirely. With the numerous references to his drinking and partying, plus the health-related danger of an alcohol monitoring bracelet, you're likely to learn some interesting trivia if nothing else. Assuming, of course, you don't have to wear one of the bracelets yourself.

If you need something to read on the plane, this is a great and fast read. Just be sure to read it sooner than later, as the narrative was clearly meant to be read during 2009. In 2010 it's going to feel like it came from a time capsule.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Patton Oswalt vs. The Room

If you live in Los Angeles and/or live and breathe watching bad movies for fun, you are no doubt aware of Tommy Wiseau's The Room. Also, if you read this site, you are aware of Patton Oswalt. Words cannot express how fantastic this short video by Oswalt is, so just watch it-- and if you don't get it, ask your hipster movie fan friends to loan you their The Room DVD:

Weekly Comedy: Commander Wharf

Any week that includes both a new Mystery Science Theater release and a new CD from Paul F Tompkins is a good week. Period. No questions asked. Not even if that same week includes one of the most tiresome sequels in movie history. Nope. No-siree. Good week, right here. For serious, count your blessings.


Mystery Science Theater XVI – This limited edition set comes with a little bust of Tom Servo, who can accompany Crow T. Robot from the 20th Anniversary set. As usual, you get four episodes:

105: The Corpse Vanishes
501: Warrior of the Lost World
521: Santa Claus
701: Night of the Blood Beast

So that’s two Joels and two Mikes. I’m a Mike Nelson man myself, but the Joel episodes included here ain’t half bad. Plus you get two shorts and a bevy of extras included in the box. What’s not to love?

Better Off Ted Season One
– Some people love this show, most have never heard of it. Here’s the complete first season. Might be worth checking out if you have a spare afternoon and a couple empty slots in the ol’ Netflix queue.

Paper Heart
– Do you enjoy the awkward comedy stylings of Charlyne Yi? Here’s her faux-documentary about what love is wherein she and Michael Cera fall in love and pretend to flee from the camera crew. Yi and Cera actually did fall in love during the filming of this, and may have become America’s first couple to get married in hoodies and skinny jeans had they not broken up a few months later.

Pale Force – Jim Gaffigan’s animated shorts wherein he and Conan O’Brien are extremely pale superheroes. It’s a running gag from Late Night, wherein Gaffigan basically humiliates the Conan character over and over again. Can’t imagine this has a lot of rewatch value, but hey, here it is.


Paul F. Tompkins: Freak Wharf


Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
– Probably one of the most obnoxious sequels ever made. Lots of jokes for the cheap seats, Hank Azaria seems to voice every animated character AND gets to adlib as the lisping Egyptian villain for minutes at a time. This movie also wastes the comic talents of Jonah Hill and Bill Hader. There are some nifty moments at the beginning involving some living paintings, and Amy Adams looks pretty great in those aviator pants, but sweet jesus this movie is annoying from start to finish. See if you can make it all the way to the Einstein bobbleheads singing “That’s the way I like it”! If that doesn’t get you to shut it off, maybe the endless sequences involving Ben Stiller being slapped by monkeys will!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Stuff You Probably Missed: Fallon Edition Mark II

Every now and then we post some of the best bits from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, which you are likely not watching. Which is a shame, because in the last 9 months Fallon's show has turned into a worthy successor to Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

Anyway, here are some of the best recent bits:

Seriously, it's good stuff.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

DVD Review: Andy Barker PI

WHAT: Short-lived 6-episode sitcom created by Conan O’Brien, starring Andy Richter and Tony Hale
LABEL: Shout! Factory, 2009
GOOD IF YOU LIKE: Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Arrested Development
WHERE TO FIND IT: Amazon. Retail stores seem to be shunning it.
LENGTH: 132 minutes

Andy Barker PI aired for only a couple of episodes in 2007 before quickly being cancelled by NBC; the remaining 3 or 4 episodes aired online only, and now we’ve got the whole shebang on DVD thanks to Shout! Factory, who seem increasingly dedicated to putting every great piece of television comedy on DVD.

The show itself was created by Conan O’Brien and Jonathan Groff, and the premise is pretty simple: guileless, straight-laced accountant Andy Barker find himself unwittingly thrust into the gritty world of Private Dick-ism when a femme fatale shows up in his CPA office, mistaking Andy for crusty old PI Lew Staziak (who is probably the funniest character in the show, played by the late Harve Presnell). Since his accountant business is struggling, he finds himself taking more and more detective work to pay the bills. Along for the ride is video store clerk-slash-eccentric nerd Simon (Tony Hale, best known as Buster in Arrested Development) and kebab shop owner Wally (Marshall Manesh, reliable sitcom character actor).

The show is, for lack of a better phrase, really damn good. Every episode – probably due to the show’s short life – is incredibly solid from start to finish, and rare is the gag that falls short. The cast gels immediately, and every one of the supporting characters gets time to shine. The show’s sense of humor is clearly very informed by Conan O’Brien, which means there are a whole lot of jokes about old people and a lot of subdued absurdism. Tone-wise it’s very much like the comedy bits on Late Night and Conan’s version of the Tonight Show.

In typical Shout! Factory fashion, the DVD set is loaded with about as much extra material as you could possibly expect from a 6-episode cancelled sitcom. There are two documentaries – one focusing on the show’s writing staff, and the other a complete history of the series. There are commentaries on every episode – the pilot commentary features Conan himself – and a gag reel. It’s really all anyone could ask for.

Andy Barker PI, like so many solid, funny sitcoms for smart people with good senses of humor, was probably never meant to last in a TV landscape that nurtures the likes of Jenna Elfman, but it’s great to have it archived on DVD. Now it’s up to you to see if you have the Mike ‘n Ikes to pick it up.

The Bammer Hits Target

In what may be the most perfect or most twisted ad campaign of the year, Target stores have recruited the fantastic Maria Bamford to do a series of TV spots for the retail giant. Here's one of them.

And here's another one.

So it's not just your imagination, you really are seeing her on TV. After the Target Devo spots it seems they've got some subversive advertising people. Now, does this mean Target will start stocking her albums? We hope so.

Road Trip Album Picks: Dana Gould's "Let Me Put My Thoughts In You"

WHAT: The second album from one of the best comics you probably don't know yet, former Simpsons scribe, the voice of Gex
LABEL: Shout! Factory, 2009
GOOD IF YOU LIKE: Likeable, awkward funny dudes
WHERE TO FIND IT: iTunes, Amazon, some record shops
LENGTH: 39 minutes

Dana Gould has been around for a while, and is one of the comedians that managed to stick in my head nearly 20 years after first seeing him on the Sunday Comics TV show. He went to do writing for The Simpsons and has returned to stand-up comedy in a big way, with Let Me Put My Thoughts In You on CD and, of course, DVD. (We're bigger fans of the CDs, call us old-fashioned.)

If you have not had the luxury of hearing a Dana Gould album allow me to save you a few minutes and just tell you to go get it. Like Doug Benson Paul F. Tompkins, Gould should be on your "just go see/hear everything they do" list. You'll probably be glad you heard routines like "Timely Son of Sam Bit" which involves what the dog in the case probably would have actually said, "Pickup Lines & Ice Cream" which nicely sets the tone of dealing with people you'll never agree with, and "Creative Racism..." to describe it would be to ruin your laughs.

Gould has a fantastic approach to comedy and nearly everything he's done should be handed down to new generations of comedy nerds until the references become so dated you'll need a college professor to explain them to you. (But we should be good for a few more decades here.) This is a great pick for your next extended drive, if you have a way of getting it before you return from Thanksgiving travels, you should.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review: Chunklet's The Rock Bible

WHAT: Collection of jokes and anecdotes to challenge your taste in music
GOOD IF YOU LIKED: Les Savy Fav, the greater works of Steve Albini, and rock in general
WHERE TO FIND IT: Better record stores, online book stores, Chunklet's web store
BY: Henry Owings, Patton Oswalt, Brian Teasley, Andrew Earles, many others

It's often been said the musicians want to be comedians, and comedians want to be musicians. The Rock Bible bridges this gap with an excellent piece of work aimed at a very specific kind of person who may not be you. This collection of jokes and essays takes the form of the Bible in its structure, with the required amount of sneering and accuracy that hits the nail on the head. Truly, it is funny because it's true... and born from Chunklet, arguably the finest publication on paper today.

"If you want to die while in a famous rock band, there are four options. 1. Suicide. 2. Car or plane crash. 3. Drug overdose. 4. Murdered by a crazy relative. Just pick one and stick with it."

The one problem about the book is that it seems to be a very funny collection written mostly with people that are cooler than you/me in mind. If you see a lot of shows or play in a band yourself, there's a good chance that this book may mirror experiences in your own life. For the squares, there's a lot of great advice as to how not be a putz at a rock show-- which may seem obvious, and it really should be. There's also a bunch of stories, in-jokes, and lists of things which are or are not acceptable in rock today. This may sound like a snobby pursuit, and it probably is, but it's damned funny.

If you like music a lot-- specifically forms of rock from its roots to today-- odds are you'll enjoy this a great deal. If you're in college and have this on a table during a party, it's going to get stolen. That's how good it is. If you've got a music fan in your life, or you are one, get it. Read it. You'll love it. It's virtually the ideal bathroom book.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Weekly Comedy: It's A Shit, Shit, Shit, Shit Week

Holy hell, what did we do to deserve this?

So the feature-packed edition of one of the best comedy-nerd movies ever made comes out earlier than expected, and because the universe hates us all, there is also a mountain of unbelievable shit released in the same week.

This is the price we pay.


Funny People – A complex, surprisingly compelling and really unique drama-that-happened-to-also-be-really-funny about comedians that was misunderstood by a lot of people (and was, admittedly, flawed when it came to pacing). Absolutely the must-buy release of the week, if only for the ridiculous wealth of supplemental material included here.

It is also the lone bright spot this week. Fuck. FUCK.

Old Dogs – I’m not sure if this is a sequel to the bullshit that was Wild Hogs but they’re sorta-kinda marketing it that way. Seth Green is in it for some reason. Seems to be geared toward the same middle-aged white guys who chortle their way through Two and a Half Men every week and beat off to The Real Housewives of Orange County.

Four Christmases – One of the most criminally unfunny holiday comedies ever. After this abortion and Couples Retreat, someone needs to go slap Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Peter Billingsley and tell them to please stop just making lame-ass easy comedies designed to appeal to the Sunday night Olive Garden crowd. These people were responsible for Swingers and Made, they can do a lot better than this safe, trite garbage.

Bill Engvall: Aged and Confused – Hey look it’s a new Bill Engvall special. Perhaps he will make jokes about his wife being a nag or his kids being a pain in the ass or how he just wants to crack a beer and watch some football. WHO KNOWS WHAT UNPREDICTABLE COMEDY GOLD HE HAS IN STORE

Larry the Cable Guy’s Hula-Palooza Christmas Luau

Larry the Cable Guy’s Hula-Palooza Christmas Luau

Larry the Cable Guy’s Hula-Palooza Christmas Luau



Thursday, November 19, 2009

Road Trip Album Picks: Mike Birbiglia's "Two Drink Mike"

WHAT: The second album from the comedian and This American Life contributor
LABEL: Comedy Central Records, 2006
GOOD IF YOU LIKE: Likeable, awkward funny dudes
WHERE TO FIND IT: iTunes, Amazon, some record shops
LENGTH: 60 minutes

You may know Mike Birbiglia from his many comedy specials or from his numerous appearances on PRI's This American Life, often discussing his terrifying bout with sleepwalking. Which involves window-jumping and bleeding unintentionally. This resulted in a one-man show called "Sleepwalk With Me", where he relates his horrifying medical condition for your amusement. This is a man who truly knows how to make art out of misery and do a great job.

Birbiglia's persona on Two Drink Mike is that of a likeable, somewhat troubled guy. His comedy is mostly completely clean, going so far as to bleep a couple of curses on his albums over the years. (This is a stark contrast to, say, the entire recorded comedy album industry.)

Most of the stuff we review here is comedy for generally die-hard comedy fans, and Birbiglia is comedy for die-hard comedy fans and their parents. It's not easy to make a totally clean album with both jokes about rape and how much fun you become after a lot of drinks, but this is it.

It almost sounds like a slam to call the album nice or good-natured, but it really is both funny and very inoffensive. There's a routine on the phrase "No, But I Heard About It" that tells you everything you need to know about this comic, which is that he's funny and wants to be liked. You can totally hand this to mom and/or dad as the anti-Jeff Dunham and odds are they'll really enjoy it, and you don't have to hang your head in shame if you're not into comedians with acts that come on sticks. (No offense if you're a Dunham fan. Well, maybe a little offense.)

The album provides an ideal driving companion, as Birbiglia's voice carries despite not exactly being the highest-energy guy. You'll laugh a lot, most likely, so give this one a whirl over the coming Thanksgiving holiday. It should make the travel go down slightly easier.

A note if you're looking to buy this: it's on CD, and on multiple digital formats. Amazon sells an "Audible" version for $12 and a standard MP3 version for $10. It's the same thing, so buyer be aware!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Review: Bear Down Podcast

Do you like Chicago Bears football and UCB Theater?  Well, not surprisingly, the podcast world has you covered.

The podcast runs weekly and features Matt Walsh of Upright Citizen's Brigade fame, screenwriter Scot Armstrong (he wrote Old School and a variety of other films) talking about the Chicago Bears football team, along with some friends of theirs who are Chicago bears fans.

This podcast is about 75% football, occasionally diverting into football-related topics, which is entertaining for the rest of us who don't follow football at all.

One example of these discussions would be which football team mascot would win in a fight were they to be real; for instance, could a bear actually fight a jet travelling 200 miles an hour?  One theory - the bear could gnaw on the wheels during takeoff.

Also, stories about Evel Knievel punching out a golfer, only to be restrained by Joe Namath? Done. 

I should point out that the football discussion is genuine, with Walsh and the rest really discussing the minutia of the game, from plays, to players to coaches, and a bunch of other things I do not understand because I do not follow football.

They still make it interesting for the non-fan, though, which counts.  For the comedy/Chicago Bears fan, this will probably be ideal, and perhaps group therapy for this season for how badly the Bears seem to be doing right now.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Weekly Comedy: Equal Parts Crap to Good

Whoa, sorry we missed Weekly Comedy last week! Luckily nothing of interest came out. This week there’s a ton of stuff out and like half of it is total garbage! Hooray!


It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas – The straight-to-DVD Sunny Christmas special is out this week, and if you’re a fan, it’s a must-get. This will likely air on FX at some point, probably uncensored, but there are plenty of extras on this disc.

Galaxy Quest (bluray) – This movie was surprisingly funny when it came out and it’s held up pretty well over the years (and has somehow escaped the curse of geeks over-quoting and referencing it, thereby ruining it for everyone). It’ll also probably hit bargain prices pretty soon so holding out for a sale might be a good idea.

Bruno – Sacha Baron Cohen’s disappointing follow-up to Borat is out on DVD, just in time to let down your comedy-loving friends for Christmas! The disc is pretty loaded with extra content, and it’s probably worth a rent for the curious, but it’s hard not to remember how underwhelming this thing was.

The Kevin Smith Collection: Clerks, Chasing Amy, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back – Everyone generally outgrows Kevin Smith movies once they graduate college, but if you’re one of the few left who can still honestly laugh at any of the dialogue in Clerks (or can sit through even a half hour of the odious Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back), this box set is for you!

Don’t get me wrong – Kevin Smith is still a funny guy, his podcast is great and it’s nice to see him moving on to direct films he didn’t write – but his “Askewniverse” comedies really haven’t aged well. Rent ‘em on Bluray and see if you agree.


Oh man there sure is a lot of horrible crap out this week!

Dane Cook: Isolated Incident – It’s the comedian everyone loves to hate, with a new awful special that won’t change anyone’s mind! It’s the DVD destined to be stained with bongwater and buried under a pile of old Xbox games in the corner of some shitty dorm room!

Scrubs: Season 8 – FUCK YOU SCRUBS

Drawn Together: The Complete Series – Every single unfunny episode of this unfunny show in one big unfunny box set. The perfect gift for your friends who like bad comedy or someone you hate.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Road Trip Album Picks: "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Primary Phase"

WHAT: The first-ever anything in the popular Douglas Adams franchise
LABEL: BBC, 1978
GOOD IF YOU LIKE: Monty Python, science fiction, non-standup comedy albums
WHERE TO FIND IT: iTunes, BBC, better book stores
LENGTH: 4 hours, give or take

Depending on how much research you've done, you may be surprised that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy started as a BBC radio program, and not as a novel or a TV miniseries. A generation of kids has been handed these by their dads, and a bunch of people have discovered it on their own-- but the radio show is where it all got started, and it's one of very few comedy/sci-fi radio shows out there to be made with any real significance.

If you're on the internet, odds are you've heard some dork come at you with the number 42. This is where that came from. The six-episode series is very similar to the book and TV show as far as plot is concerned, and many of the actors on this radio drama would go on to be stars of the television series. (Peter Jones, Simon Jones, Mark Wing-Davey, for example.) But enough of that-- is this thing worth listening to?

Ultimately, yes. This is a pop cultural milestone well worth searching out, mostly because the author Douglas Adams hung out with the boys from Monty Python and this feels like something of a spiritual successor to that form of humor. The episodes are extremely frantic, jumping between the main story and whatever strange tangents the author comes up with, be it the ins and outs of designer planets, the banality of the "B Ark," or even the notion of infinite improbability.

It's possible you're already sick of Marvin the Paranoid Android or jokes concerning the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything... but if these are new to you, you positively need to check out this show. (And be sure to get the BBC Radio Drama, and not the audiobook. The extra actors make for great entertainment.)

Additional phases of the radio series were produced after this one, coinciding with the first five books of the series. (To date, they haven't done one for And Another Thing. The first two were made in 1978 and 1979, with the others coming in 2004 and 2005.

This series should be some sort of standard issue for young nerds of all sorts-- comedy nerds, sci-fi nerds, and so on. It's clever, fun, and goes by far too quickly. (It does get a little less fun by the fourth phase, where they adapt So Long and Thanks for All The Fish.)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Album Announcement: Paul F. Tompkins' "Freak Wharf"

AST Records confirmed the new PFT album will be out December 1, 2009. AST's releases are widely available online via their own record label or via digital distribution, but finding them at retail is, of course, somewhat difficult.

The label has a news post on this new release, which we expect to be nothing short of awesome. (After all, the man can do no wrong.) Pre-orders to start soonish. We cannot wait.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Weekly Comedy: Wasteland Edition

There’s pretty much nothing out this week, comedy-wise; it’s pretty bleak out there. Rather than focus on the comedy wasteland that is traditional media, we’re also offering a guide to the best comedy web series that you probably either haven’t heard of or keep putting off. Handy!


The Men Who Stare At Goats – World’s most beloved man George Clooney and world’s saddest Star Wars Career Syndrome sufferer Ewan McGregor star in this “war comedy” about a field reporter who discovers a military program in Iraq that centers around psychic soldiers. Trailer looks decent; maybe a little reminiscent, tone-wise, of Three Kings. Probably worth checking out.


Eddie Izzard: Live From Wembley – Eddie Izzard’s new special. You should know by now
whether or not you’re interested in seeing this.


Since there’s so little out this week, here’s a quick guide to some of the better web comedy series out there. Something's gotta fill that void.

Childrens’ Hospital – This is probably the strongest web series out there; Rob Corddry’s very funny and sometimes shocking satire of medical dramas, set in a childrens’ hospital for maximum inappropriate comedy potential. If you haven’t seen this – or heard of it but never got around to it – be sure to check it out. Hopefully one day they’ll release a DVD.

Clark and Michael – Hyper-awkward buddy comedy featuring everyone’s favorite nervous nerd Michael Cera and Clark Duke, who is probably best known these days for playing lapsed conservative Christian Dale on Greek. The show is a little too mannered, but there’s plenty of good stuff in here.

Back on Topps – More than a little sports-centric but still pretty funny, this series – written by and starring the Sklar Brothers – follows the “new owners” of the Topps trading card company. Matt Besser shows up, too.