Draft of sample chapter for "15 Minutes With"
Okay... here's a preview of one of the chapters from my book "15 Minutes With..." This is a draft of the chapter on comedians. I'm still deciding if I should organize the interviews by alphabetical order or by year.
Anyway, I hope some of you will take the time to read it and comment.
I'm trying to find the other half of the Cosby interview, the three Firesign Theater interview pieces I've done over the years and have to include my 2003 interview with Dave Attell as well as an earlier piece with Jim Bruer.
Also I need to rustle up photos to go along the the pieces.
I just wanted to get some of the material out there to get some reactions.
My first efforts in interviewing comedians came about when I was a local talk show host from 1982 to 1987 at WREB in Holyoke, Mass. A 500-watt daytime AM station, WREB was among the first station in that part of the state to adopt the talk format. Talk was still relatively exotic at a time when AM radio was king and music was the dominant format.
I had received the job based on two merits: I had been a frequent guest on my friend George Murphy’s talk show speaking about the films of the 1930s and 40s and I was a newspaper reporter. I had no training in radio and received next to no advice or guidance about how to produce a show.
I soon realized that I wasn’t cut out to assume some sort of persona to either inspire love or hatred from the audience – a talk radio device that is still used today. I decided that I should simply be myself and wanted to have a show that was hopefully entertaining and interesting to the audience.
To achieve this, I prepared material for conversation everyday and booked a lot of interviews: local officials, people involved in presenting some sort of local activity or event and celebrities either passing through the area or looking for some press to publicize something.
Several of those interviews are in this book, but many are not as the tapes for those shows are missing.
Among the comics I spoke with were Emo Philips and Yakov Smirnoff and they quickly illustrated the difference between interviewing a comic for radio and for print. Radio is a performance venue well suited for most stand-up comics whose voice and words are their medium. Gags often don’t translate as well in print – the timing and inflection are missing or difficult to convey.
So while I’ve had some good conversations with comics for print, the ones I interviewed for radio were largely stand-up sets with me as the audience.
Philips has a highly eccentric persona and his interview was equally different. He actually had a friend at a piano for the interview who provided a music accompaniment to his jokes. Smirnoff basically did part of his stage routine – the Russian who escaped the Soviet Union for the brave new world of the United States – and was very funny.
Lois Bromfield took a different approach to being on my talks show – she didn’t make one joke. She spoke about her life as a comic and later thanked me for not requiring her to be “on.”
While many of the comics I’ve interviewed for print have been funny during our conversations, nearly all of them have of them have provided some insights into their process for writing and their life, which I find even more interesting.
I’ve been surprised by some of the interviews – not in the least was with a guy whose signature person as a neurotic frequently irritated me: Richard Lewis. Lewis turned out to be a great interview.
2000 Richard Miller
Richard Lewis says he feels good.
Well at least as good as the famously neurotic comedian can feel.
Lewis, the man who has made audiences laugh by baring his soul on stage predicted people would see “one happy dysfunctional guy.”
The veteran comic found that writing a memoir, which will be published later this year, has helped his stand-up career,
“I pity the editor because it’s 558 pages,” he said with a laugh.
Writing about both his professional and personal life, including his successful battle against alcoholism has been “cathartic” for Lewis.
“I've been rigorously honest when writing and I’ve tried to upgrade my honesty on stage,” he explained. “I've been more fearless than ever.”
Honesty is a cornerstone of Lewis’s comedy. Unlike other comics with carefully honed routines, Lewis “works without a net.” His life is his material and he said he never is sure what he is going to do until he walks onto the stage.
Lewis recounted a conversation in which fellow comic Jay Leno asked him why he was so nervous before every show. Lewis told Leno his anxiety came from now knowing exactly what he was going to talk about.
His audiences are not surprised when Lewis hilariously details his fear and obsessions. No dark secret of Lewis’s life seems to spared from being fodder for his comedy.
“My onstage persona is me,” he said.
His approach has worked well for over 20 years and his success as a stand-up comic has enabled him to branch out into other entertainment ventures.
Lewis starred for four years with Jamie Lee Curtis in the sitcom “Anything but Love;” has had a string of HBO specials and had both comic and dramatic roles in a number of movies.
Lewis has a re-occurring role in Larry David’s new HOB series, Davis, co-creator of “Seinfeld,” has been friends with Lewis since the comic was 12 years-old and Lewis is “thrilled” to be working with his childhood friend.
Lewis said that a comedy album would probably come out of his current cross-country tour.
No matter what other project Lewis undertakes, performing in front of live audiences is still his number one priority.
“I love looking an audience in the eye and making them laugh,” he said.
2008 Larry Miller
Comedian, actor and writer Larry Miller had a job the day he spoke with me: he was to provide the voice for a French-Canadian goose in the upcoming animated film “Alpha & Omega.”
The assignment was an example of Miller’s far-reaching career in show business. He has been a top stand-up comedian for years, but he has been a busy character actor as well. His on-camera roles have been in such movies as “Pretty Woman” as the salesman who “sucks up” to Richard Gere and Julia Roberts; the two “Nutty Professor” movies in which he played the exasperated college dean; and the two “Princess Diaries” films.
He has worked in animated productions such as “Bee Movie,” and in one of this writer’s favorite animated series, “Dilbert,” in which he was the evil pointy-haired boss.
Ask Miller what he likes to do best, though, and he says “all of it.”
He considers himself like baseball great Lou Gehrig, “the luckiest man in the world,” although after a beat Miller added, “Well, that didn’t work out, come to think of it.”
Miller attended Amherst College and after graduation in 1975, he said he decided he wanted to do “something as an entertainer.” His subsequent career has been “frankly astonishing” to him. He started performing stand-up comedy in the mid-1970s in New York City where his friends included Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno.
“I should be horsewhipped if I wanted to change something,” he said. “What a joy it is.”
Despite over 20 years in show business, Miller is still thrilled by it.
“I had an acting job last week. I was thrilled to be on the set. I waved at the tour buses in Universal [when they passed the set]. I wanted to say to them ‘I know why you’re on that bus. I’d be on it, too.’ It’s cool.”
Miller became well known for his routine called “The Five Levels of Drunkenness,” and he said that he might include it as part of his current act, which mostly will be new material. He admitted that while excessive drinking and its effects are “horrifying,” he does find humor in it.
He said he tries to “write all the time.” Miller has written a book titled “Spoiled Rotten America,” as well as opinion pieces for the “Huffington Post” on the Internet and the “Weekly Standard.”
Writing for a stand-up routine is different than longer forms, he said, likening comedy writing to a still: “One drop comes out every 10 seconds.” He said a friend of his said a good comic should put in an hour a day. And if you put in two hours, “you’re really going to be a good comic, a monster.”
He views himself as a professional who can follow a director’s requests on a set or in a recording booth but also bring his own skills as a writer to a production.
The difference between theater, the movies and television is that theater is the actor’s medium, while film is the medium for directors and television is controlled by the writer/producer, Miller said
“Each captain is different and I follow what the captain wants,” he explained.
He did say that being in a recording studio for five hours portraying a goose could be a little taxing.
“It’s not tarring roofs, but I can get a little dizzy,” he said.
2012 Larry Miller
Larry Miller is a guy with a lot going on. He's not complaining, though. He loves it.
The stand-up comedian, actor and writer recently finished a role in a film, writes and records a weekly podcast and is a doting father. He has developed the creative vehicle that intrigues him perhaps more than any other of his show business endeavors: a one-man show.
“Cocktails with Larry Miller: Little League, Adultery and Other Bad Ideas” is coming to CityStage from March 21 through 24.
Miller said his one-man show “is something I will do the rest of my life.”
He explained that while being alone on stage is nothing new for a veteran stand-up comic, "a one man show is different than stand-up. There are pieces [in it] that wouldn't function as stand-up."
The show combines several of Miller's interests: comedy, acting and music. He was a music major at Amherst College and the show features several original songs he has written as well as several parody songs.
His acting roles started with a smarmy salesman in "Pretty Woman," and have included additional movies such as "The Princess Diaries," "The Nutty Professor," "Best in Show" and "The Mighty Wind." On television, he's had dramatic assignments such as an unrepentant wife killer on "Law & Order."
Miller explained that having acted on stage, he knows that "once a play gets locked, even if it's a great play, it's locked in. You don't feel the need to grow."
"Cocktails," though, allows him the ability to alter the material as he sees fit.
"I expect to live another 300 to 400 years and will continue to work on it," he quipped.
He added, "Walking out on stage and doing a lighting check [for 'Cocktails'], now that's a good place to be."
Miller said that he recently completed a role in a new film by director Michael Polish – best known for the film "The Astronaut Farmer" – and the day after he wrapped his footage he was performing "Cocktails" in Stowe, Vt. He then brought the show to a theater in Queens, N.Y.
He likes having a varied career like that, but he corrects this reporter when the word "fallback" is used to describe "Cocktails."
"It's not a fallback," Miller said. "It's a fall-forward."
When asked about his writing regime, Miller said with his trademark timing "I'm desperately scratching for more time."
He said when he hears about an author going "to a cabin in the woods for a year and half to write," his reply is "Who does that?"
Miller explained he got up at 6 a.m. on the day of this interview so he could get an hour to write before he woke up his wife and children. Once breakfast, making lunches for his children and getting them to school was completed, Miller said he had the "great luxury" of writing from 9 a.m. to noon, although he said this time was punctuated by answering emails and taking phone calls.
"I'm not complaining. I love every minute of it," he added.
He also loves recording his weekly podcast, "This Week with Larry Miller," which is available on iTunes. "There are no guests. It's just me telling stories," Miller explained.
He said he usually writes down 10 subjects and manages to talks about two of them in the half-hour recording.
Speaking of his career he said, "I was made to do this. I'm a story teller."
2005 Jim Breuer
Jim Breuer is on satellite radio with a daily show and he loves it.
“It’s a guilty pleasure,” he said.
“Jim Breuer Unleashed” is heard every day on Sirius Satellite Channel 147 from 4 to 6 p.m.
Breuer said the radio job has been a “one year goof.” He started the show last November.
“By far it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done,” he exclaimed.
Breuer, who started as a stand-up comic, has been a regular on Saturday Night Live and appeared in films (“Half-Baked”). But he loves his radio show because it allows him to be more of a storyteller.
It’s also “paid therapy,” he said, as he is able to sit down with two high school friends and a fellow comic and discuss whatever they like in the manner that they like.
Be forewarned: they don’t mince words. There’s no censorship on satellite radio.
Breuer said the four friends “leave their egos at the door” and talk about things so they “can get on with their lives.” He said that one friend is a musician, while another works at an airport.
“I love it. We heal a lot of people,” Breuer explained. He said that once a listener hears how messed up their lives are, listeners’ lives seems better. He added the show features “tofu and sandals wisdom” along with blistering comedy.
Listening to excerpts of the show on Breuer’s web site www.breuerunleashed.com the show sounds like a Breuer version of TV’s “The View,” only with a lot of gags, guests such as comic Dave Atell and musician Vince Neil, and calls from listeners.
Rather than the daily show impeding his stand-up career, Breuer said that he has been creating new material through the daily shows.
“I’m the best at my game,” he said. The show has “opened so many doors creatively.”
Breuer, who still tours with a band, doesn’t miss television and is now planning direct-to-DVD releases of his work, such as Hardcore, his first DVD. His contract for the radio show ends in November and he would love to extend it if he could. He’s considering assembling an audio CD that would collect the best moments of the first year.
For now, though, Breuer said, “I really do like making people feel better.”
2009 Jim Breur
Log onto Jim Breuer’s Web site and you’ll see a commercial for his new comedy DVD starring his young son. When I ask him about it, the comedian – known for his rock ‘n’ rock comedy, his years on “Saturday Night Live” and movies like “Half-Baked” let loose with his distinctive cackle.
The commercial, like his act and the latest phase of career, is all about family. The comedian, noted for how his naturally half-closed eyes made him look constantly stoned, now presents a non-cursing family-friendly show.
What’s the reaction from his fans? His lengthy comedy tour has been sold out 90 percent of the time, Breuer said.
“It’s been a phenomenal year a great tour,” he said.
Breuer said that his comedy reflects where he is in his life and family is foremost.
He did a daily show over satellite radio for several years he now does it weekly -- so he could be with his three children and so he could develop an off-stage persona.
“I’m rebuilding a whole career,” he explained.
Technology has allowed him to stay in touch with his 11, eight and five year olds while on the road. “Thanks to Skype ... they have a lot more understanding. They get what Daddy does,” he said.
The radio show also allowed him to stay near his parents. Part of the result of this experience is not just his stand-up act, but also a situation comedy for television he is currently developing. Breuer’s concept is built around a “sandwich guy,” someone in his forties who not only has children but has his parents living with him as well.
Breuer said that he has been described as a “Bill Cosby with a Metallica shirt.”
“That sums up the show,” he added.
He said his comedic goal isn’t for audiences to say, “That was nice” at the end of the show. “I want you to leave saying ‘That’s the hardest I laughed in 20 years,’” he said.
Breuer said he now has several generations coming to shows, with people his age bringing parents and children.
Part of his current act is a reaction to the “everything sucks generation.” He said he is tired of comics who present a litany of dislikes.
“There’s way too much [of it] dominating comedy,” he asserted. “We don’t need comedy about what’s awful with marriage, kids and family.”
Instead, what Breuer said what audiences need is some “good laughter.”
2009 Bob Marley
Bob Marley leads two lives. After touring comedy clubs for years, recording CDs and DVDs and making dozens of appearances on televisions shows, he has built a huge fan base for his comedy.
Marley, though, has other fans - people who know him from his supporting role in the cult classic movie “Boondock Saints” as the hapless Boston detective who is plagued by an FBI agent played by Willem Dafoe.
Now Marley fans will get a double scoop of the versatile performer this month. He will be touring comedy clubs and will be seen in “Boondock Saints: All Saints Day,” the sequel to the film, when it opens at the end of the month.
The Maine native spoke from his tour and said he was “really excited” about the release of the new film.
Marley started performing while in college in Maine. He then spent two years in Boston and then 11 years in Los Angeles. He moved back to his native Maine four years ago. He and his wife wanted their three children raised in their home state.
While his Maine accent emerges as he speaks faster during his act - confounding many non-New England audiences a bit – his humor is not based on region as much as it is a “fish out of water.”
He observed to audiences in Los Angeles “there are more lanes on the highways here than in the bowling alley back home.”
Although he never imagined himself as a comic who wrote material about his family, he said he now writes about his wife, his kids, his parents and himself.
He said that what he likes about New England is that despite differences in dialect, region or economic standing, the people all do about the same things: root for the Red Sox and Patriots, vacation at the beach and go to their mother’s for supper.
He said that one audience member met him after a show in Denver and asked him, “Where are you from?” He called his Maine accent “a slow, dumbed-down version of a Boston accent, but not as angry.”
Marley got the role of Det. Greenly in “Boondock Saints” through a friend of his who was friends in turn with Troy Duffy, the writer and director of the film. Marley read the script, was impressed and learned the lines for Greenly. He didn’t hear anything more for three months and then was asked to audition at the director’s home.
He impressed Duffy by performing the monologue he has at the beginning of the film from memory. He recalled Duffy say, “Yup, you’re the guy.”
Marley had acted in some independent films, but never one with as big a budget as “Boondock Saints” or with a cast that included such veteran performers as Dafoe, Sean Patrick Flannery and the legendary Scottish comedian and actor Billy Connolly.
He said that while filming the first film in 1999 the cast “didn’t have a full grasp on how big it was going to be.”
Marley also praised Dafoe, the star of the first film, who he said could do a take nine times and in nine different ways.
Although the theatrical release of the film was marred by studio politics, the film attracted an appreciative audience through home video and Marley said the number of fans he’s met over the years wearing “Saints” T-shirts and tattoos has amazed him.
With the second film, his character has more screen time and more back-story and while he enjoyed making the sequel – “We had a blast” – there was some pressure.
“All you thought about were the fans. You didn’t want to let them down,” he said.
As a comedian, Marley was impressed that Connolly was watching him work and becoming his friend.
Marley recounted, “I thought, ‘there is no way Billy Connolly is standing in front of me and praising me.’”
He called Connolly “the salt of the earth” and “just humble” and recalled how the two couldn’t make eye contact during a climatic barroom shoot out scene. The set had been wired with hundreds of explosive squibs to simulate gunshots and both men were worried they would start laughing during the take causing the crew to re-wire the squibs.
“We would have been in big trouble,” he said.
He was allowed to adlib some in the film and he said that acting in a dramatic part has less pressure because “you’re not getting a laugh out of it.”
Marley doesn’t think of himself as an actor, though.
He described himself as “a guy who is in some movies.”
2005 Dave Attell
Dave Attell may not be shooting his hit show “Insomniac” any longer, but he’s keeping very busy.
Attell’s most recent Comedy Central special allowed him to feature three up-and-coming comedians performing live, and pretty much uncensored, in Las Vegas. The feature-length comedy concert film was the first for the cable network and it featured Attell and fellow comics Sean Rouse, Greg Giraldo and Dane Cook.
Attell has also produced a DVD of a live stand-up performance that he is selling on his web site (www.daveattell.com) and Comedy Central will be releasing Dave Attell’s Insomniac Tour Presents Sean Rouse, Greg Giraldo And Dane Cook on DVD in time for the holidays.
“I’m always on the road,” Attell said. “I’m excited to come back. It’s always fun working in Massachusetts.”
Attell said that he does miss some aspects of “Insomniac.” The show featured Attell in a different city cruising the streets and meeting people after he performed at a local club. Part reality show, part twisted travelogue, Insomniac revealed what happens in America after dark.
Attell admitted that filming the show meant an increase in his alcohol consumption. Pushing the age of 40 and being in a bar with frat boys, he said, was “weird.”
What he really liked about the show was the freedom he had with Comedy Central.
“They give you the leeway to do your own thing,” he said.
The new comedy special combines “Insomniac’s” format of the comics interacting unrehearsed with themselves and others with a concert film.
Attell explained he was looking for a project that would allow him to be the host and present fellow comics.
“It was cool to bring out other guys,” he added.
While the number of people performing comedy remains strong, Attell said there is a new dynamic happening family friendly shows.
Due to a new wave of political correctness, Attell said some clubs wouldn’t give a chance to certain comedians.
He said that many clubs are looking for comics who are “squeaky clean.” While the change has not affected him much his reputation for filling clubs with people who enjoy his no-holds-barred comedy is secure new comics have a rougher time establishing themselves.
He explained that many club owners don’t want to book some one who hasn’t been on television and want an act that won’t offend audiences.
“It’s bad,” Attell said. “Comics in clubs are supposed to be edgier and raw. I’ve seen it everywhere.”
It’s not just comedy clubs in the South or Midwest, he explained, but also in New York as well.
“That’s just not right. I really don’t understand it,” he said.
What’s up next for Attell? He said he loves working in Las Vegas and would like to host a variety show from Sin City.
Naturally for Attell, it would be an edgy variety show.
2009 Dave Attell
Comedy can be hard work. Just ask Dave Attell.
The veteran comedian said that the taping of his new comedy special, “Dave Attell: Captain Miserable,” was a bit of a challenge.
“They weren’t my crowd at all,” Attell said.
The special was seen on Comedy Central on July 5 and it is now available on DVD.
Originally taped a year ago for HBO, Attell said Comedy Central had obtained the rights to the show and then delayed broadcasting it.
The show had some classic edgy Attell observations ranging from potential commercials for Jagermeister to performing for American troops in the Middle East.
Attell said the special was taped in a theater instead of his favored environment, a club, and had a “very politically correct” audience.
“When you do a show for a network, you’re a hired hand,” Attell explained. At this taping, “people weren’t rolling with me. It was like going uphill.”
Attell’s fans know to expect the unexpected from the comic but when he launched in a joke about pedophiles, he had to change gears.
Because of the delay in broadcast, Attell said some of the material was older than he would have liked.
“[Some] made me cringe,” he said.
Although he said he doesn’t censor himself for Comedy Central – “you know what to say and what you can’t” – Attell added, “I try not to edit myself unless I absolutely have to.”
There was one political joke in the special, which Attell pointed out as his lone topical gag. He has resisted putting political material into his shows, as those jokes aren’t as “evergreen” as others.
He noted, though, “everyone is talking about politics now, [it’s] like sports.”
He tours a lot, something he called both a “blessing and a curse,” and people still recognize him from his show “Insomniac,” despite it being off the air since 2004. He would like to reach a point in a couple of years where he can get off the road as much.
When he is home in New York City, he’s “constantly thinking of new stuff.”
“It comes together in the clubs,” he explained.
Attell is working on a new CD. His first recording, “Skanks for the Memories,” was a hit and he’s planning to do another.
“That’s the thing that’s constantly there,” he said.
“Skanks for the Memories” came out before the dominance of iTunes and other Web-based distribution of recordings, a technology Attell called “interesting.”
“People say they love your CD and they stole it [off the Internet]. It’s a compliment, but a crime,” he said. “I tell them ‘You owe me a $1.’”
Despite the economy, Attell said there are still a lot of comedy venues and a night at a comedy club is a “pretty good bet” as a show can provide “four hours of conversation” afterwards.
2009 Bill Cosby
Since 1963 Bill Cosby has been making people laugh and the iconic comedian said that he has no intention of stopping anytime soon.
The most famous resident of Western Massachusetts will be appearing for two shows at Springfield’s Symphony Hall on Oct. 16. Although known more in recent years as a social commentator and author, Cosby is dedicated to comedy.
His appearances here are part of a lengthy touring schedule that brings him from California to Massachusetts to Florida and Canada.
“I’ve been doing this [comedy] since 1963. That when I made the commitment,” he said in an early morning telephone interview from his home in Shelburne. “It’s important that this mind think things and I write them down and I can’t help it.
“My wife says I’m being beamed,” he added with a chuckle.
The man whose show business career has included Grammy-winning comedy albums, many successful television series and movies as well as being a highly influential stand-up comedian, said his path toward being a comic came out of education.
He explained that he was “born again” when attending college not renewing his Christian faith, but rather “in terms of accepting education, of wanting it.”
While at Temple University, he said he became serious about writing and read extensively. He also began listening to comedy albums and studied comedians such as Jonathan Winters, Elaine May and Mike Nichols, Shelly Berman and Don Adams.
It was while listening to the Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner album “The 2,000 Year Old Man” that Cosby said he realized, “you don’t have to have a joke.”
The story and the delivery were more important. He began to write and enjoyed it.
He said that while in his freshman remedial English class, the professor assigned the student to write about a first time experience. The class was full of members of the football team and Cosby said, “The football players wrote about their first touchdown, but I got beamed.”
He wrote about the first time he pulled out a tooth as a child.
“There were no computers just a number two pencil and a legal pad,” he said. “I had so much fun and I just wrote and wrote and wrote.”
He found that he didn’t mind revising his work.
“When you’re born again, you don’t mind going over it,” he explained.
In his junior year of college, he said he “began to see things differently,” and thought he could sell what he was writing.
In the early 1960s there were no clubs dedicated to comedy as there are today, and Cosby said he went around the nightclubs of Philadelphia. He explained the clubs would feature a singer and a comedian and he would try to sell his work to the comics, but no one bought any of his stories.
“One fellow read it and said, ‘This is not funny.’ I started to perform for him and he said, ‘It’s still not funny,’” Cosby recalled.
The manager of the Gilded Cage nightclub finally gave Cosby the chance to perform for 15 minutes.
“There were seven people in the room and they were spread out three, two and two,” Cosby said.
The manager didn’t care for his act, although the audience laughed and Cosby lost hope momentarily. “That night I took those pages and I threw them down the sewer, but when I woke up I was right back at them,” he said.
Cosby said his career started taking off, though, with appearances in clubs in New York City. In 1963 he made his first comedy album, “Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow, Right!” and was booked onto “The Tonight Show.”
He said his career was like a slide one could do on a kitchen floor wet with soap and water.
“There was no long suffering,” he said.
After all these years of performing, Cosby said, “I still have those thoughts. I’m still being beamed. I still have things to say.”
Cosby said that his material today provides a “night of comfort.”
“I put a chair on the stage, I sit and talk and tell a story,” he said, resulting in the audience and himself “feeling comfortable.”
2007 Tracy Morgan
Tracy Morgan has done it all movies, television and stand-up but he doesn’t have a favorite.
“I love it, “ he said. “It’s all show business.”
Morgan is a busy performer. He currently co-stars in the NBC sitcom “30 Rock” and was recently seen in the films “Little Man” and “Totally Awesome.” He also has provided voices for the up-coming film “Farce of the Penguins” and for the MTV series “Where My Dogs At.”
He appeared on “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) from 1996 to 2003 when he left to star in his own sit-com.
During his long stint on SNL, Morgan became well known for character that included “Brian Fellow, the host of “Safari Planet,” and space adventurer “Astronaut Jones” as well as impersonating people such as Mike Tyson, Busta Rhymes, Maya Angelou and Samuel L. Jackson.
Acting on “30 Rock” is a change for Morgan after years of appearing before a live audience. He explained the show is filmed with a single camera, like a movie, and that a person has to have confidence in what they are doing since there is no audience to affirm whether or not they are being funny.
The new assignment has meant a shift in his schedule: no more late nights.
Unlike many stand-up comedians who have a love-hate relationship with television, Morgan said he loves it.
“It’s a personal medium,” he explained. “You can reach out and touch people.”
He was an active writer on SNL, and still has a hand in what happens to his character on “30 Rock.”
“I helped develop the character,” he said. “I let the writers know what he’s thinking and who he is.”
“30 Rock” is about the back-stage happenings at a SNL-like television show. His character, also named “Tracy,” is a star on the fictional show.
“The guy’s unstable,” Morgan said. “He’s an international superstar and a sweetheart, but when he’s off his meds he’s ‘coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs.’”
Morgan said he has known some people like his character, but didn’t base him on anyone specific.
Morgan said that comedy was part of his childhood.
“My uncle, father and all of my mother’s family were funny,” he said.
Growing up his comic heroes included Jackie Gleason, Redd Foxx, Lucile Ball and Carol Burnett. Martin Lawrence was also an influence on him as well as Chris Rock and Adam Sadler.
What’s it like working with the people one admires?
“One word explains it: heaven,” Morgan replied.
2007: Charlie Murphy
There’s plenty of acting siblings in show business today, including the Wayans, the Baldwins, the Cusacks, and the Gyllenhaals, and now the Murphys.
Only the prominence Charlie Murphy has seen in show business thanks to his appearances on “Chappelle’s Show” hasn’t been due to his famous brother Eddie, but to his own hard work.
And it hasn’t come overnight, but after years of working in the industry.
Murphy has had small parts in big movies such the recent hit “Night at the Museum,” larger roles in low budget films, written scripts, performed voice-overs for animation and taken a stand-up act around the country.
He said that his career has been the result of “happy accidents.”
“I’ve worked for it for 17 years,” he said.
Charlie is the older brother of the two and started working in the industry. His resemblance to his brother has actually been a hindrance as some casting directors used it as an excuse not to hire him. They didn’t want people to think they hired an Eddie Murphy ringer, he explained.
“I had to force my way in,” he added.
He was asked to try stand-up and despite his brother’s reputation Charlie called Eddie “one of the last true kings of the game” he “summoned the cajones to show up.”
He remembered the first time on stage was not as scary as every time since.
“The first time I had nothing to lose,” he said. “Now every time you got out, you’ve got to deliver.”
He loves the medium, though. Stand-up, he said, is “the most free” a performer can be.
“It’s your thoughts, your creation,” he said. “It means more because it’s all you.”
Although a large part of his act is improvisation, Murphy is constantly thinking of gags and routines.
“Twenty four hours a day even when I sleep that light is on,” he said.
Murphy said that being a stand-up comedian is like being a boxer and one has to train all year-round, not just before a big fight.
He has been busy with a number of film projects but he is especially excited about “The Perfect Holiday.” Gabrielle Union and Queen Latifah star in the holiday release about a young woman finding true love.
Murphy has a role, which “allowed me to breathe in the movie.”
“A whole lot of range was shown,” he said. “I’m not bragging.”
2005 Eddie Griffin
Ask Eddie Griffin why he’s been out of the country for much of the last two years and he has a quick answer: “That’s where the movies are being shot.”
The stand-up comic has two new films that will be released in the next few months. Griffin starred in the “Malcolm & Eddie” sitcom from 1996 through 2000 and has been in movies such as “Undercover Brother” and the “Deuce Bigelow” series (Griffin played the manager of the unlikely gigolo).
But don’t expect a new “Deuce Bigelow” film among the new productions.
“We’re done with that. We squeezed all of the blood out of that,” he said with a laugh. “The vampires would have to go someplace else to feed.”
Besides shooting the second “Deuce Bigelow” film in Amsterdam, Griffin also appeared in “Irish Jam,” a comedy set in Ireland that was shot in Cornwall, England.
“That was interesting,” Griffin said with understatement.
In “Irish Jam,” Griffin plays an American who wins an Irish fishing village through a poetry contest. Besides the problem that he stole the lyrics from a rap album to win, he suffers a big case of culture shock. The film is scheduled for release next month.
Griffin plays a take-off of the Robert DeNiro role from “Meet The Fokkers” in the film “Date Movie,” now in post-production, and provided the voice for Babe the Blue Ox in the animated production “Bunyan and Babe.” It was his first time doing voice work and Griffin declared, “It was fun.”
He also made his directing debut with “N.T.V.,” which will be going straight to DVD. When asked what the “N” stands for he offered, “Nepotism? Narcissistic? Use your imagination.”
He “had a ball” directing the film.
Griffin said he likes the freedom of performing in films over his experience with television. He explained that “suits who never told a joke on stage” were experts in comedy.
Griffin added that the attitude among television executives is “if the wheel is working, we must destroy it.”
Still, Griffin said he doesn’t really have a preference over the different parts of his career.
“I like all of it. It takes a whole lot of different slices to make a pie,” he said.
Showtime subscribers will see Griffin as Sammy Davis, Junior, in an up-coming biography he made. In describing the film, Griffin launched into a perfect Sammy Davis impersonation.
He is currently working on a similar type of film on the life and career of Richard Pryor and talked about the project in Pryor’s voice.
When he was told this writer has an autographed photo of comic and filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore on his office wall, Griffin instantly started reciting part of Moore’s seminal routine, “The Signifying Monkey.”
“Everyone has professors,” said Griffin. “Those are my mine: Professor Davis, Professor Pryor and Professor Moore.”
2006 Judy Tenuta
I’ve interviewed a fair number of comedians who’ve appeared in our area, but I’ve never been serenaded by one before.
But then, I’ve never talked to Judy Tenuta before.
Speaking from her California home at 8 a.m., Tenuta first told me that it wasn’t too early for her to do an interview, because she has a lot of energy in the morning.
That proved to be an understatement.
After telling me that she was wearing her gold lam leopard bikini, she told me to hang on while she fetched her accordion. Popping on her speakerphone, she launched into a song extolling the virtues of the Hu Ke Lau, the club at which she was going to appear locally.
I discovered that I wasn’t going to get many in-depth answers about the nature of comedy. Whether it’s on stage or over a telephone, Tenuta is a total entertainer.
Tenuta is a veteran on the national comedy scene whose act is part political commentary, part audience participation and part religious and social satire.
The comic can also be very politically incorrect. Talking with her proved to be a wild ride.
Sometimes she describes herself as a “petite flower.” Other times, she calls herself a goddess and preaches the faith she invented herself: “Judyism.”
She said she loves appearing in Massachusetts she will also be at the Comedy Connection at Faneuil Hall in Boston and that it’s been a while since she performed at the Hu Ke Lau.
“I love it. It’s been five years since the last time and they were sweet enough to have two of the [Polynesian] dancers carry me on stage,” she said. “I want them to do a fire dance around me.”
She also likes the venue because the audience is “lit,” by the time she arrives on stage, she said.
“We are all best friends by then,” she added.
Tenuta is one of nine children of a Polish-Italian family from Chicago. She said her brothers were required to play musical instruments, but unlike them, she enjoyed the accordion.
When asked how much of her act is ad-libbed, Tenuta replied that she “makes it up right there.”
“I do have certain things [planned] on a kind of mental outline, but you never know,” she said.
Tenuta revealed she will be husband hunting while in Chicopee and Boston and she does have her eye on one New England celebrity.
“Quarterback Tom Brady needs to meet the goddess now. I expect him to be at Faneuil Hall for the goddess!” she said.
She will be asking or dragging various men on stage to audition as potential husbands. Among her requirements are the candidates “have to complete a sentence and should have a wallet.”
He should also be “pretty cute,” as she said, “The goddess is pretty cute.” Candidates also should bring presents and flowers to increase their attractiveness.
One last word: Tenuta warned that candidates have to have a job.
“The goddess will not be supporting a pig,” she added.
2005 Mike Epps
Mike Epps said that he “can’t get away from [comedy.]”
While his career has been busy with film appearances, he said that performing on stage is like “therapy for me.”
“I can talk about my problems and they are not problems any more,” he said.
After coming from a background of stand-up comedy, Epps became known to film audiences as “Day-Day” in “Next Friday” and “Friday After Next” with Ice Cube. He also appeared with Ice Cube in “All About the Benjamins.”
Epps was seen earlier this year in the Ed Norton role of the remake of “The Honeymooners,” a film that he said “wasn’t a movie I wanted to do. It was a movie to do.”
He did admit that he had watched a little of the original television series and said that “The Honeymooners” remake was a “feel good” movie.
Upon reflection he added, “It’s cool.”
His new film “Roll Bounce” is due out soon, he said. It’s a roller skating movie set in the 1980s and stars Bow Wow. He said his role in the film is to supply the “comedy relief.”
He said the older he becomes, the more he appreciates film making, and that he didn’t care for the start and stop of movie production when he was younger.
“I can dissect it and appreciate it,” he said.
He is currently working on a new half-hour show for HBO. When he made the statement, someone in the background asked “You’ve got a show for HBO?”
“I’ve got it popping baby,” Epps said in reply.
Epps said it is more difficult for young people to break into comedy today than when he did over a decade ago.
“Comedy is like the NBA or the NFL. You’re up against 144 people,” he said.
“Comedy should have a draft,” he added with a laugh.
For Epps, though, he was “born into this shit.”
“I have no choice to be good at it,” he said. “I do it for survival.”
2005 Caroline Rhea
Caroline Rhea was enthusiastic about returning to perform at the Comedy Connection at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee.
“I love saying ‘Hu Ke Lau Chicopee’,” she said with a laugh during a telephone interview last week, “It sounds like someone sneezed.”
Rhea is currently host of the second season of the NBC reality show, “The Biggest Loser” and HBO recently began airing her new stand-up comedy special. She is now touring comedy clubs.
Her recent television gigs complement her previous credits a long run as “Aunt Hilda” on the hit sit-com “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” a returning role on “Hollywood Squares,” a stint as one of Drew Carey’s girlfriends on his show and her own talk show.
“I’ve been lucky,” she said of her career, but admitted that of her credits, she loves performing stand-up the most.
“It’s the place where I feel most comfortable,” she said. Rhea has been on stage making people laugh for 16 years.
The freedom of being in front of a live audience means that Rhea doesn’t have to worry about being edited or censoring herself. Although not known for a raunchy or political style of humor, she noted that when doing radio interviews that she has to be careful, as many stations are now very sensitive to offending listeners.
Her act is basically her life, she explained and she tries to keep it as current as possible. Twenty to 30 percent of it, though, is improvisation.
“I have hours of material. I’m a windbag,” she added.
“The Biggest Loser” is a project that Rhea enjoys. She is the host of the show, supervising the weigh-ins and giving out assignments.
“It’s like being inside a soap opera,” she said.
What intrigues her about the show is the amount of empathy it generates for the participants who are trying to make a significant transition in their lives. She believes that the show has heightened awareness of the issues of being overweight and she called the cast members “lovable characters” that are inspiring.
She also called her role in the show as a “great part-time job,” as her involvement during the 14-week period to shoot the show allowed to do other projects.
One kind of project Rhea said she would not do is take over for someone in an established show. She did that with Rosie O’Donnell’s popular talk show.
“I would never replace anyone in anything [again],” she said.
Although she might have misgivings about the talk show that lasted one season, she said that she has fond memories of “sitting close to Pierce Brosna” and having the chance to interview the late John Ritter and Christopher Reeve.
If she ever did another talk show, she would try to for a late night program, so her self-described “irreverent” brand of humor might find a more receptive audience.
2007 Dom Irrera
Veteran comedian and actor Dom Irrera is looking forward to performing in Western Massachusetts again.
“I have friends in Springfield,” Irrera said.
The Philadelphia native began his career in 1980 performing stand-up comedy, acting and improvisational comedy. His big breaks came in 1986 when he appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” and in 1987 when he was part of the line-up for an HBO Rodney Dangerfield comedy special.
Since then, Irrera has been nominated six times for an American Comedy Award and won two Cable ACE awards. Besides a string of comedy specials, Irrera’s comedy series on sports, “Offsides,” was seen for four seasons on Comedy Central and he has appeared in numerous guest spots on television sitcoms.
Irrera is well known for his Italian ethnic humor, which comes naturally as he grew up in a three-generational Italian household.
“I always felt I was going to be a comedian,” he said.
His favorite comic has been Woody Allen. Irrera has long admired Allen’s writing style, although it hasn’t influenced his own comedy that much.
He noted that no one has ever come up to him after a performance and said, “Man did you rip off Woody Allen with that goomba act of yours.”
Ethnic humor has both its advantages and disadvantages, he said. If you stick to ethnic humor, you tend to maintain a core fan base, he explained.
A comic can broaden his or her base by performing less ethnically oriented material, Irrera said. He recalled meeting the son of the late comic and actor Red Buttons after a performance who told him his father wanted to talk with him. Irrera called him and Buttons said, “Don’t paint yourself into a corner with that goomba act. Don’t be an Italian comedian, be a comedian who happens to be Italian.”
Irrera took the advice to heart, but he still does some Italian humor.
“It does leave a lot of the audience out, especially the Persians,” he added.
Irrera has built up a side career as a voice artist for animation. He is currently recording the voice of Duke the Dog for the up-coming series based on the animated feature “Barnyard.”
He has also performed voices on “Hey Arnold,” “Hercules,” and “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.”
He and his fellow cast members are given a script to perform, but are allowed to improvise, which is a lot of fun for Irrera.
Irrera has also appeared in a number of movies, the best known might be his funny bit as a chauffer in “The Big Lebowski.” Irrera said he is a big fan of the Coen brothers who wrote and directed the shaggy dog tale starring Jeff Bridges and had no idea they had attended one of his performances.
A script came in the mail with a notation the Coens wanted him to play the role and Irrera was amazed to see they had used lines from his stand-up performance for the character.
He had no idea the film would achieve cult status and admitted the first time he saw it he didn’t care for it. By the second viewing, though, he was a fan.
Irrera has had plenty of television experience on sitcoms, but he’s in no rush to try to get his own.
“Beware of what you wish for,” he said. “It’s [sitcom work] a drag compared to stand-up.”
Irrera isn’t a snob. He readily admitted that he would accept a starring sitcom role if offered. “I’m not willing to go around pitching and pitching [a show].”
After more than 25 years in the business, Irrera stills enjoys the “immediate gratification” one gets from performing stand-up comedy.
2008 Lavell Crawford
Lavell Crawford said that as a child he wanted to be a superhero specifically, Spiderman.
“There were plenty of spiders in my basement, but none of them were radioactive,” he recalled with a laugh.
His career goals changed, though, when he listened to a Richard Pryor album for the first time.
“I thought it was incredible,” he said.
Television audiences will recognize him from appearances on “The Tom Joyner Show,” “Steve Harvey’s Big Time,” “BET’s Comic View” and from the most recent season of “Last Comic Standing,” where he came in second in the comedy competition.
Crawford has been very busy with his first Comedy Central special debuting on Feb. 22 as well as the release of his CD “Takin’ a Fat Break.” He also recently appeared on the cable television special, “Martin Lawrence Presents the First Amendment.”
When he spoke with me he was waiting for the limousine to arrive to bring him to a taping of Chelsea Handler’s talk show, “Chelsea Lately.”
While in college his interest in comedy was strengthened when he saw Sinbad perform live. At first, Crawford thought his road as a performer was as a rapper, but he noticed that his rhymes were comedic and making people laugh.
Crawford said he was lucky to break into the industry in the early 1990s when comedy was booming. It took him five months of calling a local comedy club before they would give him a slot on an open mic night, but he was persistent.
“It was calling me,” he said.
Crawford said that appearing on “Last Comic Standing” was a mixed blessing. He wanted to be in the final five comics because of the exposure it would give him, but the actual competition itself “ was really bogus.” The comics never learned of the percentages of audience approval.
“Television is a strange animal,” he said. He noted that he and the other comics had to re-write their material to make sure it met the network’s rules, but that dramatic shows are held to a different standard.
Crawford said the show was a “learning experience” for him and proved worth it as he is booked through December. He added that if the producers had wanted a more authentic reality show, they should have put the comics on the road and sent a camera crew to document them.
“They try to control it on television, but you can’t control it on the road,” he said. “Make it on the road, that’s where all the drama starts.”
The comic never censors himself, but his comedy is not laden with curses, the n-word or sexual references.
“I don’t go overboard,” he said.
Crawford would like to do everything in show business. He has written scripts; he is currently promoting and would like to get more acting roles.
Although Crawford formally writes his act, he said, “The stage is my notebook.”
“I’ve written more jokes on stage than off,” he said. He explained that he edits material as he works, subtracting and adding to a gag or routine depending upon the audience.
And Crawford explained how a comic has to be ready to exploit whatever happens before an audience. He explained that the Comedy Connection in Boston doesn’t have a step onto the stage. The club was packed and Crawford said he was so excited he missed the stage and “fell on my face.”
He didn’t let that stop him as once he was on stage, he did 40 minutes on his accident.
2006 Ralphie May
For Ralphie May, it didn’t matter that he didn’t win the first season of “Last Comic Standing.” He said that his loss only made his fans “more vehement.”
“They’ve stuck with me for 17 years,” he said.
May has become well known through his appearances on “Last Comic Standing,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, “Jimmy Kimmell Live” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
May has recently released his second CD “Girth of the Nation,” which is also the subject of a special for Comedy Central.
May started his career in comedy at age 17 and recalled how he had to have his mother bring him to some of his appearances because he was too young to be in a bar by himself.
“It was an adventure,” he said.
He said that it has taken him 14 years to make a living as a comic and the relatives who told him he should have gone to college aren’t telling him that anymore.
At 17, he won a talent show that gave him a chance to open for the late Sam Kinison.
“He was a heck of a guy,” May recalled. “He was very nice to me and showed me there are no boundaries [in comedy].”
May isn’t concerned about boundaries and freedom of speech.
“I slam everybody,” he said. “I have a major problem with political correctness.”
May is concerned about the fallout from the highly publicized incident concerning the language used by actor Michael Richards in a stand-up performance.
“He’s our Janet Jackson, “ he said, referring to the controversy over Jackson’s Superbowl half-time performance that resulted in a Federal Communication Commissions crackdown on broadcasting standards.
Richards, he emphasized, is not a stand-up comedian, but rather “a crazy homeless man with money.”
He also was critical of the Rev. Jesse Jackson becoming involved in the Richards issue. He said Jackson has been silent on the slow re-building of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the erosion of voting rights of African-Americans.
He said that some people might believe that comedy “can’t offend anyone, but comedy has always been about offending someone.”
May said that like other stand-ups comics he wouldn’t mind doing a situation comedy, but that it would have to be “really good, like ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ or ‘Seinfeld,’ or ‘The Honeymooners.’”
He said he and his wife, fellow comic Lahna Turner, had considered starring in a reality show about their lives on the road. Besides “Last Comic Standing,” May has appeared on another reality show, “Celebrity Fit Club.”
He said ultimately he and his wife rejected the ideas because every couple that has had such a show has broken up and that he doesn’t want to lose his wife “because she married me when I was fatter, broke and not famous at all.”
“I’m extremely lucky,” he added.
2007 Paula Poundstone
During a telephone interview there are the sounds of vacuuming and children in the background, but that’s typical for working mother and comedian Paula Poundstone.
Poundstone, named one of the 100 greatest stars of comedy by Comedy Central, balances a performing career and being a mother of three children.
Poundstone is also a regular on “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me,” the weekly news quiz show heard on National Public Radio. When asked if she prepares for the show that will test her knowledge of the week’s events she said, “Sadly, I do cram. But it does no good.”
She didn’t audition for the program, but was asked by the producers and has appeared for the past six years. Originally, she would go to a local NPR in Los Angeles and be connected electronically to her fellow contestants and host Peter Sagal.
But now the show is taped live either on the road or in a theater in Chicago and Poundstone said, “It’s definitely better.”
“Before I was a ball player in a batting cage,” she said. She added she likes actually seeing her fellow cast members.
The live tapings mean travel, though, and Poundstone said it can be difficult being both a parent and a touring comedian. Generally, she tries to be away from her home and family only an average of eight days a month.
And when she is home she focuses on her family duties.
“When I’m home, I’m really home,” she explained.
Poundstone started her comedy career at age 19 in 1979 performing in Boston. She said she had no responsibilities at that age and “rode the wave of that time” a time that she called a “renaissance of stand-up comedy.”
She said she had “no particular skill or talent” but was in “the right time and the right place.
“I went around the country learning and having fun, when it was fun,” she said.
She credits Robin Williams for attracting attention to the new generation of comics and for allowing random thoughts and non-sequitors to be part of the new comedy landscape.
Although her act is not known for profanity or adult material, Poundstone said “the stupidest thing” for a comic to worry about today is language.
“My goal is to entertain people. I don’t want to say things that are mean,” she said.
She added she doesn’t deliberately want to insult people and that words are not as important as intent.
She admitted she is not as in tune with changes in stand-up comedy as some of her colleagues because many of her performances are at theaters rather than nightclubs. The advantage, she said, is that people really want to be at her shows and they’re not drinking.
Today, there are fewer venues for aspiring comedians. She said that a recent club appearance she noticed several young comics who drove an hour and a half just to be able to appear a few minutes at an open mic night. She explained that in the 1980s and ‘90s, in a city such as San Francisco, she could do three open mics during one evening
When asked if she had pursued the sitcom career route as so many other comics had done, Poundstone said with a laugh that she hadn’t rejected sitcoms, they rejected her.
She said that her efforts to develop a sitcom hadn’t made it as far as being a pilot. She said that when she first started exploring a career in television she didn’t understand the language used by television executives.
This was apparent on the ABC variety show she did in 1993 that lasted three episodes. She recalled networks officials using phrase such as “We’ll leave you alone.” “We’ll give you time to develop.” and “We want something different.”
She thought the show was an interesting experience that presented some “really great ideas.”
She realized that there are “only a handful of people lucky enough [that] when an executive said those words they mean something.”
After her cancellation she had lunch with another ABC executive who was interested in having Poundstone host a daytime program. She recalled she was uncertain over whether or not that would be a good move for her until the exec said, “We’ll leave you alone.”
“I’ve had a lot of good lunches out of show business,” she said with a laugh, although she added she no longer discusses businesses over a meal.
Network execs aside, Poundstone said, “I love my job. I’m the luckiest comic in the world.”
2007 Damon Wayans
So why is the star of the successful ABC sit-com “My Wife and Kids” as well as an alumnus of “In Living Color” and “Saturday Night Live” and the star or co-star in a dozen movies touring the country performing stand-up in small clubs?
Damon Wayans laughed and said, “I’m still in shock why I’m doing this.”
He quickly explained, though, that of all of the things he has done in show business from acting to writing to directing nothing “gives me the same joy” as performing live and alone on stage.
He said there is no better way to test your skills and timing as a comedian than performing live.
His fame doesn’t allow him to coast.
“You have a grace period of about five minutes. If you’re not funny, they’re start yelling at you,” he said. “You constantly have to prove yourself.”
He said the stand-up tour was a “tune-up” for a television special he will be shooting. When asked what network it will be on, Wayans laughed, and said, “Whoever spends the most money.”
Wayans is well known for pushing the comedy envelope. He recently was banned from The Laugh Factory in Los Angeles for three months for repeating the “n-word” on stage.
Wayans said that he apologizes to his audiences up-front.
“I will offend you tonight,” he said.
For him, comedians are “the voice of the people.”
“If you stop comedians from telling a joke, you stop the masses from expressing their point of view,” he said.
Weighing in on the firing of Don Imus for saying “nappy headed hos” on his radio show, Wayans said that Imus shouldn’t have been dismissed. He said he thought Imus was “speaking matter of factly. I didn’t feel any malice. He was trying to be cool.”
Commenting on the love-hate relationship many comics have when they land a television sit-com, Wayans pulled no punches. “I love the money and I hate everything else.”
Wayans is currently working on launching his own web site, www.wayouttv.com, which will feature new comedy shows designed for Internet audiences. He said he doesn’t understand why the television networks aren’t designing new programs for a web-based audience instead of developing new shows.
His site should be up June 1 and will feature a sketch comedy troupe. If a character does well, Wayans hopes to launch more shows.
Movies hold little interest for Wayans right now. He said unless you have written the film and “want to protect the baby,” being an actor for hire isn’t appealing.
“I don’t want to play the third lead in a Charlie Sheen movie, if you know what I mean,” Wayans said laughing. “That’s nothing against Charlie Sheen.”
He said he makes sure to connect with an audience on their terms. He doesn’t get on stage and talk about his life as a star.
“I talk about stuff they can relate to,” he said.
He knows that some fans have misconceptions about the life of a person in show business.
Believe or not he said, he does not spend every day waking up with four women in bed, followed by his butler delivering breakfast, then spending all day hanging with other celebrities and ending it with five women.
“Well, not every day,” he added.
Instead he’ll wake up at 3 a.m. with ideas that he is compelled to write down.
“I work hard. My brain is calloused,” he said.
He said the people he knows who excel in their field are the ones who work the hardest.
He said his friend, basketball great Michael Jordan, was the first one in the gym and the last one to leave.
2006 Wendy Leibman
Wendy Leibman thinks her appearance in the film The Aristocrats and a recent appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno “solidifies everything together” in her comedy career.
The woman who has the stealth delivery her punch lines come in under the radar said that she has know Penn Gillette, half of Penn and Teller, for years, and was among the first comics filmed for “The Aristocrats” four years ago.
The movie became an art house hit last year. The premise is having a lengthy list of comics recite their version of what has been dubbed in comedy circles as the world’s dirtiest joke. The participants also discuss the nature of dirty jokes and free speech issues.
“I was honored to be part of comedy history,” Leibman said. “I made myself laugh when I saw it.”
Leibman said she is looking forward to a return to Massachusetts – “I have a fan in Chicopee” – and this is her 11th year appearing in Massachusetts near Valentine’s Day.
“I better start loving myself,” she quipped. “That’s one of my goals for 2006 loving myself and going shopping.”
Leibman also hopes to record a comedy album shortly.
Although she had appeared on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, Leibman said that the appearance in January “made me feel bona fide. Jay could not have been nicer. It was really great.”
She admitted to being a little nervous as she was on the same show as the American Idol judges, but she said they were all “sweet,” and the infamous Simon Cowell was the nicest.
Although she said “that ship has sailed” when asked about starring in her own television series, Leibman and her husband, Jeffrey Sherman, have written and directed a short film which they hope to sell as a series. Sherman wrote the television movies “Au Pair” and “Au Pair II” and was a writer on the sitcom “Boy Meets World.”
The film stars Larisa Oleynik, a busy young actress perhaps best known for her Nickelodeon series “The Secret World of Alex Mack.”
If the film sells, Leibman will be wearing a new show business hat producer. In the meantime, though, she’s looking forward to returning to the stage.
2006 Carlos Alazraqui
The deputies of “Reno 911!” are back – on television and on DVD.
The fourth season of the popular comic police show has started on Comedy Central and the third season has just been released to DVD in a two-disc set.
If you’ve not seen the show, it’s a clever and raucous parody of FOX’s “Cops.” Set in Reno, documentary cameras follow around a group of sheriff deputies during both their professional and personal lives.
Led by the hot pants-wearing Lt. Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon), the Reno squad includes the in- your -face Deputy Raineesha Williams (Niecy Nash), the flack-vest wearing Deputy Travis Junior (Robert Ben Garant), the deeply disturbed Deputy Trudy Weigel (Kerri Kenny), the amorous Deputy Clementine Johnson and ladies’ man Deputy S. Jones (Cedric Yarbrough), the seasoned vet and bigot Deputy James Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui) and the rookie Deputy Cheresa Kimball (Mary Birdsong).
Very politically incorrect, “Reno” is a show that constantly surprises and sometimes shocks. Viewers are never quite sure how far a gag will be taken. One episode in the third season DVD, Dangle and Junior go undercover at a spa to follow a suspect there for a massage. The suspect takes off in his car and Dangle and Junior rush out of the door of the spa in hot pursuit with only their socks and shoes on. The spa locks its doors behind them and they have to make their way back eight miles to the station house.
The third season opens with episodes that show how the group got kicked off the force, served time in jail and then resumed their lives, but as civilians. There is some funny stuff here, especially with Dangle trying out for “American Idol” and Jones and Garcia relishing their new lives as mall cops.
The third season set also features two groups of extended outtakes, which show how the cast crafts the scene through trial and error. The cast provides commentaries on several episodes, which give insights into the creative process.
What makes Reno unique in American television is that it’s a sit-com that is almost all improvised and after four seasons cast member Carlos Alazraqui said in an interview that the cast is now a lot better at the acting challenge than during the show’s first season.
He attributed the early success of the show to “dumb luck.”
He explained how the show is shot. The cast is given a general description of a scene and then rehearses a short length of time developing some of the dialogue. If the director likes the lines, they start filming. Alazraqui estimated that the actors improvise 70 percent of the show.
The show is not shot in Reno, Alazraqui explained. It’s filmed in the greater Los Angeles area. The sheriff’s station is a real police station in Carson, Calif., and Alazraqui said the officers generally support the show.
“Ninety-five percent really love it,” Alazraqui said.
He added that one officer in particular makes an effort to help them out by telling them about real life incidents that could be used for the comedy. He has told the cast that some of their antics are reflections of what has happened to cops in real life.
Alazraqui’s character is frequently paired off with Yarbrough’s Jones and that was because the two actors hit it off in the pilot. Alazraqui said the producers liked the physical contrast between the men as well as the fact that Garcia was an unapologetic bigot.
Alazraqui added, “The whole staff is racially prejudiced.”
Alazraqui comes to the show from a stand-up comedy background and from a very active career as a voice artist in animation. If you’ve watched Nickelodeon in the past few years, you’ve heard him on shows such as “The Fairly Odd Parents” (as the evil Mr. Crocker), “Camp Lazlo” (Lazlo and Clem) and “Rocko’s Modern Life” (as Rocko).
Rocko was his first animated role and he is again working with Rocko creator Joe Murray on his new show “Camp Lazlo.”
“I’ve come full circle with ‘Camp Lazlo,’” he said.
You also heard him as the voice of the Taco Bell Chihuahua, a commercial campaign that is still remembered six years after it ended.
“That was a bizarre thing to land,” Alazraqui said.
He’s a cast member of the new animated film “Happy Feet” due for release in November and plays a Latino penguin named Nestor. The voice cast also includes Robin Williams.
That feature film release will be following in January 2007 with the premiere of “Reno 911!: Miami.” Alazraqui explained that in the movie the Reno deputies travel to Miami to attend a law enforcement convention in Miami. They lack the proper credentials and are not allowed in.
But when a biohazard forces the quarantine of the officers in the convention hall, the Reno deputies take to the streets of Miami to keep the peace.
The film was shot in the same improv style, although Alazraqui said the cast had to pay much closer attention to creating dialogue and situation that matched the movie’s plot.
Alazraqui still performs stand-up and he said he favors no one aspect of his career.
“It’s so relative to the situation,” he explained. “There is nothing like the live response [to stand-up] when they love you. I get paid to do goofy voices. That’s another high.”
“The benefits of a multi-pronged career is that I get to do different jobs,” he said.
Sommore never thought she could do stand-up comedy despite her love for it. Twelve years after she read a book on the subject and tried out on stage, she has appeared as one of the “Queens of Comedy,” been called “a force to be reckoned with in the new millennium” by Oprah Winfrey and won the Richard Pryor Comic of the Year Award.
Sommore said that after some initial efforts during open mic nights, she received her real training as comic as the emcee for a male strip revue. She recalled with a laugh that she had to appear before “300 women who weren’t interested in anything I said.”
Week after week though, she would try out material and include it in her 20-minute set until people started coming early just to see her.
She said her comedy is based on observation.
“I listen, I watch everything,” she said.
And Joan Rivers and her aggressive say-anything style of comedy inspired her.
Unlike Rivers, whose stand-up included some severe self-deprecation, Sommore said that women comics who are attractive “have a fine line to walk.”
The wrong choice of outfit could inspire remarks from male members of an audience that could make the female members a little upset, she said.
“I point out my flaws first,” she said.
Women comics today still fight a battle about whether or not they are as funny as male comedians. Sommore recalled how she and other women would be introduced at open mic nights with an admonition that the audiences should go easy on them.
That’s one reason she, Adele Givens, Laura Hayes and Mo’Nique toured as “the Queens of Comedy” in 2001 she wanted to show that women comics are the equals of men.
Sommore said she appreciates both working live on stage performing stand-up and acting in a sit-com or movie. She’s appeared on “The Hughleys” and “The Parkers” and in the movies “Soul Plane” and “Friday After Next.”
She’d like to have a television comedy of her own and shot a pilot that wasn’t successful. She added that she draws inspiration from the fact that Dave Chappelle had 13 pilots before having success with his Comedy Central show.
She said the challenge is to find a format to present “my voice, my true voice.”
“It’s not easy to do,” she added.
She said it’s frustrating as a comedian who writes her own material to perform a script that is supposedly funny, but isn’t.
She also noted that with success on television could come with a big paycheck that can be accompanied with a loss of creative freedom.
“Me, I’ll take the money,” she said with a hearty laugh.
Sommore is known for a hold-no-prisoners humor and said she “makes a distinct choice about the style I’m going to do.
“I curse to make a point, to enhance a joke,” she said and added that she hosted an entire season of BET’s “Comic View” show without using any questionable language.
What she likes to present is “the real raw truth.”
“Sometimes we need a little severity,” she said. “Life isn’t all peaches and cream.”
John Melendez is the second member of the Howard Stern cast I’ve interviewed (voice actor Billy West is the other). I’m not a big fan of Stern’s radio show, although his television series he did in 1990 or so from WOR was a very guilty pleasure.
I think Stern has an element of genius about him in recognizing that presenting material that would appeal to 13 year-old boys who just learned to masturbate would ensure him a permanent audience of adult men.
In any event, here’s what I wrote about the Artist Formerly Known as Stuttering John.
John Melendez has a list of his greatest hits, but none of them involve music.
The Howard Stern alumni, who spent much of his 15 years with the “King of All Media” ambushing celebrities with outrageous questions, recalled how Raquel Welch punched him in the nose and how Sharon Stone’s bodyguard “laid him out.”
Joan Rivers insulted his looks, but Melendez thought she was funny.
These days, though, Melendez doesn’t have to worry about dodging punches. As the announcer on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” Melendez gets to act in comedy sketches and go on the street as a correspondent.
Now he is touring as a stand-up comic.
He has been performing comedy for the last four years, something he has wanted to do since he was a child watching “The Carol Burnett Show” and “Saturday Night Live.”
Yet what held him back was being “terrified of getting on stage and bombing.”
That fear abated when Melendez realized his gig with Howard Stern required considerable courage and that he “had the nerves to ask a celebrity about bowel movements.”
He has been writing jokes for years and has “always wanted to do [stand up comedy.]”
Through therapy, Melendez has overcome his stutter and had to prove to NBC executives that he could do the announcing chores on “The Tonight Show” without a hitch. He was first offered a job as a correspondent on the show after he had completed his appearance in the reality show “I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here.” He recalled lying on his cot and fantasizing about being on “The Tonight Show.”
Much to his amazement, when he returned from the show, there was an offer for him. He had to turn it down as he was “getting crap from Stern about being gone too long.”
A second offer was also turned down, but Melendez accepted the third and last offer.
“It was time for me to go,” he said. “There were no hard feelings. It was the right move to make.”
He said that being on “The Tonight Show” is the “complete opposite of the show I was on before.”
Melendez had started with Stern as an intern and spent 15 years on the show. He said he enjoyed doing the hit and run interviews of celebrities, although there came a point when many of his interview subjects played along with the gag, rather than be insulted.
“It was less interesting,” he said.
He recalled disguising himself in order to catch people off guard, but he was still recognized.
Melendez said he had both “good times and bad times” on the Stern show and he was invited to be on the last broadcast before Stern made his move to satellite radio. He didn’t attend because of a scheduling problem.
2010 John Kawie
Sometimes clichés aren’t trite and John Kawie has indeed made lemonade out of the lemons life has handed to him.
In 1997, the Springfield, Massachusetts native had successfully made a difficult career transition. After almost a decade of hard work, he had left his role as a business owner and become an in-demand stand-up comedian.
A week after his wedding, Kawie faced the aftermath of something he never anticipated: a devastating stroke at age 47.
Kawie’s journey through his recovery is presented in his one-man show, “Brain Freeze,” which has just been released on DVD.
Although a long time resident of New York City, Kawie, who grew up in the Hungry Hill section of Springfield, has family and friends here.
He recalled fondly going to Springfield Indians matches at the Coliseum and Giants games at Pynchon Park while growing up.
Even though he successfully headed the business founded by his father, Kawie said, “My first love was to make people laugh.” When someone approached him to buy the business, Kawie saw this as his opportunity to follow his dream.
He took a course on writing humor, which culminated with a performance at a Connecticut comedy club.
“I had a great set and I loved it,” he recalled.
He was hooked.
“If you follow what your heart tells you to, doors will open,” he asserted.
He decided to move to New York City and pursue a career as a comic.
“I was broke, but I was working,” he said.
Kawie explained that in the late 1980s during the boom of stand-up comedy, there were a lot of clubs in New York City, but not all of them paid. Many club owners considered giving stage time to a new comic to be enough compensation.
Kawie noted with appreciation the owner of the Improvisation as someone who would regularly give the comics at least a token payment that could pay for carfare.
To help make ends meet, Kawie landed a job at a Gap store as a clerk, while seeking time on stages at clubs. He said there is a difference between staying in New York City to work as opposed to touring. Comics watch each other in New York City and tend to write better. On the road, he explained, comics learn they can be sloppier with their performances.
Kawie was seen as an up and comer, opening for comics such as Dennis Miller and Howie Mandel. He had his own special on Comedy Central and he developed a unique niche as the country’s first Arab-American comedian.
He became a writer and performer on “The David Brenner Radio Show” and wrote for Bill Maher’s monologue on Comedy Central’s “Politically Incorrect.” He also was a substitute host for Dick Cavett on his radio talk show and he wrote for Dennis Miller’s show on HBO.
He recalled with a smile fellow comics, such as Dave Attell and Sam Kinison, who encouraged him.
“Life was good,” he said.
One week after his own wedding, he and his wife Marilyn attended the wedding of a friend. The next day, Kawie didn’t feel just right, but he chalked it up to a mild hangover. When he realized that his condition far exceeded his initial reaction, he was taken to a hospital.
He had had a stroke and he thought at the time he would be released the next day.
Instead, he spent months in hospitals and rehabilitation clinics regaining his abilities. He admitted, “My memory was shot.”
His left arm was paralyzed and he had difficulty walking.
His outpatient therapy years were “the dark period of my life,” he said.
Participating in group therapy, Kawie began to tell a joke each session as a way to work his way back. He started writing again and thought about a project.
Kawie’s comic idol was Richard Pryor. He explained there are several schools of comedy. Comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld offer observations, while someone such as Pryor deal in telling truths about themselves and society.
Before his stroke, Kawie had become interested in the monologues of Spalding Grey and Eric Bogosian and Kawie began to think about turning his experience into a one-man play.
His acting coach helped him for six months, writing and honing what would become “Brain Freeze.” He had trouble memorizing his work and would listen to a recording of it over and over to learn it. Memorization didn’t help the comic timing he needed and he had to learn where to pause.
He said that those around him always encouraged his effort.
“I always got green lights. “I didn’t get red light,” he said.
Kawie started performing his show at hospitals and rehab centers to others facing the same challenges he faced. The reaction was so positive, he started performing in “off off Broadway” theaters.
He expanded his writing activities by writing a column, “Life at the Curb,” for the American Heart Association’s magazine, “Stroke Connection.”
A performance in 2003 at the New York Fringe Festival led to an award, “Best Solo Show,” and to glowing reviews in the New York Times and the New York Daily News.
He acquired an agent and took the show all over the nation.
In the show, Kawie speaks about dealing with the aftermath of his stroke from using a plethora of Post-it Notes to trying to button his overcoat with one hand.
While at his 40th high school reunion at Williston Academy, Kawie met a fellow alumnus who heads PARMA Recordings.
“That’s how the DVD was born,” he said.
Kawie said the release of the DVD will “get it out there to rehab centers I couldn’t go to.”
He intends to continue touring with the show, but will do far less traveling. He is now thinking about a book on his experiences.
He admitted that he “sometimes” misses performing stand-up, but sometimes not.”
“It’s a grueling lifestyle,” he said.
He wouldn’t want to be a young comic starting these days. He noted that some club owners are concerned about political correctness in comedy.
“It’s better when you let the comic go, let him fly,” he said.
To learn more about “Brain Freeze,” visit its Facebook page or go to www.amazon.com/John-Kawie-Brain-Freeze/dp/B0040Y7EP6
2011 Ben Bailey
Think driving a cab in New York City is challenge? Imagine conducting a television game show while negotiating Manhattan traffic.
That’s the job of Ben Bailey, the stand-up comic and actor who is the host and star of “Cash Cab,” the Emmy-awarding winning game show.
Bailey readily admitted that driving a cab and hosting a television show was “tough at the beginning.” He started the “Cash Cab” job in 2005.
“It’s still tough,” he said. He added that as he doesn’t concentrate on any one of his tasks listening to the producers of the show feed him questions to ask through an earpiece, driving the cab and interacting with his guests – he does alright.
“It’s sort of a Zen thing,” he said.
Bailey has never had an accident, despite his multi-tasking.
In “Cash Cab,” unsuspecting people seeking a cab get into Bailey’s taxi, only to find out they are on a quiz show and their ride, if their answers are right, could pay off in hundreds of dollars.
If their answers are wrong all it takes are three bad ones – they are back out on the street.
Bailey said the show seemed “pretty ridiculous on paper” when he auditioned for it. Originally, the producers had thought a New York cabbie would be the host, but soon realized they needed someone who could improvise and had a comic background.
He had an edge over some of the other comics, as he had already spent years as a limousine and delivery driver. To get the job, though, he had to pass the test for his taxi license, which Bailey took quite seriously.
“I was studying for a couple of weeks,” he said. “I had a lot in the balance.”
He was offered a pre-test, which if he passed would allow him to skip the class for the test and he had to answer the question of which bridge he would use to drive someone from 161st Street to Yankee Stadium.
The question stumped him and he was shocked to see a list of bridges in the city with names he didn’t recognize.
Bailey fell into stand-up in an accidental way. He described himself as a “wise ass” in school, who enjoyed making his fellow students laugh. He aspired to be an actor and moved to California to pursue a career.
He worked in hotels while trying to get a break and was talking to a fellow New Jersey transplant in the parking lot of the Comedy Store one night in Los Angeles where he was offered a job answering the club’s phones.
He watched some of the comics from the wings, thinking he could be funnier and after telling stories to other comics while they waited to perform, landed a spot on a show.
He also acted in television series such as “Law and Order Special Victim’s Unit,” “One Life to Live” and “Hope and Faith.”
When asked which performing venue he prefers, he replied, “None of them are easy. All of them are difficult.”
He added, “All are very hard, but I get a lot of enjoyment out of all of them. Stand-up is great because you get immediate feedback. The show is great because you can meet people.”
Bailey has thought about starring in a sit-com and has developed several ideas. “I’ve been too busy to pitch them,” he said.
He added the television networks really seek out reality show concepts because they are less expensive to produce and he isn’t interested in doing that kind of show.
He has a busy tour schedule as a stand-up and he said with a laugh of his writing process, “For me, the jokes just fall out of the sky.”
When an idea hits him, he hurriedly writes it down.
“I grab a napkin, toilet paper, a paper towel,” he said.
Naturally the ideas don’t’ spring forth finished and Bailey said that writing and perfecting new additions to his act “is as much fun as performance.”
His comedic style is to tell stories with multiple punch lines along the way to the conclusion.
“I milk it,” he said.
He clears the schedule for “Cash Cab,” though. When the producers call, Bailey sets aside eight weeks once or twice a year to shoot footage for what will become 40 new shows.
Despite the show’s popularity at first people would ask, “What on earth is this?” Bailey recalled not everybody wants to play. He said that on one day’s shooting, it took six stops before he could find someone to play the game.
2012 The Amazing Johnathan
The Amazing Johnathan is known for his combination of comedy, interaction with audience members and magic, but according to the popular performer he is not a magician.
“I’m definitely a comedian,” he said.
“I quit doing magic the night of my high school talent show,” he recalled. “All six tricks went bad.”
He accidentally killed a bird on stage and when his female assistant, who was in a box for another illusion, developed a leg cramp, she stood up knocking the box apart.
“It was so bad that the next day nobody teased me,” Johnathan said.
But out of that terrible experience eventually came the seed for an act that he has performed for more than 20 years.
Johnathan moved to San Francisco, Calif., as a young man and saw street performers such as Harry Anderson, later the star of “Night Court” and “Dave’s World,” and A. Whitney Brown, who was a writer on “Saturday Night Live.”
Johnathan wanted to be a street performer as well and they “taught me the ropes.” He developed the persona of a slightly aggressive and definitely unpredictable magician whose tricks don’t always amaze.
His performance at comedy clubs outside of Las Vegas is a relative rarity as Johnathan had essentially stopped touring for years. He said that he accepted a two-week fill-in job at the Sahara Hotel and casino while comic David Brenner was away. In 2008, he took his show to The Harmon Theater, next to Planet Hollywood. Twelve years later he is still in Las Vegas.
The job does have its advantages, he noted. It came along as he was getting tired of touring and he could drive to his job.
“I like driving to work, I leave my house at 8:45 p.m. [for a 9 p.m.] show and I get back home at 11:30 p.m.,” he said.
But the experiences that can be found at smaller nightclubs across the country have been calling to Johnathan. He said that thanks to the recession the audiences at his show and others have declined significantly.
“So, I’m back on the road to get some energy from audiences,” he said.
In smaller clubs, Johnathan takes the opportunity of developing new material. About half of his show is planned and the other half is ad lib – “to make it fun for myself.”
Johnathan has been frequently seen on Comedy Central and that exposure is “really, really important,” he said. The cable channel has repeated his comedy special.
“When I come up with new material Comedy Central gives me a special,” he explained.
Normally, an hour of solid new material takes him between six and seven years to develop, but right now he is operating under a three-month deadline.
“It’s really hard,” he said. “You’re tempted to coast on your re-runs. It really helps to have new material.”
The comic has entered into a new venture: a practical joke set that will be sold by Spencer’s Gifts and Toys R Us. The set has props for a number of gags to pull on friends as well as a DVD with even more suggestions.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. One gag is a device that buzzes like a mosquito when the lights are off. When the unsuspecting victim turns on the lights to swat the bug the sound turns off.
He is known for his own elaborate practical jokes, one of which involved sending a friend notification of a fake job and having the person board a plane.
“My friends are very, very leery,” he said.
Although other stand-up comics have used their acts as the basis of a television sit-com, Johnathan said, “I never wanted to be an actor.”
Although he has done some acting, he further admitted, “It was never really appealing to me.”
A game show he hosted for the late Merv Griffin was fun, but “that wasn’t really acting.”
“With a name like ‘The Amazing Johnathan,’ what am I going to do?” he asked.
2011 Kevin MacDonald and Scott Thompson
It’s not the easiest thing to laugh and take notes and that was the primary challenge in speaking with Kevin McDonald and Scott Thompson, two of the members of the legendary comedy troupe, The Kids in the Hall.
This reporter recently conducted two separate telephone interviews with the comedians and actors and that was a blessing. If they had been on the line at the same time, I would have been unable to take clear notes.
At the same time both men were refreshingly candid about a career in show business.
McDonald and Thompson have been appearing together in a stand-up act across the country.
On the show, McDonald played a number of either crazy or naïve women as well as his unforgettable role as “King of Empty Promises,” while Thompson broke new comedy ground with his monologues as Buddy Cole.
“The Kids in the Hall” television series ran from 1988 to 1995 and has been re-run since as well as collected recently on DVD. Since then, both men have been busy with a variety of projects and appearances as well as taking part in several reunion projects with fellow “Kids” Mark McKinney, Bruce McCullough and Dave Foley, the most recent being “Death Comes to Town” in 2008.
McDonald, for instance, has made a mark as a voice actor in animated productions that include “Invader Zim,” “Lilo and Stitch” and “Catscratch.” He likes it, even though he has no creative power.
“It’s tiring,” he explained. “I scream all day because my characters always fall a lot.”
He noted with a little apprehension that he met a voice actor who “did me better than me.”
McDonald recently made the move from Los Angeles to Winnipeg, Canada, because of a new relationship. He explained he initially made the move from Canada because “I have to go out and keep reminding people about me; reminding them about the Kids in the Hall and ask them for money.”
Performing in the reunion tours with the rest of the group “seemed like old times,” he said.
The Kids in the Hall were often noted for their performance in female roles and the steps they took to look like women. Playing in drag today, means “certainly a lot more makeup,” McDonald said.
One of the aspects of “The Kids in the Hall” television show that continues to impress is the edgy innovative quality of the writing. McDonald said the members used to write the television shows by bringing ideas together to McCullough’s apartment and acting them out over and over. Since then with the advent of the personal computer, the team has broken up into smaller writing groups.
He said that the “hardest thing” the group ever wrote was their feature film “Brain Candy.”
“We couldn’t turn a page [in the script] until everyone agreed,” McDonald remembered.
He said each of the tours featured new material and that while in the writing process it seemed like “no time had passed.”
McCullough was in charge of the most recent “Kids” production, the mini-series “Death Comes to Town” and McDonald said the problem the “Kids” has always had is writing longer pieces than skits.
McDonald is new to stand-up but enjoys it and is happy to be on the road with his friend.
“Kevin and I are such good friends,” Thompson said. Neither man wanted to tour alone and the two decided to make a two-year commitment to a stand-up gig.
McDonald said that although part of his stand-up show is scripted, there is also room for improvisation. Thompson explained the two men do a separate set and then come together for a set.
If you’re hoping to see a reprise of well-known characters or skits, you won’t find them at this show, Thompson said.
He said at the beginning of the tour, they tried to do some of their well-known characters, but “we dumped them.”
“It’s easier [to do the tour] without a bag of wigs,” he said.
Thompson was one of the first openly gay performers on television and his signature character was Buddy Cole, the acerbic barfly always holding a martini and ready with a piercing remark.
Cole was Thompson’s stand-up voice for years and Thompson envisioned bringing Cole back as the star of a new show in which Buddy is undertaking a tour of Africa and the Middle East.
Thompson, along with “Kids” writer Paul Bellini, even wrote a Buddy Cole book titled “Buddy Babylon: The Autobiography of Buddy Cole.”
One can tell there is more than a little of Cole in Thompson. When I opened the interview with the admission I’m a big fan of the “Kids,” he said that would make things easier.
“The last [interviewer] was a petulant asshole and he stayed one through the interview,” he said.
Thompson has also been busy since the “Kids” left the airwaves. He’s had prominent roles in television series such as “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Providence,” as well as other shows.
He said he is “thrilled” to be on stage and performing stand-up, nothing that much of the material is about his life.
“Stand-up is so pure,” he said. “It’s just you and a mic. You’re like a gunslinger.”
Although he improvises on stage, he sticks to the material he developed and said with a hearty laugh, “The show is filthy – really, really dirty.”
Thompson is also honest about the tour and about the nature of show business and in a moment of candor, he said he needs the money from the stand-up tour.
“I’ve not had the most illustrious post-“Kids” career,” he said. He views himself as a comic actor and writer who would be “very, very happy with different character roles.”
He noted, that unlike shows such as ”Saturday Night Live,” there was no “break-out” member of the troupe, with the possible exception of Foley, who landed the starring role on “News Radio.”
He said that McKinney and McCullough gravitated to “behind the camera.”
Thompson had been vocal in the past about the depiction of gays on television and in film and the straight actors who get the parts. He said things have “come a million miles” since he raged against how Tom Hanks played a gay man dying of AIDS in the film “Philadelphia.”
He said he watched the sitcom “Glee” and was amazed by the gay character on it.
“I’m more philosophical about that now,” he said. “I kind of forgive.”
He said one observer wrote of “The Kids” that watching them performing one could tell that they loved one another.
“That’s the secret,” he said. “The Kids in the Hall, that’s our secret – a ‘bromance.’”
2010 Tom Green
If you think of outrageous when you think of comedian Tom Green, you would be right. Green came to prominence with a program on MTV that emphasized a willingness to do almost anything to himself or his sidekicks for laughs – or shock.
Talking to Green reveals another side to the guy willing to put live mice in his mouth for an audience’s amusement. He’s a performer who is very serious about developing his stand-up act.
MTV picked Green up for his first show in 1999, after the performer had starred and produced his own show for the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, which was based on his long-running homemade show seen on cable access.
The success of the first MTV show led to subsequent shows and specials on the network as well as a string of movies, including the infamous “Freddy Got Fingered,” which was Green directed and co-wrote.
Having started performing stand-up at age 15, Green has returned to the comedy format and has been touring for the past two years.
“I always wanted to do it again,” he said of stand-up. Green stopped performing when he started his cable access television show.
He added he enjoys the writing process of developing jokes and stories.
“The real fun I have is crafting a joke with a lot of structure, but make them look unstructured,” he explained.
Green does improvise on stage as well and uses stand-up for the expression of opinions on social issues.
After working on mainstream television and movies, Green appreciates the one-man quality of stand-up.
“What I love about stand-up is the complete freedom. There are no rules there,” he said.
“With the television shows, we were challenging ourselves to smash the rules each week into smithereens,” Green said.
Green was raised in the culture of skateboard and said that was the inspiration for the crazy physical stunts seen on his show. When asked if his show inspired MTV’s “Jackass,” he said, “People ask me that [all the] time. I tell them to drawn their own conclusion.”
While Green doesn’t think MTV copied him, he said he has been told by “Jackass” cast members such as Steve O that they were inspired by him.
Green’s success also led to movie roles in a number of films as well as his star turn in “Freddy Got Fingered,” a film that is now considered a cult film.
He said that acting in someone else’s film “takes a lot on pressure off” him and he “doesn’t necessarily have to always do everything.”
He currently has several film ideas in development, including one he calls “Insane Prank Movie.”
Green has the reputation of pushing boundaries and he did that with his Internet-based talk and variety show that ran from 2006 to this year. Green was a pioneer in using the Internet as a way to broadcast a television show, which he jokingly called “Web-o-Vision.”
He said he enjoyed the show and would do it again, despite the fact that he made just enough money on the show to cover the costs.
“It was a fairly elaborate show,” he noted, which was broadcast weeknights over Livestream and then archived.
“I’ve always been aware of technology and curious how to apply it to make funny comedy,” Green said.
He stopped the production of the show to go on tour and devote himself to stand-up. Green recently did a 12-day appearance as part of the acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which was well received.
One unidentified reviewer wrote on www.edinburghspotlight.com, “His insanely genius ‘shock humour’ is what helped Tom shoot to fame and it’s something he fortunately hasn’t let go of. Loosely based on the story of his life, Tom doesn’t hold back. He’s incredibly open and honest about elements of his past making the show much more than just hilarious antics.”
2010 Gabriel Iglesias
Comic Gabriel Iglesias has a slightly different writing regimen than other comedians. Rather than sit down at a computer and write jokes, Iglesias said his material comes to him from just living life.
"I live it and then exaggerate it," he said.
Iglesias is one of the rising stars of comedy, with successful tours and several comedy concert DVDs to his credit. He will be performing two shows at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee on Aug. 8.
He is also one of the hardest working comics around, is on the road 45 weeks of the year.
Known for his Hawaiian shirts and expressive voices, Iglesias' routine on the six stages of being fat -- "Big, Healthy, Husky, Fluffy, Damn! and Oh Hell No!" -- has not only given him a comic niche onto himself but created a cottage industry.
Calling himself "fluffy," Iglesias has capitalized on his success with a host of "fluffy" products on his Web sites, www.fluffyguy.com and www.fluffyshop.com. He sells tee shirts and outerwear for men, women and babies with messages such as "Real Men Have Stretch Marks."
Iglesias said his clothing line came out of a frustration over not finding clothes he liked -- sizes on his site go up to five extra large -- and became one of the companies he set up. He also produced his first two comedy specials and has produced and set up distribution for his comedy DVDs.
"At the end of the day, I own everything [about his comedy]," he said.
He said his trademark stories, such as being pulled over by a police officer and having his friend complicate the situation, are true. The actions of his friend, comic Felipe Esparza, make up a lot of his act, he explained.
Esparza is currently one of the contestants on "Last Comic Standing," and Iglesias said, "You can't miss this guy. He looks like a terrorist."
One might think that Iglesias is on the route to television sitcom and movie stardom, but those are not things he's pursuing.
"I got into comedy to do comedy," he explained. To do a sitcom, it would have to be the "perfect circumstances," he added.
"I wouldn't want it to fail," he said.
He has been asked to audition for movie roles as well, but passed those by due to his touring schedule.
He admitted that one of the roadblocks to making the break to other comic media is the difficulty driving around Los Angeles, where he lives.
"I hate traffic," he said. "I don't cuss, but get me in traffic and wow!"
He missed doing a guest shot on a sitcom because he didn't want to deal with the traffic.
He has done some voice acting for animation, which he does like.
"You walk in and they hand you two pages [to perform]. You're done in a day and then checks show up at your doorstep. It's beautiful!" he said.
He enjoys the freedom stand-up brings him.
While he wouldn't call his show "family friendly," Iglesias said his comedy is cleaner than most.
"At the beginning I was really, really dirty and I was told if I worked clean I'd have more opportunity. People said I have a real likable stage presence," he said.
He cautioned that some profanity might be heard, but not much.
"When I'm doing stand-up I'm the director, the producer and the writer," he explained.
©2012 by Gordon Michael Dobbs