popular thinking

hopelessly devoted to deconstructing popular culture and conventional wisdom, one blog at a time

Story in this week's Boston Phoenix

My travels with Boston comedian Shane Mauss found a journalistic home in this week's Boston Phoenix. Read it here. I'll have plenty of details, photos and more on this matter.

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Richard Jeni's Laugh Factory memorial

The Los Angeles Times covered Richard Jeni's memorial at the Laugh Factory last weekend. Read its report. I was friends with his girlfriend, TV reporter and meteorologist Amy Murphy (we worked together in Phoenix, and the first thing she said to me when she found out I was a comedian was how much she loved Richard Jeni -- she hadn't hooked up with him yet) and so my heart goes out to her and to Jeni's family.

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Boston digs the "Faux Terror" do

This guy helped out at the March 20 "Iced Iced Coffee" karaoke contest at Copley Square.

This guy sat a few rows in front of me at the March 15 Shins concert at the Orpheum.

Both of these guys look suspiciously like the Zebbler, aka the "fake Boston terrorist," aka Peter Berdovsky, one of two guys arrested in the wake of Boston's freakout over their Aqua Teen Hunger Force promotional signs. The first photo above clearly is a different guy, based on testimony provided by sources on the scene that said he drove down from Maine for the event. The second photo isn't clear at all, mostly because I took it via camera phone. But the point I'm about to make remains the same...why would you want to look like Peter Berdovsky at a time like this? Do you want to be confused for him, especially by Boston's police? Or, rather, were you inspired by him to go with the dreadlocks and goatee? Or is this simply the look to have if you're a radical performance artist? How many other Bostonians are sporting this look? Could you imagine that police lineup? Or maybe a boy band? Now that I think about it, round 'em up!
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Vanilla Ice Iced Coffee

My friends at Regan Comm (including Kevin Flight, seen at far right) got a nice PR hit yesterday for their client, Dunkin Donuts -- offering free iced coffees today -- by inviting Mr. Rob Van Winkle (aka Vanilla Ice) to Boston to judge a karaoke contest at the Copley plaza. Yes, it was what you were thinking. Contestants had to adapt the lyrics of "Ice Ice Baby" to "Ice Iced Coffee." At least Van Winkle seems to have come to terms with his infamy. See how he is smiling for the cell phone? Such is his surreal life.
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Whitest Kids U Know on Fuse

So the latest, possibly greatest sketch comedy show debuted last night on Fuse, showcasing NYC's Whitest Kids U Know. Mostly good stuff in the first two half-hours, which will repeat almost nightly throughout the week on the cable channel (check your local listings, in Boston it's on Comcast's 271). Here is one of their outlandish sketches that's already made the leap to TV. Prepare yourself for "Timmy Poops His Pants." NSFW, needless to say.

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SNL goes back to stand-up

For the second time this season -- third if you count guest host Dane Cook -- Saturday Night Live turned over the reins to an outsider to perform stand-up on the show. Well, Chris Rock had gotten his first big break as an SNL cast member back in the day, but that didn't make it any less surprising to see Rock opine on the 2008 presidential campaign for the SNL open on March 17, 2007.

Not too shabby, even with a slight flub in Rock's delivery. Here are the other examples in this season's SNL stand-up showcase. Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) took over the show for about five minutes earlier in the season.

And here is a transcript of Dane Cook's monologue from the SNL season premiere in September.

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The Times liked comedians last weekend

Don't hate. The New York Times apparently decided this past weekend to write soft happy profiles of two popular comedians, Jim Gaffigan and Amy Poehler. Read them while the links remain valid! You won't learn as much as you'd like to, but you'll still enjoy knowing temporarily that the "paper of record" has decided to feature a couple of good comedians for all of the right reasons.

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A very Gotham weekend

If you happen to visit New York City anytime soon, let me put in a word for a stop at the Maritime Hotel in Chelsea. Or is it the Meatpacking District? The site says it's in Chelsea, two blocks north of the Meatpacking District. Anyhow. I've already gotten away from the point. Point is, if you have several hundred dollars per day to blow on lodging here, you're likely to have casual encounters with celebrities. And not just all of the stand-up comedians who stayed at the Maritime last week. In a period of less than 24 hours, I exchanged words with Michael Stipe (whom I now realize was hanging around for Monday's induction of R.E.M. into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!) and saw Tate Donovan hanging around in the lobby. I believe my exchange with Stipe went something like this:

5:50 p.m. Saturday, comedian Dan Boulger and I head down the steps and out of the Maritime. Just then, Stipe is heading inside. We almost collide. "Oh...hi!" I say. "Hello," he replies. Boulger stares oddly. And that was that. Stipe wore some sort of beret and was sporting a grayish brown beard.

And now for the rest of the weekend story.

Boulger invited me to hang out for Saturday night's tapings of Live at Gotham. During the day, all of the stand-up comics get to run-through rehearsal. They'll put anything on the teleprompter, even a word-for-word transcript of a comedian's routine. Odd to think you could get on TV and simply read your stand-up routine. Who does that? It's odd just to see a comic read off their notes during a major set. But I suppose Comedy Central might also offer this service just in case a comic gets a case of the TVs and freezes up. Plus, it turns out the teleprompter also can be used as an alternative to the light, sending messages such as "one minute left!" As for audience members, they're told no food, no bathroom breaks, the better to keep disruptions to a minimum. And the production hired a special audience coordinator to hand out specific seat assignments. Apparently, seating a comedy show can be looked at as a science. Put the best-looking best laughers front and center. Put industry people in the back corner. Audience members also got instructions on what not to wear (no logos, no whites). And then, as talent manager Max Burgos pointed out before the first taping began: "The smoke machine really does it, man." Suppose it adds an old-school comedy club feel, although it'd really be old-school if they let you smoke. The tapings also have an official warm-up comedian. Dan Ahdoot more than honorably worked this non-televised job, working the crowd (and adding another several minutes of material when the second show incurred technical difficulties) and helping establish pre-show shots of crowd applause and laughter.

The first show's lineup: Gerry Dee, Pete Dominick, Lisa DeLarios, Bryan Callen, with host Jim Breuer.

The second show's lineup: Michael Kosta, Julie Goldman, Dan Boulger, Eric Andre, John Hoogasian, Brian Scolaro, with host Jeffrey Ross.

Each comic got to work out about 10 minutes of material, knowing that Comedy Central might edit out a couple of minutes for the Web and other material for ad time. I'd think they might cut Callen's bit about wanting to change his own name to something along the lines of Meeeeowww Cah! (Um, didn't he see the whole online debate about Louis CK and Dane Cook?) Guess not. Also, Breuer had to come back onstage at the end of the first show for several attempts at pronounciating the Colbert Report. The second show had much more energy. Perhaps that had to do with the lineup. Goldman had so much more going on than when I'd seen her last year at a Laughing Liberally show at Jimmy Tingle's. Boulger, going up after her, looked nervous for the first time that I'd ever seen. Then came Andre, who blew the roof off the joint, took extra time out of his act to encourage the audience to make fart noises, just to see if Comedy Central would use it! Hoogasian, up next, tried to sound like Emo Philips but mostly sounded weird. And it seemed odd at the end when Scolaro went with a bit about cavemen having to determine what was edible (since in the previous show, Ramsey had a similar bit about the first guy to bite into a pineapple!). No matter. At least not for me to worry about. That's why they're on separate shows, right? Right. Anyhow, onto the after parties, first downstairs, and then out onto nearby streets and a place called Dusk which was small but had a good vibe, especially when a bunch of comedians and like-minded people took over the bar. Good times. Couldn't you tell from the photos I posted earlier? Of course you could.

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Live at Gotham: Before and Afterparty

Dan Boulger has his eye on Lisa DeLarios, but Lisa only has eyes for me!

How did Eric Andre's set go tonight? Just ask him. He's #1!

Sherry Sirof and Jeff Kreisler are ready for an after-after-party.

Try as he might, Rob O'Reilly cannot impress Eleni. Eric Andre points out the madness.

More pithy prose to come.
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Sandra McCoy: Pussycat Doll in my book!

So I finally caught up on my DVR'd episode of the debut of CW's Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll. Immediately recognized one of the 18 semifinalists as Sandra McCoy, who has a long list of credits in film (Cry Wolf), TV guest-starring roles, commercials (you most likely have seen her as the girl who gets as many free Heinekens as she wants), dancing (former Laker Girl!), magazine spreads (Maxim and Stuff) and music videos. So my first thought: Ringer. Obviously going to make it as the next Pussycat Doll. But not to be. She got sick. Still performed. But didn't make the cut. Why, though, doesn't she want to list it as a credit on her site? Nothing to be ashamed about, if you ask me. Here she is singing in her final audition:


Good News Bunting

Very pleased to see my college writing friend, Sarah D. Bunting, cash in on this newfangled Internet craze. Bravo announced yesterday it had purchased Bunting's Television Without Pity site (read news about it here or here). They've already got it linked from the TV network's home page! And the TWoP has a statement about the big buy here.

Sarah and I go back to the olden times, back when the Internet was merely a secret government project, back when we would co-write and publish a definitive student guide to Princeton. I convinced Sarah to write for me as I published one semester of the Student Course Guide (Tangent: Having all of this online makes it so much easier to coordinate than back in those olden times! Oh well.). Sarah then convinced me to join her on the staff of the college's alt-paper, Nassau Weekly (co-founded by David Remnick, for you trivia buffs!), where I became a resident Page 2 humor columnist. That, of course, helped send me on my way into a fun-filled adventure into the world of real-world journalism. So, yes, blame/credit Sars for some of the pithy prose I've brought unto the world. I'm going to go with credit on this one.

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Thoughts on Richard Jeni (and Mitch Hedberg)

I was in New York City, celebrating with comedians and Comedy Central folk after a successful night of tapings for the second season of Live At Gotham, when the audience coordinator delivered the news to us. "Did you hear Richard Jeni died?" My first reply: "You've got to be kidding. That must be one of those Internet rumors going around." Nope. No rumor. Although it took until Sunday morning to find out anything that might confirm the tragic news, and that came via my friends at Shecky Magazine.

The official Richard Jeni site first went black, then emerged first with his dates (1957-2007), and later with a note from the family on Monday, and now a note from one of his good friends. It's good that Jeni's family and friends have come out quickly with an explanation -- well, not a complete one, but how can you for a suicide -- so all of his fans don't spread falsehoods about him.

Couldn't help but immediately think of Mitch Hedberg's sudden death two years ago this March.

These two great comics took different paths to self-destruction. Jeni, a gun; Hedberg, drugs. They both needed much more support and comfort than we gave them. It's just so sad.

I knew Hedberg a lot better than I knew Jeni. I had the good fortune to both perform with and interview Hedberg, so his death hit me harder. Though he had always been jovial and mostly sober when I saw him, the signs were so very clear that Hedberg was falling away from us, from his arrest in Texas to his dismal performance in Tempe, to his no-show in Phoenix. Instead of dwelling on that, today I went to this tribute site and watched a bunch of Mitch clips. Still so very funny. Watching the 1995 Comedy Central clip also gives you a glimpse into Mitch's early stage presence, when he had the material but a more traditional delivery. He hadn't yet become the Mitch we all grew to love.

As for Jeni, I didn't really know him at all. Remembered him from The Mask. Remembered him even more for his cinema comedy clips in the late 1990s. Saw him all over the place when I went to the Aspen fest in 2002. Saw him again onstage in Tempe a year or two later. Always quite solid and quick with the quips. I knew a girl who dated him. Now wondering if she was "the girlfriend" and feeling so sorry for her and what she's going through. Talked to some people who did cross paths with Jeni recently and they reported that all was not quite right, or that they had seen a different personality out of Jeni.

They both needed much more support and comfort and a positive kick in the arse than we gave them. It's just so sad. We need to keep an eye on our friends and loved ones, and make sure they know how much we love and care about them. I'm not saying anything new here. But it's still the kind of thing that we need to keep saying if we want to prevent another comic tragedy like this.

Post your thoughts on Jeni's MySpace page or Memorial Guestbook.

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One on one with Rob Corddry

I got the chance to talk to Rob Corddry last weekend at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. Nice guy. As funny offstage as he is onstage.

Corddry stars in the new FOX sitcom, The Winner, alongside fellow Boston-bred comedian Lenny Clarke (who plays his father). Corddry cited another local for his sense of humor, his Weymouth North High School friend Raye LaPlante. “He was my best friend in high school. Raye LaPlante is probably one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my life and I continue to steal from him,” Corddry told me. “We did our first play together, ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’ My first. His first and last. He played Conrad Birdie. I played Albert Peterson.” That was 1989. These days, LaPlante lives in Rockland and is a regional vice president for CIBER, while both Corddry and his younger brother, Nate, are both on primetime TV. He said he remains optimistic about his brother’s show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. “They’re getting pummeled, but I think they’re going to be back because The Black Donnellys did so poorly, ironically,” Corddry said. “They’ll probably be back and hopefully they’ll catch their stride next season.”

An edited version of this post appears in today's Boston Globe.
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Rachael Ray: Dunkin Donuts spokeswoman?

After a fun year of They Might Be Giants-penned ads joined and followed by John Goodman voiceovers, Dunkin Donuts has named Rachael Ray as its new spokeswoman. Read initial coverage here, here and here.

Did the company read Mike Miliard's socio-anthropological profile of Dunkins in last week's Phoenix, though, to make sure Ray fits in with the demo? Probably not.

Of course, if you're like me, you remain wistful for the so-called good ol' days of Dunkin ads...

Or this one from oh-so-recently...

Or this jingle-lingle-jam...

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Where have you seen this bright young face before? Laura Marano is one of the fifth-graders starring on the new FOX quiz show, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? Laura appeared last month as Sarah Silverman's "daughter" on Comedy Central's Sarah Silverman Program. She also has had the good fortune of playing a main character's daughter on Without A Trace. Not too shabby. For a fifth-grader.
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Adding to the Lost fan theories

Todd Hostager, who seems to have an unlimited amount of time to obsess over Lost, graciously added my two cents to his expanding list of HEMA theories about the ABC show. My point centers on the opening moments of the show's third season, in which the Others talk about Carrie. Hostager has added a Carrie page to explore it further. Suffice it to say, I'm sticking with the show, hoping that the answers start coming sooner rather than later.


My Colbert reports

Managed to get two clips out of talking with Stephen Colbert in Aspen, one specifically about his desire for a second TV chance with Congressman Barney Frank for the Boston Globe (my first clip for them: the lead item in today's Names column) and a more general Behind the Colbert Report report for Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog.

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Scenes from the Aspen Comedy Festival (VI)

Even Nick Swardson is impressed by Sierra Mist promo gal Jamie's foosball skills.

Lisa de Larios and Shane Mauss are OK with plastic cups in Michael Goldberg's fancy mansion.

Something so funny happened that even the security guy wanted in the picture.

Michael Goldberg's mansion party takes a lot of you. Just ask these guys.
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Scenes from the Aspen Comedy Festival (V)

Jamie Kennedy poses with stand-up winners Kirk Fox and Shane Mauss.

Shane gets his first chance to hold his snow globe award.

Daniel Tosh thinks he should've won an award. I'm not sure he's wrong.

Award winning comedians Shane Mauss and Kirk Fox.
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Scenes from the Aspen Comedy Festival (IV)

Lisa de Larios knew her glasses would look funny. She's right.

Ben Kronberg displayed great pretzel-catching skills. Look closely.

Robbie Praw and Lisa de Larios have a Zoolander moment.

Shane Mauss gets the Super Deluxe treatment from Dan Pasternack.
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Scenes from the Aspen Comedy Festival (III)

Billy, ahem, William Baldwin doesn't want to explain the joke to Boulger again.

Seth Morris (UCB-LA) and Dan Boulger, happy happy joy joy.

The one picture I have of Shane in which he's not the drunkest guy in the picture.

Comedy Central's Anne Harris and her friend, whose name still escapes me.
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Scenes from the Aspen Comedy Festival (II)

My hat was a bigger hit at the festival than I was. Go figure.

Eric Andre likes to emphasize his points. Especially in the Sierra Mist Lounge.

As you can see, the Sierra Mist Lounge really stuck with that strict invite list.

Robbie Praw, Montreal's festival scout, gets some lovin' from Nick Swardson.
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Scenes from the Aspen Comedy Festival (I)

Hari Kondabolu and Chris Fleming are so so happy, and it's only Thursday.

The UCB after-party: Really the only place to be after 2 a.m., at least this week.

Erik Charles Nielsen and Dan Boulger. Crazy and crazier is more like it.

Steven Wright isn't sure he wants to pose for this picture with Shane Mauss.
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Aspen, The Parties

The Sierra Mist Lounge in the St. Regis provided a fun and comfortable environment to kick back after the shows each night during the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, although it seemed better on its slower nights (Wednesday and Saturday) than on Thursday and Friday, when it got so packed you could barely move. Met some nice comics (Nick Swardson) and even some nice lawyers (Jeff B. Cohen, aka lawyer to the comics, aka Chunk!). A ping pong table and foosball. Dan Boulger thought he had a brush with Cheryl Hines. Only problem was that the parties ended too early, as the lights came up at about 1:45 each morning. Which invariably led to the afterparties.

The UCB "house" was where it was at each night. Seth Morris and the rest of the guys couldn't have been nicer. The basement hopped. Anyone and everyone would show up (see my earlier post about William Baldwin's party reference during the awards ceremony). And our small band of comedians and merrymakers bonded throughout the week, making for a four-day party. Only problem was that we'd have to shepherd each other back up the icy mountain to the condo.

The so-called "mansion," on the other hand, ugh. Took a lot of effort to get there, by car and by foot. And once there, it really was too large and anonymous to have any fun there. As we remarked to each other afterward, we could've had much more fun at the UCB place. Or even at our place.

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Boston comics take over Aspen

Here is a list of Boston connections to the 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival

Stand-up showcases
Eric Andre: Graduated from Berklee College of Music and started his stand-up career in Boston
Shane Mauss: Moved to Boston in 2004. Regularly performs in and around Boston.
Erik Charles Nielsen: Went to Boston University, started out in the Comedy Studio.
Chris Fleming: Still in college, from Western Mass., performs at the Comedy Studio.
Dan Mintz: Harvard grad, wrote and edited for the Lampoon, performed at the Comedy Studio.
Dan Boulger: Native. Performs regularly in and around Boston.
Hari Kondabolu: Though he lives in Seattle now, he graduated from Bowdoin and performed in Boston before moving out West.

Featured stand-ups
Marc Maron: Really started his comedy career in 1988 in Boston and Cambridge
Steven Wright: Emerson College grad broke open the Boston comedy scene in 1982, still shows up in Boston clubs unannounced from time to time

Special shows
The Winner panel: Starring Rob Corddry (Weymouth) and Lenny Clarke (Cambridge)
Entourage panel: Based on the experiences of Dorchester's Mark Wahlberg and co-creators Doug Ellin and Stephen Levinson
The Alloy Orchestra: Cambridge trio performs live movie scores

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Aspen, Day Four* (Group B)

Saturday in Aspen: The 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival

Andy Borowitz hosted this standing-room only stand-up showcase. Erik Charles Nielsen went first, and seemed less intense than the first night I'd seen him, mixing up his material a bit. But the audience wasn't quite ready for him, and his decision to back into an unlit corner of the stage during his closer didn't help, either. Alexandra McHale has some funny nutritional advice, but I had to make a note in my notepad to alert Gary Gulman that someone else is coming for his cookie jokes! Na'im Lynn must really have a problem around the holidays, though he seems nice enough. TJ Miller has so many characters in his act, I feel like I'm watching an audition for SNL. To which Dan Boulger asked, "What's wrong with that?" John Ramsey has so many sharp, solid, clever jokes that he must be introduced to Myq Kaplan to see if they'll either become fast friends or mortal enemies. A poop joke as Russian history? Seriously? Seriously funny. Shane Mauss, fresh off his festival win, got to close the show and was funnier than I'd ever seen him. He threw in some old jokes and some rare jokes. And he had the audience at his bidding.

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Aspen, Best of the Rest of the Fest

Or a recap of other shows and stuff from Friday and Saturday at the 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival

Stephen Colbert
Colbert received his Person of the Year award from CNN's Jeff Greenfield, as they sat in front of a giant poster/mock magazine cover of Colbert as the Person of the Year with the subtitle: "Not you. Me." A good dig at Time. Also fitting for the Colbert character. He said this was his third time at the festival, but "this is the first time I've looked out at the front row and not seen everybody asleep!" I barely got in, and barely made it to the post-show press opp (my bad on both counts). Very funny and friendly guy. For those of you playing the home game, the Colbert Report writers come up with most of the “Word”s on Fridays, because it can take a while to write the backstory and explanation for each word. Some insightful comments on Bill O’Reilly and Barney Frank. Video tributes from his friends and colleagues. More to come on this in other forums that pay me. But the show was so packed, Colbert made time to give props to people stuck in the lobby.

Fat City Lounge
The title of this year’s late-night show at Aspen, where anyone and everyone can drop in for a few minutes of stage time. Friday night’s hosts Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter joked about the show’s musical theme and riffed on the Irish (hey!?). Charlyne Yi, who played an NBC page on a recent episode of 30 Rock, stepped up first with her guitar and rocked out to a song called "God knows I finished my whiskey." Hmmm. Sketch group Olde English followed with a sketch about the Fernberger family whose condo the troupers were staying at in Aspen, showing off the family's framed photos, posters, paintings, living room chair, track lighting and drapes. Apparently, the HBO folks weren't so happy about the sketch ending with the troupers simulating sex with said items. Either way, what made me enjoy it was not knowing whether the guys really did take these items from the condo or not. TastiSkank brought the funny with songs about "I heart dirty boys," "Hydrocodone," "Please manscape the area," "Oops, I f--ked you again" and "You're the worst sex I've ever had." Showalter had to take off to his other scheduled show, so Ian Black introduced a special guest, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (as played by UCB's Seth Morris) who read his open letter to Hollywood. Tim Minchin closed the show. In the first 30 seconds, I wasn't sure what to make of this Aussie as he air-drummed, air-guitared and lip-synched. But as soon as he sat down to the piano, everything changed. He can play. He can sing. And he can tell some wickedly perverse jokes. Anyone who can write a peace anthem for the Middle East is good in my book, even if I'm going to keep on eating pigs. So glad I decided to catch this show.

The Winner
After watching the pilot for this new FOX sitcom that debuted Sunday night (twas funny in an outrageous way, although upon watching it and the second episode Sunday, I've decided that it's entirely due to Rob Corddry and Lenny Clarke), Spike Feresten moderated a panel discussion with creator Ricky Blitt, star Corddry and Seth MacFarlane. "It's sort of a Wonder Years starting at 32," Blitt said. MacFarlane joked about drinking so early in the day: "I drink because I'm comfortable being the only white person in this town." Corddry downplayed all of the roles that are coming his way in movies. "Those nine films, they're all like don't-blink roles," he said.

Best of the Fest Awards ceremony
Hosted by Jamie Kennedy, with presentations also made by Judith Light and William Baldwin. Deciding to sit with Shane Mauss and a guy from SuperDeluxe front row center turned out to be a wise decision, especially when Mauss won an award as the best stand-up of the fest (along with Kirk Fox, who got off one of the funniest ad-libs by saying, "William Baldwin's complaining he didn't win an award? He already won an award. He's not Daniel."). For his part, Baldwin kept cracking jokes, perhaps to let us know that he, like older brother Alec, is ready and willing to do sitcom work! At one point, though, Baldwin stopped to look out into the crowd and saw the fro of Eric Andre. Paraphrasing here, Baldwin shouted to Andre: "You were on fire last night. Do you remember? You crashed the party, holding a sled over your head as you shouted, 'Let's rub boners!'" Um. Yeah. I was there. I remember. But most people in the audience were merely weirded out. Afterward, the guys from Super Deluxe took Mauss, myself and Ben Kronberg out to dinner at La Cantina. Fun, quick Mexican meal, and then Mauss and I raced back to the Belly Up for his final showcase.

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My roommate wins best stand-up in Aspen!

Yes, comedy fans. Shane Mauss, my condo roommate and comedy buddy for the week, won best stand-up honors tonight at the 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen (HBO).

We still have a lot of catching up to do, you readers and I, and we still have a lot of partying to do, Mauss and I and the other comics, so there will be a lot for me to bring to you on Sunday. In the meantime, here are the other award winners...

Best Stand-up – Kirk Fox & Shane Mauss
Breakout Award Male – John Oliver
Breakout Award Female – TastiSkank (Sarah Litzsinger and Kate Reinders)
Best Alternative – Tim Minchin
Best Sketch – Summer of Tears
Best One Person Show – Nilaja Sun for “No Child…”

Oh, also. My friends tell me this blog isn't accepting comments. So if you want to weigh in, good or bad, or just send me a scoop, try my email or my MySpace.

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Aspen, Day Three* (Group D)

Friday in Aspen: The 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival

Stand Up D
Hosted by Hyla Matthews, who had a recurring bit pretending to go through all of the relationship steps with a guy in the front row. And now for your comedians.

Kyle Kinane. I met this guy the first night I got into Aspen and he wore a bizarre beret that he even said was not a beret. That’s the bizarre part. But when he grabbed the mic and said, “What’s happening, snowflakes and fingerprints?!” I knew to expect some comedy gold. And Kinane delivered, with a sharp self-deprecating style. He might have thought his volcano barbecue bit didn’t go so well, but he shouldn’t worry so much. Good job.

Hari Kondabolu came next, and (full disclosure: condo roommate) he impressed me with his social commentary on the diversity of white people, selling people to India, and immigration.

Then Dan Boulger came up. So rewarding to see him just slay an audience of complete strangers (and important industry types). The audience slowly rose to a boil, and as soon as Boulger’s Bush/Hitler joke landed, they were roaring til the end. Nicely played. Boulger told me the audience reacted similarly the previous time, and he wondered if he should move the Hitler bit up. I said no no. You’ve got it timed just right. Let ‘em warm up to you. By the way, I love Boulger, and I hate him, because he made me stay up way too late Thursday night (so if you were lacking for blog posts, now you know). And now for your next comedian.

Michelle Buteau. Heyhey! What? Hello! The Jamaican/Haitian lady says, “You know how I got so light? It’s called colonialism.” Heyyy!

Owen Benjamin. Opened with a joke about how silly it is that people couldn’t distinguish between Superman and Clark Kent. Followed that with a joke about how he’s tall, so people think he plays basketball. Um, yeah. He did rebound (ahem) with material about his gay and gayer parents. And a good diamond joke. And I found some funny videos of him. So that makes up for his opener.

Lavell Crawford delivered some spot-on jokes about Aspen. “Heated sidewalks?” he said. “I’m telling all the homeless people I know about this!” His closing bit about Subway dragged on a bit, though. Just saying.

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Boston's comics killing in Aspen

Some of you are hungry for this sort of information, so let me just tell it to you straight. Shane Mauss (in showcase group B) and Dan Boulger (in showcase group D) both have performed twice in Aspen, and they're already the talk of the town. Mauss got an early lead on the buzz because he had performed twice before Boulger's group had its festival debut. But they're both majorly slaying. Big time. All sorts of industry attention. The appropriate cliche here would be wicked good. Steven Wright's publicist told Mauss that no less than five people already had e-mailed him saying he had to check Mauss out. Boulger is having to tell people, sorry, but I already have representation.

I'll have a lot more to say about them later, but just wanted to let you know they're representing Boston very well so far.

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My first Entertainment Weekly clip

The trip to Aspen literally is paying off. My first blog post for Entertainment Weekly went live about an hour ago. My alternate subject header for it: Chloe & Rush? Keep dreaming. It's about Mary Lynn Rajskub, silly, whom you already know I saw perform last night.

Anyhow. Read my EW.com blog posting here.

More to come later.

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Aspen, Day Two* (Part Two)

In which the author attempts, despite repeated crashes of his laptop computer, to briefly describe the shows he saw Thursday at the 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.

Summer of Tears
Southern California sketch troupe mixed it up with videos. One took political TV ads and made the candidates potential boyfriends. Another looked at a botched submission for “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” And a third crudely wondered what really happened during Johnny Cash’s final recording sessions. Lots of sexual material. The troupe made use of one member’s uncanny Matthew McConaughey to good effect, but as my friend suggested, they might’ve wanted to put that sketch last. Later sketches only reminded us how much the guy sounds like him. Odd. Still funny.

Pete & Brian’s One Man Show
Pete is Peter Karinen. Brian is Brian Sacca. Together, they’re funny in a comfortably awkward way. Wait. Let me rephrase that. They’re comfortable in their awkwardness. Which makes their “one-man show” work. Their opening and closing sequences are simple yet creative. Much like their use of T-shirts to identify the various characters in their show.

“The General” with The Alloy Orchestra
A classic silent film by one of the great physical comedians, Buster Keaton, set to live music by Cambridge’s own Alloy Orchestra. Yes, the guy delivering the intro may have said that the orchestra has been in residence at the Telluride Film Festival for 15 years, but Roger, Terry and Ken are based in Cambridge, Mass. If you haven’t yet seen this movie, you must. It’s brilliant. Keaton is full of wonderful ideas and is a master of execution in delivering the funny without saying a word. And if you see this movie, I suggest you see it with the Alloy Orchestra. Their score is on the money. Hearing it live makes you forget you’re watching a “silent” movie. I only wish more people filled the seats at the Wheeler Opera House for it.

Michael Showalter, Mary Lynn Rajskub, John Oliver
Showalter’s 15-minute set includes much I’d seen before, including his musical selections of songs he’s no longer guilty of loving. It goes over much better in the clubs than in Aspen, mostly because the crowd here is, well, not quite as hip. They do seem to know the show “24,” though, as Rajskub poked fun at her alternate reality as Chloe. Oliver deserved to go last. His set showed he could tap into the local oddities that make up both Aspen and the festival, and he swiftly put a heckler in her place. “I’m guessing you’re not in comedy,” he said. “You smack of privileged local.”

Steven Wright
Wright showed a more animated and feisty side last night than I’d seen in a while. He tried to deny it later, but bits such as his “Indian midget” joke or his routine about having a son certainly don’t sound or feel like the Steven Wright most people remember. Regardless, the audience lapped up Wright’s hourlong set. For good reason. He began with material familiar to those who’ve seen “When the Leaves Blow Away,” his 2006 Comedy Central special. But midway through, Wright started opening up. No, really. He’d bounce around the stage. He’d laugh. He’d throw his hands in the air. He’d look to the wings. As my friend and fellow Boston comic Shane Mauss noted during the set, “He looks like he’s having more fun.” Good for him and us both.

Stand-Up C
Host Eddie Pence brought an oddly low-key vibe to this midnight show. The audience brought an even odder vibe. A woman off to the side routinely shouted out, not quite heckling in a traditional sense, but still bothersome. Lisa deLarios went up first, and fared well despite her slot in the order. Taking what might be a typical relationship joke and shifting it to her dog was funny. Her bit about shopping at thrift stores -- “A onesie for grownups?” -- was very funny. Next up, Dan Mintz. Mintz seemingly stared into space while telling jokes he certainly didn’t tell during his appearance on “Premium Blend.” Young Chris Fleming (we go with a title of young when the performer isn’t old enough to drink in Aspen) had a slightly difficult time connecting with this audience, and it showed. Better luck next time. Michael Kosta: Air high fives. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. But it works for him. Ian Bagg had no trouble at all connecting with the audience, and finally brought some energy to this show. “My career’s going nowhere after this,” Bagg said. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

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Aspen, Day Two* (Part One)

Thursday in Aspen: The 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival

Before my recap, let's get straight to the latest installment of the Shane Spotlight, in which my condo comedy roommate Shane Mauss describes his day.

“I had some meetings yesterday with people who saw my show the previous night and liked it. Those went extremely well. Met more people. And then I had another show at the Belly Up, which comics have been complaining about a little bit toward being on the hit or miss side. From my experience that’s the way the show has been. But our group had a great show. I don’t think it conflicted with any of the important shows, so that helped a bit. First night I bit the bullet. Last night I went up third. That seemed to be a good spot. I mixed it up a little bit. I did about new stuff for almost half of my set. They told us not to. But I was right. Everything went fantastic. I had a great set. Everyone in my group had a great set. And a bunch of people were talking to me afterwards. They seemed to be interested in what I was doing. I got a lot of new contacts. It couldn’t have gone much better.”

Did anyone give you a pile of money?
“No, no one gave me a pile of money. Everyone talks about that, but no.”

Mauss also enjoyed seeing and meeting Steven Wright, and had this to say about the other shows.
“I’ve been incredibly surprised by the level of creativity by essentially every performer I’ve seen. Every performer different and unique, which is the most important thing,” he said. “I think I saw about eight hours of comedy yesterday -- which is a lot of comedy to take in -- and it was all good. that’s how much fun the festival has been.”

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Aspen, Day One*

Wednesday in Aspen: The 2007 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival

Twenty-four hours after I boarded a Silver Line bus in Boston for the airport, I’m sitting in a condo on the side of the mountain in Aspen, coasting on my fourth wind into what already is shaping up to be one of the craziest weekends of my life.
Notwithstanding marriage and prison.
And those are two entirely different stories, mind you.
Focus, readers. Focus.
But first, an examination of how we (meaning I) got here.
Listed departure time for my United Airlines flight from Boston’s Logan airport: 7:49 a.m Eastern
Actual departure time: 9 a.m.
Why? After getting out onto the runway, the pilot announced we might have a delay in Denver, so we need to fuel up. Don’t we have enough fuel? Regardless. Or perhaps not without some regard, we taxi back to the gate, put some more petrol into the plane, and finally take off.
Listed arrival time in Denver: 10:30 a.m. Mountain
Actual arrival time: 11:30 a.m. Mountain
Why? See above.
Still plenty of time to catch the 12:43 p.m. flight to Aspen, only the flights are canceled. They’ve all been canceled. Wednesday and Tuesday. What to do, what to do. United Airlines books us on buses, which board and leave Denver from the airport tarmac. Yes, really. Our bus pulled away from gate B73 at 3:15 p.m., arriving at the Aspen airport five hours later, just in time to see the lights of an actual airplane landing there. What? Not that it could’ve helped us. That flight had arrived from Chicago. Apparently, not all planes are created equal, and the new planes from Denver somehow lack the wherewithal to land in Aspen unless the weather conditions are idyllic. Not that this should surprise anyone who has flown into Aspen before. The airport isn’t merely tucked or nestled among the mountains. From the air, you don’t even know Aspen or its airport runway exists until you’re on top of it.
Anyhow, my roommate for the week, comedian Shane Mauss, endured an even more arduous journey on Tuesday. He and other performers, including fellow Bostonian Dan Boulger, had attempted the flight from Denver, only to turn around just before landing in Aspen -- they then had to wait hours for a bus, which took six hours to reach Aspen since the mountain passes, were, um, not quite passable. They missed their official unofficial “warm-up” industry showcase. And they didn’t get their luggage until Wednesday afternoon. So who was I to complain? Exactly.
Anyhow. The luggage arrived with me, and we both made it to base camp, aka the festival and the condo, by 9 p.m., or a half-hour before George Carlin’s scheduled performance.
A brief high-altitude sprint and a well-placed phone call led me to the Wheeler Opera House with minutes to spare. The p.a. announcer noted that Carlin is celebrating 50 years in comedy (as is Don Rickles, subject of a special ceremony and panel later in the week), and film clips displayed Carlin’s transformation from goofball to social critic to what he is now, ultimately a little of both. A critical goofball.
He came right out and announced he planned to deliver 77 minutes of all new material. If the audience didn’t like it, well, please consult any of the seven dirty words.
“The audience doesn’t really figure into my plans,” Carlin declared. “The way I see it, you’re here for me. I’m here for me. And no one is here for you.”
So what about him?
Well, Carlin delivered closer to 80 minutes. He did acknowledge that the altitude might make the gaps seem longer as he caught his breath, and he noted more than once that he would rely on his notes and that this was a workshop. Not a show. But almost a show.
The strongest sections appeared to include a 15-minute riff on the b.s. we accept without questioning it, followed by a 10-minute discussion on people who won’t shut up, and ways to perhaps induce them into silence.
Among the less-successful, completely throwaway lines were a few disgusting street jokes and a joke that literally and figuratively felt ripped from a scene in There’s Something About Mary, as well as an oft-told bit about how all athletes shouldn’t be praising God for their success.
Carlin did share some insight by recasting the nuclear proliferation into religion and class issues, and ended with a different take on human rights.
The workshop should prove useful as Carlin develops his new act.
After a brief break, Carlin re-emerged for a few photographs and a few questions for the press -- the only other media reps there were a woman from the AP and a guy representing Sirius radio. Holding down the anchor slot, Carlin immediately noted my Irish name and Boston reference, asking me what county my family hails from. Carlin also comes from Irish stock. At any rate. Got in a couple of good questions and received some solid answers which will resurface soon enough.
But onto the next show.
Arrived at the night’s last stand-up showcase too late to see Mauss, but saw TJ Miller and Erik Charles Nielsen. Former local Jon Fisch hosted this group. I’d seen Miller and Nielsen before, but only on tape. I want to hold off on saying more until I see that group as a whole in one show.
Boulger spotted me when the lights came up, and we were off to the VH1 party at Bar Aspen. Plenty of comics and industry types milling about, taking advantage of the limited (two-hour) open bar. So Boulger and I didn’t stay long, instead heading back to the St. Regis, where I spotted two civilians talking to Steven Wright in the lobby. Without too much coaxing, I got Boulger to join me in engaging Wright in about a half-hour of comedy talk in the lobby. I won’t tell you exactly what Boulger offered Wright, 1) because I don’t want to spoil the surprise if he accepts, and 2) because I could barely contain myself from laughing at Boulger’s offer.
Everything went quite swimmingly. So much so, in fact, that I implored Wright not to say too much until I could break out the official recorder and notepad for a later date. Even at 1:30 a.m., you have to know when business and pleasure are getting awfully close to one another. Especially in a place like this comedy festival, where everyone feels so comfortable so quickly.
Another area of the St. Regis main floor has become the Sierra Mist Lounge. Ah, the commercialization of comedy. Searching for the appropriate cliché here: Perhaps, the more things change…
The lounge had specialty drinks, foosball and ping pong. Mauss and I teamed up for a friendly pong exhibition against Hari Kondabolu and Chris Fleming. We won. Not that you can win an exhibition. But we won.
Kondabolu also happens to be staying in our condo (or, should I say, I’m staying in his), and he quickly earned good vibes from me when Google notified me that he has New England connections -- having studied at Bowdoin and performed before at the Comedy Studio -- and that he moved from New York to Seattle last year (which, for anyone who knows anything about my own personal comedy history, translates into major bonus points). He and I already have played the name game quite well. More to come on that front, as he gets his first showcase on Thursday.
But the Sierra Mist lounge -- pretzels, mini corndogs and all -- closed all too soon, though, and after more than a bit of banter, we arrived at the UCB house after-party. More comedians, more amusing incidents. Met Seth Morris, artistic director for the UCB’s Los Angeles branch, who informed me that they’re going to launch some sort of “Wicked Pissah Funny” series this spring highlighting all of the Boston comics who’ve migrated to the Left Coast’s La La Land.
But that’s for another day and another post.

It’s now time for the first installment in the Shane Spotlight, in which I ask stand-up Shane Mauss about his day in Aspen -- at the very end of the day. Tonight’s installment occurred at, oh, somewhere past 4 a.m.
First, a news bulletin.
Mauss went up first tonight in his showcase -- biting the bullet, as they say -- only he chewed up the bullet and spit it out, letting everyone know that he would be bringing the funny this week.
So, Shane, how was your Wednesday?
“I woke up in dirty clothes with fuzzy teeth. My teeth were fuzzy,” he said. “I refused to buy a new toothbrush for three dollars because they said my bags were going to be here any minute now. Next thing I know, it’s been two days and I haven’t brushed my teeth or changed my clothes. And then I got all my stuff.”
How about your first show?
“I was the first comedian up after the host, Jon Fisch,” he said.
Had you met him before?
“I’d worked with him in New York a little bit.”
Did that make you more comfortable about starting the show?
“Going up first, I knew that might not mean the right number of people in the audience. I was more worried about people not showing up until after my set. But I almost preferred going up first tonight. I had a good time.”
Did it feel different at this festival compared to other gigs?
“I don’t know if I was nervous or my throat was really dry from the altitude. But I felt different. I felt nerves from time to time. Not that often.”
Whom did you meet today?
Mauss consults the program guide. “I went to Stand-Up A, I liked the bottom three the most,” he said. “But my group won.”

*Portions of this story, both reported and as of yet unreported, may be retold at a later date in a future retelling of portions of this story.

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