Tony Rock Rocks The Strip
Chris Rock didn’t get all the talent in the family of seven brothers and one sister. A whole lot of it was saved for his brother Tony, the star of The Tony Rock Project on myNetworkTV, also known as MyNet.
Tony spends a lot of his time in LA, but he came to the world famous Comic Strip Live to talk about his history with the club for the book, owner Richie Tienken and I are doing. The working title, (which means it can be changed at any moment), is Eat, Drink, and Laugh: The Authorized, Unsanitized History of the Legendary Comedy Club, The Comic Strip.
In what I thought was a very funny, and endearing manner, Tony answered most of his questions in the “we” form, as did his cousin Sherrod Small. They were life-long friends who started performing on the exact same day, and have experienced their careers so closely that they automatically answer questions about their careers and their lives in the “we” form. It was hysterical!
They started doing stand-up on Jan. 27, 1998. According to Tony: “It was a bringer show, where you have to bring two people, so we got a third party friend of ours to pay to watch me, and Sherrod paid to watch me, then the third party friend paid to watch Sherrod, and I paid to watch Sherrod, and that’s how we got around it. We counted as each other’s “bringer” and we’ve been in the game ever since.”
“We calculated that we would go one club at a time, so we wouldn’t go after the next comedy club until we were both accepted in the first comedy club. And The Comic Strip was the first club.”
The interview took quite an emotional turn when I asked Tony to tell me about Richie Tienken. It took him a moment to answer because he was so choked up with emotion, When he did, he said this: “Richie took a chance on me. He didn’t have to do that. I was just this dude’s brother, you know what I mean? It doesn’t validate who I am as a comic. Richie had the club; he had a successful run with Eddie (Murphy) for 11 years, and he didn’t have to take a chance on me. But yet he did. And my life’s never been the same ever since. It was wonderful to experience such genuine gratitude first-hand.
I had been hearing good things about comedian Basile for a long time, but for some reason our paths never crossed. When I heard he would be headlining at Gotham, I made sure to go see him.
Opening for him first was the very funny Amy Schumer, who you may have seen on Last Comic Standing, or Comedy Central, and she has also performed at the prestigious Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. Ted Alexandro, one of my favorites also went on. I think Ted is great, and he claims a woman President would never declare war, she would declare “the silent treatment.” And then in his best female voice, “Everyone, … we are not talking to Iraq!”
I also love him telling about being questioned by his priest who asked, “Do you reject Satan?” Ted responded in the affirmative. The priest went on to say, “And all his works?” to which Ted answered, “Well, I’m not familiar with all his works, but I’m definitely not a fan.” Hysterical!
Basile hit the stage to great applause. He seems to have a loyal audience that shows up because he’s there, not just because there’s a comedy show. He’s a multi-talented performer; he’s also a successful voice-over artist, known as the voice of Universal’s Bullwinkle The Moose.
Basile has made over 100 TV appearances all over the world. He performs in both Greek and English, and many of his fans spoke to him in Greek. You see, he’s bi-lingual and has CDs and DVDs in both Greek and English.
Basile is as personable as he is talented and greets all of his fans after the show, signing autographs and posing for pictures. I always respect when a headliner does that. He had so many good lines, but the one that stuck out for me was, “I played football for an online college.” That’s my kind of humor.
A few nights later, I found myself back at Gotham, at my usual table near the back, to see my boy Dean Edwards. The man has style which is unusual for a comic. I think it was Chris Rock who told me that comedy is one of the few areas of the entertainment world not based on looks or style, which was one of the reasons he was always so impressed with Eddie Murphy, who with his leather suits was the Elvis of the comedy world.
Dean is a “playa,” and makes a statement with his presence. I like that. He backs it up with being funny, cause just a cool look doesn’t make it when you’re up there on stage. Karen Bergreen MC’ed the show; she’s always good. I like when she talks about her kids, who are three and five. She imitates their annoying little voices perfectly.
Then a guy I hadn’t seen before came on. His name is Harris Stanton, and I think he’s really onto something. An ex-security guard, among other things, he talks about paper cuts which is one of my favorite topics. Paper cuts hurt so much, but if a guy pulls a knife on me, I wouldn’t want to have to resort to protecting myself with a piece of paper. (My joke, not his.)
He told a great story about a Chasidic Jewish man who stopped him on a Saturday at one in the morning and asked him to come to his house and turn on his heat. Harris didn’t know that Orthodox Jews are not allowed to turn on anything electrical during the Sabbath, so he turned the man down cause he thought it was a set-up. As he says, “Who asks a big Black guy to come to their house to turn on their heat at one in the morning?” It didn’t sound Kosher to him!
Australian James Smith hit the stage next, and announced that we have a brand new airport: The Hudson River. Referring to the pilot, Sully, who successfully landed on the water saving 155 passengers, he said he was flying a fantastically built plane that can stand up to almost anything. “How does it do against geese? “Can’t do it,” was the answer. “You can’t make a goose-proof plane?” Smith doesn’t think that Sully is the hero. He’s says: “You know who the real heroes are? Guys who land at airports!”
Then Dean took the stage, and made it obvious why he was cast member on Saturday Night Live. He’s just so comfortable up there, and really funny. He does great accents, characters, and an amazing impression of Denzel Washington. He also does fantastic characterizations of women. Especially Black women. You don’t expect that female voice to come out of him.
Both Dean’s Mom and wife were there, and his wife is an elegant woman with an English accent. When he told the audience his wife had an English accent, he immediately made clear that she was a “sista”, to placate the other “sistas” in the crowd.
He said while his wife was a tenured professor, he had an associates’ degree which is basically a receipt proving you were in the building! She has a Bachelor’s degree, a Masters, and a Ph.D. , and he has jokes.
CONSERVATORY OF DRAMA DOES COMEDY
The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, run by Artistic Director Joan See, is a very prestigious school, and an honor to get into. Joan was not only a past VP of SAG, in NYC, but also founded Three Of Us Studios, which is the largest and most successful casting studio on the East Coast.
The Conservatory realizes the importance of comedy to an actor, in developing a well-rounded repertoire, and to that end offers a “Stand-Up Comedy for Actors” class, taught by well known comic Rick Crom.
I hadn’t seen Rick for quite a while, so it was nice to catch up. Rick takes the actors through 10 sessions during which they receive the training and basic performance skills that allow them to craft a five-minute stand-up set. They then get to perform twice at one of Manhattan’s premiere comedy clubs, a favorite of many big stars, who tend to just drop by on any given night, The Comedy Cellar on MacDougal Street.
I know of no better way to lose your self consciousness, which is critically important for an actor, than to go up and do stand-up comedy, which of course is the hardest thing in the world to do. One or two of the students really stood out, especially one guy named Grant McGowen who could really make a career in comedy if he wanted to.
I went with PR powerhouse Judy Katz, who I happen to know reps Joan Rivers. Judy kept telling me how she wanted me to meet “Joan”, and I kept wondering why, since I thought she knew I used to write for Joan Rivers, and already knew her. Turns out she was referring to Joan See! Considering the comics were non-pros, it was a great show.
MIKE BOCHETTI GETS A FILM
Everyone likes comedian Mike Bochetti. Some people, including me, and Dave Becky of Three Arts Entertainment, even love Mike Bochetti. I know that cause Dave once told me.
I know that Artie Lange also likes Mike, because he lets him open the show for him, and I saw him do it last year at Caroline Hirsch’s New York Comedy Festival. I think it was at Town Hall, and I think it was the biggest audience Mike ever performed for. He did great, and I made sure to go backstage to tell him.
So a young writer/filmmaker named Lee Schloss made a movie called “Who Is Mike Bochetti” and got lots of well known comics, to talk about him. Sal “The Stockbroker” Governale from the Howard Stern Show was the host for the evening at the UCB Theatre. When I showed up, he and Bochetti were hanging outside.
They greeted me by telling me I should see the gorgeous girl who was inside waiting to see the film. Imagine my relief to find out she was waiting for me. It was actress Christen Madrazo, my Comedy Matters “Girl of the Month.”
The film was very funny, but I wish I had had the chance to tell my own Mike Bochetti story. The advantage of having my own column means I can tell it right here. This was some years back, and I was making The “Men Who” Series, for the Toyota Comedy Festival. It’s a series of short films about men who do very unusual things, like “Men Who Take A Pitchfork To The Movies,” “Men Who Enjoy Latin Dancing With Tools,” and “Men Who Dance Alone In Gas Stations After They Close For The Evening.”
Bochetti was supposed to star in “Men Who Never Get To The Office, Because They Don’t Know Where They Work.” He was simply to approach people on the street and say, “Pardon me, do you know where I work?” One line. That’s it.
Now I’ve seen Mike memorize entire acts, and do them onstage, but for some reason he couldn’t get this line. We did it over and over again, and finally I had to make him the star of “Men Who Swim To Work.” There were no lines at all. All he had to do was swim down the street wearing a child’s tube that was around his waist, and swim into an office building as if he was going to work.
Most actors want to spend as much time on camera as possible. Not Mike. Every time he got to the camera for his close-up, he “swam” so fast, he’d turn away too soon. I finally had to tie a rope to his belt, and hold him in his spot till we got the shot we needed, and then I let him swim away.
The films debuted at Carolines, and currently still show on mobile phones. I sent the finished film to Dave Becky and he loved it, and that’s how I know he loves Mike Bochetti. If you want to see it for yourself, it’s on my website at jeffreygurian.com. Just click on the Comedy/Entertainment side and it’s on the Home page.
JAMMIN’ ASIANS AT LAUGH LOUNGE
There was a time when Tabigue and Kondabolu were not exactly names you would associate with comedy. Maybe Tabiguestein, or Kondaboluwitz, but not Tabigue and Kondabolu. I got into Asian comedy a few years back when I was asked to be a judge at an Asian-American comedy competition run by a guy named Jami Gong, for World Asia TV which I don’t think exists anymore.
One of the contestants was Air Tabigue, which is pronounced “Ta-bee-gay,” who was there with his brother Iwant! (I want ta-be-gay, … get it???) Sorry. Every once in a while I lose control. I think Air won the contest, but I don’t recall for sure. I know he did well.
Air runs an Asian comedy night every second Tuesday of every single month at the Laugh Lounge, down on Essex Street, which he co-hosts with Tommy Hudson, formerly known as Prince. Actually Tom was formerly known as Tom Teska, but Teska wasn’t Asian enough for him, so he changed his name to Hudson.
Hari Kondabolu was on that show and I had just seen Hari a few days before at the auditions for the Just For Laughs Festival, in Montreal, being held by Jeff Singer at the Eastville Comedy Club on East 4th Street. Hari is a funny guy who I hope to see more of.
Speaking of all things Indian, this might be a good space to squeeze in a mention about Simon Beaufoy who won the Oscar for writing the Indian based film Slumdog Millionaire. I don’t often get to meet Academy Award winners, but he also won the WGA Award, and I was there to congratulate him. He also wrote The Full Monty and about 10 other films.
Eastville Comedy Club is a cool space, owned by a guy named Marko, but the Creative Director is Wayne Rada, a talented guy who I’ve known for a long time. Among other things, Wayne often works with my good buddy Patrice O’Neal, and was with him in Montreal last summer when Patrice did his hit one man show.
Joey Gay was also on that show at Eastville, and Joey has really come a long way since I used to see him working out down at P.J. Landers’ Comedy Village. He wasn’t doing comedy then. He was just working out with weights! No, he was funny then too, but he’s even funnier now. He’s one guy who doesn’t need a mike. You can hear Joey from your apartment. No matter where you live!
WIL SYLVINCE IS A FESTIVAL
I’ve attended many festivals, but it’s the first time I’ve actually met one. The first annual Haitian Comedy Festival took place at the Times Square Arts Center, thanks to a guy named Maat. A white comic with a Black name, Bobby Johnson was the MC for the evening. Bobby was very funny, but very pale for the Haitian Comedy Festival.
The funny and sexy Marina Franklin went on next, and Marina definitely had more pigment than Bobby Johnson, but she’s not Haitian either. Although she does have some great material on dating a Haitian guy, especially when he says to her, “Marina, you will be with me forever,” and then blows some dust off his hand into her face like he’s doing Voodoo on her.
The real, honest-to-goodness Haitian comic, Wil Sylvince tore down the house. He always does. I saw him win a $2,500. check at Carolines for Best New Comic, during the New York Comedy Festival.
All people seem to love ethnic accents, especially their own, but when Wil did the accent, the audience went crazy. Too bad it’s not possible to write in an accent so I could give you a little taste, but he must have done an hour easy, and every line was strong. When he got off stage, I congratulated him on being “The Haitian Comedy Festival.” Maybe he can branch out and become the “West Indian Comedy Festival” as well.
SUE COSTELLO BRINGS COMEDY TO BARNEYS
Barneys is usually known for it’s clothing, not for it’s entertainment, but comic Sue Costello is changing all that. Thanks to Kevin Dyson, General Manager of Barneys, Sue put on a star-studded evening of story-telling with the theme “Hope Trumps Fear.” There was a great turnout in the Penthouse of Barneys, and comics and celebs got up and shared personal stories from their lives of how they had to conquer fear.
Broadway legend, Elaine Stritch, who actually gave me a nasty joke last year for my book “Filthy, Funny, and Totally Offensive” a book of 250 celebs favorite naughty jokes, told a story of how many years ago, in the days when she drank a little too much, she almost blew a shot on Broadway working for Hal Prince.
She was a young ingénue, and due to a nasty hangover, she overslept and showed up more than two hours late to the theatre for rehearsal, keeping all the bigwigs waiting. Instead of apologizing, and possibly getting fired, she took to the stage, and did some kind of wild monologue, and wound up being a big hit. She also went on to get sober, which she is very open about.
Sue was also a big hit, and the evening was a great success. Also attending the Barney’s soiree, which hopefully will continue, were Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling, comics Louis Ramey, Marc Maron, and Ray Ellin, and producer Sandy Hicks from Rockers on Broadway.
Anyway, until next time, remember, … COMEDY MATTERS!
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