Comedy Matters with Artie Lange, Jay Mohr, Jim Gaffigan, more

By | May 7, 2009 at 11:59 pm | One comment | Features

Artie Lange: The Ultimate “Mensch”

Yes, Artie Lange is funny, but he’s also a great guy. Another great guy is Chris Mazzilli from Gotham Comedy Club, who never saw a charity he didn’t like, or support. Chris donates his club for charity the way some people offer you a tissue if you sneeze.

One of Howard Stern’s listeners, a lady named Angel, is a single mother of three, holding down three jobs while battling cancer. The determination that takes is basically beyond comprehension, but Artie went to Chris and they decided to have a comedy event to raise money to help this poor woman.

Headliner Joey Kola MC’ed, and comic Tim Young performed, and both of them also donated their services. When Joey announced Artie to come to the stage, it’s the second time I’ve seen him get a standing ovation just by walking out on stage. That’s how much his fans love him. What was especially rewarding to me was to see how much Artie is starting to love himself. Lots of people are worried about Artie cause he doesn’t always take care of his health.

This night he looked fantastic. He was clean shaven, his eyes were clear, and he radiated positive energy. He was very open about being clean and sober for about three weeks and it serves him very well. He’s never been funnier. When I went downstairs to visit him after the show, he gave me a warm welcome as he always does, and invited me into the green room, where I had the pleasure of meeting his sister Stacey. What a sweet, caring girl. She looked so young, I thought she was his girlfriend … but I tend to think that way!

The new and improved Artie Lange and I. What a difference!

The new and improved Artie Lange and I. What a difference!

Jim Gaffigan Comes to the Strip

Richie Tienken opened The Comic Strip in 1976. At the time the only other big clubs around were The Improv, which opened in 1963, and Catch a Rising Star which opened around 1973. The Comic Strip is the only one still open and still going strong.

On any given night you’ll find the most talented young stars there. And established stars are known to stop by, either to work out new material, or to prepare for one of the big late-night talk shows. Richie and I hold most of our interviews in the club for the book we are doing on the history of The Strip.

Jim Gaffigan was scheduled to be interviewed for the book. Jim is not only very funny, he’s also very polite. On his way to meet Richie and I for his interview, he called me twice to adjust his ETA. And when he got there, he joked, “First I make you wait two months for the interview, and then I show up late!”

The truth is he was only like maybe 15 minutes late, and it was definitely worth waiting for. We sat in the dark to make sure he didn’t get any color, because Jim has turned being pale into an art form, as evidenced by the fact that his second newest DVD, Beyond The Pale went gold within the first six months.

His recent hit Comedy Central special, King Baby has also garnered stellar reviews. But no one would ever guess, with the confidence that Jim exudes on stage, that he actually battled stage fright for the first eight years of his career.

Me, Jim Gaffigan and Richie Tienken in front of “The Wall.”

Jim Gaffigan and I in front of “The Wall.”

His first time on stage was at Rose’s Turn, a little piano bar on Grove Street in Manhattan – it’s closed now – which was famous for having Woody Allen and lots of other big stars grace their stage as they were coming up in the ranks.

Jim performed that first time, in response to a dare from one of his improv classmates at The National Improvisational Theatre in Chelsea. As far as I’m concerned, improv is the most difficult form of comedy to perform. In improv you’re at the mercy of whatever people yell out for you to do. Improv, like stand-up, isn’t always funny, but I respect it. And its certainly a good way of getting over any self-consciousness of being able to perform.

It’s for that reason, that I’m currently studying with Joe DeGise over at Chicago City Limits, just to see how I fare, because I think it will help me in many areas of my life.

Anyway, back to Gaffigan. He recently signed on to co-write and lend his voice to 20 new episodes of Pale Force, a series of animated shorts that will air regularly on Conan O’Brien’s show; the show’s about two pale crime-fighting superheroes that, like Gaffigan and O’Brien, are equipped with fair skin.

I also credit Jim with being the first comic to use what he calls “the inner voice.” I see lots of other comics doing it today, but I’m pretty sure Jim was the first. It’s almost like therapy to him. He uses it defuse awkward situations by telling you what you must be thinking, as when he showed up late for the interview and said, “Jeez, this guy took two months to set up the interview and then had the nerve to show up late.”

Practical Joker George Wallace

There’s a tiny private office in The Comic Strip where Richie Tienken holds court. It’s where Lucien Hold used to hold court, and tell comics whether they passed their audition or not. It holds two seats comfortably. Anyone else has to stand.

These days it’s like the war room where Richie make plans. I sit there a lot discussing our book, comics, possible tours, comedy clubs, and all kinds of other things.

The other night, George Wallace popped his head in the door. That’s about all that would fit. George is a big man. He was one of the first interviews I conducted for the book on the history of The Comic Strip, where George started out in 1976. As a matter of fact George was selling bus advertising at the time, and sold the new club a package to get their name and logo, “Eat, Drink, and Laugh” on the back of every bus going down 2nd and up 3rd avenues.

Me, George Wallace, and a snuggly Richie Tienken at the Strip.

Me, George Wallace, and a snuggly Richie Tienken at the Strip.

But for some reason, we haven’t been able to get a hold of George to sign his release for the book. Texting, Twittering, e- mail, voice mail, nothing worked. So when George showed up at the club unannounced like that, we were shocked to see him. When we asked him why he was there, he said he felt so guilty about not having signed the release in all this time, that he flew in all the way from Vegas just to sign it in person!

Before we could recover from the shock, George laughingly admitted he was in town to prepare for Letterman, and Chelsea Lately the next day, and came back to his original comedy home to work out some things on stage. The late night audience went wild when they saw him. Things got so crazy, with everyone clamoring around him, he actually forgot again, and left without signing the release!

The topper is, when I called him the next day to stop by and sign the release, George was already on his way to the airport to go back to Vegas. He claimed he realized he was in the wrong city, and said that it just dawned on him that he was supposed to do Leno not Letterman, and that he had to fly back right away.

I really don’t know if he was kidding or not. All I know is he didn’t do Letterman, he did Leno, and then did Chelsea Lately the next night! And we still don’t have a signed release!

Gotham Happenings

I went to reunite with my old friend John Fugelsang who I hadn’t seen or spoken to for much too long. I didn’t call him to tell him I was coming, so it was a total surprise, from which John may never recover!

John Fugelsang and Vanessa Hollingshead showing how comics should get along.

John Fugelsang and Vanessa Hollingshead showing how comics should get along.

John was co-headlining with the talented Vanessa Hollingshead, who does a great bit about slurring while drunk. “If you think you’re slurring a little, you’re slurring a lot! And if you think you’re slurring a lot, you’re not even speaking English!”

John is an intelligent comedian, with very well thought out material. Everyone says if they had a time machine they’d go back in time and kill Hitler. John says if he had a time machine, he wouldn’t have killed Hitler. He would have just bought all of his paintings and encouraged him to continue his work as a painter.

And the always-funny Joe DeVito was the MC. According to Joe’s calculations, he has about 18 months of hair left.

The Gotham also held an event to raise awareness of the Nantucket Comedy Festival in July featuring Mike Birbiglia. Associate Producer Allison Malinsky was there. I wonder if she realizes she could also spell her name Alison Mallinsky, and it would be pronounced exactly the same way. What freedom that would give her!

I also ran into Richard Zoglin there promoting his book, Comedy At The Edge: How Stand-Up In the 1970’s Changed America. Kevin Flynn was the MC for the event and was really good as always; Jane Condon opened, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many mean kids tortured her at school when she was a kid calling her Jane “Condom.” Although there’s a good chance that’s her married name and that she was not married as a kid.

Tom Cotter was also on the bill. According to Tom, he “came from a big family and was constantly beaten up by the two oldest, … Mom and Dad!” I love Tom’s one liners. “Tension was mounting.” Tension is his dog!

Bernadette Pauley’s husband, told her that he thought what would look good on her would be a self tanning lotion. She thought what would look better on her would be his friend Steve. I’m not sure if she was referring to her fictional comedy husband, who could be the brunt of any woman’s jokes, or her real comedy husband Al Ducharme, who happens to be the brunt of Bernie’s jokes!

Bernadette Pauley with her real and fake husband, comic Al Ducharme at Gotham.

Bernadette Pauley with her real and fake husband, comic Al Ducharme at Gotham.

Jim Gaffigan stopped by as a surprise guest. Onstage, he said they tell you if you see a bear to play dead. And he wondered, “Who thought of that, … the bears?” “Play dead, cover yourself in honey, and put yourself on a big white plate. What, do bears have a code of honor? They promise not to eat you if they see you’re playing dead? I may be a bear, but I’m not an animal!”

Then I came back to Gotham to see Jay Mohr. Talk about a nice guy he’s as nice as he is talented. And I never realized he did such great impressions. I am a sucker for a good impression, and I’ve worked with some of the greatest including Rich Little, Frank Gorshin, Fred Travalena, Jim Morris, and a guy named Scott Record, who I never saw work without getting a standing ovation.

Jay did a fantastic Chris Walken, telling a story in character, of Chris seriously wanting to have a tail, which transpired on the set of the film “Suicide Kings.” He also did a great impression of Buddy Hackett. Buddy’s son Sandy is currently collecting stories about his Dad for a possible upcoming project. I sent him a story that he might use! (Call me later and I’ll tell you!)

Jay Mohr and I in Jay’s dressing room after the show.

Jay Mohr and I in Jay’s dressing room after the show.

A few nights later I returned once again to catch The Unseen. Two young, handsome guys, Ken Salaz and Oz Pearlman, who do things that are really not possible. They’re mentalists and magicians. Two quick examples: Oz comes to my table and asks me to think of someone important to me, but don’t say it, just think it. I think of my oldest daughter Elizabeth.

Me being astonished by The Unseen. Oz on the left, and Ken.

Me being astonished by The Unseen. Oz on the left, and Ken.

He takes out his wallet, unzips a compartment and takes out one of his business cards. He hands it to me and says, “ Here’s my card. Read the back. It says, “ Say “hi” to Elizabeth for me.” That’s not even possible.

Ken asks for a dollar. I go up on stage, and take a dollar out of my pocket. He asks me to write the last four numbers of the serial number on a piece of paper and show it to the audience. It was 9293A. He takes the dollar and holding it up where everyone can see, he folds it in half, quarters, eighths, and then without hiding it, opens it back up and it’s a five with the exact same serial number! I made four bucks.

These guys should be playing stadiums!

Perseverance Pays Off

You may ask yourself in a moment “why does a heavy metal band named Anvil, belong in this column?” Because there are many comics performing for 25 years or more who feel they never got the acclaim they deserve, and sometimes they may even feel like packing it in. It happens in the music world too, but Anvil’s members are finally finding true success in their 50s thanks to a guy they befriended when he was only 16 years old.

Great story. Anvil, is a band that most people never heard of, except they influenced all the big metal bands like Motorhead, Anthrax, Slayer, and Metallica, all of whom went on to sell millions of albums. The only ones who did not were Anvil.

From Left: Robb Reiner, Jeffrey, Sascha, and Lips at The Blender Theater.

From Left: Robb Reiner, Jeffrey, Sascha, and Lips at The Blender Theater.

Sascha Gervasi was a 16 year old, nice Jewish kid in London when he met them. He got backstage and rather than blow him off, the band actually befriended him, and Sascha gave them a tour of London. He then quit school and ran away from home to go on tour with the band.

Twenty or so years later, Sascha becomes a big director in Hollywood, looks up the guys thinking they might even be dead, and finds them all alive and still playing. He flies them to LA to discuss making a film, which takes two years to make and is now taking the country by storm. It’s called Anvil! The Story of Anvil and it’s hysterical. It’s also very touching.

Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner, (his real name, which makes you think this is a mockumentary like Spinal Tap), have been playing together since they were 14. They’re now in their 50’s. They are amazing guys, and both of them are Jewish too! Heavy metal Jews with tattoos! Who knew? Robb’s Dad survived The Holocaust. Maybe that’s where he got the strength to persevere no matter what, and the same holds true for comedy. If you know you’re good, just keep doing what you do. Eventually talent finds a home.

After the NY premiere at The Blender Theater, which I attended thanks to Sascha, the band actually played a killer set. I wish these guys great success. They really deserve it. Check it out at anvilmovie.com and all you guys performing out there waiting for your break, keep at it! It’s never too late!

Quick Hits

From Jim McCue, founder of the Boston Comedy Festival. There’s a New York Comedy contest. The eight finalists of which will not only win $5,000 but will also be accepted directly into medical school … I mean The Boston Comedy Festival! The fest runs from August 29 – September 5. Maybe one year they’ll invite me up!

The great comedy legend Bill Dana (Jose Jimenez), is going to Norfolk, Nebraska, Johnny Carson’s hometown, to get his Comedy Legend Award. And he told me he was worried he had only a few weeks left to become a legend. Talk about humility!

Frank Chindamo, the CEO of the groundbreaking mobile entertainment company, Fun Little Movies won MOFILM”S 2009 grand prize for Best Short Mobile Film, for his webisode Turbo Dates, at the 2009 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Fortunately Frank speaks Spanish, which is the only way he knew he won! The film stays still, but the people watching it are mobile.

Go see Tony Darrow Live at The Triad thru May 21. He’s doing a show, produced by Paul Borghese, calling himself “The Goodfella of Comedy”. You know Tony from a million movies like Goodfellas, Analyze This, Bullets Over Broadway, as well as The Sopranos in which he played “Larry Boy” Barese. As a stand-up comic Tony opened for greats like Buddy Hackett, and can rival Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling for the number of jokes he knows and tells! Go see him and tell him I sent you!

Producer/actor Paul Borghese and Tony Darrow at The Triad.

Producer/actor Paul Borghese and Tony Darrow at The Triad.

Louis Vanaria, an actor you’ll remember as Crazy Mario from “A Bronx Tale,” opens the show for Tony, with a few songs, and has a fantastic voice.

Leonor Varela: Comedy Matters Girl of the Month

Leonor Varela is a star in every sense of the word. She’s talented, elegant and carries herself with true star quality. She has “presence” which is something that every star needs, and that every great comic has.

Leonor Varela and I at The Regency Hotel with the “nodes” in the background!

Leonor Varela and I at The Regency Hotel with the “nodes” in the background!

I saw her in a serious movie that could just as well have been a great comedic premise. It’s called Sleep Dealer, by Alex Rivera and it’s set in the future, in a time when the border to Mexico is now closed and guarded.  Mexicans can no longer come here, but they still work here by way of the Internet.

They have “nodes” implanted into their bodies, and they go to factories, where they hook themselves and their nervous systems into the internet to control robots in the USA who actually do the work, while the Mexican workers do the hand movements in these factories, where they work such long hours they often fall asleep on their feet.  Easily a sketch on SNL, or Mad TV

Leonor has worked with John Leguizamo, and will also be seen in an upcoming comedy with Randy Quaid, called Gary The Tennis Coach.

She also just shot a comedy pilot for Fox with the working title, Over My Drunk Body. She describes it as The Office mixed with Spinal Tap. It’s 20 percent scripted, 80 percent improvised. When I asked her if she thought she could ever do stand-up, she said, “ I don’t have the balls!” Well, she’s got everything else!

Anyway, until next time… remember, … Comedy Matters!

About the Author

Jeffrey Gurian

Jeffrey Gurian is a comedy writer who has written for lots of big names, and is currently writing the book on the 35 year history of The Comic Strip. Contact Jeffrey at Jeffrey@jeffreygurian.com.