Comedy Matters with John Leguizamo, Bill Burr, more

By | August 6, 2010 at 2:17 pm | No comments | Features | Tags: ,

Synchronicity in Montreal

I seem to have a knack for running into people. There are other knacks I’d like to acquire, but when there’s a pattern in your life, you’re supposed to recognize it, and acknowledge it, and it’s definitely a pattern in my life.

Richie Tienken, the owner of The Comic Strip, and I went up to Montreal to the Just For Laughs Festival, the biggest, most prestigious comedy festival in the world, to debut the trailer for Eat, Drink, Laugh, the documentary we’re doing with Chris Rock and Letterbox Pictures for the 35th anniversary of The Strip.

I had made arrangements for us to see John Leguizamo’s new show Klass Klown. Richie told me his wife Jeannie was a big fan of John’s, so I thought I’d surprise her by trying to hook us up backstage, but I wasn’t sure who to ask.

Within five minutes of arriving at the Hyatt Regency, I’m standing on line to check in and who do I run into in the lobby but Fisher Stevens. I’m like, “What’s up Fish, what are you doing here? Are you performing in something? He’s like, “No. I’m directing John Leguizamo’s show.” That can’t even happen.

John Leguizamo and I at the press junket for “Babysitters.”

But the weird thing is I was so caught off guard by seeing him and him telling me that, that I forgot to ask him to hook us up. I told him we were going that night, but didn’t think of asking about the backstage hook-up until he walked away.

I wanted to punch myself in the head. But because I have that “knack,” about an hour later, I ran into him again and hooked it up. It was really amazing because the rest of the festival I didn’t see him again, but I ran into him when I needed to.

Needless to say, John’s show was spectacular. Most people are lucky if they can do a 90 minute show. John Leguizamo breezes through two and a half hours like it was nothing. He’s a “tour de force”, if you can use that phrase to describe a person. His dance moves are fantastic, and his character work is superb. He captures the essence of each character he does, and his female is just as strung as his male.

Maybe that’s why he was so believable in “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.” John Leguizamo is a sexy woman, and if we ever Roast him at The Friars we’ll be sure to mention that!

So I check in, and am waiting to take the elevator to my room when who walks up but Tom Arnold. Never met him before, but we said hello to each other, and started a conversation. Turns out we had a lot in common, and spoke for a while. I was so into the conversation that I forgot to take a photo with him for the column. It would have spoiled the moment anyway! Tom was hosting at least one of the big shows. I was in attendance, and he handled himself very well onstage.

Tom Arnold on stage in Montreal.

Then I went to get my accreditation pass, and as soon as I walk into the room I hear a familiar voice call me and it’s Chris Mazzilli from Gotham Comedy, with his brother Steve. Chris asks me if I know T.J. Miller who’s standing there waiting for his own accreditation, and tells me how good TJ is, and that he’ll be coming to headline at Gotham. TJ writes all his contact info down for me, and would you believe I lose it immediately, before I even leave the room.

I just found it now while writing this column. It was on the back of a page of the schedule. What I think happens is that I’m so excited to run into someone I know, that I lose consciousness for a moment and do stupid s&$t! I can literally misplace something while someone is handing it to me!

I’ve since seen T.J. in “She’s Out Of My League” and now I understand what all the T.J. Miller buzz is about.  The guy is great, and I’m looking forward to seeing him at Gotham on Aug. 19th.

There were just so many shows to see, and so many were opposite each other, and Richie and I were so tired we just went back to the hotel lobby for the nightly party, and ran into everyone in comedy.

Montreal’s the kind of scene where you get into the shuttle to go to another venue and you’re sitting with Bob Odenkirk, (which is exactly what happened to me!) who did Mr. Show for 4 years, and actually started out with Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel on the Happy Happy Good Show.

In the afternoon, at the Grand Hyatt, there’s a comedy conference with fantastic panels. They never used to have things like that. Years ago, you would sit around pulling the skin on your neck which is neither attractive nor particularly productive, cause there was nothing else to do except to wait for the strip clubs to open. Now they have these panels, so I went to one on comedy on the web, with Simon Assaad, Rob Barnett, Ricky Van Veen, Joe Randazzo from The Onion, and Peter Ignacio from Comedy Central.

Meeting Peter was another example of synchronicity. In the morning you line up to enter the dining room, and it’s all kind of haphazard depending on when you get there.

Right behind me on line is this guy and we start talking. Suddenly from the dining room out comes Lou Wallach who until fairly recently ran the programming at Comedy Central, where he spearheaded (you should excuse the expression!) shows like The Chappelle Show, Crank Yankers, and Insomniac with Dave Attell, and now owns Wallach Media.

He saw me and stopped to say hello and then noticed the guy behind me. They greeted each other with hugs and Lou said, “ Do you know Jeffrey Gurian?” Turned out the guy (Peter), worked with Lou on the West Coast, we had breakfast together and became friends. We happen to have a mutual friend named Hank! ( very inside joke!), and maybe we’ll even do some business together!

Late Night In The Writer’s Room featured panelists like Colin Jost head writer at SNL, A.D. Miles head writer for Jimmy Fallon, and Brian Stack one of the writers for Conan. Nowhere else do you get the opportunity to meet people like this.

This was followed by a presentation by the staff of The Onion. One of the greatest thrills of my career was people from The Onion telling me they were fans of Weekly World News and had even heard of some of my stories, “Hunter Lost In Wilderness Saved By His Moustache”, and “Man Impaled On Spike Still Shows Up For Work On Time.”

It was great to meet Joe Randazzo, Seth Reiss and my old pal comic Baratunde Thurston who I had no idea was working with The Onion. What I’m trying to find out is why I’M not working for The Onion! No one seems to know!

That night Richie and I went to see Dom Irerra in his one man show “Plugged, Unplugged, Then Plugged Again.” Dom never disappoints. He’s always hysterical. We interviewed him the next day for the book Eat, Drink, Laugh, for the 35th anniversary of The Strip.

We couldn’t find a quiet place in the whole hotel so we had to do it in my room. Richie and Dom sat side by side on one bed and I sat facing them on the other, taping the whole thing. Then I took photos and realized I probably have the only photos in the world of Richie Tienken and Dom Irerra in the same bed! Maybe I can blackmail them and make some money???

Dom Irrera and Richie Tienken with pillows behind them!

There was a panel with the 2010 Variety list of 10 young comics to watch and I got to see Chelsea Peretti and Hannibal Buress accept two of those awards. I remembered Chelsea from when I first started performing some years back, and it was so nice to see how far she’s progressed.

Chelsea Peretti and Hannibal Buress sharing a moment of happiness in Montreal.

There was even a Funny or Die panel, featuring Mike Farah, Seth Morris, Chad Carter and Eric Appel, and that was interesting too. Funny or Die was founded by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.

It’s a comedy video website that combines user generated content with in house original content featuring celebs and up and coming comics. If I’m not mistaken some of my animated films from GNN ( Gurian News Network) are up there like “Man Robs Bank With His Chin”, and “College Professor Fired For casually Removing His Spine.”

Every year the industry waits to hear Andy Kindler do his State of the Industry Address. It’s always a packed room and Andy always kills it. He did it again this year after being introduced by the great Harland Williams. Andy says things that no one else will say, for instance he got applause when he said, “ Can we all just admit that Parks and Recreation is not funny?”

Andy Kindler on stage at Montreal.

As a matter of fact, I heard, and I don’t know for sure if this is true or not, but I heard there’s a young Indian comedian who does a great impression of Aziz Ansari, performing under the name O-shit I’m Sorry. As I said, I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, I’d like to see it.

Kindler is repped by Omnipop and Bruce Smith and Tom Ingegno are always there vicariously enjoying Andy’s popularity. Andy’s also one of the judges on this season’s Last Comic Standing, along with Natasha Leggero and Greg Giraldo.

Kindler’s talk was followed by a Satirista’s book signing by Paul Provenza and Dan Dion, and the line for the book stretched almost back to New York! If you haven’t yet bought it do so. It’s absolutely great and has everyone in it!

Everywhere I went I ran into someone. I’m walking down a dark street and hear my name. It’s writer/producer/photographer Tom Catalbiano with Phil Rosenthal the Exec. Producer, creator and writer of Everybody Loves Raymond, who was at JFL to debut his new film “Exporting Raymond”, about his experience bringing Everybody Loves Raymond to Russia. He’s always such a gentleman. The streets were plastered with his film posters, which his image is on.

Phil Rosenthal starring in the poster for Exporting Raymond!

I ran into Rich Vos and his wife Bonnie McFarlane with their little girl Reina. Rich actually did 21 shows at the festival this year, which may be some sort of record. He never slept or ate for the whole two weeks, and was still telling jokes on his way to the airport. I know cause I shared a shuttle with him. And he made his baby daughter carry all the bags! ( A perfect Vos! )

Rich Vos, Reina, and Bonnie McFarlane in Montreal.

Walking thru the lobby you’d come across comedians in groups that you might never see otherwise. I ran into Dan Naturman, schmoozing with Todd Barry and Bill Burr. Where does that happen, … except maybe The Comedy Cellar!!!

Dan Naturman, Todd Barry, and Bill Burr in the lobby of the Hyatt.

I saw Pete Correale telling Mike Vecchione that when he gets his own show, he wants Mike to be involved either as a performer or a writer. Pete was feeling no pain, at the time! He was his own anesthesiologist!

Fortunately they don’t do any sobriety tests at a comedy festival. No one has to walk a straight line or anything like that, and it’s a good thing! Pete wanted me to be involved too, but he wants me sitting in the audience! (LOL – when you see LOL it means I’m waiting for the laugh! I’m a very patient man and I’m willing to wait as long as it takes! )

Pete Correale promising the world to Mike Vecchione!

It was fantastic to see my great, longtime friend journalist Stu Nulman who interviewed Richie Tienken and I about our book and film, and introduced us to Joey Elias who had us on as guests on his radio show. ( You see, unlike what “they” say, it’s never about who you know! LOL )

I heard that Stu’s brother Andy who was one of the original founders of JFL some 27 years ago, and who has been directing the huge celeb galas for the last several years will be taking back the reins of the festival as of next year, and running the whole thing. Congrats to Andy who is a great guy.

I also heard that Gilbert Rozon, who co-founded JFL in 1983 with Andy Nulman, may be stepping down to run for Mayor of Montreal. Every time I saw him he was in a suit and looked fantastic, plus I imagine he’s made some incredible contacts after running the festival for 27 years, bringing so much business, and attention to the city.

And if he does become Mayor, and things get a little tense, as they often do in politics, he can always break the tension by bringing in some major comics to perform for the legislature. Laughter goes a long way to lessening tension!

On Saturday night, Richie and I debuted the trailer for our film in a theatre, and it was well received. The trailer featured Bill Maher, Jay Leno, Chris Rock, Judah Friedlander, Paul Reiser, George Wallace, a young Jerry Seinfeld, Tom Hanks filming Punchline at The Comic Strip, and me interviewing Ray Romano.

Me and Richie Tienken interviewing Ray Romano at The Strip. (shot onscreen!)

Then I’m walking along minding my own business and I run into Godfrey, who was also an early Strip guy and will now be in both the book and the film. He thought we should think about opening a Strip in Nigeria, so his relatives could come! He’s the funniest male Nigerian comedian I’ve ever seen, … and he does great accents!

Godfrey and me on the streets of Nigeria! Looks just like Montreal.

But by far, the most exciting person I ran into for me was J.B. Smoove, who’s handled by another great guy, Rick Dorfman of Rain Management Group. I LOVE J.B. Smoove and the character he plays on Curb. I kept hoping I’d run into him, cause I had heard he was there. I had just seen him kill as the host on Russell Simmons’ new Comedy Central show “Stand-Up At The El Rey”. So I walk into the dining room for breakfast and who do I see standing along waiting to get eggs, but the man himself JB Smoove. I got the knack!

Me interfering with JB Smoove’s breakfast at the Hyatt Regency.

I introduced myself, and I’m ashamed to say I talked to him so long his food got cold. He invited me over to his table where he was eating with his buddy and co-writer Miles Grose.

Luckily I’m always prepared, so I whipped out my recorder and asked him to tell me how he got his name. He had been a hip hop dancer known as J Smoove and his partner was known as J Groove. Groove and Smoove. It gets even better! They did a bunch of dance shows and rap videos and then he started doing comedy, and added the “B”, and became J.B. Smoove.

His first stand-up gig ever was at the old Improv. on West 44th street, back when Budd Friedman was still there. He did some stand-up and also studied Improv there with a guy named Marty Friedman from SCTV. It was the summer before they closed down. He got Curb by accident. Another great story of synchronicity.

He had been on SNL for three seasons and didn’t get renewed for the fourth. His first audition for SNL was at The Strip but instead of him they took Tracy Morgan.

A buddy of J.B. Smoove passed away in LA and he went out there to pay his respects. He had just signed with a new agent at APA, and just happened to mention he’d love to be on Curb.

He was leaving town the next day when his new agent said there was an audition for Curb. He said he’d go right now, and they set it up. He went over thinking he’d be on tape but when he walked in Larry David was in the middle of the room, and he improv’ed with Larry David directly, using skills he picked up years before from Marty Friedman at The Improv, and the rest as they say is history.

Had he got re-signed with SNL he wouldn’t have gotten Curb, or had his buddy not passed away he wouldn’t have gotten it, so he’s convinced that The Universe has a plan. I like that. I LOVE J.B. Smoove! Just being in his presence makes you laugh. He’s one of the funniest dudes on the planet.

Gotham Happenings

I went to see one of my favorites, Jim Breuer, and opening for him was another favorite of mine, Rich Francese. Rich doesn’t wear his wedding ring and when his wife asks him how girls will know he’s married, he says, “ Don’t worry, they’ll know!” It’s a perfect joke. The punchline is in the audience’s collective mind!

When telemarketers call and ask him what he’s doing to protect his credit cards, his answer is, “ Pretty much maxing ‘em out!”

Jim Breuer and Rich Francese looking like they’re ready to break out in song, at Gotham.

He was working out in the gym when some 400 pound guy asked, “ Hey buddy, can you spot me?” And Rich said, “ Yeh, from a mile away! The man is just very funny and that’s all there is to say!

When Breuer hits the stage the crowd erupts. They go wild before he even says a word. Very few comics get that kind of a welcome. He talked about the fact that he always looks high. It was Richie Tienken that first brought that to his attention, which is why Jim’s company is called Lazy Eye Productions. Jack Nicholson once told him, “ You look the way I feel all the time!”

Jim opened up about himself during his act. He started doing Goat Boy as a way to get free drinks from bartenders, as if he had Tourettes. When he did Half Baked with Chappelle, which was his weed movie, he didn’t have to audition cause they had been friends for a long time.

The only time he was actually high was after filming was over. Chappelle left him a doobie to celebrate, and while he was wasted they came to his trailer and told him they had to re-shoot a scene right then and there. So he was actually high in only one scene, … and it was by accident!

One interesting thing Jim did was that he made a point of honoring sex as a Spiritual thing, which I thought was very interesting. You don’t hear that enough!

I was thrilled to meet Gina Yashere who headlined the club one weekend. She’s the Nigerian born comedian who’s making waves throughout the industry. And not just cause she used to weigh 250 pounds! She actually lost more than a hundred pounds, and looks really good.

Gina Yashere and Vanessa Hollingshead at Gotham. Look what Vanessa put on Gina’s neck when she wasn’t looking!

Vanessa Hollingshead opened for her, which was a great choice, followed by Lenny Marcus, another great choice. What are the chances of two great choices performing on the same bill? At Gotham … very good!

Gina does a fantastic Nigerian accent, and she and Godfrey would be great together in a Nigerian comedy revue, if there was such a thing! I don’t even think they have that in Nigeria!!!

She says Americans are not only fat, but “cartoon fat”, cause all our commercials are for food!

She gets a kick out of Somali pirates attacking in canoes. She says “It’s the equivalent of doing a driveby on a unicycle.” I hope I see her again soon.

I hadn’t seen Jake Johanssen in a long time. I expected him to still have big hair. He had a great show with Barry Weintraub who is so perfect as an MC, followed by William Stephenson, who I have almost never seen NOT as an MC, and a very funny guy I had never seen before, Des Bishop.

Des started out in Queens and moved to Ireland where he made a name for himself. If this was a Friars Roast, I would tell you what that name was, … but since this is my column, and I really thought the guy was great, let’s just say the name was Des Bishop!

Jake Johannsen and Jeffrey at Gotham after trading hairstyles.

Des had some interesting insights into ethnicity. According to Des, “For Italians, puberty is their time to shine”! And he says “ The Irish are emotionally retarded. I’m not saying my mother didn’t love me. She just forgot to tell me!” Maybe the Irish are just forgetful???
I ran into Des in Montreal and he remembered me, so I don’t know???

Jake was really good, and hung out afterwards to meet his fans, which people really appreciate.

Jake is frustrated by TV news where they tease you with some info and then make you wait half an hour to hear about it. “ Would you like to stop killing your baby? Tune in in half an hour!” “ But I’d like to stop killing my baby right now!”

Some woman actually took a phone call during Jake’s act. Right while he was performing on stage, and she had the “cojones” to actually have a conversation. Jake handled it well, and made it into a play-by-play while the audience began chanting

“Throw her out, throw her out.” He described the woman being thrown out as if he was an announcer. “ And now a guy in a suit comes over joined by another guy in a suit, and the audience is cheering wildly as they escort her out.”

It takes a real pro to handle situations like that and turn a negative into a positive.

Comedy Matters Quickies

Brute Force hosts an open mic at The Players club once a month and he gets a lot of good talent. As an example he used ME, cause I started performing again. It actually felt good to be back on stage again, cause I had retired from performing for a while, and to show you how good I was doing when I retired, I was the only one who KNEW I retired!

Brute Force on the keyboards at The Players.

Jim and Lisa McCue who run The Boston Comedy Festival came to New York for their annual NY Comedy Contest , the winners of which get to perform in the festival. Kelly Reagan who works with Jim had invited me to be a judge again, as I had done last year, where I first got to see Myq Kaplan, Joe List, and Josh Homer, so I judged the semi-finals at The Strip and the finals at the Times Square Art Center, where the winner was Jim Tews.

Richie Tienken, Jim McCue and me on stage at The Strip.

Lisa was in Montreal handling the talent search for Jim, who was off performing somewhere. Jim is actually hysterically funny, and Richie Tienken told him he could have a spot at The Strip any time he wants. That’s really saying something!

Leslie Gold of Radio Chick fame called me to ask if I might know of anyone who’d be right to audition for the SONY TV authorized stage show version of The Gong Show that she is producing, and casting with renowned casting director Robert Russell.

Robert Russell, Leslie Gold and Ray Ellin judging contestants for The Gong Show.

Robert is known for casting shows like Survivor, The Apprentice, and Change of Heart. I sent Brett Eidman and Lale Sayoko, and when I walked in I was pleasantly surprised to see Ray Ellin there who was going to host the show. Ray happens to be a great host, and knows how to bring people out on camera.

I checked out the comedy scene in San Antonio, Texas, and was please to run into Jessy Joyce who was headlining at the River Centre comedy club, right near the famed Riverwalk. It’s on the 3rd floor of the Rivercenter Mall of all places, and it’s a great club.

It was funny cause when I looked on my cell phone on VZ Navigator it tells you what’s going on locally, and every time I opened it up, which was often cause I’m ALWAYS lost, Jessy Joyce’s name would appear on the screen, but it didn’t say where he was appearing. Then I show up at the club, and that’s where he was appearing. I definitely got the knack!

Bruce and Colleen Barshop and Jessy Joyce at Rivercenter Comedy Club.

Owners Bruce and Colleen Barshop made me feel very much at home, and even offered to let me do a spot. They opened this club 15 years ago, and it’s going strong enough that they recently opened a second club called LOL, for Laugh Our Loud, which they opened last November with Richard Lewis as the headliner.

One thing they didn’t tell me, which I found out afterwards, was that they launched the cable channel SITV. Colleen is so bubbly and effervescent, (which makes her sound more like champagne than a person), she should really be on stage herself. I feel like I made two new friends in San Antonio! Check out the club when in San Antonio.

I ran down to a TV taping of all women comics at The Skirball Center at NYU, which everyone probably thinks is called The Screwball Center.

Nikki Glaser, Rachel Feinstein, Jeffrey, Amy Schumer and Marina Franklin backstage at Skirball.

It was Rachel Feinstein, from Last Comic Standing, Amy Schumer, Nicky Glaser, and Marina Franklin, and it was a fantastic show. I ran into Chris and Steve Mazzilli who work with both Rachel and Amy, and I went with Richie Tienken who handles Marina. If this was a Friars Roast I’d say there are lots of people who’d like to handle Marina, … but it isn’t, so I won’t! They all looked so sexy, they’re changing the face of female comedy!

Since neither relaxation nor sleep is a hobby of mine, I produced a comedy show at the Old Westbury Country Club for a couple of hundred members, starring Goumba Johnny the afternoon host on WKTU, Jon Fisch, Ted Alexandro, and Macio, who was described by JB Smoove as the Uptown Comedy Club’s Eddie Murphy. Needless to say, the show was a great success!

Macio, Goumba Johnny, Ted Alexandro, Jon Fisch and in front,… a guy who’s never in any photos, me.

Last but certainly not least, the way Joe Franklin is considered an icon of TV talk show hosts, Gladys Simon is considered an icon of comedy club hosts/bookers.
I first knew of Gladys from her years at Hamburger Harry’s in Times Square. I think I may have even done a set there once or twice in my very beginnings on stage. Gladys now runs what you might refer to as the classiest open mic in the business.

On Wed. and Friday at 6 P.M. Gladys takes over the famed Comic Strip Live to do a booked open mic, and I have seen a lot of really good talent there. Gladys is a nurturer, and gives helpful feedback to anyone who wants or deserves it.

Gladys Simon and me loitering outside the Ladies Room at The Strip.

She performs herself, and is funny in her own right, but she is one of the kindest, most helpful and caring people I have met in comedy, and she helps young comics with their material, and doesn’t even ask for any money for doing that.

She’s a special gift to comedy, so stop off there and support her show!

And 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.

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