April 2010 

Comedy has gotten much more democratic over the years: It’s no longer limited to guys in clubs or major-network TV shows. With a bit of free time and minimal iMovie know-how, everyone from budding young comics to name-brand stars can carve out Internet space for their sense of humor. It’s a great time to be a comedy fan, and Laugh Track, The A.V. Club’s new monthly column, will round up new and noteworthy stand-up, sketch, and online video, much of it courtesy of under-the-radar comedians with a little too much time on their hands.

Internet: The lighter side of Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad premièred its third season just a few weeks ago, and it’s such an intense show, it’s easy to forget its cast’s funny roots. Even comically sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman, played by Mr. Show hero Bob Odenkirk, took a dark turn near the end of last season. Thankfully, the website Better Call Saul provides a reminder of Odenkirk’s chops. The site contains viral PSAs touting Goodman’s legal prowess (“Repeat this key phrase: That’s not my tiger”), video testimonials from other Breaking Bad characters (including Badger, played by former Boom Chicago cast member Matt L. Jones), e-cards, and an embarrassing “live” webcam.

He isn’t alone: Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad’s drug-addled Jesse Pinkman and a Big Love staple, made the rounds last week, starring in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, previously reported here. And don’t forget Bryan Cranston, who spent years as the hapless Malcolm In The Middle dad. He rarely gets a chance to bust out the lighter fare on Breaking Bad, but here’s a recent appearance in a Funny Or Die sketch involving the funniest thing of all time, fart jokes:


Internet: A Night Of 140 Tweets
Twitter was aflutter in mid-March when 140 comedians, actors, and, um, porn stars stepped up for a good cause. A Night Of 140 Tweets was conceived by comedian Paul Scheer and spearheaded by Ben Stiller’s Red Hour production company, and it shook out exactly how it sounds at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in Los Angeles. Hosted by Scheer and Rob Huebel, the night consisted of each performer reading a favorite tweet, then getting off the stage. The impressive lineup included Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Bob Saget, John Stamos, Aziz Ansari, Carlton Cuse, Damon Lindelof, Paul Feig, Nathan Fillion, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Ed Helms, lots of Precious: Based On The Novel “Push” By Sapphire references, and a naked Rich Sommer (seriously). Somehow it’s been pared down to 31 minutes and made available for a mere $2.99 via Amazon On Demand and the iTunes Music Store. The best part: All proceeds go to Haiti relief. Watch the “behind-the-scenes” video below.


TV: Kumail Nanjiani
It was sad news when Comedy Central decided to kick Michael & Michael Have Issues to the curb after only one season. But thankfully, The Comic’s Comic has reported that Kumail Nanjiani, one of the writers and actors on MMHI, has been added to the hourlong pilot Franklin & Bash on TBS. The show stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Breckin Meyer as, in the words of the Hollywood Reporter, “two street lawyers and lifelong friends.” Nanjiani will play one of their colleagues. It’s yet another feather in his cap after performing in the New Faces showcase at last year’s Just For Laughs festival, being named one of Variety’s 10 comics to watch in 2009, a New York Times profile, and working on a pilot for NBC (on hold at the moment for Franklin & Bash). It’s exciting how this gifted performer—who mixes cerebral material and a sharp tongue—keeps popping up. Here are a few clips from the recent past:

First, this is one of the sketches he wrote for Michael & Michael Have Issues, perhaps the show’s finest:


Here’s a recent appearance on Letterman:


And on Kimmel:


He also recently popped up on Comedy Death Ray to discuss his run-in with John Mayer, performing stand-up. Yeah, it happened.


And finally, an oldie: Kumail Nanjiani busting out Dungeons & Dragons, made by filmmaker (and friend of The A.V. Club) Steve Delahoyde:


Internet: Elephant Larry
Those silly pre-movie infotainment programs have long been ripe for mockery. Leave it to the stellar New York sketch troupe Elephant Larry to get it right with The WOW, its 20-minute send-up of the softball movie-featurette format. It features the most wooden of hosts, a behind-the-scenes look at Snake Lake—Tagline: “Have you ever seen a really big snake?”—and a bunch of quick running gags to break things up. (Keen eyes will also notice members of fellow New York groups like BriTANick, featured last month, and Team Submarine.) The tone of this epic YouTube video fits with the rest of the group’s rambunctious, surreal material: A group of grizzled seafarers engage in a shanty-off, game-show contestants guess whether a phrase was uttered by a caveman or Cookie Monster, and the sing-along parody of “Livin’ On A Prayer,” “Sittin’ On A Bear.” The full episode of The WOW, hopefully the first of many, is embedded below, along with Elephant Larry’s popular trailer for Minesweeper: The Movie.

The WOW:


Minesweeper:


Film: Wild Girls Gone
The Upright Citizens Brigade started as a group of misfits in Chicago who became infamous for outlandish pranks, like faking a suicide by throwing a dummy off the roof of a building. Most know them as the foursome behind the self-titled Comedy Central sketch show, which helped launch the TV and film careers of Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, and Ian Roberts. But the group’s theaters in New York and Los Angeles have nurtured young comics and united some of comedy’s finest players for years; it was only a matter of time before all that talent got put to use. Wild Girls Gone is a film created by the Upright Citizens Brigade entity. Done on a tight budget years ago, it finally saw a release on Amazon and iTunes last month. 

The film takes place in White Sands, Florida, where two friends try to earn a quick buck by exploiting spring breakers with their own Girls Gone Wild-type movie; meanwhile, a man is running a mayoral campaign on the anti-spring-break ticket, specifically by proclaiming himself anti-ass-contest, even though his wife is the former Ass Contest Queen. It stars the group’s most famous foursome in the lead roles, and features appearances by UCB staples Andy Daly, Kate Flannery, Neil Flynn, David Koechner, Rob Riggle, and a musical number about, what else, ass contests.

Here’s the trailer:


Internet: Code Name Joke
Comedian David Angelo, winner of Time Out New York’s Joke Of The Year award in 2009, has stumbled on a way to engage fans, solicit new ones, and put his signature wry, self-indulgent spin on the whole thing. Code Name Joke, which launched late last month, finds Angelo offering his own money to anyone who can tell one of his jokes better than he can. Hopefuls choose one of his jokes from the mega list on the website, then send in a YouTube video of themselves telling the joke. Angelo and a panel will award $500 to the winner. (Runners-up receive a signed, outdated headshot.) The catch? His jokes, in his own words, are terrible. Well, not terrible so much as they probably read better than they sound out loud. Examples: “Broke a bone auditioning for a film. Luckily, they cast my arm.” “Pretty sure my tailor is trying to ride my coattails.” “This girl is a real butterface. Has a great body, but for some reason, she’s got butter smeared all over her face.” 

Here’s the explanation for the contest, in his words:


And a few more clips from Angelo:


TV: The Awkward Comedy Show
The main conceit behind The Awkward Comedy Show—a stand-up performance documentary premièring on Comedy Central April 9, with an album to be released April 6—is that its unabashedly nerdy, socially awkward comics aren’t an easy sell. They’re all African-Americans whose dorky sensibilities play against stereotypes. The show itself wasn’t the easiest sell either: It’s been shopped around for a few years under the name The Awkward Kings Of Comedy. It’s a shame it’s taken this long to land. The featured comics are some of the best working today, and the documentary itself showcases not only their stand-up, but their thoughts on the industry as a whole. Participants include:

Chicago-raised Hannibal Buress, who recently scored a job writing for Saturday Night Live. His stand-up has never been stronger. He’s a fan of hare-brained premises, like describing how he flicks pickle juice on sandwiches for flavor, or the twisted logic behind why he didn’t cry at Up. He recently did a killer set on Lopez Tonight—probably the funniest thing that show’s ever featured. Check it out:


Baron Vaughn has infectious energy onstage. You’ll see him soon on the new USA drama Facing Kate as—what else?—the geek.


Marina Franklin and her sly delivery appeared on Last Comic Standing a few seasons ago. Check out her performance at last year’s Just For Laughs festival in Chicago. The audio isn’t great, but that’s the only downside:


Bonus:
Gamechangers, a new Funny Or Die mockumentary interview series, launched last week, starring Ty Burrell as a guy who scripts rants for athletes. Does Modern Family’s Phil Dunphy translate into other arenas? Yes:


Another bonus:
Ugly Americans, an animated show in which a social worker helps monsters and aliens adjust to life in New York City, premièred a few weeks ago. It’s based on a web series called 5ON, created by Devin Clark and written by comics John Mulaney, Nick Kroll, and Pete Holmes. (The latter two were featured in last month’s Laugh Track. Even though it hit the Internet in 2007, the humorous interviews with animated robots and creatures hold up. Watch it in its entirety, and knock out an afternoon.


Yet another bonus:
Last summer's release of The State on DVD was the ultimate comedy-nerd pleaser—every episode, plenty of unaired sketches, and hilarious commentary from every cast member. Wanna be even happier? Peruse this recently launched Vimeo page, chockfull of unaired sketches, awesome pirate costumes, bisexual dogs, and some pretty hilariously dated material:

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