June 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.

CD/DVD: Reggie Watts, Why $#!+ So Crazy?
On one of the DVD special features (a faux-technical behind-the-scenes look at Reggie Watts’ song-making process), Watts, recently seen touring with Conan O’Brien, introduces himself with the vague term, “a comedic performer.” Describing Watts’ comedy has always been a challenge: His act consists of silly voices, really literal jokes that often involve wordplay (“Gnome Sayin’?”), and songs that turn looping vocal effects into trippy backdrops. His latest CD/DVD combo—different material is on each—follows suit. There’s a reggae ballad detailing a tiff he had with a cab driver. He uses a damn good squirrel impression as a punchline at one point. For a good few minutes, he futzes with the microphone stand as it tries its darndest to collapse. There’s little logic or sense to Watts’ material, and if there’s a unifying theme, it’s something general like “deconstruction.” (In “Fuck Shit Stack,” the music video released prior to the album, he starts the beat-box rap with, “Word, adjective, pronoun, where my gerunds at?”) But Watts fully commits to the weirdness he creates. Whether he’s speaking Spanish for an entire joke, chasing after an audience plant for an off-stage conversation, or asking viewers to put on their 3-D glasses, Watts is fascinating through-and-through. He’s funny, too, but this is more than simple stand-up comedy.

Here’s the video for “Fuck Shit Stack.” Take note of Kumail Nanjiani in the background:

Below is Watts performing an Irish-inspired song at the Drink At Work show:

The man’s a beat-boxing fiend:


Internet: Team Submarine
While we’re on the subject of genre-bucking comedy, there’s Team Submarine. Nate Fernald and Steve O’Brien combine sketch and stand-up into straight man/funny man send-ups that’d make Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks proud. The two banter back-and-forth, chiding each other to share embarrassing stories and do embarrassing things; the formula works best when Fernald plays naïve, like when O’Brien convinces him to make a prank phone call that goes horribly awry. Few groups are as committed to this modern twist on a Vaudevillian formula, and rightfully Team Submarine was nominated for an ECNY award earlier this year for “Best Sketch Group.” (The awards honor the finest in New York comedy; the boys didn’t win, though.) About a month after the awards, Team Submarine quietly released a new video—one of only a few—that’s the funniest thing they’ve done. Take a look at this April Fools-inspired piece, plus two older ones that show off the group’s twisted playfulness:


Internet: Garfunkel & Oates
Yes, Internet, Lost has officially ended, albeit amidst a lukewarm swirlie of unanswered questions. Chief among them is, “Why didn’t it end like this?”, but the close second is addressed in Garfunkel & Oates’ recent video: “Why Isn’t There More Fucking On This Island?” (A theory: They’re saving it for the porn parody, Lust, aka The Hatch Is My Penis.) The duo consists of Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome sitting on a couch—slinging a ukulele and guitar, respectively—singing songs about whatever’s pissing them off. There’s “Me, You, And Steve,” about a date where the best friend tags along, and the self-explanatory “Pregnant Women Are Smug,” all sung with tight harmonies and affable candor. The group’s finest, though, came in early 2009 with “Present Face,” an analysis of what people do when they get gifts they really don’t like. The homemade video features appearances by How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders plus a few cast members from Freaks & Geeks, and it demonstrates Garfunkel & Oates’ knack for calling out the nuances of awkwardness. The group now occasionally tours and has appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno—recognition for the hard work they did on their own.

Here are a few videos to get started. First up, the Lost video:

“Present Face”:

“This Party Took A Turn For The Douche”:


CD/DVD: David Cross/Mort Burke,
Bigger And Blackerer
Kyle Ryan already gave his take on the mostly excellent new David Cross CD, but it’s worth pointing out that for a taste of the minor chaos Cross created on tour, the DVD is where it’s at. The show opens with a boy wearing a bald cap delivering jokes as Cross before storming off stage. Later, Cross gets into a tiff with a rogue audience member, played by Chicago comic Mort Burke, for doing his own jokes in sign language; Burke returns in the DVD special features, playing a blogger writing his review of the show as it’s happening. These outrageous ensemble moments provide a nice complement to Cross’ observational bits, and serve to highlight the talented, goofy Burke in an unexpected way. (The kid’s all right, too.) Here’s more from Burke and his sketch group Sad On Vacation:


Internet: Fun Time Internet
The nerdtastic pop-culture influences of Fun Time Internet are readily apparent. The Toronto-based collective of shorts makers spoofs all things geeky and movie-related in its film archive, which includes disturbing takes on The Dark Knight, Top Gun, and those “In Memoriam” clip montages at the Oscars. Even a simple farewell video to one member includes an homage to Watchmen. The group also takes its pop-culture jesting to the people in the series “Street Meet”; in one, the guys attend the Toronto Film Festival disguised as actors from the fake movie Toy Boyz and sign autographs. It’s all in good fun: The members of Fun TimeInternet clearly love pop culture, and they’ve got enough tech savvy to give it a good ol’ ribbing.

First, check out the trailer for Toy Boyz, followed by the segment at TIFF:

Here’s that “In Memoriam” spoof:

Finally, here’s a recent video—animated for your convenience!—in which they expose a late-night televangelist. Fun Times Internet does public service, too:


Podcast:
Risk!
Somewhere in the storytelling spectrum between The Moth (random, egalitarian) and Mortified! (embarrassing, from childhood) comes Risk!, the brainchild of The State’s Kevin Allison. Comic performers and writers are invited to share a tale at either the NYC live show or for the Risk! podcast, and the catch is that it’s got to be something they’ve rarely talked about, if ever before—at least publicly. Michael Showalter shares his irrational porn fears in the wake of 9/11 and the anthrax scare. Ben Garant describes his encounter with a faith healer. Monologist Mike Daisey speaks about his father and finding the perfect lunch place in New York. Allison interjects some lively jokes between performers (you can almost hear him grinning), and curates the lineups to include some unknowns who always deliver the goods. The show is less than a year old, but Allison’s own risk in starting it is paying off.

Here’s Ben Garant’s story, animated:


TV: Paul F. Tompkins
Though Mr. Show and Best Week Ever alum Paul F. Tompkins has enjoyed a long, fruitful career in comedy, he’s only in the last few years ventured into recording his stand-up. His killer first album, Impersonal, was a burst of short, outrageous observational bits; the second, Freak Wharf, was more of the same, but included some casually hilarious riffing at the top. Now, with his Comedy Central special You Should Have Told Me (debuting June 11), Tompkins is getting personal. Turning 40 has got him reflecting on childhood memories, life decisions (like choosing never to smoke pot again), and the experience of burying his mom. Some stories, like when he threw up all over himself in a cab, ring as universal, but the beauty is in how Tompkins tells them—patient, peppered with lots of funny asides, and the self-mocking attitude rife in his other material. Even his description of the wake following his mother’s funeral comes off as hysterical. Tompkins goes into great detail about the uncomfortable event—the random thoughts that enter his head, the awkwardness of seeing someone after years and forgetting their name—giving audiences a glimpse into how Tompkins deals with everything: a healthy sense of humor and plenty of charm.

Here’s a bit more about his mom:


Internet: Variety Shac
The loose, merry, monthly New York comedy show starring Heather Lawless, Shonali Bhowmik, Andrea Rosen, and Chelsea Peretti—who appears alongside Louis C.K. in his Louie TV debut this month—has a similar Internet presence. The four women have amassed a hefty amount of videos on their site, many of them costarring recognizable comedy pals like A.D. Miles and Ed Helms. They play amped-up versions of themselves in the videos, making mischief for each other when throwing failed surprise parties and derailing road trips. Now that they’re selling a DVD of all the shorts, it’s clear they’re no longer a novelty project in service of the live show.

Here’s “Book Club,” with Fred Armisen:

Their latest is “DJ For America”:


Bonus: Ken Jeong and Mike O’Connell collaboration
It’s not new, but Dr. Ken Jeong fever and the resurgence of comedian Mike O’Connell (Funny Or Die Presents, voice of these odd cartoons) brings to mind the pair’s awesome video from a few years back. Take a gander, and marvel at Jeong’s elastic dance moves: