Archives for category: Blog Stage
The cast and director of "Tell Your Friends! The Concert Film!" at the Paley Center in NYC.

"Tell Your Friends! The Concert Film!" (left to right: Kurt Braunohler, Leo Allen, Rob Paravonian, Kristen Schaal, Liam McEneany, Victor Varnado, Christian Finnegan). Photo credit: Lindsay Aikman/Michael Priest Photography

Last night, Sketchfest NYC presented the New York premiere of Tell Your Friends! The Concert Film!, a documentary about the indie comedy scene in New York City and the long-running comedy show “Tell Your Friends!,” which is hosted each week by Liam McEneaney on the Lower East Side. McEneaney and director Victor Varnado (The Awkward Comedy Show) say their goal was to create a filmed document of the current comedy movement — like Woodstock or The Last Waltzdid for music — by combining live performances with insightful interviews and candid backstage footage to create an overall sense of the scene.

The film was shot at a live “Tell Your Friends!” show at The Bell House in Brooklyn last summer and features performances by Reggie Watts, Kurt Braunohler & Kristen Schaal, Christian Finnegan, Leo Allen, Rob Paravonian, and McEneaney. The documentary also includes interviews with comedians Janeane Garofalo, Jim Gaffigan, Colin Quinn, Marc Maron, Paul F. Tompkins, Eddie Brill, Wyatt Cenac, Hannibal Buress, and Kumail Nanjiani.

Tell Your Friends! The Concert Film! premiered at SXSW earlier this year, and has also screened at Just for Laughs in Montreal and Chicago, as well as other film festivals. Watch the trailer for the film below, then check out my video interviews with the creators and cast:

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Jeremy Seglem began his acting career about five years ago, in a collection of short comedic web videos called “Treading Water.” Since then, in partnership with writer/director Tim Young, he’s continued to produce original video content for the web — first as the co-creator and star of the mockumentary series “Twilight with Steve Cooper” and its follow-up, “Behind the Steve,” and now as the co-creator and writer of “Cop/Cop,” a new improvised comedy series starring Tyler Gilmore and Rob Cuthill as two inept cops who will go to any lengths to get a confession.

'Cop/Cop' title screen shot

The first episode of “Cop/Cop,” titled “Old Dogs,” premiered online this week, and another episode has been selected to debut at the Channel 101 program at this year’s New York Television Festival on Friday night in NYC. Channel 101 is a monthly series in which five-minute shows are screened for a live audience, who vote to “cancel” some series and “renew” others, new episodes of which are then presented as part of the new “prime time lineup” at the event the next month.

“I have not experienced a live situation, where people will laugh at something I’ve made,” Seglem says. “So my goal is just to have people laugh at it. That’s really all I can ask. It’d be nice to advance, but as long as people think it’s funny, I don’t care.”

Watch the first episode of “Cop/Cop” below, then read my Q&A with Seglem to learn more about his creative process, how he finds an audience for funny three-minute videos among so much competition online, and why all actors should take on the role of a casting director.

(Warning: Language and situations may be NSFW)

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'WTF with Maron Maron' at NYTV Primetime

“Two years ago, I planned on killing myself in my garage. Now, I’m in my garage doing the best work I’ve ever done.”

This is how viewers are introduced to comedian and podcast host Marc Maron in his new independent comedy pilot, which premiered as part of the New York Television Festival‘s Primetime “Opening Night Comedy Extravaganza” last night in New York City. Presented with the eponymous working title Maron, the show opens with Maron speaking directly to the camera, sharing his neuroses with someone we’d assume is his therapist. But no — he’s just trying to connect with his cat’s veterinarian.

That type of straightforward, confessional comedy has been Maron’s trademark for more than two decades as a stand-up comic. Today, he reaches hundreds of thousands of listeners as the host of WTF with Marc Maron, a popular podcast — recorded in his garage at his home near L.A. that he calls the “cat ranch” — in which he engages comedians such as Robin Williams, Maria Bamford, Garry Shandling, Louis C.K., and more than 200 others in long-form conversations.

(“When I was going to a meeting at Fox [to pitch the pilot],” Maron revealed in a Q&A with the audience following the screening, “we were walking through the parking lot and Louis was driving out. He was just alone in his car, and he was like, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ I said, ‘I’m meeting with Fox. We did a pilot presentation.’ He goes, ‘Really?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it’s called Louie Also.”)

Last night’s NYTVF screening was the first time that the public, or Maron himself, had seen the finished pilot.

“I was excited to see me,” Maron said of his on-screen performance. “There were moments that I was embarrassed for me, because of the vulnerability that I was putting forth, but I think that’s a good thing. If I’m embarrassing me because I’m looking at myself going, ‘Holy fuck! You’re so raw and weird,’ I think we’ve accomplished something.” Read the rest of this entry »

Maria Bamford
Maria Bamford

You probably recognize stand-up comic Maria Bamford, even though you might not know it. That’s because Bamford — who has been on the verge of becoming a “household name” for the past decade — is best known for her ability to manipulate her voice and facial features to embody multiple characters, ranging from her friends and dysfunctional family to more general types.

In addition to various supporting roles in movies and TV series, Bamford was featured in the documentary The Comedians of Comedy with Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifiniakis, and Brian Posehn; has taped two half-hour Comedy Central Specials; and has recorded three stand-up albums (the latest, Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome, was released in 2009 and was named one of the “Best Comedy Albums of the Decade” by The A.V. Club). She has also put her transformative abilities to use as a voiceover artist, providing voices for animated series such as Ugly Americans, Home Movies, CatDog, Hey Arnold!, and more; the Cartoon Network series Adventure Time, in which Bamford plays multiple roles, is nominated for an Emmy award this year for “Outstanding Short-format Animated Program.”

About six years ago, Bamford used her unique metamorphosis skills to create a one-woman show titled Plan B, in which she faced her fear of having a nervous breakdown by imagining what it would be like to leave show business and move back into her parents’ attic in Duluth, Minnesota. The live show was then developed into a 20-episode web series called The Maria Bamford Show for the now-defunct website Super Deluxe in 2006. Bamford played about a dozen characters in the series, including her parents, her sister,  past high school acquaintances, and other Duluth locals, to entertain viewers with a surreal yet hilarious glimpse into the mind of this self-deprecating comic.

This week, while Bamford is part of the lineup at the annual Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal, The Maria Bamford Show is being paired with the Maysles brothers’ 1975 documentary Grey Gardens for a screening at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC.

I spoke with Bamford about having her comedy paired with a documentary about the reclusive (and possibly mentally ill) Edith and “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, why customer service can be more difficult than comedy, how she determined that it was time to give up acting, and more. Read the Q&A below: Read the rest of this entry »

Reggie Watts

Reggie Watts

A parody of a 1940s radio play would be as relevant to audiences today as, well, a 1940s radio play itself. But while it is inspired by a medium that is virtually extinct, Reggie Watts and playwright Tommy Smith’s Radio Play, currently running at PS 122 in New York City, is more accurately a lively, non-linear deconstruction of everything that radio listeners might be exposed to as they search the AM/FM airwaves. With scripted and musical transitions – at the same time more immersive and yet more subtle than the static between stations – that transport the audience between vignettes, an absurd take on a noir radio drama can become a silly domestic comedy scene, a riff on radio commercial jingles morphs into an abstract soundscape, and spooky sound effects and technical tricks contribute to an hallucinatory, stream-of-consciousness theatrical experience that is greater than the sum of its vintage parts.

Performing Radio Play mostly in complete darkness, Watts is the ringmaster, accompanied on stage by four other performers (actors Havilah Brewster, Beth Hoyt, and Mary Jane Gibson, with Jen Rondeau playing the theremin) who are surrounded by antiquated equipment such as old cassette players and television sets, mid-century appliances, and a lonely film projector spinning its empty reel. Improvised moments sneak into the structured piece, throughout which the audience is immersed in Watts’ unique vision that is meant to be heard and felt more than seen, with blackness punctuated only occasionally by well-placed and impeccably timed lighting cues.

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Tom Shillue

Tom Shillue

Last year, stand-up comedian and master storyteller Tom Shillue won an ECNY Award for “Best One Person Show” for Supernormal, “an evening of stories so normal, they’re radical.” Now he returns with a new rewritten version — featuring stories of his youth in suburban Massachusetts, his life in New York City, a high school reunion, and more — running for three weeks beginning tonight, March 16 at PS 122 in the East Village in NYC.

“I suspect people sometimes cringe at the idea of a solo show,” Shillue says. “I guarantee there’s no weeping, there’s no huge life revelations, there’s none of me kneeling down on the stage and coming to terms with my humanity. It’s mostly a funny show. It’s not a learning experience or a teaching experience. I don’t come out of any closets or go back into any closets. But it’s still a good time. So I guess that’s my weird ad for the show.”

Shillue is a fixture in both the NYC comedy and storytelling scenes; he hosts The Moth live storytelling series in NYC and on tour, is involved in radio and online storytelling projects such as the new site, and performs regularly at the city’s comedy clubs and alternative rooms. He has been featured on Comedy Central and Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and he is also a former correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Earlier this week, Shillue was named “Best Storyteller” at the 7th annual ECNY Awards.

Back Stage once called Shillue the Top New York Comic. Read my candid Q&A to learn how Shillue embraces his normalcy and seeks to define a new genre of comedy, why you almost saw him on Last Comic Standing last summer, and more:

So what is normal? What makes you “supernormal”?

Tom Shillue: In the old days, growing up in Norwood, Massachusetts, I thought I was a radical. When I was in high school, and when I was deciding that I was going to move my life to New York, I kind of thought of myself as an iconoclast. I used to look at New Yorkers and I’d think, “Wow, they must be so narcissistic.” And then I moved to New York and I realized that the real narcissists are people like us, who move from the suburbs to New York. The only reason we moved to New York is because we thought we were the coolest person in our town.

So that was the idea, that I moved to New York because I thought I was different, radical, iconoclastic, special. And then after being in New York a while, everyone in New York treats me like I’m out of a Norman Rockwell painting. So I call that “supernormal,” because I thought I was radical, and now that I’ve kind of settled into myself in New York, I’m not. I’m totally normal. So I like to call it supernormal. That’s my Zen state that I’ve reached. I don’t want to be different anymore. I don’t want to be special. I’m not rocking anybody’s world. I’m still the guy from Massachusetts, you know? Read the rest of this entry »

"The Spidey Project" poster

In the interest of full disclosure: I’m a lifelong Spider-Man fan, but the recent movie trilogy satisified — and then also nullified — my thirst for live-action webslinging adventures. I’m taking a wait-and-see approach to the upcoming 3D film “reboot” of the Spider-Man film franchise, now starring Andrew Garfield as hero Peter Parker. And I had no intention of seeing Julie Taymor and Bono’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway, expecting only to be incensed at the myriad ways the bloated blockbuster production would surely skew the Spider-Man story I knew and loved to make it all but unrecognizable to comic book geeks like myself.

Which is why I was initally both intrigued and dismissive when improv performer and playwright Justin Moran announced on February 11 that he would create and direct The Spidey Project, a “guerilla theater” musical based on the Spider-Man comic books — to be completed in less than 30 days, with a budget of $0, and scheduled to open on March 14, one night before the $65 million Broadway musical’s  delayed March 15 opening (which has now been pushed to June 14, following the dismissal of Turn Off the Dark director Julie Taymor).

“Over the last few years, we’ve seen more money poured into one show than any other in Broadway history,” Moran said of Turn Off the Dark, “and it still shows no signs of opening. Wouldn’t it have been amazing if instead of this one show, a dozen smaller new musicals open this season? Think of how crazy the Tonys would be. Think of the creative innovation as each show tried to do more with less. Think of the amount of actors that would be working again.”

Moran was inspired to action by the negative reviews Spider-Man received after February 7, the show’s previous (but also delayed) opening night. Yet rather than criticize someone else’s work, he decided to take on the project himself. “Our goal isn’t to tear down Julie Taymor or parody her production,” Moran told the New York Times in February. “Our goal is to do what she should have done in the first place, and that’s just make a really good musical.” Miraculously, the creators did something their Broadway rivals couldn’t: they opened the show on time and on budget.

I was in the audience for the second of two one-night only performances of The Spidey Project: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility at The PIT last night; a 10 p.m. performance was added after tickets for the 8 p.m. show sold out instantly. My curiosity and love of all things Spidey meant that I had to see it, if only to confirm that Moran had undertaken an impossible challenge which would only vindicate Taymor as a visionary director. As I followed Moran & Co.’s progress on his “The Spidey Project” blog, I figured the stunt might make for an entertaining event on a Monday night. But I didn’t actually expect the show to be so good.

Moran used the power of the internet (specifically Facebook and YouTube), though, to recruit a talented cast and crew of volunteers from the improv and musical theater communities, who together displayed their ingenuity and sincerity in bringing a one-hour Spider-Man musical comedy to the New York City stage. Read the rest of this entry »

Mike DeStefano

Mike DeStefano

Stand-up comedian Mike DeStefano died last night after suffering a heart attack, Punchline Magazine reports today. He was 44 years old.

The Bronx-born comic, who was HIV positive and began his comedy career about a decade ago after overcoming drug addiction and the death of his wife, had begun to gain national mainstream success after finishing fourth out of thousands in the most recent season of Last Comic Standing. He was also scheduled to perform his new one-man show A Cherry Tree in the Bronx this Wednesday at the Barrow Street Theater in NYC. News of DeStefano’s death was confirmed to Punchline by a friend of the family.

“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of a dear friend, a true gentleman, a great comic, and a fierce warrior, Mike DeStefano,” DeStefano’s rep said in a statement to TMZ today. “Mike had a lot of wisdom to share with the world from his own life lessons and he always did it with laughter and a smile. It’s hard to think that there won’t be any more ‘hey sweetheart’ calls, because Mike always made my day with his mix of kindness and warmth AND profanity filled rants against the wrongs of the world. He was the genuine article. We love you and will miss you, Mike.” Read the rest of this entry »

Mike DeStefano

Mike DeStefano

Substance abuse and AIDs are hilarious, right? Well, no, not usually. But for the past decade, stand-up comedian Mike DeStefano has crafted a career telling jokes about these hardships, and the other painful and tragic parts of life that we’re not supposed to laugh at. He’s not trying to make life any easier — just funnier.

DeStefano’s new one-man show, Drugs, Disease, and Death: A Comedy debuts this week at The Producers’ Club in New York City. It is an autobiographical story based on the comedian’s life in the Bronx, battling heroin addiction, losing his wife to AIDS, and simply struggling to survive.

“What I’m going to be talking about in Drugs, Disease and Death,” DeStefano reveals, “is death, disease, and drugs.” You might call him an expert on the subject. (In one joke, DeStefano explains: “I’m a stand up comic. Before that, I was a drug counselor. Before that, I was a drug addict. Before that? I was 12.”) Read the rest of this entry »

Matt McCarthy

Matt McCarthy

Comedian Matt McCarthy loves professional wrestling, and thinks the sport deserves to be viewed and appreciated like any of the performing arts. For that matter, so should comedy. “I see a lot of parallels between stand-up and wrestling,” he says. “They’re both bastardized, in a way.”

And so on Monday, Jan. 24, McCarthy presents the first installment of “Marking Out,” a new “comedy extravaganza” to be held the third Monday of every month at the Ace Hotel in NYC — with a name inspired by the experience of watching pro wrestlers.

In wrestling, a “mark” is a fan who believes that the characters and events depicted in professional wrestling are real — or at least reacts as if they don’t know them to be staged. “‘Marking out’ is when you know wrestling is fake,” McCarthy explains, “but you get excited and lost in it anyway. So I’m calling the show ‘Marking Out’ because you know it’s just a joke, but you laugh anyway.”

Calling attention to joke-telling as performance art reveals McCarthy’s cerebral approach to working as a stand-up comic, which he has been doing in NYC and across the country for about eight years. When I ask McCarthy to describe his comedy writing and performance schedule, he pauses for a moment to make mental calculations, then decides, “Well, it’s all I think about.” Read the rest of this entry »