Bill Cosby: Far From Finished

Bill Cosby: Far From Finished

Bill Cosby: Far From Finished

 

Bill Cosby has been an artist who has always been around who I never took the time to familiarize. Growing up, he was always the Jello guy and then later the host of the hilarious Kids Say The Darndest Things. A few Youtube clips aside, I have not seen any of his standup specials in completion.

The simplicity and universalness of Cosby’s comedic material is the price of admission. Most of the act is themed towards dissecting love and marriage. The highlights for me were his opening bit about people’s expectations of him swearing on Comedy Central, a bit about chess, and another where Cosby uses audience interaction to build a surprise twist.

Cosby’s drawled out diction makes it hard to focus on what he’s saying. I zoned out a few times because he took so much time between words. Maybe this is a case of me not being previously familiar with his past stand up specials, but there was much rewinding on my part. It is ultimately something one just tunes to or doesn’t.

Cosby’s persona and ability to act out his concepts makes up for it. His facial expressions are world creation; they instantly transport the viewer and place them where he wants to them to see the absurdity of his jokes. His persona is likened to an senile man trying to prove that his mind is still working. Don’t be fooled, he’s still very sharp. There’s one noteworthy hilarious moment where he barks at the audience for finishing one of his punchlines. It still boggles my mind how he can rouse that much energy on stage sitting down.

Anybody who wants a laugh for an hour, I recommend it. Anybody can enjoy it.

Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles

Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles

Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles

Sarah Silverman headlines her very first new HBO comedy special in front of an intimate audience of 39.

Sarah Silverman is a comedian that’s always been around, but an artist I never directly got into by chance. I watched a few episodes of The Sarah Silverman Program, which was too obscure for my taste. But I always enjoyed her cameo in Judd Apatow’s Funny People, Louie and thought she gave an effective supporting performance in Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz. I enjoyed clips of her standup onlinebut have not seen her perform a complete comedy hour till now.

The decision to shoot the special at the Largo Comedy Club in front of 39 people is a great one. Silverman never looks far off into the distance or above to a balcony booth. There’s no big giant TV screen of her in the background for the cheap seats. The intimacy of the Largo lends itself for Silverman’s raunchy off-the-wall random tangent comedy, giving her much more freedom to roam from topic to topic without transitions.  “I don’t need segue ways.” Silverman quips,
“The brain doesn’t work that way.”

Some of the joke highlights were a childhood story of how her older sister used to scare her, sin atonement in Christianity and a bit about the Make A Wish foundation. It’s nice how much politically incorrect jokes she gets away with, showing an affable innocent girly  persona can really go a long way to make hard topics durable.

The whole experience is more akin to a live show, as Silverman is able to milk laughs from silences and even counter critique audience reactions when they aren’t up to par. It’s always awkward when comedians do audience interaction in big theater shows and this completely fixes that. The reactions from the 39 people create a more potent, immersive connection to Silverman’s perspective. And making 39 people laugh, after all, is much harder than making 200 people laugh.

Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive

Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive

Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive

The core aspect to Aziz Ansari’s standup, from his previous specials Dangerously Delicious and Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening, is his ability to create random tangents. Here is the structure: 1) Aziz encounters something absurd or silly. 2) He deconstructs it with logic. 3) He then expands the absurd concept on imaginary random tangents. For his last special, this got repetitive and I distinctly remember zoning out until he changed it up. They’re funny anecdotes, but the core message under his bits don’t hold water because we know these imaginary tangents he exits his jokes on never happened. More importantly, they never could happen.

He has improved upon this for Buried Alive, no longer relying on anecdotes of meeting strange people or talking about his oddball cousin Harris or Kayne West stories. Instead he focuses his logic and ability to create imaginary scenarios onto real life. In Buried Alive, it’s mostly centered upon the subjects of dating, marriage and raising a family. The difference is, he has a point of view and uses his humor to highlight his fears and trepidations about marriage, the massive responsibilities of marriage and raising a child and how strange dating has become in the day of modern technology.

My two favorite segments where Aziz does crowd work, a considerably risky move for a comedian taping a comedy special. He interviews a couple on how they got engaged and another woman about receiving obscene penis photos from men. It’s in these segments where he displays his immediate comedic reflexes, quickly spinning jokes out of people’s answers. He probably has performed this a thousand times touring the country with this hour, but it still had a raw quality to it that brought genuine surprises. These were the highlights of the special.

There’s one portion where Aziz boasts how many white women he beds to argue how pointless it is for people being against interracial dating. I agree with his point. I don’t even like the word ‘interracial’ as a concept. But the fact that he put himself above the audience for a laugh seemed off color for a moment.

Part of the fun of following an artist is watching them grow. For that reason, fans that have watched Aziz’s two previous specials will probably enjoy this one more. This is Aziz Ansari’s best comedy hour thus far and he knows it. He has found meaningful things to say and more clever ways to deliver them.

Related Links
Jim Norton: American Degenerate
Louis C.K.: Oh My God

Jim Norton: American Degenerate

American Degenerate by Jim Norton

Recently I have seen a new side to comedian Jim Norton. This year Norton showed a more charming intellectual side when he debated with Lindy West over the topic of rape jokes on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. He presented a strong logical mind and gave well-constructed counter arguments. Aside from joking that he and West should have ended the debate by making out, Norton’s side of the argument came off stronger at the end.

That matured charm continues in American Degenerate, his second comedy special from Epix, mostly in the form of a smile. Specifically, I mean the “I’m just joking” smile post-punchline. It consistently reminds the audience that he’s joking and reassures them to laugh along. In the past, Norton’s graphically crude jokes have ended with such conviction, at times it was hard to laugh. I immediately pondered about how true his jokes or perversions were. The charm shown here makes a substantial difference in his grotesque-oriented humor. Looking thinner and healthier, he delivers his jokes in a laid-back fashion and we are now able to laugh at both his perversions AND his mind.

And for that, this new hour act gets better as it goes along. Norton holds nothing back. He talks about the John Travolta masseuse lawsuit, the Colorado shootings and gun control. But the highlights for me were the self-revealing bits, like the bit about an annoying nudist at his local gym and a self-deprecating chunk where Norton talks about having sleep apnea (a condition I never heard of before) where the patient needs to wear a breathing mask to sleep. Norton even talks about how he hates bloggers, specifically how audiences like to blog and nitpick what offends them. That comedians shouldn’t have to apologize for what they say, reiterating the point he made on Totally Biased.

As an aspiring standup comedian, I agree with that statement. Comedians shouldn’t have to apologize and it’s silly how audiences nitpick what offends them. This is a mindset that audiences don’t realize themselves, so it’s good that that thought is being communicated out to the stratosphere. And on the topic of freedom, perhaps the most enjoyable part about this special is watching Norton reveling in his freedom of speech and openly talking about his thoughts, political views and sexuality, meanwhile laughing at himself in the process. He does all this unapologetically. And for that, it’s aptly titled American Degenerate.

Louis C.K.: Oh My God

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Louis C.K.: Oh My God by Louis C.K.

I have no intention of going through and naming each comedy bit, that would ruin the surprise and fun of watching this new hour from Louis C.K.. The core of C.K.’s comedy is not the material itself. He is not reliant on comedy mechanics for laughs. Nothing he says ever feels like a joke in the traditional ‘setup, punchline’ sensibility. No, the humor is sourced in his energy and inflections, where the audience is experiencing the world through his point of view as if we were in his body, thoughts or fantasies. Sometimes it’s all three.

Often I find myself laughing at his word choices and visual descriptions. At times, he’s merely just stating the obvious. But the way C.K. utilizes a metaphor or simile is artful in how he can conjoin two separate ideas together, where he can wormhole the audience’s minds to some unexpected grotesque places for comparisons. And then he builds on it by acting out these ridiculous thought trains. There was also one improvisational moment where he accidentally spills water and he comments on it that had me aching in laughter. The bit he did as his closer was truly the climax of this new hour.

C.K. makes a point that being older makes a more intelligent and interesting person. He is the living embodiment of his own point. We’re watching a comedian who has grown into himself, and we’re intrigued not just for the laughs, but because he has something to say. A voice with true gravitas that he has earned from living a life.

And for that, Louis C.K. seems eternally connected to the grotesque and the morbid, but it’s all enwrapped over a positive message: appreciate life and what you have. That’s how he gets away with saying very horrible things on stage. As an audience member and a student of stand-up comedy, I enjoy watching him get away with it.

Woody Allen: A Documentary by Robert B. Weide

Woody Allen: A Documentary by Robert B. Weide

If you ever owned a DVD of a Woody Allen movie, you will know that there are never any special features. There is probably no budget for a behind-the-scenes documentary crew following him around on his film shoots, heck, Woody Allen has said he does not even like the concept of special features. He even burns the deleted scenes after the film is completed.

Up till now, the only way to truly learn about Woody Allen’s process was through books. I own Conversations with Woody Allen by Eric Lax (who’s in the film as his biographer) and Woody Allen on Woody Allen: In Conversation with Stig Bjorkman, which both are all fine reads and great insights into Allen’s creative process. I knew most of his stories: his workman-like approach, his approach to casting, , .

The structure of the documentary is tailor-made to its subject and it really fits. It chronicles Allen’s life from his career transitions beginning from a young joke writer to stand-up comedian to a filmmaker. Much of Allen’s frequent collaborators and family are interviewed, including his sister, actors, co-writers, casting director and producers. Each film that he’s made is covered more or less but much more emphasis is placed on his creative phases: his early funny films, the transition with Annie Hall and the Diane Keaton era, the Mia Farrow era, Match Point and now the current European city phase. The behind-the-scenes section on the set of You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger where you see Allen rehearsing a scene with Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin in an argument scene was a real treat. Also, my top five favorite Woody films are all covered (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Stardust Memories, Everybody Says I Love You, Deconstructing Harry and Midnight in Paris), so I am a happy camper.

I had a dumb dream once where I met Wong Kar Wai and he took off his infamous sunglasses, looked me straight into the eye and spoke to me. I woke up realizing I saw Wong Kar Wai’s eyes in person and felt like I knew something deeper about him because I was in his presence.

That’s how this documentary made me feel. Despite that my previous knowledge, I didn’t know anything about Woody Allen in terms of a human being. The documentary offers that close proximity as we basically hang out with Woody Allen for 3 hours. We take a trip with Allen around New York visiting various locations like his cutting room, his old elementary school (which he hates), the jazz club (where he plays the clarinet every Monday) and the local cinema he used to frequent (inspired the idea for Purple Rose of Cairo) and we see the space of his own world and can visualize where the genesis of his ideas come from. One major highlight is when we’re in Allen’s actual home where he shows you his typewriter and takes out his notes for story ideas and reads out a few of them.

It’s an absorbing experience as we gain great insight into Allen as a human being and an artist. It totally makes up for the lack of special features for every Woody Allen DVD. A highly recommended experience for fellow Woody Allen fans.

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