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Comedy Central – Pardon The Benson Interruption

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When you’re a television addict, it’s a rare occurrence that any show or format can really surprise you.  Sure there are BETTER versions of sitcoms, cop shows, medical dramas, legal crap and so on but a unique premise, one that hasn’t been explored before is like finding out the coolest kid in school is a red head. No offense to Gingers or anything, but you have to admit it’s infrequent. That’s also why when you hit on something exceptional (even in its infancy) you’ll be drawn in like mad and half the fun (to this fool anyways) is witnessing it become a toddler then watching it go off to Pre-K.  That’s what a great show is like for me, a baby that I’ve adopted whom I nuture, protect and encourage.  I tell it “You keep going ,you. You’re mama’s special, little angel ”. O.k., fully aware of how strange and sad that is but that’s exactly how I feel about The Benson Interruption.  I “stumbled” upon it gratefully as C.C. didn’t exactly do a P.R. blitz or give it a good time slot. What I found was the finest and most irreverent form of stand up I’ve seen in a minute. Doug sits on his throne (mic in hand) while 3 different comedians appear on stage in succession attempting to do their act.

I say “attempt” as Doug’s primary goal is to interrupt them as they try their bits out on the audience. Basically it’s a comic heckling a fellow comic but what comes out of it is so much more than that. Benson (thus far) has stuck with using buddies of his and the usual end result is him making their act even funnier by adding his own wry observations or personal thoughts on the material which ARE hilarious. In the pilot episode, the interaction between he and Nick Swardson caused a convulsive laughing attack that left me reaching for an imaginary asthma inhaler.

If you don’t know Doug Benson, he’s one of the best stand up’s in the biz. I’ve been a mega-fan since his parody documentary Super High Me as well as his appearance on the fifth season Of The Last Comic Standing.  How he was voted off ahead of some of those hacks is as much a freaking mystery as what actually happens to the contestant who wins the damn thing.  Ummm… NBC….STILL waiting for Dat Phan’s sitcom based on his Asian family’s nail salon to begin. Well not really, it seemed kind of dumb and humorless, it’s the principle.

I didn’t even realize till after a bit of research that Doug played some small roles on one of the best H.B.O. offerings (Mr. Show) of all time. Nor did I recall that he was in the DVD release of Run Ronnie Run. He’s like one of those comics that have been busting it out forever but only just now, in these past few years, is really finding a huge audience. His last three live stand-up albums have killed (especially Unbalanced Load) and his weekly podcast (Doug Loves Movies) is ear/brain candy for any cinephile. The Leonard Maltin game can be wicked intense and superbly amusing when played by the A-list funny people and actors that Benson garners. Zach Galifinakis, Patton Oswalt, John Lithgow, Michael Cera, Bob Odenkirk…. just to name a few.  His “tweets” may be the only reason that I would consider joining Twitter.  I click on his link daily but rebel against full submission to the cunning, time stealing temptress that she be.  Next thing you know I’ll be wondering what Kim Kardashian thought of The Black Swan which will be followed closely by my untimely suicide provoked by the “lame shame” of it all. It’s just something that’s best left alone when you don’t have much self control.

Comedy Central gave Doug Benson 6 episodes (the sixth airing last week) to see if what made his live show quite popular, translated effectively to TV audiences.  I hope beyond hope that it was enough to show them that it works. The format takes a minute to get used to as each segment’s success is ultimately based on how well he and the “victim comic” riff off of each other, also a major part of the appeal. You may think someone like Thomas Lennon who has a huge background in improv (Reno 911, Viva Variety,) would waltz right through it. Not so, he definitely struggled while Greg Proops (Whose Line is it Anyway), another improv genius, slayed!  Todd Barry, The Sklar Brothers, Brian Posehn and Eugene Mirman were also K.O.’s. Adam Carolla -not so hot.  To a major comedy nerd, it’s like watching your favorite actor do Shakespeare. It PROVES who really commands their craft in such a fantastic way.  If you can somehow do battle with Doug (without abandoning your act) and keep up with the knuckle balls he’s pitchin’, you are truly a master at stand-up comedy. Doug may look completely stoned AND probably is, but his intellect and satire are not ex-haled preshow. He’s as sharp as he has to be. During the “tweet off’s” portion between Benson and his guest, both read actual tweets they’ve written aloud from their phones with Doug almost always leaving a smoldering wake of astute cyberness.

No decision yet if it will be green lighted for more episodes but if they’re looking for suggestions on how to zazz it up even more…..

  1. He definitely needs to branch out with comics who are NOT friends of his. Perhaps comedians who just want to give it a shot.
  2. I think it may be better filmed at a smaller venue like the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre where he performs it regularly.  A more intimate setting may help keep the audience into it when his comic is stressed and not giving back as good as they get.
  3. LONGER sets with each comedian. They’re far too short, making for gobs of time to show commercials, disrupting the flow.
  4. A DECENT time slot. I think it ran at Midnight on Friday’s. Who the hell is home watching t.v. at that time on a Friday night? Maybe throw it on before Nick Swardson’s “Pretend Time” which they crammed down our throats and isn’t half as funny.

No matter what they do, I just hope that Benson will be given the opportunity to see his baby take its first steps in a full season with more network support. If it was this good without much backing, it can obviously only get better.

Comedy

Dad’s Garage is Moving!

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Welp, We’re Moving

Dad’s Garage Theatre Says Goodbye to its Current Home and Hello to a Temporary One

It’s official. At the ripe ol’ age of 18, mom and dad are kicking us out of the house. Dad’s Garage Theatre has received notice that our building, as well as the entire property at 280 Elizabeth Street, is changing ownership and will be redeveloped in the coming months. We’re optimistic that we’ll finish out the remainder of our season in our current space and will be performing as per usual through at least July 31st. We’ll be moving out soon after and will continue performing at our new temporary home at 7 Stages in Little Five Points beginning in August. While in our temporary home, we anticipate launching a capital campaign to raise funds to build our new, permanent home.

In regard to our permanent home, we have been vetting a few spaces and while it doesn’t look as if we’ll be able to stay in Inman Park, we’re committed to staying as close to home as possible. We have narrowed the search down to a few serious prospects and plan on making a decision very soon. That said, just like any 18 year-old, we like to keep our options open. So, if anyone has 15,000 sq. feet of space in the city with ample parking on the cheap – we’d love to hear about it.

Our facilities committee has been working hard behind the scenes to make sure we stay stable through the upcoming move, but this is still a really difficult burden for a non-profit theatre company to shoulder, and we’ll need help. These are the other things we could use a hand with:

Help us fill our seats. We’ve loved this space for 18 years and we want to cram as much love into it as possible for the last three months we’re here, so please help us (pack them out.) We’ve got some amazing shows coming up including:

http://dadsgarage.com/Calendar
Help us stay connected. We don’t want to lose touch with folks, so please tell everyone you know to:

Help us move our stuff/staff. While we do have a theatre to perform in, we’ll need to find the following at low-to-no-cost to help us stay afloat. We need:

  • Storage space
  • Moving supplies
  • Office space/meeting space for staff
  • Contact Lara if you can help (Lara@dadsgarage.com or 404-523-3141 x 202)

Oh, and don’t worry, we’ll definitely close out our time here with an epic party. Be on the lookout for details.

More about 7 Stages:

7 Stages is located at 1105 Euclid Avenue NE in Little Five Points. Their name is derived from the ancient book of I Ching, The Book of Changes (#24, Turning Point). Since 1979, 7 Stages Theatre has been bringing local and international emerging artwork of social, political, and spiritual importance to Atlanta audiences for over 33 years. Artists in performance, musical, visual and the spoken arts have found the organization a haven in the support and development of new works and methods of collaboration.

For additional information on the programs, performances and activities at 7 Stages, or to schedule an interview, please contact Charles Swint at charles@7stages.org or 404) 522 -4755.

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Comic to Comic

Comic to Comic with Rob Shapiro

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I sat down with Rob Shapiro after a week on the road with the king of underground New York comedy. We were at Siberia in the heart of historic New Orleans.  The tour started at Jerry Farber’s in Atlanta. Jerry Farber had mistaken Rob for his brother Rick. The sibling comic rivalry has gone on since both brothers started in comedy in New York City so many years ago. Rick Shapiro has taken the fame role in this comedy family and Rob Shapiro has become the legend of underground.

With 25 plus years of a hard road-dog type career, Rob Shapiro mixes bitter times, a hardcore past and a sheer determination to be funny ‘till he dies. Rob reminds me of all my relatives with his gritty demeanor and a life-doesn’t-owe-me-shit outlook.

The interview starts with Rob’s description of the hotel our promoter booked him in.  “Crackheads man, like everywhere, in the lobby and then again by the rooms. Genuine crackheads, so genuine that they have reached authentic status.”  A fan and friend of 25 years walks up behind Rob and surprises him. He says that this kind of dedication to his comedy after all these years is what keeps him moving and shaking. I ask him the stock Comic to Comic question: “Rob, do you think one appearance on television can make or break a comedy career? Like back when you could go on Carson and the phone would start ringing?”  He shrugs and gives the quirky grandpa-like smirk I have now seen over and over. Rob gets teary eyed and states that this question will take an hour to answer!

He rants about how the heart of comedy is gone and everyone thinks it is a get rich quick game.  Rob started after his brother and saw a group of comics who treated each other like family.  They would go out all night together. Rob was in his early thirties and saw the scene as a great mountain to conquer. Shapiro went the Ivy league Wall Street route prior to comedy and states that he was so jealous of Rick and the comedy scene that he had to do what he loved. There were no cliques in comedy. Everyone tried to help each other with the hopes that one would break and the rest would follow!  Real comedy appears to be dead and there doesn’t appear to be heart anymore. Then Rob sees guys 35 and up doing it and it rekindles that drive and he sees heart in the older determined comics. He goes on to say everyone wants to be a writer and an actor first and a comic second. The guys who want to be comics and only comics get a better result.

There is a hunger that comes from doing just stand-up, and it drives Rob. When you just want to make people laugh, you will find it while you’re on stage–you learn to steer that car and hit it.  You’re dancing with it, you’re living it, so genuine that it becomes authentic. In the old days, if a fellow comic saw you, they would say do that father joke, it kills. Nowadays a comic will say don’t do that joke again, ‘cause they are afraid you will upstage them. We are all in the same boat.

Marketing has become the new art.  Function now follows form!  Audiences have become so ready for a flashing light. You as a comic have to create a branding. Rob hates the term branding! He laughs at me saying that I was walking around the ghetto in New Orleans dressed in a black suit and Payas. Whatever it takes to make the audience take notice and give us as comics the platform to bring the funny. The audiences have become so Jimmy Falloned out of nothingness. We need our shtick since the backstabbing and nonsense between comics has become crazy!  Most comics got into this business because we were antisocial and because we were hurt in life.  Clubs like the Comedy Cellar in NYC or The Punchline in Atlanta have to compete now because every corner now has a club. Comedy clubs used to mean a vibrant force where they ran ads and filled the seats. They booked based on funny and to please a crowd that the reputation of the club backed.

Rob goes on and on to say most clubs will not bring in anyone, as if it was just a four wall place with a microphone. Every club owner used to be a producer and promoter, and now they forget that they sell drinks and we make ‘em laugh (simple logic from Rob Shapiro). My time with Rob has been crazy and a great opportunity to learn from a legend. He has taken A Jew and a Black Guy under his wing and schooled us. My tough New York street smart mentality is influenced by the originals of the field we struggle at every day. Rob Shapiro is a true original and we will see him back in the south this summer. He is just getting started all over again!

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Comic to Comic

Comic to Comic: Greg Proops!

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I was able to sit down in a groovy little cove in the lobby of the W in Midtown. I had just gotten an area in mind to do the interview when Mr. Proops walks over and plants a genuine kiss on my crippled forehead. His hair was perfectly coiffed and he looked and smelled divine! Not the usual bar room comedian I am so used too. Of course, forever the comedienne, I had to ask if he had any “work done.” Greg chuckled devilishly and said he had recently lost 40lbs as he got tired of being asked if he was his wife’s dad. I couldn’t help but laugh. as I know all too well how that feels.

Greg had a tight schedule, and I felt very fortunate that he could sit down with The Backstage Beat. He was on his way to the venue for 3 nights of standup and a Sunday night live podcast. I listened to a few of his “Smartest Man in the World” Proopcasts before meeting with him. His podcasts are hilarious!

Greg sits onstage at a modest table with a mic, a “couple” glasses of vodka, and a non gender orange cardboard kitten whose name is Kitten McTavish. He tells me McTavish’s story. The kitten is a reminder to replace some of his swearing, was named by his wife, and was picked up in London at a Christmas market. Kitten McTavish has become quite the charmer, and between McTavish and Greg, they receive a lot of questions. He loves reading and answering all of his emails and has a special account for that reason. You can write him or hell even McTavish at fanmailforgreg@gmail.com.

Greg told me he was on his way to London next and that he really enjoys a small venue. This seems to be very popular with a lot of the comedians we interview. I asked him what is his deciding factor in choosing a venue to perform while in Atlanta. Greg explained to me that he had known the club owner where his weekend performances were for the greater part of 10 years. He was told he was going to put all the “groovy comedians” in this comedy club. We both laughed hysterically because it was at that point I realized that I was not “groovy.” I am indeed just an old lady living her dream.

I had to talk to him about his comedic flow. While he delivers setups, punch lines, and callbacks, it is so natural; you feel like you are engaged in a conversation with him. Yet he is the only person talking! I consider him not only the smartest man, but also the funniest man in the world. He is just naturally hilarious. Genetically engineered that way. I asked him how he prepares for a show. He says he takes a lot of notes. However, doesn’t have much time to prepare. From flying, to interviews, to check in…the time is just not there.

I asked him why he chose podcast over straight stand up. Greg was very passionate with his answer and he’s full of feminist history. He wants to be fair to everyone. He said with great conviction, “I get real bored with straight male comedians and my girlfriends so fat… and these bitches do that… not just white male comedians ALL male comedians. And I just get real bored with it and I don’t find it amusing anymore…even moreover….and I’m not trying to take high moral grounds here…the lack of awareness in that area is what really drives me up the God damn wall! Like you’re not even aware that your being an asshole. Just like all men, you walk through the world because the world belongs to you and they don’t even see that. They don’t even see their in a privileged position by being a man.”

Since the “Proopcast” aired he has a lot of women that listen and write him. Women that write him that say “Thank you for mentioning this or talking about that. Like today is International Women History Day and I guarantee you NO ONE will mention it.”

Greg continues with, “TV executives will tell you young people want to watch young people. And listen…they are UNBELIEVABLY WRONG about that! They don’t care who it is IF they are interesting to them. I was watching Lily Tomlin at 7, and Carol Burnett. They think the young want to watch the young and they don’t care at all. Network execs are obsessed with it.”

We talk about that being the kind of resistance I’m running into as a comedienne starting so late in age. Greg says, “People resist.” I feel relieved; at least he notices. He continues, “To make you feel bad about yourself. You’re too heavy. You’re too this. You’re too that. I’m too effeminate. I’m too smart. I play over the crowds head. Whatever the reasons are…  have glasses. We already have someone with glasses. I’ve been on auditions where they say will you please take off your glasses? We already have someone with glasses. Well…I WEAR GLASSES! Do you want me to walk into the rest of the cast? I’ll take them off.” We both discover we are not only blind but also deaf without our glasses and gnarly funny Helen Keller impressions ensue.

We get serious again and discuss how comics are treated because of our age. Especially me as a woman. He gets passionate again and states regarding Comedy Central “They would sooner kill themselves than not put on a 29-31 year old guy. DIE…DIE…DIE. They have a bunch of new shit that is better than their old shit, like Key and Peele, thank god. In general they want it to be frat boy.”

Again we talk about resistance. I tell him I get discouraged. Greg adamantly says, “You’re either good or you’re not good. Judge me on my merit.” That is all we ask for we both agree. He goes on to say, “Oh you’re that…don’t put a label on me before I’ve said anything.”

He continues with an answer to the question on every comedian’s mind. Greg believes you got to get out of town to “make it” in some cases. “The geography of the place dictates how ignorant and stupid and vile people can be to you. ‘Well I’m from here and were shit kickers so fuuuuuck you.’ Really…really that’s how the world works you can’t open your mind in any way because where you live people throw sticks of dynamite in a pond? So when I get on the podcast these are the things on my mind. And I try to discuss them in an intelligent way. Also political things…Generalization.” Greg will go through an article that he says, “It isn’t even truth…oh the Pope left. THE POPE DID NOT LEAVE! HE’S NOT ALLOWED TO LEAVE! Oh it’s over now? No. it’s just beginning.”

We get back to the comic to comic basics. Greg says he is “Making a willful effort to dig up some old stuff, beat it up, and try to re fix it.” He says of the audience “They were half buying it last night,” and he wants to do more freestyle.

I felt inclined to ask him if he actually drinks vodka onstage or is it water in his glass. He was more than enthusiastic when answering “VODKA.” I went into my whiskey relapse story. We were both in agreement that we like to get shit faced. He enjoys doing his “Proopcast” or “vodcast” as he can just drink and talk. Greg makes me feel better about myself by saying, “All musicians and comics are drunks and drug addicts.” If you can feel better about something like that.

We talked “comedian hours.” Mr. Proops describes something I’m getting all too familiar with. He says, “You finish the late show at 1am after whipping a crowd into a frenzy. You spend 23 hours of the day focusing on THIS part of the day. And people don’t, and they don’t need to, understand the mechanics of comedy. We’re speaking as comics. It doesn’t matter to them. It should seem like magic. It should seem like you just thought of it. And they can be fooled. And that’s okay.”

“The thing is for us the doing of ‘it’ is 1/24th of the day. IF that much.” Interviews, flying, maybe writing something. “Then when you’re done, it’s like let’s go eat breakfast or let’s go eat pizza because I can’t fucking sleep.”

The conversation turns to Bob Hope. Greg gives me the scoop! “He would get up between 10-11am and would make his entire family have dinner at midnight. Everybody dressed. I’m not kidding. He kept comedian hours as if he was gigging his whole life and then he got up and golfed.”

I turned the conversation back to Greg’s pre-show prep. He told me sometimes that he stands in the back and listens. He says, “People go, ‘Do you care what topics I talk about?’ I go, no. Because I learned a long time ago from a friend of mine named Will Durst… I said to him, I got this Reagan joke and I want to do it. But I know you got a bunch of stuff on it. And he goes, ‘Your opening the floor and you’re not doing my joke…your doing your joke.’ And now the topic’s been raised so when I come out I can address it as well…. And I was like OH!”

Greg continues, “You know, ‘cuz sometimes people you know how they come up and go ‘Don’t say nothing about cats. I got cats. I do cats.’ And you’re like fuck you! You do cats. I do cats. Everybody does it you know.” Comics take note. I say to him, “You would not believe how bad that is here in Atlanta”.  He belts out, “OH YEAH you’re not gonna talk about trucks are you? ‘Cuz I got a truck joke and I’m closing with it.” I tell him I’m not even allowed to do fat people jokes AND I’m fat! He tells me, “You have a lifetime experience of it and the pettiness will go away.” So that means I have hope? YES!

I end the interview with a question that we always do in Comic to Comic. Do you think one TV appearance like Carson back in the day can break a career? Mr. Proops answers, “It is the diametrical opposite of that. No! Drew Carey was the last person to get that big hit in ‘90 or ‘91. That was it. It doesn’t work that way anymore. It’s social media and internet. You have to hope for anything to happen.”

Greg decides to break my heart. “We are not going to be on Saturday Night Live. We’re too old. As soon as people hit 40 they are rejected. And that’s the way the world works.” So, I’m really over here crying… as I just spent my 40th birthday last Friday in rehab with a broken hip.

It seems like you don’t even have to be a comedian anymore to be entertaining. Greg chimes in with “Or an actor. They’re just looking for the next NeNe.” I try to find solace in this. As I am reminded once again, I may have started my comedic journey too late in life. Forever the optimist…I’m going with it’s still too early to call.

You can connect to Greg’s Proopcast “The Smartest Man in the World” and find out everything you need to know at www.gregproops.com.

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