More comedy

A big story like this week’s Hippo comedy cover piece inevitably leaves a few things out. I wanted to talk about UNH’s Funniest Person on Campus and the feeder program behind it, and mention the upstart standup shows happening at Manchester’s Double Midnight Comics, but time and space prevented it.

I also reached out to perhaps the biggest comedy dog in the pack – Casino Ballroom in Hampton Beach, a place that books more big name comics than any room north of Boston. The interwebs conspired against the thoughts of the Ballroom’s Andrew Herrick arriving before deadline, but I thought his remarks worthy of a separate post.

How well does comedy do at Casino Ballroom?

I dare say it is our most successful “genre” in the sense that everyone loves to laugh and for comics our size room is like a rock band playing an arena.

How does it compare to a few years ago?

The comedy series has been in full effect for 10+ years and has always attracted the top 10 or 12 touring comics. The big difference now is that comedy has grown so much and there are many more comedians playing arenas, which wasn’t the case in 2005. Comedy in general is way more popular.

Do you have any favorite acts?

All of them, I LOVE the comedy series. Some of the best are Jim Gaffigan, Bill Burr, Brian Regan, Sebastian Maniscalco (I would call him the current reigning champ) and so many more. We have a bunch of first timers this year with Chris D’Elia, Kathleen Madigan and Hannibal Buress. It should be a fantastic series this year.

Are local comics on the bill?

Usually a Boston comic opens the show, usually they have some kind of former connection with the headliner, either opened for them before or know them personally.

If so, how did they work out?

Most of the time they are amazing because they are 45 min set comics being asked to do 15-20 mins of their best material.

Any other observations on the laugh business?

If you want to remember what it looks like to see large groups of people smiling together in 2016, just stand in our parking lot after a show. Pretty inspiring, laughter makes everything better.

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New Ha-Hampshire

LavalleyShaskeenI wrote a cover story for this week’s Hippo that is a deep dive into New Hampshire’s comedy scene. There’s a lot of movement, particularly at Shaskeen Pub in downtown Manchester, where the backroom Wednesday night shows frequently attract big names from Comedy Central, SNL, Comedy Bang Bang another cutting edge places.

There are more rooms offering bigger acts more frequently. I love writing about comedy; it may be my favorite art form, because it can’t be faked. You’re either funny or you aren’t – there’s no auto-tune for humor. A long list of comics and promoters talked for the story. If you like my writing on this subject, here are few more stories I’ve done over the years:

Lisa Lampanelli

Gilbert Gottfried

W. Kamau Bell

Bob Marley

Jay Chanoine

 

This week’s Hippo – Ya gotta laugh

A guy walks into a bar …

At a weekly promotion at Mottley’s Comedy Club in Boston, anyone who shows up on a Wednesday night with a pink slip, unemployment check stub or some other proof of joblessness gets into the club for free. Mottley’s calls it a “Comedy Bailout” — when everything else fails, all that’s left is laughter.

“You can’t be sick, sore or tired if you’re laughing,” said agent and comedian Mike Smith, whose Laugh Riot Productions books shows throughout the region, at venues including Tupelo Music Hall and the recently opened Boynton’s Taproom.

Rob Steen is a stand-up comic and promoter, operating Headliners clubs in Manchester, Gilford and Newington, along with locations in Portland and Auburn, Maine. With 14 or 15 New Hampshire venues, including an annual series at Concord’s Capitol Center for the Arts, Steen said business is booming.

Read more…

Lenny Clarke – The Prince of Boston Comedy

When comedy was king, Lenny Clarke held court as the prince of Boston.

“The thing was, I was the man, because I was crazy,” says Clarke. “I was a nut job.  I had no training, no idea what I was doing.  Because of that, I blazed a trail in Boston comedy where the only rule was, there was no rules.”

Clarke hosted an open mike night at Cambridge’s Ding Ho restaurant that launched the careers of many comedians, including Steven Wright and Denis Leary.  “We we’d get as many as 35 comics a night, Paula Poundstone, Steve Sweeney, Bobcat Golthwaite, Janeane Garofalo, Gavin would try out their stuff.”

Week after week, the same crowd came to watch, Clarke says. “It would force me to come up with new material.”

“The Boston crowds are what made it so good, because they wouldn’t settle for mediocrity.   They would boo you off the stage.”

The Cambridge-born comic, who turned 55 Tuesday, has mellowed considerably since his mid-80’s heyday, a time when he and other successful comics were, says Clarke,  “rock stars.  It was unbelievable …the best tables, best champagne, women, drugs, you name it.  It was the greatest years of my life.  It will never be copied.”

“Now I’m clean and sober for a long time, and thank god for that. But I was loony – there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t try.”

These days, he’s busy with movies and television, currently playing Uncle Teddy on “Rescue Me.” When the series began, Denis Leary (who he also worked with on “The Job”) wrote the role of the chief for Clarke, but Lenny had committed to another series (“It’s All Relative”), which ended up only lasting a season.

He was slated to be in the cast of the upcoming ABC series, “Life On Mars,” but after a successful pilot episode, the show was reworked. Clarke, director David Kelley and three other actors were replaced.

“Let me tell you,” says Lenny, “I’ve had more failed pilots then the Iraqi Air Force.”

Clarke brings his stand-up act to the Claremont Opera House this Saturday (September 20).  He’s looking forward to performing for a “theater crowd – I’ve worked in places with a cage, where people are throwing bottles.”

“I’m only hoping that that people want to be entertained,” he says, “where they’ll let me spin my string of pearls.  People heckle me because they think they’re helping.  After 35 years of doing this, I don’t need any help.  Let me entertain you.”

His act covers his life – growing up, his wild ride as a comic and pals like Leary.  He stays away from politics. “I’m not one of those so-called celebrities who want to shove their views down your throat.  That’s why we vote in private,” he says.  But he will talk about his failed run for mayor of Cambridge against Joseph Kennedy, a campaign fueled by a unique (and unprintable) slogan that ended when Clarke headed to California.

“Basically, I’m glad I didn’t win,” Clarke says.  “If I did, god knows what would have happened.”

He’ll probably talk about the Boston Red Sox, and his surreal experience working on “Fever Pitch” in 2004, the year his home team finally won the World Series.   Clarke worked a lot in New York City before the Sox shook off the so-called “Curse of the Bambino”

“It was torture,” he says.  In “Fever Pitch,” Clarke played Uncle Carl, who early in the film warns a young Jimmy Fallon to “be careful – they’ll break your heart.”

“Maybe, maybe, maybe, aw sh*t – Bucky f’in Dent,” he says, recalling years of frustration as a Sox fan.  “You know where you were when Kennedy was shot; you know where you were when Bucky Dent hit that homer.”

Clarke was at a friend’s house with two unfortunate Jehovah’s Witnesses. “We told them if they sat and watched the game with us we’d give them 50 bucks,” Clarke remembers.  “When Bucky Dent hit the home run the guy who owned the place said, ‘get the —- out of my house! – and chased the poor bastards out.”

Lenny nearly missed his chance to see the Sox play in the 2004 World Series. He had a gig (booked by his brother Michael, who manages several comics and runs a club in Saugus called Giggles) for game one, and auctioned his game two dugout seats to help a firefighter friend who was battling brain cancer.  Fortunately, a close friend flew him to St. Louis for games three and four.   He calls seeing them win it all “one of the joys of my life.”

The comic devotes much of his time to charitable work, including the annual “Comics Come Home” event in Boston this November, which raises money for the Cam Neely Foundation.  He’s done several benefit shows for Boston-area children’s hospitals, and he helps out with Leary’s New York-based firefighter charity.

“It’s the thing that makes my mother the happiest,” says Clarke.  “She says, ‘it’s really nice to see your name in the papers and on TV, but it really makes me proud when you help other people’.”

Tim Sample & Bob Marley – A Tale of Two Mainers

bob.jpgComedy fans have a chance to see two examples of Down East humor in the coming weeks.  Tim Sample performs this Saturday at the Newport Opera House, and funny man Bob Marley returns to the Claremont Opera House the following Saturday. 

But these two Mainers each take distinctly different approaches to their craft.  Sample’s folksy observations come straight from the pages of Yankee Magazine, a “Prairie Home Companion” with rocky beaches.  He riffs genially on clueless tourists and delusional transplants – the ones who believe that 40 or 50 years in-state has earned them the right to be called natives.

“It don’t work like that theyah,” scoffs a pitch perfect Sample, who once made a disc called “How to Talk Yankee” with Bob Bryan of “Bert and I.” 

In fact, after Marshal Dodge (the other half of “Bert and I”) died in 1982, Sample worked with Bryan to carry on the duo’s humorous tradition.  Together, they recorded four CDs.

“Every now and then Bobby and I still perform onstage together,” says Sample.  “Whenever we do I am privileged to join him for some of the original stories he and Marshall made famous (“The Body in th’ Kelp,” “The Lighter Than Air Balloon”) and we always do some of the classic material from “How to Talk Yankee.” 

His wink-and-a-nod anthropology pokes plenty of fun at the “born, live and die in Maine” crowd, but Sample’s comedy stays comfortably within his home state’s borders.

Bob Marley is also a native (born in Portland), but the similarities with Sample end there.   

“In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve only run into Tim once.  We travel in different circles,” says Marley, with a thick, unmistakable accent.  “I do a lot of clubs, road houses and one-nighters.”

Someone who’s never set foot in Maine can easily get their brain (and funny bone) around Marley’s stand-up routine.  It’s an everyman revue of daily life – family, friends and supermarket hijinx – familiar to all, regardless of where they were born. 

Marley’s constantly at work on new material.  With over 200 appearances a year, he’d probably go crazy otherwise.  He promises an entirely different show next Saturday.  “You know the Vegas dancer who’s been doing the same routine night after night, looking at her nails while she’s on stage? You can practically read her mind: ‘did I do my laundry?’ I never want to be her,” he says.

These days, his mind is on the season and its’ oddities.   “Fall’s kind of a hassle. I never know how to dress,” he says.  “In the morning, it’s 12 degrees, and by afternoon I’m sweating like Mike Tyson at a spelling bee.  I’m ripping off my clothes like a stripper, down to a thong and pasties.” 

“And what’s the deal with gourds?” he asks.  “Who decided we should put these things on our table?  They’re like squash with herpes.”

How about the Red Sox?  “I know they’re doing wicked good, and they have a great pitcher named Suzuki Kawasaki or something,” he says.  “But if I have to hear Jerry Remy try to speak Japanese one more time, I’m gonna shoot myself in the head. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto? Jeez!” 

Marley has a new CD of stand-up material (his 12th, along with 5 DVDs) due next month.  His half-hour Comedy Central special last February was so well received that the network is negotiating with him to do a full hour.

Marley moved back to Maine after a few years of chasing fame in California to do east coast comedy full-time, and he’s built a nice franchise.  Lately, however, he’s feeling the lure of Hollywood.  He recently returned to L.A. for work on a DirecTV project, a pilot with fellow comedians Bob Saget, Dom Irrera and Jon Lovitz called “Comedy Justice.”  The show is patterned after “Judge Judy” and “People’s Court,” but with comedians as lawyers. 

But he loves his life here too much to move back.  “If they can put something on tape and be done with it, that’s fine,” he says, “but I’d have to think hard about doing a series.” 

Why would he want to?  He packs houses from Maine to Maryland.  His Manchester shows have drawn so well, there’s talk of playing the Verizon Center next time around. 

As for Claremont, Marley says, “I’m psyched – I had such a great time there last time.”  In January, he played to a sold out house, and lingered in the lobby for over an hour after the show, signing CDs and posters for fans.  For Saturday’s show, he’s bringing George Hamm.  “He gets the crowd going from zero to sixty in nothing flat,” says Marley.  “He headlines in Boston.  He could do that in any room, so it’s great to have him opening for me.”

Robert Dubac’s “The Male Intellect”

dubacsmall.jpgAccording to Robert Dubac, man’s struggle to understand women – and vice versa – will never end.

“Women are a paradox,” says the comedian, who performs his one-man show, “The Male Intellect,” February 8 at the Claremont Opera House. “They want us to figure things out. But once we do, they want us to stop. Honesty is the most important thing to a woman – unless it’s the truth about her. They want a man to be more intelligent, but get ticked off when he’s right.”

Dubac doesn’t let men off the hook. “We like the Three Stooges,” he says, “while women don’t think even one stooge is funny. Three – that’s redundant.”

In “The Male Intellect,” the comedian morphs into an array of characters, all with worse instincts than his, to try and close the communication gap between the sexes. There’s the Colonel, a stereotypical redneck who insists that honesty is what women want, but has an odd idea of what that is.

Tell her you’re a jerk, he coaches “Bobby,” the perplexed character at the center of the show. Later, when she realizes it’s true, you can remind her that she was warned.

The bon vivant Jean-Michel offers some useless advice – “speak French,” he says, “women love that” – but does provide a telling assessment of the difference between the sexes when the subject is sex. “It is like a little light switch in your room of love,” he says. “It is on – I want it. Oops, I changed my mind – poof, it’s off.”

Man’s switch has only one position, says Jean-Pierre. “Because we never know when yours will be on, we have to keep ours on all the time.”

Throughout the show, Dubac ranges across a two-sided stage that represents his confused mind. The masculine right side, where his chauvinistic alter egos live, is cluttered and chaotic. It’s filled with stuff, like a dented file cabinet where he keeps his beer. “What?” he asks, popping a Corona. “I keep it filed under ‘B’.”

The left side, on the other hand, is a virtual clean slate, waiting to be filled with enough secrets for the just-dumped Bobby to win back his fiancé. Bobby’s feminine voice will only provide hints about how he should do that, leaving him to fill in the gaps.

Before “The Male Intellect” began its’ long run – now over 12 years, and translated into four languages – Dubac did stand-up comedy and worked as an actor. He appeared in the movies “Sketch Artist” and “The Rookie,” and had guest television roles in “Growing Pains,” “Diff’rent Strokes” and a 2-year stint on the soap opera, “Loving.”

As a comedian, Dubac honed his skills on the late 70’s concert circuit, opening for groups like the Allman Brothers and Jimmy Buffett. He also toured with the Police, who are currently readying a reunion performance at the upcoming Grammy broadcast. Back then, they were an unknown band on their first American run. “We rode around in two Econoline vans, trying to shove alternative music and comedy down the mouths of the southern rock and roll circuit,” says Dubac.

“The Male Intellect” isn’t autobiographical, he says. Dubac’s been happily married for 11 years, and his wife, a former actress, provided him with a lot of input. “When I first started doing the show, it was this little group of misogynists who were trying to figure out women,” he says. “With her help, it grew into something – a guy who’s going to flush that out of his system and face life as it really is. That’s more conducive to a relationship than drawing a line in the sand and saying that’s the way I am.

“I tell people I wrote the show, but she explained it to me,” says Dubac. “That’s her joke, actually. I have to give her credit.”

He wrote the show in the early 90s, as he grew tired of a misguided stand-up scene. “The weight of the material you could do on stage got less and less,” he says. “It was all built for that six-minute television spot that everyone wanted to get on the Tonight Show. I think it stifled the creativity.”

Though Dubac plays the subject for laughs, he wants the show to provide “a positive experience.” Couples should think of “The Male Intellect” as a pre-Valentine’s Day gift. “I am kind of sifting through the decades of therapy people go through and giving it to them in 90 minutes.” For men, it’s easier and cheaper than weekly visits to the shrink, he says, “and you get to do it while you watch another guy drink a beer.”

Seriously, says Dubac, “the show celebrates the differences between men and women, and how you can work it out.”

What’s the secret? “ It’s OK to think like a woman – it doesn’t make you gay,” he says. “Well, maybe gay enough to use coasters.”