Jeffrey Gurian is a writer and comedian in New York who loves to Jump Around. Follow his regular column right here, to find out what’s happening in comedy, and who Jeffrey Gurian ran into this week in and around New York. This week, Jeffrey covered the scene at Gotham Comedy Club, New York Comedy Club, and more.
Comedy Juice had an awesome line-up this week and when I came in I found Dan Soder sitting with Chris Distefano, both wearing their winter coats. Dan told me the new season of Billions starts in February and the reason that is significant is because he’s in it. Chris starts filming his pilot in March out in LA, for his still untitled sitcom, so both of these guys have a lot going on. Seaton Smith was on the show and told me he’s working on a tape to submit to The Tonight Show and Nikki Glaser was sitting on the side with host Michelle Buteau waiting to go on accompanied by her dog Luigi. When I took their photo, we tried to get Luigi to smile but he wasn’t cooperative, and it turned out that he was the only one with red eye. Maybe that’s why he didn’t smile!
I dropped by to catch my old buddy Adam Ferrara play to a packed room at Gotham, and we got to hang out a bit between shows. The first thing he told me was how much fun he had on the Bennington show the day before. Adam came to town to headline Gotham and got a call from his old pal Kevin James to come and do an episode of Kevin Can Wait which might air tonight. He said he plays a character named Bill who’s choking on something and Kevin saves his life. He said it was great to hang out with his old buddies and just laugh, like Kevin’s brother Gary Valentine, Rock Reuben, former comic and executive producer of King of Queens and now executive producing Kevin Can Wait, Joe Starr and Chris Roach all of whom he said used to hang out and play Wiffle ball on the side of Richie Minervini’s East Side Comedy Club back in the day. After the show, he and Kevin went back to Kevin’s house with brother Gary to watch Dallas play the Greenbay Packers. I had to take his word for it that this was something exciting.
Adam is as humble as he is talented and had to fly back to LA the next day to film his first guest spot on CBS’s Criminal Minds. He said he plays the father of a child who was abducted and is waiting for the script. He’s got a table read scheduled for Wednesday. He also said he feels really blessed to have had the opportunity to “shift gears” as he put it, and do all the things he really loves, like comedy and drama, and hosting a show like Top Gear where he gets to drive all kinds of incredible vehicles, … and I guess shift gears literally!
Veteran comics Joanna Briley and Brooklyn Mike Troy are to be commended for putting together the first annual Martin Luther King Comedy Festival out in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn at a place alternatively called either The Inkwell Jazz and Comedy Cafe or The Brooklyn House of Comedy. Whatever you choose to call it, it was a place of hilarity and the place where Joanna has had a comedy residency since 2014. It was a two-night celebration of talent and I was there on the second night, and was asked to judge a showcase of new and rising talent.
I thought I was also asked to perform, but when I arrived and looked at the schedule for the evening I didn’t see my name, so I thought maybe there had been a change in plans. The large showroom was packed. Joanna opened the show and to my great surprise said, “ Before we start the actual show we have a special guest” which turned out to be me, and before I knew it I was up on the stage, basically one of the only people of my ethnicity in the crowd. Bed-Stuy may be gentrified, but for the most part this crowd was not. I barely had time to grab my recorder which I use to record all my sets, and pressed a button which turned out later to be the wrong one, and launched into a set. As I was set to finish on a bit I often end with, I saw an opportunity and got up the courage to ask the audience if they were up for some racial humor. They were enthusiastic in their positive response so I got right into it, and fortunately they loved it. I left the stage and also left my recorder sitting on a speaker. My choice was to let it record the rest of the show, or walk back up and get it. Turns out it didn’t record anything.
But while Joanna was on stage about to bring up the next comic I decided to go back up and get my recorder which she didn’t mind, and while I was up there I felt inspired to make a statement. I asked her for the mic for a moment because I just felt I had to say something else. I thanked the crowd for being so open to racial humor, explaining that I looked at comedy as a healing force, and one that brings people together if we’re willing to laugh at ourselves and each other. It makes the world a better place, and they all agreed and it felt like a very special moment of inclusivity.
After that ten comics took the stage, … one at a time of course, and proceeded to bring down the house each with their own special style like Miami Moon, Vanetta Schoefield, Derrick Frank King, and Pranav Behari the only comic of Indian heritage. Mike Troy who hosted the opening night, closed the second night with a killer set.
Roast Battle at NYCC was crazy this week. I got there early to catch Paul Virzi, Bill Burr’s opener, who’s shooting a special in May and is trying to decide on an appropriate venue that can accommodate the physicality of his act. He’s considering one iconic comedy club, but really not sure yet if it should be a club or a theater. He stayed to be a judge at Roast Battle along with regular judge Mike Cannon, Seaton Smith and Shuli Egar who told me he had just come back from seeing Nick Kroll and John Mulaney in Oh, Hello. Neko White who is everywhere these days was a fun host.
Barry Ribs battled Oscar Collazos and when Barry came out, he accidentally banged his head on the big speaker that hangs on the stage and almost knocked it off its hook as well as almost knocking himself out. The judges were so enthralled with Barry that they wanted him and Oscar to have a third round so they purposely divided their vote to make that happen. Barry wound up winning. Chrissie Mayr battled Wendi Starling, and Chrissie gave a lap dance to a guy sitting in the front row. She and Wendi ripped each other’s private parts and Chrissie brought up a fact that Wendi is open about, … that she used to date older guys for money. But Wendi used that back against Chrissie when she said that Chrissie’s act was so old she was thinking of fucking THAT for money! Wendi won!
I got to meet a very talented group of young people this week over at the MNN studios on West 59th Street, the place where Chris Gethard honed his The Chris Gethard Show show for a few years before he got on Fusion. The guy who took over the Wednesday 11 P.M. time slot is a comic named Brett Davis who has a show called The Special Without Brett Davis because he hosts the show as one of many characters he does. The night I went, he was hosting as Chris Hardwick doing his take on @Midnight, but calling it @Eleven in accordance with his time slot. The show is produced by Billy Nord who has produced a bunch of shows and who I met out in Brooklyn once at a show he produced called “The Party Machine” that featured some very cool alt comics, including Arden Myrin and Lisa DeLarios, with Janeane Garofalo, Chris Gethard, Becky Yamamoto, and Guy Branum.
When I arrived to be a panelist on the show, I was not given anything to help me prepare. I was just told I’d be a panelist on a game show like @midnight along with two other comics Shalewa Sharpe and Nick Turner. Around 30 seconds to air time, I was asked to take a seat on stage, and then had to answer questions like if the Beach Boys had played at the Inauguration, and did an original song what would the title have been? My worst fears came true. I am absolutely horrible at things like that. It’s not my strength to make up stuff like that on the spot. Fortunately, the other comics struggled too, and so the team of writers ran out and gave us all notes on little pieces of index cards so we wouldn’t look like total fools.
And just like on @midnight “Chris Hardwick” gave us all points for our troubles. Brett as Chris stayed in character throughout the entire show. There was a very interesting rock band called Yucky Duster, and a panel with some people who were obviously regulars plus a joke session with comic Steve Whalen in the character of a guy called “Mr. Jokes.” At the end of the show, “Chris Hardwick” went crazy and had to be put into a cage by the rest of the cast. I was made to feel very at home and could see that these people were having the time of their lives. The show is about two years old and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it eventually get picked up the way Chris Gethard’s did. Chris, by the way, is a big proponent of the show. I had a blast!
Another comic I’ve written about in the past who’s very creative with his character work is Tyler Fischer, who wound up in a guest starring role on NBC’s Chicago Med last week. He was in several scenes and since it’s a hospital drama, he got to show what he called his “darker side”. He told me he’d been trying to get an acting agent for years, and finally an agency called and gave him a shot. He said, “This was the first audition they sent me on! I knew I could book the role if I prepared and took it seriously, so I hired an acting coach who is a pal of mine and spent a few hours working on the scenes.” When it was time for the audition, he felt totally prepared and took a few big risks. “Basically that means that I made some big character choices so I would stand out amongst the huge number of people auditioning. And this time, the choices worked.” He played the role of a patient, his first big role in a major network series. Tyler said he found out he got the role on a Friday night, and was on the plane to Chicago two days later. “You have to drop everything when you get a role like this, so I did. It was 10 days of shooting with a few off in the middle.” On his off nights, he was able to get booked as a stand-up on some cool underground shows and also featured at the Laugh Factory. He found it an “incredible experience to see how a big show like this operates.” And he said that aside from the wonderful experience of acting in the show, he also got to be in Chicago when the Cubs won the World Series!
And I ended my week in a barber shop called Levels, way up in Harlem for Kenny Warren’s web series Comics Cutting Comics. A perfect circle, since I started my week at the Martin Luther King Comedy Festival, except this time I wasn’t the only white guy. It was also Barry Ribs, a regular on the show, and Matt Pavich. The other regular on the show was Larry Beyah, who really stood out with his thoughtful comments and open-minded approach, and then we had Pat Brown, and a comic I had not met before, but hope to see again Norlex Belma. And then there was comic Amber Rollo, who’s got a show called Deep Dish at The Village Lantern, but was there filming the web series, and taking stills.
I was nervous just walking into a barber shop and it was still open for regular business so when the other barbers saw me, I felt like they looked at me hungrily. It could have just been me. I hadn’t been in a barber shop since I was a kid when I was traumatized by John the Barber who would always cut my hair much shorter than I wanted him to. Then he’d hold up a mirror for me to admire his handiwork, while I cried and silently vowed never to come back again. I remember it like it was yesterday.
Matt Pavich had his hair cut by Kenny Warren who started things off and kind of opened things up periodically when people got bogged down on one subject, while the rest of the crew engaged in such spirited conversation about topics not often comfortably discussed, like a lot of the things I usually stay away from, politics, race, political correctness, man’s inhumanity to man, MLK day, and it was amazing to have such open and honest conversations with people often not agreeing with each other, and the unlikeliest people agreeing with each other, and everyone really hugging at the end. The way it’s supposed to be. No one was threatening to unfriend anyone on Facebook or anywhere else. It was awesome and I left with a very uplifted spirit. When you see the episode you’ll see exactly what I mean. The hour just flew by.
And so did this column, so with that, until next Monday, … I’m OUT!!!
Jeffrey Gurian is a comedian, writer and all around bon vivant in New York City. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, Comedy Matters TV. Photos below Jeffrey with Comics Cutting Comics, the cast of The Special Without Brett Davis, and the comedians of the MLK Comedy Festival, and Adam Ferrara.