George Wallace on the Set with Morgan Freeman, Bananas Shares History Plus News From D.C. Benny, Jessimae Peluso and More


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, Bananas, Broadway Comedy Club and more.


I popped in at New York Comedy Club to catch Paul Virzi running his set, at one of those quarterly shows they’re doing where comics get the opportunity to run long sets. Paul was in preparation for his upcoming Comedy Dynamics special which he’ll be filming on May 2nd at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. After he got off, he remembered that there was another bit he had wanted to do, which I think happens to everyone who hits the stage, but when you add crowd work, it eats into your time. Afterwards, we sat in the back room and reviewed the set and agreed that it ran very smoothly.

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D.C. Benny inaugurated his new story-telling show at the Fat Black Pussycat this week. It was not so much an inauguration as it was a revival. I got there early and was able to reminisce with D.C. a little bit about his original comedic storytelling show at the old Zinc Bar on Houston Street. It was called Urban Myth and he did it with Ben Bailey and I remember going there to tell a story back around 2005. He’s also doing this show with Ben Bailey, but Ben was either in Denver or Denmark, (all I remember is that it started with “Den”) and wasn’t able to be there for this first show. I asked him what the difference was between his show and Ari Shaffir’s storytelling show and he said the biggest difference is that Ari’s show is on Comedy Central. But that distinction may not be as great very soon because Jim Serpico from Apostle was there filming the show and told me he’d be filming for the next couple of months. Because it’s very rare that I get to stay for any whole show, I sat upstairs with D.C. Benny’s wife, and P.J. Landers, comic and ex-Boston Comedy Club owner whose old club was rebuilt exactly to use as a set in HBO’s Crashing, the hit show from and Judd Apatow. There’s a weekly theme. This week it was New York Stories and D.C. told me he knows enough about each story to make sure they don’t overlap. I stayed long enough to hear stories from D.C., Wyatt Cenac, Selena Coppock, and Mike Britt. I hated to leave, but I had to get to other shows.

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Speaking of Crashing, I was walking home one day, and I heard a voice call me and it was Dave Juskow who I had just watched on Crashing a few nights before. He’s one of the guys living in ’s apartment, which is not really her apartment, but someone else’s apartment I think he said in New Jersey. He said he happened to run into Dave Rath, who told him they were just talking about him and thinking of him for a part. They said they’d send him an offer, to which Dave Juskow laughed as he told me this. “Like I might ever turn it down” he said. He said it was the best thing that ever happened to him and he had a blast, but he hoped that if he was asked back, he wouldn’t have to be wrapped in a towel again, as he was in the episode I saw. And the best part was that Sarah asked him to open for her in Toronto later this month, so now he has to write about 13 new minutes of material right away.

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In one week, a new app will have its official launch that may change the comedy world in lots of good ways. It’s a company called Laughable, created by Ned Kenney which was founded in 2015 with a mission “to empower consumers of comedy to discover content and comedians they like, and to empower creators of comedy to grow and monetize their fan bases.” As of now, you can download it on your iPhone, and it will help you navigate the increasingly huge world of podcasts that are very hard to keep track of. This app will offer a database of comedians, that will let you search for every podcast a comic you like has ever been on, or associated with. For comedy creators, this will be the only app that lets podcasters see what segments their listeners are actually listening to, and which ones they’re skipping, through the advanced analytics, and they’ll be working with a core group of comedians/podcasters known as “The Laughable Artist Collective” numbering 11 and including , Ari Shaffir, Bert Kreischer, and Mark Normand. They will serve as ambassadors to the comedy community as well as advisers to the company. Comedy manager Peter Rosegarten has been on the board from the beginning which is usually is a good sign. He doesn’t get involved unless it’s worthwhile.

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I had been hearing about Bananas out in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey for so many years, but never had the opportunity to go out there so when my girl Jessimae Peluso invited me out to do a guest spot on her headlining show, I jumped at the chance. I arrived there before anyone else and it was good that I got there early because I got to meet and speak with the owners Arlene and Harlan Jamison who first opened Bananas in 1986, in Poughkeepsie where a young 17 year old made his debut in 1991.

They told me Jimmy came in with his guitar and a troll doll and entered a “Funniest Impression” contest and he won. Arlene even remembered that he did John Travolta and Bullwinkle which is an interesting mix to say the least. He occasionally shouts out Bananas when he talks about his past. He also returned for a sort of reunion show when he first got his gig hosting The Tonight Show.

The thing about Bananas is that it appears and disappears on a nightly basis. For the last 17 years, it’s held in a Holiday Inn on Route 17, in a kind of banquet hall which gets set up before every show with a Bananas backdrop complete with real and artificial bananas, and walls of photos just like every other comedy club. And every single big star that’s appeared anywhere has appeared at Bananas. But at the end of the night, it all gets broken down like they break down a theater set after a play. Even the walls of photos come down, and it reverts back into being a large banquet room. Amazing. Harlan told me they called it Bananas because they thought it was a cute idea and when it first opened, they had a guy standing on the highway in a 6 foot banana suit. And the first guy who did that, a guy named Scott Lobdell went on to earn millions as a writer for the comic book series X-Men.

Joanne Filan a comic based in NJ was the host. Joanne is in a new documentary film called Words about the power of using words, and the exploration of identity. The feature was Jessimae’s usual, Marty Caproni who comes in from Massachusetts where he has his own comedy club called Cabot Comedy Club. Jessimae was in rare form and did something unusual and very hard to do. She took a loud, raucous female heckler who on first being confronted for her heckling, offered to meet Jessimae outside, and by the end of the night turned her into a fan, who actually hung out after the show to congratulate Jessimae on her performance.

After the show, Jessimae drove back into the city with me, and we had a chance to talk at length. I asked her how she got Girl Code and she told me she had done a couple of episodes of a show called Failosophy, and came to the attention of the MTV execs. About a year later, they contacted her for Girl Code, at which time she went to the guys from Cringe Humor to guide her. She said she was on for two seasons and it changed everything for her because in her words, “I had been failing left and right for 9 years, and had to deal with so much rejection.” She finally left MTV to go to the E! channel. She said she wanted a challenge, so she could figure out what she wanted to do. And she said the only thing that can guarantee you work is preparation. The fact that you are always ready to perform. That at any time someone asks you can go up on that stage and do your thing. She’s working on her first hour and would like to tape it in Syracuse. She’s also in town taping a new show for VH1 called Talk 30 mid-month, talking about what it’s like to be 30, and we planned to hang out on set together. Really fun night.

 

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I went to see Dan Levy who was in from L.A. and headlining a weekend at Gotham for the very first time. The club was so packed my usual table was gone and I had to take a table with the comics on the side. Next thing I knew I was joined by my pal George Wallace who told me he’s known Dan for awhile and took him to lunch that very day at The Boathouse. At first, I didn’t realize he meant the one in Central Park. Because I always associate George with The Comic Strip which was where he got started and became Jerry ’s best friend, I thought he meant a place called “The Boathouse” where we all used to go and hang out after we left The Strip. But that probably closed 20 years ago.  I shared my chicken sandwich and fries with George and he asked me if that was my idea of taking him out for dinner. Charles McBee went up and George and I watched his set. George asked me who he was and congratulated him when he came off stage which made Charles’ night and the rest of the year as well.

Then George went up and did a guest spot. He always brings his big yellow legal pad with him and goes over all his new material. He’s such a pro that no one cares he’s holding a pad the whole time he’s performing. He said that he and Jerry have been friends for 41 years and that they’re so close he’s actually the father of his children. Then Dan went up and did his stuff for a packed room that included his parents. After his set we all went down to the green room together to hang out and catch up.

Dan writes for The Goldbergs, and has been there from Season 3 up to the present, which is Season 5. He said he loves working with . He’s got a Seeso special called Lion which he taped in Seattle. I asked him why and he said he had a choice of Seattle or Denver, but he loves Seattle. If he had gone to Denver he might have run into Ben Bailey! Unless Ben was in Denmark!

When we took photos, I got one of George and Dan and George asked me if I had ever seen him without his hat. I realized I hadn’t and he took off his hat for a photo. I don’t think I would have ever recognized him without that ever-present hat.  George filled me in on what he’s up to; he’s the new host of the next two seasons of Comedy Dynamic’s show “ Coming To The Stage” which is a stand-up show, which George said they just finished shooting about two weeks ago. I asked him if it was shot in a theatre and he swears they shot it in a kitchen, … 36 comics in 2 days in L.A., with about 22 chairs set up for an audience. I was happy for George but felt sad because Brian Volk-Weiss once told me I could audition for that show and I never got the chance.

George also has two movies coming out, one called Grow House with Snoop Dogg. He’s in a scene with DeRay Davis and Lil Duval and plays a banker named Mr. Mark White, who they come to for a loan to launch their weed business. It comes out this month on 4/20.The other movie is called Villa Capri and he’s in it with Morgan Freeman who he described as his favorite actor of all time. He said when they first offered him the film, he turned it down because he had no lines. They wanted him to improv his part. A few months later, they called him back and told him that Morgan Freeman was in it, along with Tommy Lee Jones and Rene Russo, and he jumped at it. He said he walked around with Morgan everywhere he went. He said they got along so well that at one point they were doing “Yo Momma” jokes with each other, and that Morgan was “the greatest person he ever worked with.” He said it was a dream come true. He also jokingly said he feels like he could have played any part that Morgan played in his movies, cause he could have driven Miss Daisy just as good as Morgan.

George remembered one outrageous moment on the set, when he did something that only a comedian of his stature could get away with. Morgan was making some sort of a speech to everyone, and from the back George yelled out, “Morgan Freeman, sit the fuck down and shut up!” And everyone turned white for a minute, or as white as they could manage, until Morgan started laughing hysterically at the thought that anyone would say that to him, and everyone else laughed along with them. He said that Morgan also gave him invaluable advice of what to do on a movie set. He said, “ If you even think you gotta pee, go pee. Cause you never know how long the scene is gonna take to shoot.”

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Jamie Roberts moved his long-running Sunday Night Live show to Broadway Comedy Club’s main room, and it’s been a big hit. The night I went, the room was packed and I caught up with Leah Bonnema and Nore Davis hanging out in the green room, or whatever that little room is in the back of the showroom. At least it’s a place for comics to chill while waiting to go on.  It will be 9 years in August, and it’s moved from the old New York Comedy Club where it started in 2008 to Broadway, then back to the new New York Comedy Club where it spent about two years, and now full circle back to Broadway. Jamie said he started it because there weren’t any diverse comedy shows in NY on a Sunday night, “diverse” meaning not only ethnicity, but also levels of experience. He said he likes to give young funny performers a chance to work out along with established headliners.

And with that, … 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 Jessimae Peluso and Marty Caproni, Dan Levy and George Wallace, and George Wallace.

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