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, Stand Up New York, City Center, New York Comedy Club, and more.
Bill Burr and Maureen Taran must be commended on the 5th anniversary of their Patrice O’Neal Benefit at City Center which drew another sold out crowd, and that’s not easy when the venue holds over 2,200 people. It’s a testament to their dedication, friendship and loyalty to the memory of Patrice and also their respect in the industry because they always get a killer line-up. Rich Vos and his ever present hat were the hosts, until Pete Davidson stole his hat while leaving the stage. And to Keith Robinson’s “consternation” Vos applauded Keith’s stroke, as Keith explained to the audience why the right side of his body was not functioning up to par, Dave Attell came out in, not just a winter coat, but with his hood tied under his chin, and every one of them including Jim Norton, Dan Soder, Leslie Jones and Bill Burr treated each other like it was a Roast Battle. It was hilarious and you can read more about it in my article from earlier in the week.
Later in the week, I popped into Stand Up New York because I don’t get there often enough and was glad I did because I ran into Keith Robinson at the bar. I didn’t get a chance to see him at the Patrice benefit last week, and wanted to congratulate him, not only on his performance, but on his amazing recovery from the stroke he suffered last February. And I finally got the story on that and it’s a crazy one. Turns out when he woke up the morning of the stroke, he felt something weird in his right leg, but he didn’t think much of it. It didn’t keep him from driving to his hometown of Philly to get a passport. When I asked him why he went all the way to Philly, he said it was only one of the horrible mistakes he made that day.
Afterwards, he drove back to New York to do the radio show/podcast at The Cellar, but started feeling very weak during the show. He said he started feeling weakness in his right arm and leg so he ordered something to eat and when that didn’t make him feel any better, he asked Hannibal Buress to take care of something for him and left. That’s when he said he made his second mistake. He drove all the way home to New Jersey. He likened it to when a dog or cat is injured and they just wanna go someplace to be alone. He kept thinking it he could only make it to his car. He said he drove all the way home, which took about 40 minutes, and called his son’s mom and gave her all his passwords to his accounts because he had the feeling that something was really wrong.
A friend of his told him he had to go to the hospital, but he didn’t want to go in New Jersey, so she drove him all the way back to the city to Mt. Sinai hospital, where they took him right in, diagnosed a stroke and kept him for a month. He was in an intensive rehab for six months where they taught him to walk again and worked on his speech which sounds perfect due to a combination of their talents and the strength of his will. He says he willed himself to get better, and that there was no way he was gonna let himself stay in that condition.
And when he came out on that City Center stage his voice was as strong and powerful as it always was and even though is right leg was not what it used to be, he walked out on his own power. He said they had given him a wheelchair, but he never used it. He told one nurse he was gonna be back on stage again in a few months and she said negatively, “Yeh, good luck with that!” That encouraged him to work even harder. He’s watching his diet and has already been on the road with Wanda Sykes performing in L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, and lots of other places. He takes his adult son Keith Jr. with him.
And when I jokingly mentioned that Rich Vos applauded his stroke at the Patrice event he laughed and said that Vos always does that and that he’s always been the same way. He remembered a time when they were both starting out, maybe like 30 years ago, when they were both on the same show and Keith was the headliner. He heard Vos backstage grumbling loud enough for him to hear while he was performing, “This guy sucks!”
Keith Robinson is truly Blessed to have recovered, and he knows it, because it was not lost on him that the reason there was a Patrice O’Neal benefit was because Patrice also had a stroke.
I don’t often go on about talent, because everyone I write about is talented, but Pablo Francisco’s is so rare, I have no choice. And I’m backed up on this one by none other than Jerry Seinfeld. Pablo Francisco’s ability to mimic voices and sounds is uncanny, and he does it with such rapidity, going from one thing to another. It’s almost like jokes on speed. He hardly takes time to breathe. And what he does when he starts his act is unusual and highly empowering in a strange sort of way. He makes a point of pointing out his bald spot. Not briefly either . He does like 10 minutes on his bald spot, with sound effects and jokes in the famed movie trailer announcer Don LaFontaine’s voice. Most men try to hide their bald spots. He owns his, which is what makes it empowering. He does unusual, highly creative things like how celebrities like Jay Leno, Chris Rock, ,and Joan Rivers would talk as babies, or Tony Montana ordering a Subway sandwich, and at the end, he and his comedy partner/opening act Steve Wilson, also a master impressionist, get up on stage together and take turns imitating celebrities like Gilbert Gottfried having sex with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
What made this show ultra-special is that a surprise guest showed up and it was Jerry Seinfeld. Jerry went up and did about a half an hour, but what was fantastic was that he told a little story of how he started in stand-up. He mentioned that when he started there were only two comedy clubs, but didn’t mention them. He then said that he was so lucky that within five years, he was sitting opposite David Letterman, which goes against most industry talk that you’d have to have at least ten years of experience before doing that. But Jerry was unique.
Jerry asked the audience if they would mind if he did some of his earliest material, and of course they gave him an enthusiastic okay. He took out a 3-ring binder and put it on a music stand and went into all of his old bits which were as hilarious today as they were when he first did them. But I noticed something that I don’t know if anyone else saw. I knew Jerry in those days and remembered hearing a lot of those bits. As he did them on stage, he reverse-aged and appeared like his young self. It was amazing to me to see that. It was like he stepped back in time along with the material. He even did the parakeet material about his parakeet seeing himself in a full length mirror and crashing directly into it, wondering to himself, “Even if the parakeet thought there was another room, wouldn’t he have tried to avoid the other parakeet?”
He came off the stage to HUGE applause and in uncharacteristic form, I went over to say hello and congratulate him. The reason I say “uncharacteristic” is that I don’t usually approach Jerry Seinfeld when I see him because I feel like he values his privacy, and usually leaves as soon as he finishes his set accompanied by security. But this performance affected me so much that I felt I had to tell him, so I did. He gave me a warm hello and I told him that his material was evergreen and as funny today as it was in 1976. And he laughed when I told him I watched him literally transform into the Jerry I saw back in the day. Then Jerry walked out with owner Chris Mazzilli, good friends who often bond over their car collections, and I went back to my seat to enjoy Pablo.
A few minutes in, I saw Chris take a seat at the table in front of me, but I didn’t notice who was sitting next to him. I went over to congratulate Chris on the amazing show, still not noticing his table partner. It was Seinfeld who had come back into the room to watch Pablo Francisco. That never happens. He had on his baseball cap and sat there literally laughing his ass off. It was fun for me to watch Seinfeld laughing out loud at another comic. Especially when Pablo did an imitation of Seinfeld not knowing he was in the room. Jerry was howling. He stayed for almost the entire set.
After the show, I went down to the green room to catch up with Pablo and congratulate him, but also to tell him that Seinfeld stayed to watch him and was laughing out loud. Pablo was amazed that Seinfeld had stayed and said he was truly honored to hear that. Then we were joined by Chris Mazzilli who echoed that and said that in all the times that Seinfeld has been in the club, (at least 20 recently by Chris’ account), he has only stayed to watch two people, Pablo and Sebastian Maniscalco.
Pablo told me that he and Steve Wilson are working on a cartoon show which he likened to “Dave Chappelle meets cartoons divided by the square root of Pablo Francisco.” Every episode has a theme, and he’s calling it Cartoon Cartel. It’s for NUVOtv and they’re planning on presenting it to Netflix. He said they’ll be making fun of all kinds of animation, which is Steve Wilson’s specialty. I asked Pablo if there’s any voice he can’t do and he said he’s having a hard time getting Christopher Walken, but he’s working on it.
I stopped by New York Comedy Club late on my way home and ran into Paul Virzi hanging outside. Paul, who opens for Bill Burr will be taping an hour at New York Comedy Club tonight at 9:15 in preparation for his one hour special with Comedy Dynamics that he’ll be taping at the end of April in a venue as yet unchosen in Manhattan. Alexis Guerreros will be doing a guest spot, and rumor has it that I may be hosting! But don’t tell me. It’s a surprise!
I went in to watch a little of the show and as I was leaving and passing the bar without looking around, I heard a voice yell out “Hey Gurian, you don’t say hello?” And it was Ricky Velez and Neko White who was hosting the show. We wound up hanging out and BS’ing for about an hour about Ricky’s new place, about the state of comedy in general, and about Ricky being asked to do the MTV show Uncommon Sense with Charlamagne Tha God which he did last night, while Neko ran back and forth bringing comics off and on. Before long, we were joined by Joe Machi, Eric Neumann, Brendan Sagalow and owner Emilio Savone. It’s definitely a late night comedy hang.
Joey Reynolds, king of late night radio and one of the only radio guys to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is back on 77 WABC’s Cumulus Radio and his logo says “The late Joey Reynolds is alive and kickin’”, due to the rumors that he’s no longer with us. It’s every Sunday night and his first guest back was Cousin Brucie from SiriusXM. He always has a lot of comics on the show. I used to be a regular back in the day when he was on WOR for 15 years in the overnight spot and often made my way home at 5 A.M., I stopped by the new studio to find Eddie Brill waiting to go on. Eddie’s busy with his new podcast called The Break w/ Eddie Brill which he does out of Stand Up Labs. Some of his guests have been Dave Attell, Susie Essman, and Steven Wright. And he’ll be celebrating the 10th anniversary of his Johnny Carson Great American Comedy Festival that he does every year in Nebraska with some of the biggest stars he’s had over the last 10 years like Martin Short, Robert Klein, and Larry Miller. Big congrats to Eddie!
A moment of silence for radio and TV personality Alan Colmes who left us this week at the age of 66 due to a brief battle with lymphoma. In a crazy coincidence in this particular column, Alan replaced Joey Reynolds, on WNBC back in 1987. Many people did not know that Alan started off as a stand-up comic and spent much of his early joke-telling days at The Comic Strip. He was a good guy and I was fortunate to know him well from those early days. He gave up stand-up later on and was Sean Hannity’s ultra-liberal nemesis from 1996-2009, but always loved the art and the craft of stand-up comedy. When I interviewed him for my book “Laughing Legends”, Alan showed up wearing his original Comic Strip satin jacket that was at least 30 years old, but looked like it just came out of the box. And when he talked about his early days and how nicely he was treated at The Strip as opposed to how the other clubs treated him, he broke down in tears. It was pain he had carried for over 30 years. That’s how deep the rejection goes for new comics who can’t seem to get any stage time, and feel unappreciated. And in those days, there were just a fraction of the number of comics there are today. You can read the full article I wrote about Alan’s passing here.
And before I go, a brand new segment that we plan to run weekly, a brand new feature: Featured Comedy Fan of the Week! This week’s featured fan comes to New York City all the way from Moscow, Russia. I met Danara Buvaeva outside of New York Comedy Club, where she had just checked out a great showcase on Saturday Night. While in New York, she also went to see Pablo Francisco at Gotham Comedy Club. She and her sister are huge comedy fans. “With TV and the internet even in Russia, we know what’s going on all over the world,” she said. Her favorite comedian is Trevor Noah!
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 Ricky Velez and Neko White, Pablo Francisco and Steve Wilson, and Alan Colmes.