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 New York Comedy Club, Gotham, The Stand and more.
Red carpets are always fun and exciting, but also always a little daunting as well as you never know where they’re going to place you, and in what order the celebs are going to arrive and get to where you’re standing. Then you have to worry about over-zealous P.R. people pulling them away sometimes while you’re still talking to them, or that you’ll suddenly have malfunctioning equipment. But none of that bad stuff happened on the red carpet for the Garden of Laughs event at Madison Square Garden to benefit children facing obstacles. It was probably the best and smoothest running red carpet I have ever attended and I’ve been on many. Kudos to the MSG P.R. department. The event happens once every two years and comedy manager and executive producer of this event Rory Rosegarten who handles top comics like Ray Romano, Dennis Regan, Brian Regan, and Robert Klein, goes out of his way to put together a star-studded line-up every time. And fortunately, a production company sent an experienced D.P to film me doing what I do for a new show, and there will be more on that to come!
The comedy line-up alone was amazing, with John Oliver, Tracy Morgan, Bob Saget, Chris Rock, Sebastian Maniscalco, Michael Che and Leslie Jones. All of them except Chris did the red carpet. I don’t think he likes that stuff. I was given a fantastic position, virtually the first in line after the in-house MSG crew, so I got to talk to everybody because sometimes when you’re at the end of the line, and the show is about to start, there’s no time left for the stars to speak to you. I always try and be brief to avoid the “P.R. pull!”
Host Steve Schirripa from The Sopranos, told everyone he had to go fast because he didn’t want to sweat too much. Many people don’t know that he has a strong background in comedy and spent many years in Vegas booking the biggest acts. I was VERY excited to speak with Susan Sarandon; she still looks gorgeous. I almost found myself at a loss for words. Leslie Jones and Michael Che came out together, and were both literally thrilled to be able to come out and support these kids. Michael said “it’s such a dope charity and a dope program that any time they ask, I love to come out for them.” John Oliver claimed he didn’t know they were auctioning off an opportunity to attend his HBO show “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”, and to meet him personally. He jokingly said the value of that would be pretty low. Tracy Morgan came out with his wife Megan and greeted me very warmly as we hadn’t seen each other in quite a while. He brought up his accident and how he felt he survived so he could help other kids besides his own. He asked me to tell his wife how long we knew each other and I said probably over 20 years. He told her I had always seen something in him which was right (read more on that here). The Morgans were followed by my buddy Bob Saget who was conflicted as to what material to do. He’s working on a new special and has what he called “ a very serious piece” that he wanted to do, but then thought about it and realized he was going on early following John Oliver and Leslie Jones and decided to just stick with funny for his 15 minutes. He has a lot of things coming up, like the third season of “Fuller House” which he said can’t be hid, and will never go away, and a new independent film he’s directing this July called “Jake” about a kid involved with crystal meth, and an intervention that takes place on Facebook of all places. Bob said he thought he could sleep on my hair, and that it was looking even more fertile than usual!
I went to see Sebastian Maniscalco at Gotham in a special show that sold out in 17 minutes. That’s how popular Sebastian is. The place was packed and when I got there Lenny Kravitz was standing near the reservations desk taking photos with fans. It seems he was a guest at a previous benefit earlier in the evening. It was so crowded, my guest and I sat off to the side with the comics and then suddenly Jerry Seinfeld walked in with George Wallace and Brian Regan, and went to a table in the back. Sebastian did a whole thing about his wife being pregnant and expecting their first child. I’m always amazed at the physicality of his act, and that he doesn’t wrench his neck with the sudden head movements he makes. He basically choreographs his jokes. It’s very unique. After the show, they all went into the green room together for quite a while, and Brian Regan came out to say hello and told me he had just done Fallon which is why he wasn’t at Garden of Laughs. Then my old buddy Danny Aiello came out as well. Danny has been involved with comedy his whole career and besides having had his own club in New Jersey a few years back, started out as the bouncer at Budd Friedman’s Improv back in the 60’s.
I pulled up at The Stand to catch the Fat Baby show just as Sal Vulcano was getting out of a taxi. We went in together and ran into Ricky Velez who was still high from his Comedy Juice set this week. I missed it because it was at the same time as the red carpet at MSG, but I hear it was amazing and the same three people, Seinfeld, Wallace and Regan were there. Ricky said he had always been such a huge fan of Brian Regan and was thrilled when Brian was very complimentary about his performance. Even more so, because Brian was there with the bookers from Fallon. Ricky said, “Thank G-d I did my A-material!” Ricky said that Seinfeld spoke at his high school graduation from the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, and that one night down at The Cellar, he confided that fact to legendary booker Estee who brought him over to meet Seinfeld for his first time. He asked him if he remembered that and Seinfeld said of course because it was the only high school graduation he ever spoke at.
Roast Battle at New York Comedy Club was crazy this week, and once again the judges, Mike Cannon, Yamaneika, and Shuli Egar were to me the best part. The headline battle was between Lucas Connolly who had some of the most unusual stage moves I’ve ever seen, including moving the mic stand up and down in a masturbatory-like motion, against Pat Dixon who Lucas referred to as looking like “Tom Hanks’ rotting corpse,” and followed with “ I didn’t know it was possible to have Bell’s Palsy on both sides of your face”, a line that made me laugh wondering how many people even know what Bell’s Palsy is! I also wonder if Pat has several of those gray suits he always wears or if it’s the same one, and if it is the same one what he will do when it inevitably wears out. Lucas was very high-energy as opposed to Pat’s very chill demeanor which caused Mike Cannon to quip, “ It’s like Meth Amphetamine Vs. Ambien.” Neko White was the host who is not above apologizing to the crowd when the battle doesn’t meet the audience’s expectations.
Gotham had an all star weekend this week instead of a headliner and I caught up with Jared Freid, who insisted he’s not spelling “Freid” wrong and told me he just had “The Betches” on his J Train podcast, which he does from the Stand Up New York lab. In case you don’t know The Betches are the three Long Island girls with over 5 million followers on Instagram and a hit book called Nice Is Just A City in France: How To Win Basically at Everything which reached #1 in the iTunes paid humor book category. And Mike Yard’s got a podcast too called “Yard Talk” which he does from a home studio with co-hosts Luna Tee, and Carla Keyz talking about “sex, politics and everything in between.” And they just started to have guests on the show. And then Casey Balsham told me about her show Stand Up On The Spot which she produces with Robbie Slowik, and is basically improv stand-up with ideas called out by the audience which sounded like a nightmare for a prepared material comic like myself. It started in L.A. about 7 years ago with Jeremiah Watkins one of the guys in The Wave, who is also part of Goddam Comedy Jam, then it ran at The Stand for two years and now it will be at New York Comedy Club coming up this month. No prepared material is allowed even if the audience calls out something you have jokes about. SCARY!
This week, I called Robert Klein to get his take on the new Starz doc film about him. It aired this past Friday night and is called Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg based on a bit he performed as a blues singer in 1975 on the first year of SNL, which became a classic bit for him. Robert had told me about it last year when it debuted at SXSW, and it was produced by Shoeface Productions and The Weinstein Company and directed by journalist and film critic Marshall Fine. How does anyone cover a 50 year career that is still going strong? The film features appearances by greats like Billy Crystal, Don Rickles, Ray Romano, Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, and Bill Maher. So I called Robert for his opinion and he said and I quote: “I love the movie. I’m proud of what all those comedy superstars say about me and the film is very funny. But I love the exciting scene of an old Jew grocery shopping in the supermarket who can’t stop his leg.” And I always enjoy seeing his son Allie perform because unknowingly he brings Robert’s energy to the stage.
I’ve been power-watching Showtime’s Billions, where Dan Soder gets a lot of screen time. At 3 in the morning, I want to turn it off, but I tell myself I can watch one more episode and still be okay the next day. And every time I see Dan on the screen I’m excited for him and happy to see how good he is in the role of Mafee, a stock broker who works for billionaire Bobby Axelrod played by Damian Lewis. I asked Dan how it came about and he told me that co-creator Brian Koppelman had been doing stand-up when they met at Stand Up New York back in 2007. They got friendly and kept in touch, and when Brian created this show he called Dan in to read a part for the pilot. They told him if it went to series he might have a role and that’s exactly how it worked out.
In most of the episodes I see him in, Dan gets to dress the way he does for comedy, in a plaid flannel shirt and T-shirt underneath. I asked him if they get to improv on the script and he gave me an emphatic “no.” He said it’s written so well by Brian, and his partner David Levien that they stick strictly to what’s on the page. The writing is fantastic. He couldn’t say enough nice things about Damian Lewis, who actually came to see him perform at The Comedy Cellar one night. The other comics were shocked cause he’s usually hanging out with another comic and they were like, “Is that Damian Lewis from Billions?” He said that Damian hung out by the bar after the show for a while and it was especially funny because he said that day, Damian’s character had spent about 7 hours screaming at him on the set, because very often Damian’s character screams at Mafee.
I asked him if he was going to get a first name since everyone in the show just calls him Mafee. He said there’s a rumor that it could happen in the third season. He said that the cast is like a family that all get along really well and that it’s such a great thrill for him to be on the show, and such a cool show to be a part of. He said he’s very spoiled by working on this show with this crew and cast. It’s filmed in New York in West Orangeburg near the Palisades Mall, and each episode takes about 10 days to film. I can’t wait to start watching the 2nd season.
I asked him if being on a show like that helps the turnout for his shows on the road and he said that comedy clubs love credits. He said that when he’s on the road lots of people recognize him from Billions, plus his appearances on Sam and Jim, Bobby Kelly’s You Know What Dude, The Bennington Show, and also from his Bonfire show on Comedy Central Radio that he does with Big Jay Oakerson for SiriusXM. He said that leaves the weekends for he and Jay to go on the road. He also filmed a new Netflix special that should be out some time in June.
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 Brian Regan, Rory Rosegarten, Leslie Jones, and Tracy Morgan with his wife, Megan Wollover.