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 hit up Skankfest, Gotham Comedy Club, Carolines and more.
I stopped by Anthony Cumia’s Compound Media studios to hang out with Kevin Brennan and his co-host and my old pal Brian McCarthy who Kevin refers to affectionately as “a blind drunk”, on his popular show “Burning Bridges” and we had a blast. Brian got stuck on the train and of course, Kevin blamed his lateness on the fact that he’s blind and drunk, and he asked me to kick off the show with him which I did. We talked about all kinds of interesting topics and then Brian joined us about 15 minutes later with stories of what happened to him on the way in. I know Brian back from his days as the host on National Lampoon Radio, and he slowly lost his sight over the last couple of years to the point where he only has peripheral vision. If he comes very close to you he can see you, but he’s legally blind, and because of his great sense of humor he jokes about it. I meant to ask him if he knows the other Brian who’s sightless Brian Fischler, who does the once a year “Laugh for Sight” benefit at Gotham Comedy Club. Odd that they’re both named Brian, and if they don’t know each other I should bring them together.
Anyway, after the show Kevin told me that he was never much of a radio listener because he never owned a car, and never woke up early so he never got to listen to morning radio and hear Howard Stern, or any of the other popular shows. But he said that working with Anthony Cumia is a dream because he’s so funny and such a great guy. His actual quote was “Cumia is just fucking great!”. He said “it’s good to have a job, and it’s good to have some job security in a land of no job security.” He recently went from one day a week on Mondays for 90 minutes to two days adding an hour on Wednesdays, and interestingly enough he started out on Eddie Ifft’s podcast Misery Loves Company, for a year, and gives Eddie credit for the intro to Cumia.
Lisa Lampanelli appeared in two different shows in one night back to back at Carolines this past week. The first was a show called “Revival” brought by comedians Anna Roisman and Lauren Brickman who the playbill described as “sharing a dark past, … musical theatre.” The production was described as them “inviting some of their favorite comedians to share war stories and sing songs as they revive roles from their musical theatre pasts.” The only name I recognized besides Lisa Lampanelli was Emily Tarver, from Orange is the New Black, who came out and did a musical act with her partner Vicci Martinez, and while they were out there performing announced that Vicci was her real-life partner as well. Lisa ended the show with her unique and always entertaining form of humor, singing “A Boy Like That” from West Side Story, and ended the show on a high note. I remember being at Lisa’s singing debut at The Friars Club some years back and how nervous she was that night but she did so great! At this show I sat next to her ex-husband Jimmy Cannizzaro who was there with his new wife Jenna Esposito, who met Jimmy through Lisa. Lisa and Jimmy have such a good friendship, and he and Jenna always come out to support.
The audience stayed for a second show that came on about half an hour later during which Lisa gave us a taste of her upcoming storytelling show, the details of which I promised to keep a secret, but trust me you’ll love it. The working title is “Lisa Lampanelli’s Losin’ It” and it’s a lot about self-empowerment, positive body image, and all that good stuff. Lisa told me that her show, which she describes as “The Moth but way less earnest,” is intended to help people with weight and body-image struggles feel less alone as they laugh along with storytellers who have similar issues. Lisa was so gracious that as a special treat, she even stayed an extra half hour doing more material for the appreciative crowd. Two performances of this new show have already been announced at the Fairfield Theatre Company in Connecticut, scheduled for November, and Lisa assured me that there will be plenty more shows in late 2018 and 2019, and she always keeps her word!
The Cutting Room was the scene of Erik Bergstrom’s taping of his first special. It will be an audio album, and he had Sean Donnelly as the host with Phoebe Robinson from Two Dope Queens as his feature. Shane Torres was there and told me he’ll be performing in Dublin soon at the Vodaphone Comedy Festival. He’ll be doing four shows and then will stay and “bum around Europe for a couple of weeks.” He’s also working on developing some script ideas.
Phoebe has a new book coming out in October called “Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay” from Plume Press, with a foreword by Ilana Glazer, and she described it to me as a collection of essays on diverse subjects like inter-racial dating, meeting Oprah, and getting out of debt. Hopefully, this book will help her do that if that’s her situation. She handled a drunk heckler very well during her performance when she was talking about men using a fleshlight. Some drunken fool in the audience felt the need to actually stand up and graphically describe his experience with it, and she didn’t let it throw her. She played it off well.
Erik talked a lot about his battle with cancer. He had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma and was lucky enough to beat it. I originally know him from years ago when he used to do my late night show at The Comic Strip. He has such a great stage voice and a very unique, slow, confident delivery. His act is hard to do because he has so many disconnected jokes in the style of Steven Wright or Mitch Hedberg. Every joke stands on its own which makes it really hard to memorize an act like that. Since it was only audio and not video he was able to keep notes handy in case he needed them. He went about an hour and twenty minutes to make sure he had enough to work with, and I’m sure he did since he also had a taping the following night.
I sat with producer and Colbert booker Jessica Pilot, who’s been working with Erik. She’s got a big performance herself coming up in August on CNN’s History of Comedy. She was contacted by The Herzog Company that produces the show and flew out to LA to do a three-hour interview with Stephen Morrison, Co-Executive Producer of the show, for her episode called “No Offense.” They interviewed her at The Improv and she said she had caught an early flight and was really tired so she hoped her concealer worked! She said it was so fun to do and that she was “thrilled to be a part of the series and to be amongst such legends.” They talked about vulgarity, censorship, and why stand-up comedy is such a difficult, and incredible art form. She said she remembered saying something along the lines of how she never wants to clean up a beautiful dirty comic. “It’s hard to work clean, but some people just do not work clean and that is okay.” She said they also talked about “the sitcom dream” which she feels is still alive and well. Jess and I had a lot of laughs that night.
Rhonda Handome and the ladies of the show Women Of A Certain Age, including Marla Schultz, and creator/producer Carole Montgomery got to go on Good Day New York at FOX5 studios, where Rhonda said that the “hair and makeup staff enhanced their natural beauty” and where they “cracked jokes, snapped pics and tried to entice the make-up artist to travel with them.” Forgot to ask if it was male or female. She said they got a kick out of the fact that they were scheduled between young, swimsuit models and a chef cooking up some food. The hosts were Lori Stokes and Rosanna Scotto, and the segment began with individual clips of Rhonda, Carole, and Marla doing stand-up. Rosanna got them to share some road warrior stories and #MeToo experiences. The show has a residence at The Kraine Theater. I was at the opening and it’s a really fun show.
One of the best parts of my friendship with Trevor Noah was getting friendly with his manager Norm Aladjem one of the nicest guys in the biz. Norm spent five years as the President of Levity Entertainment Group and left in 2017 to open his own company called “Mainstay Entertainment.” They do talent management (including Trevor, Roy Wood Jr., Yvonne Orji, Maz Jobrani, Wayne Brady and others) as well as film and TV production. On the production side, they’re in post-production on a film called “Simple Wedding” written by their client Sara Zandieh, starring Rita Wilson, Peter Mackenzie, an Iranian actress named Shoreh Aghdashloo, and Tara Grammy, they just delivered season three of Black Jesus which they co-executive produce for Adult Swim, and they’re in the process of developing a half-hour comedy at Comedy Central starring Roy Wood Jr. And as if that’s not enough, now he’s also an accomplished author with a new book called “From Me To You” a collection of letters written to his daughter when she was only 11 years old, and as he put it, “not at all interested in life lessons, and was paying no attention to what I was trying to teach her about life, love, faith, and family.” So he thought if he wrote letters to her “with heart and a bit of humor, she might enjoy the letters when she got older.” So he decided to write her a letter once a week for a year.
He said that every week was challenging which I can attest to as the author of five books myself. He said that to hold himself accountable he announced on his Facebook page that he’d be posting a letter every week, so he’d be embarrassed if he took a week off. This is the really great part of the story. Several years later, a book agent he knew friended him on Facebook, he randomly read the blog, loved it and sold it as a book to Post Hill Press, an imprint of Simon and Shuster. You can already pre-order the book on Amazon, as I did, and it will be out in print and on Audible in August. Congrats Norm, wishing you all the best!
Andrew “Dice” Clay was in town and had a sold out show at the Gramercy Theatre on East 23rd Street. I don’t think there was anyone there who was not a diehard Dice fan and he even said at one point, that this must be so weird if there’s anyone there that had never seen him before. He’s definitely holding down the non-politically correct realm of comedy, and keeping it alive. I think there are times he even shocks himself at what he says, because sometimes he’s just riffing up there coming up with amazing stuff. He had Eleanor Kerrigan open for him, which he often does, and if there was ever such a thing as a female “Dice” Clay it’s her. She’s a perfect opening act for him and really gets the crowd pumped. Dice likes to have a kind of surprise opening which is often very theatrical. He came out and at first was very quiet, didn’t say a thing and just paced the stage. Then he started talking but it was like he was in the middle of a conversation with somebody, and you have no idea where he’s going until he hits you with a zinger. During his bit on why pussies are going extinct, he caught some guy videotaping him, and yelled out, “Put that phone away or I’ll bust your fucking head”, and then started laughing and said, “Even I know that’s funny!” But he definitely got the guy’s attention.
After the show, I had wanted to go down and say hi cause I really like “Dice” and I hold the honor of being one of the very few people that has ever written material for him. He even talked about it during his “Unmasked” interview with Ron Bennington. But I had texted him a couple of times and didn’t hear back so I thought maybe he wasn’t seeing people or had changed his number. Two days later I got a text back from him saying he heard I was there and would have liked to see me, but he had hundreds of texts and didn’t see mine until that moment. There’s always next time!
This week’s Virtual reality show at Gotham was really good. Yannis Pappas is the permanent host for Season 1, and when I asked him to tell me about the show the only thing he would say is that “it’s always exciting to work with Lenny Marcus and that’s what I want the world to know. All I want is the opportunity to work with him again.” Lenny of course was standing right next to me at the time. Then Lenny added that all HE wanted to do was work with Yannis Pappas again. But in the meantime until they can make that happen, Lenny’s opening for Leslie Jones, who was recently nominated for the second time for an Emmy award, for her work on SNL. They met at The Cellar while Lenny was watching a Yankees game with Estee, the legendary booker of the club. He and Leslie got along and she invited him to go to a Yankees game with her, which he did. He said they also went to The Olympics together, which is probably an interesting story. Lenny is also a new Dad. which right now to him is his most important credit.
Bill Dawes was on the show and will be headlining in Vegas at the end of the month at The Trop. He said there will be Trump supporters and vegans in the same room! And Vlad Caamano came by to do a set in advance of his headlining gig at the club this past weekend, and told me he just came off a gig on NBC’s Superstore playing the love interest to America Ferrara, who doesn’t seem to understand when he speaks Spanish to her on the show.
There’s really no way to describe Skankfest if you haven’t experienced it, but I’ll try. It’s the third year and it’s bigger than ever, thanks to the incredibly hard work of Exec. Producers Christine Evans, Luis J. Gomez, and Rebecca Trent owner of The Creek and the Cave, the original home and birthplace of Skankfest. (apologies for a prior version of this article which stated otherwise). When I pulled up to The Creek for the pre-party on Friday night I couldn’t even see the club. The street was that packed with people. Shows were going on upstairs and downstairs, and hundreds of people were milling about in the restaurant and on the street. The show I walked in on was being hosted by Brian Redban who came in from LA and reminded me that we had sat next to each other last year at the Naked Roast Battle. Coincidentally it happened again this year. I got to see Tony Hinchcliffe, and Dan Soder who remarked that as dark as you go at Skankfest you still feel like a pussy. When I left around 1:30 A.M. it was still going strong.
The next night I did a set at Ryan Dacalos’ show at New York Comedy Club and then headed out to Brooklyn to their main venue the Brooklyn Bazaar, which is a cavernous place with multiple rooms that were all packed for the various shows that were going on. The biggest room for the biggest shows is a ballroom that was filled to SRO capacity. As I approached the venue there was a crowd around a guy who was still laughing and laying on the street in his own vomit. Most people handled themselves a lot better than that, but there’s always some people who get carried away, … literally!
I was sure I’d be the only one there in a sport jacket, because who else would do that, and then Ron Bennington showed up to perform, and he always wears a sport jacket as well. His producer Chris Stanley was wearing the exact same shirt I had just bought, so we planned to wear them one night together. The event was like a mini-version of Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival with everyone in the comedy world there to have a good time and cheer each other on. Skankfesters flew in from all over the country and all over the world. I was gratified by the number of people who came up to introduce themselves and said they were fans of this column, … and I’m talking about members of the audience. Also, several who were fans of the great Patrice O’Neal, and what we did on The Black Phillip Show. There was even a guy who came over to me wearing a Too Much Tuna t-shirt and knew that I was the first to be pranked by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney with the big tuna sandwich. Of course, we had to take a photo together!
I got there in time to catch the second half of the 6 P.M show hosted by Rich Vos, with Greer Barnes who tore down the house, Bobby Kelly, and he and Vos roasted each other mercilessly, and Colin Quinn who closed the show with an epic performance filled with his amazing observations like talking about dick pics. After the show, I got to congratulate Colin on his recent engagement, and we traded heart attack and stent stories. He has three to my one! I was glad to see him looking so healthy. I guess getting engaged does that for you.
I was able to chat with Christine Evans for a minute who literally works non-stop to make this event a success. And Big Jay Oakerson confirmed that. She told me she patterned Skankfest after an event called ShipRocked that she and Big Jay attend. It’s a heavy metal cruise coming up on its tenth year, and she wanted to match the feel of that with everybody together, comics and fans. She said she wanted everybody to feel like they’re part of something and that it’s all about Love and Happiness, … which was once a great song by Al Green! (I said the Al Green part, not her! LOL)
Speaking of green, the green rooms were packed with fun people and great snacks ranging from deli meats to brownies, peanut M&M’s, and bagels with cream cheese. There were even massage girls working on people. Comic/producer Stephen Lewis who runs shows on Friday and Saturday nights down at the Soho Playhouse’s downstairs Huron Club told me that he facilitated The Stand, using the Huron Club to continue with it’s Roast Masters series, while The Stand’s new location is under construction.
Then my buddy Artie Lange came in for a big show with Dave Attell that was hosted by Dave Smith, and Attell and Artie and I and a couple of his friends Chad Zumock and Mike Price hung out in a special green room, until we escorted Artie to the backstage area where he waited for Attell to finish his killer set and then went out to do his own killer set. Afterward we hung outside for a bit and then Artie called an Uber to head back to The Cellar.
There was a Roast Masters event before the Naked Roast Battle and judges were champ Eli Sairs, Sal Vulcano, Tony Hinchcliffe, Rich Vos, Mike Lawrence, who’s writing on Crashing, Big Jay and Luis J. Gomez about whom someone said, “He’s the only Puerto Rican with power right now!” Big Jay made fun of Vos for being the only one to take the mic out of the stand when he gave his vote, and Jay kept referring to him as Neil Diamond.
But I think the craziest event of all was the Naked Roast Battle hosted by none other than Zac Amico, from Troma’s Return of Return to Nuke ‘Em High. I always mean to tell him of my friendship with Phoebe Legere and Lisa Gaye stars of the original Nuke ‘ Em High. I don’t think anyone could do it better than Zac, who has his hair spiked out like a foot long in every direction, and is totally pierced and I mean totally! Christine was kind enough to set me up with a chair right up front for the Naked Roast Battle, and there were times I was sorry I had such a good seat! Just to give you an idea of some of the names around where we were hanging out was, in no particular order, Justin Silver, Big Jay, Mike Cannon, Mike Feeney, Jeremiah Watkins, Rosebud Baker, Remy Kassimir in platinum hair, and very sexy high boots and short-shorts, Stephen Lewis, Benny DeMarco, Ian Fidance, Napoleon Emil, Aaron Berg, Brian Redban, and just so many more.
Zac got naked first after opening with some very funny jokes, and the judges, Mike Lawrence, Tom Goss and a guy they only referred to as Chris from Brooklyn came out next, totally naked except for socks or sneakers. They all sat right down. How anyone has the courage to do this no one knows. It’s everyone’s greatest nightmare that they find themselves naked in a room filled with people. Yet Daniel Perafan who lost an amazing 160 pounds battled Alex Engelbert, who opened with “Give it up for the ghost of Harambe”, and he countered with “Alex’s apartment is so expensive she has to tell four guys a month she needs an abortion” which is one of the cleverest jokes I’ve heard. Daniel told me afterward that he was thrilled that Mike Lawrence complimented his writing because Mike is amazing at roasting and always has the best lines even as a judge. Alex, who won, told me afterward it was kind of surreal being naked in front of so many people but she handled it just fine. She even made fun of Daniel’s suicide attempt. There is literally nothing they won’t use as fodder for jokes.
Joe Pontillo battled Keith Carey who’s open about his bisexuality and his weight. Despite the fact that Joe opened with “Keith Carey you diabetic air mattress” Keith won and kissed Zac on the lips before he left the stage. Zac finished off the event by having his assistant Double Dementia from the Troma Films, come out naked of course and staple dollar bills donated from the audience to first his arm, then his chest, then his cheek, and finally his forehead. Somebody actually sent up a hundred dollar bill. But the finale was when DD closed a rat trap on Zac’s private parts which were private no longer. How he does that no one can even begin to guess, but I may never sleep again!
No surprise, … Day 2 of Skankfest was as crazy as Day 1, if not more so! And the people from SmokeHoney were backstage doing their part to make sure that things went well, giving great legal vape gifts to the VIPs in the crowd. I started my day the same as the day before doing an early set at Ryan Dacalos’s show at New York Comedy Club, and by the way their 5 P.M. show was PACKED, and mostly with young girls. The crowd was smokin’ hot in more ways than one.
So I got to the Brooklyn Bazaar in time to see Colin Quinn crushing and closing the 5 P.M. show in the main ballroom. My goal was to catch Ron Bennington’s show as I didn’t get a chance to see him perform the first night. Ron’s show was also in the main ballroom and hosted by Justin Silver, featuring Ron, Tony Hinchcliffe, Mike Yard, and Jim Norton. It was so hard to decide where to be because there was so much cool stuff going on all at once. The backstage areas were always poppin’ with people hanging out, comics coming and going and lots of great laughs and snacks.
There was a secret passageway through the kitchen that allowed you to get to the backstage areas while the show was going on, and that came in real handy. I made my way to the backcstage area and found Ron waiting to go on. Perfect timing. Justin Silver brought him out to huge applause. Ron told me he didn’t want to do the same material he did the night before in case a lot of the audience was the same, so instead he did a whole different set. The crowd loved it, and Ron left the stage to a standing ovation. Tony Hinchcliffe from “Kill Tony” likes to tell the audience that he’s “one of the top young rising comedians on the scene” and Justin Silver who sat next to me when he wasn’t on stage hosting, gave me a great pen to use for taking my notes. I wound up with five pens. Jim Norton closed with an extended 30 minute set, and totally killed as usual.
And after the show as I was sitting there waiting for the next show to start, a really nice staff member came over and said “Jeff there’s a secret show I think you should know about”, and led me to the basement for what turned out to be the Tough Crowd Reunion. People were packed into the room like the Manhattan subway would be if they were giving away money, and then the procession came in led by Colin Quinn, with Bobby Kelly, Rich Vos, Keith Robinson, and Jim Norton. Colin opened by reminding the crowd that the last official show on TV had been on Nov. 4, 2004 so this was their 15 year reunion. He said the only two missing were Patrice and Nick DiPaolo, and that Patrice had the best excuse and that Nick couldn’t be there because he had a gig sitting in his basement. The insults were flying thick and fast. Vos broke up the crowd by asking Norton, “When Nick got fired did you try to steal his show too?” Norton broke up the crowd by asking Colin, “It took 15 years to do a reunion and THIS is where you choose to do it?” They re-created some of the bits they used to do on the show using audience participation. One bit was the “Size Me Up” segment where they take audience members and have to guess their name, their occupation and where they’re from.
One of the participants was Chris Crespo the comic with no hands, and the guys went nuts. But at the end he gave Chris props for being a great comedian and said he had seen him perform and was impressed. The place was in an uproar. When Vos vouched for Chris as a funny comic he said, “ Take it from me Chris Crespo is funny” and Colin immediately came back with “And take it from me, you have absolutely no credibility in the business!” It was hilarious.
They also did a segment on “Solve My Problem” where an audience member disclosed a personal problem and each of them offered a solution. You can only imagine how that went! And then it was over. Colin knew when to end it and the audience wanted to know if they could get the show back on the air. A lot of people said it was the best show of all time.
Back to the green room with Dante Nero, Sal Vulcano, Sam Jay, Sherrod Small, Benny DeMarco who looked like he hadn’t left that room in two days, and tons more comics coming in and out, just hanging out and having laughs, on the way in passing Todd Barry who was on his way to do a spot. The backstage area for the main room was for some reason very small. The next show I was at was hosted by Emma Willmann featuring Dave Smith, Dave Attell, Ari Shaffir who I saw do his hilarious Wandering Jew show, which you didn’t have to be Jewish to enjoy, as he enlightens everyone on what it’s like to be Orthodox Jewish, Mark Normand, and Michael Che. Artie Lange, came and while waiting to go on chatted with Dante Nero who was closing. Attell popped in through a back door to see what was up. He usually closes, probably because no one wants to follow him if they don’t have to!
RoastMasters was totally insane. I got to see Erik Bergstrom win a battle and be congratulated by every single judge on the quality of his jokes, every one of which was a winner. Judges were Sal Vulcano, Tony Hinchcliffe, Kim Congdon, Rich Vos, Big Jay, and Mike Lawrence. Where it got crazy was, and I couldn’t see exactly what happened because of where I was standing and how crowded it was, but somewhere in the middle of the show Ari Shaffir who was yelling out from the back of the room challenged Luis J. Gomez to a weigh-in making fun of his weight. Somehow they got a scale and Luis said he didn’t weigh a pound over 221. He started to disrobe to weigh as little as possible and took off his shirt but left his shorts on. The crowd chanted for him to get naked. The next thing I knew, and I’m not sure why, but the crowd chanted for him to take a leak. which it looked like he was going to do on the judges because they all got out of their seats and ran. He quieted down and went where no one could see him and filled a cup with pee which he showed to the audience. t was a big cup and half full. Then he got on the scale, which registered 228 pounds.
This seemed to set Luis off. He was holding the cup of pee the whole time brandishing it as if it was a weapon. To the judges it was. Of course the audience first chanted for him to drink it, and when he refused to do that they chanted for him to throw it. He faked a throw out at the audience. Then he faked a throw at the judges who were really sure he was going to do it and ran for the sides of the stage. Sal said, “ If there’s pee involved I’m leaving!” The next thing I knew it looked like Luis jumped off the stage chased Ari Shaffir and by the screams in the room I could tell he threw it all on him, which was fitting since last year Ari peed in a cup and threw it in Zac Amico’s face.
The next time I saw Ari he was backstage with no shirt on and drying himself off, so he must have gotten him with the pee! It would have been a fitting end but the Naked Roast Battle 2 was still coming up, and I couldn’t leave before seeing that again. I ran into my old friend Ivy Supersonic and we watched it together. The judges were Mike Lawrence who had done it the night before, Keith Carey who had won his match, and big surprise TV star Steve Rannazzisi from The League who was as naked as all the others. The other big surprise was seeing my buddy Mike Coscarelli who used to produce the Curtis Sliwa/Ron Kuby show on WABC, and who’s now producing the OG podcast network which includes Corinne Fisher and Rosebud Baker’s Two Less Lonely Girls podcast. He too was naked and won his battle. Just amazing how people can be so comfortable standing there completely naked for all the world to see!
I have to say the highlight of the evening, and maybe the whole event for me personally was all of the people who came over to say hi and who read this column. It’s really so gratifying to know that people enjoy your hard work. And as I was leaving the Brooklyn Bazaar to go home around 1:30 A.M. a guy approached me and said, “Don’t forget to mention your fans from Ireland in your column!” He had flown in all the way from Dublin, Ireland just for Skankfest and said he was hoping to be able to tell me how much he enjoys reading the column. That was spectacular to know that people all over the world are reading this, and it was a perfect way for me to end the craziest two days, … of the last week! Can’t wait till next year! Next stop Montreal!!!
More next week, but 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. Pictured, Jeffrey with Lisa Lampanelli, Artie Lange, Luis J Gomez and Benny DeMarco, and Zac Amico.