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 in Astoria, New Jersey, Podfest NYC, and the Friars Club
Cristina Cote brought her all female Hersterical show to the hallowed halls of The Friars Club in another benefit for Gilda’s Club, and once again did double duty as host and as her alter-ego Svetty the Russian model, around whom no rich man is safe. During the show which featured Michelle Wolf, Janelle James, Leah Bonnema, Adrienne Iapalucci, and Yamaneika Saunders there was a video of Svetty with Kenan Thompson from SNL playing Al Sharpton who seemed not to know he had been elected as The POTUS, and it was shot in the halls of SNL which was very cool. Another surprise which Cristina shared with me and which I kept to myself was that Leslie Jones would be making an appearance as soon as she could break away from SNL as it was a night where they write, but she came in and did at least 30 minutes in a killer set during which she wondered if she was the first Black person to ever be in The Friars Club. (She was not by a long shot, but it was funny!) After she did her “material” she did crowd work at The Friars and “shpritzed” the people at each table. Even me! She went around to each table comedically, and took a chance with the older, staid crowd but it paid off because they loved her. When she got to my table she made believe she didn’t know me and said I looked like the last rock and roller, and asked me how my band was doing.
Afterwards she held court outside the Milton Berle room where the event was held and everyone there wanted to meet her. She was so gracious and stayed for photos and kissed and hugged everyone who came over to meet her. She even said to me, “I hope you didn’t mind that I was fucking with you!” and I told her I loved it! She was so accommodating, she even left a birthday message for someone on their phone. It was another great night at The Friars.
NBC’s digital arm Seeso taped a new show this week called Debate Wars hosted by Michael Ian Black and I went up to the studios at 106th and Park to watch it all go down. The invite I got was called for 4 P.M. and even though I should have known better I actually got there at 4, to find a long line in the street and a bunch of executives of the show hanging out in front. Producer Dan Pasternack, formerly of IFC lead me inside through what looked like a secret passageway to be seated. Dan who while at IFC shepherded in both Portlandia and Comedy Bang! Bang!, is now heading up Big Beach TV, the production arm behind Debate Wars. Being seated early allowed me to catch up with warm-up comic Kevin Bartini who holds the distinction of being the only comic to do warm-up for all four shows that Jon Stewart has been involved with– The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, The Nightly Show where he is now and has been since the show’s inception, and The Late Show with Steven Colbert where he does warm up when they need him. He got to do Debate Wars by contacting his Facebook friend Dan Pasternack who hooked him up with the gig.
On the episode that I watched being taped the guests were Phoebe Robinson, Eugene Mirman, Janeane Garofalo and Andy Dick. The concept of the show is that two teams of comics and improvisers enter the “Debatium” to settle “the greatest arguments of all time.” In this case it was “Vacation vs. Staycation.” It was a fun show and afterwards Michael came down to say “Hi” and we had a chance to catch up a little bit as there was another episode to be taped right afterwards. Michael and I have been friends for about 20 years since we co-wrote a movie for Sony called I’m Your Man. It was the very first interactive movie ever made, where the theatre, (Sony Theatre on 19th Street) was outfitted with remote thingies where the audience could vote on the direction the movie was taking. Interestingly enough, this new show “Debate Wars” used the same kind of technology where the audience also gets to vote for which concept they like best by pressing buttons leading to an immediate tabulation of results. Michael told me this new show is actually based on an existing show they had been doing live called Uptown Showdown, which they decided to turn into a TV show. He’s also currently filming scenes for The Jim Gaffigan Show and they’re shooting all around town in places like The Museum of Natural History and Katz’s Deli. Michael told me he also has a new stand-up special called Noted Expert which is available on demand on EPIX. Debate Wars is a show you will enjoy, and I wish I could have stayed for more tapings, as they taped six episodes over the course of three days, but I had to jump around to something else! Aparna Nancherla who was on another episode is also one of the producers.
It took me almost two hours to get out to Montclair, New Jersey to see The Diceman, Andrew Dice Clay crush to a full house at the Wellmont Theatre with the street blocked off by police and lines around the block as we arrived, and it was worth the trip. Dice was incredible and is truly the only comic who has ever done what he’s done. To be at the very top, then disappear from the scene for many years only to come back again and rise to the top. It’s unheard of. But that’s Dice. Always what you don’t expect. Jim Florentine opened for him as “Wheels” wasn’t there that night and Jim had the unenviable task of playing to a crowd that was still being seated and talking loudly. It was a very tough spot, but he made it work. Then Dice came out and did a strong hour, which really flew by. He did something he had planned with me on the phone. He kind of mixes improv in with his stand-up as he becomes like a stage-therapist directing his remarks to one couple he chooses from the stage and who he referred to as Joey and Myrna. Joey and Myrna have been married for 7 years, and he said he felt like he could open up to them, so after discussing the breakdown and the pain of losing his own marriage, and how he met a girl two hours later which made him feel a lot better, he gave them “advice” on how to keep things fresh and “hot”! He talked to them like they were the only two people there and the audience was watching this all unfold, as if they were voyeurs in a therapy session, but somehow he was actually addressing all of them at the same time. We laughed about it after the show because he had been confident that he knew how to make it work onstage and he did. To the extent that he got a standing ovation from the packed crowd at the end of the show, which he ended with his nursery rhymes that the audience shouted along with him. They all knew them word for word. He also gave everyone permission to take photos and film him on stage at the end. It was nice to see Dice getting the accolades he deserves.
So after the show, we hung out at the stage door waiting to go back and see Dice. After a while, his manager Bruce Rubenstein came and called us in and was so kind and told me some nice things that Dice had said about me and he said, “And Dice doesn’t say that about a lot of people.” It was a very intimate gathering backstage with Dice’s constant companion Happy Face, (AKA Michael Malandra) who really does have a happy face, Dice’s agent Peter Pappalardo, Jim Florentine, and Dice’s sister and some family members who all call him Andrew. We had food and drinks and Dice treated us to listening to some new tracks his sons Max and Dillon laid down with their band “Still Rebel” as Peter Papalardo hadn’t heard them yet, and Dice was anxious for Peter to hear them. Somehow they managed to channel the energy of bands like Led Zep from the 70’s and it’s amazing to listen to them. It was a very special time. He remembered a time when he played the Wellmont and out of more than 500 seats, only about 150 people showed up. This night, every seat was filled. Dice said he’s on a grueling schedule, but he loves it and is very grateful for all the good that’s happening for him. At one point, Dice told me almost jokingly, but somewhat serious that I should do an entire column JUST on Florentine, and I should include minutia that no one cares about, even what Florentine likes to eat, which he thought was funny, because sometimes Dice is into creating awkwardness!
This weekend was Jeremy Wein’s Podfest, an entire weekend of podcasts both in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and I chose to go to the Manhattan location which was a cool space called Cake Shop down on Ludlow Street. I went down to catch Dave Juskow’s podcast because he was having on Rachel Feinstein and Marina Franklin, two of my faves, who are both good friends and enjoy performing together. It was at 3 in the afternoon on a rainy Saturday so it was a small crowd, but an appreciative crowd and the hour went quickly. As I took my seat Dave commented that I was everywhere, and that the last time he saw me was at Abe Vigoda’s funeral. It was an entertaining hour with Dave and the girls bantering back and forth, and they are obviously also good friends with Dave. He and Rachel did a Soul Cycle class together before the podcast and Marina admitted going dancing and making out with Dave on the dance floor and Dave reminded her that she then wound up kissing another guy as well, which she laughingly admitted to. They were joined by a guy they only introduced as Memo, who I think is a radio guy. Because I only had an hour on the meter, and had to literally run back to my car so as to avoid a ticket. I never got to find out more about him. I barely had time to say “Hi” to Greg Proops who was upstairs waiting to do the next podcast. Oh, and during the podcast, Rachel shouted me out as having fell into a deep sleep while I was listening, which was not true! She also noticed me taking copious notes which I explained away as not being notes, but that I was sketching them all. It was a fun time and worth the hour of traffic!
I ended my comedy week out in Astoria at a big, sold-out show produced by Legendary Entertainment’s Greg Kritikos, and Mike Rockwitz, along with George Zouvelos’s Fiat Luxury Entertainment and it was a very classy event with the audience provided with food and drinks as part of their admission price and being in Astoria, it was a heavily Greek crowd. As an unexpected treat, film star Sean Young showed up wearing a track suit, and did an impromptu, highly energetic dance routine all by herself while the opening music played. Greg opened the show with a short animated film and was also the host and did a spot. Janice Messitte, who’s one of the strongest female comics around, acted as a roving MC before the show, getting everyone in the mood. Nicky Sunshine started the show off, Irene Bremis, who’s Greek wowed the crowd with her Greek-oriented material, Mark DeMayo headlined and as he grew up in Astoria, he had many fans that came out to see him. And Barry Ribs killed it and at the end took a sobering moment to announce that the comedy community lost one of its own, a great guy who went by the name of Comedian Lord. Lord was a very kind, gentle soul who was also very funny and from the first time he came over to introduce himself to me at The Comic Strip, always went out of his way to be gracious and encouraging and always had a positive word for all his fellow comedians, many of whom posted tributes to him on Facebook. R.I.P. Lord, you are already missed.
And on that note, … 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 Gurian with Dice, Michael Ian Black, Jim Florentine, and everyone at the Astoria Comedy Show.