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, and more.
This week, Neruda Williams‘ first annual Harlem Comedy Festival was in full swing and as you might have expected, it was a blast! I got to judge some new talent along with Luisa Diez at a place called Gin Fizz right next to Sylvia’s and The Red Rooster on Malcolm X Blvd. Luisa is the producer for a new Seeso show called Schtick or Treat with Mark Normand and Matt Ruby, and I was happy to say that when we compared our choices at the end of the show, they were exactly the same.
Besides the jokes, a couple of funny things happened that I couldn’t figure out if they were part of the show or not. A very big guy named Daniel Ahrens took the stage and immediately fell down, and it was pretty hard for the host to help him up. He also spilled water all over himself and no one knew if the whole thing was part of his act or not. It seemed very real. And then a woman named L. Michele was performing and a maintenance man came out and started mopping the stage walking right in front of her as if she wasn’t even there. Maybe he was mopping up the water from the guy who fell down.
The festival ran for six days and Neruda booked it all himself, with the help of a couple of friends, comic/producers Jimmy Martinez and Antoine Ashe who do a weekly Monday show there too called Uptown Comedy Classic. Another funny thing happened when Jimmy came over to say hello, and happened to be holding a wad of cash. He said to me, “How about doing a tight ten?” which caught me unawares and I thought he was asking me to borrow ten bucks, so I took out my money, and he started to laugh at the fact that I thought he had been asking me for money. He was actually offering me a ten minute spot, which made me feel like a farmer who had just gotten to New York for the first time, but I was dressed for judging not performing so I asked for a rain check.
So I sat down with Neruda after the show and of course I had to ask him how he got his name. Turns out his dad is a Professor at The New School in Princeton and he was named after the writer Pablo Neruda! Good thing he wasn’t a fan of Oscar Wilde! He’d be Wilde Williams! He said there were so many comedy festivals, but none in Harlem and none that featured mostly Black comedians. THAT’S probably why they offered me a spot! Affirmative action in action!
Luisa, who used to book The Knitting Factory was telling me about Schtick or Treat. The show is new on Seeso, but it’s been around as a live show for 9 years already. It had been a live show in venues like the Bowery Poetry Club, The Knitting Factory, and Arlene’s Grocery. And the concept is interesting. It’s stand up comics performing as legendary comedians either dead or alive. The show premieres on October 27th in a one hour Halloween special, and then there will be two live shows that will run closer to two hours each. One is on October 26th at The Knitting Factory, and the other is in LA on October 30th at The Virgil theater, and both will feature approximately 40 performers each doing 2 minutes.
She said the productions are complicated and very involved, with lots of light and sound cues and audience plants. Some of the performers she mentioned that I remember were Julio Torres, newly chosen to be on the SNL writing staff, Nick Vatterott, Amber Nelson, Matteo Lane, and my old buddy Adam Mamawala.
Kenny Warren was there too and told me about his show Comics Cutting Comics. Kenny is a busy guy producing several shows in town at The Village Lantern and The Grisly Pear, but his internet show “Comics Cutting Comics” is very original and really fun. Kenny’s got a hair cutting place on 124th and Lenox called “Levels” which he described as “ a Black man’s country club.” It’s a thing for Black guys to like to hang out in the barber shop. Originally from Portland, Oregon, Kenny started out as a party promoter, and one day a DJ asked him how he was able to get so many people to come out, and Kenny said he didn’t really know cause he’s just “ an average Black man” which he kept as his logo. Kenny Warren, “average Black man!”
The first episode of the 2nd season featured Leonard Ouzts, Matt Richards, Usama Siddiquee, and Napoleon Emill. Regulars are Larry Beyah and Barry Ribs. So comics sit around and while they’re having their hair cut, they discuss politics, sports and people’s “comedic roller coaster ride” of ups and downs. He invited me on, but I don’t know how I’d look in a fade.
Andrew Schulz checked in and told me about his new special that he’s presently shopping to networks. He said the concept is “A Night In NY”. He does 5 different sets in 5 different comedy clubs in NYC. He also films the cab rides in between so you get to see his hour special while getting a look into what it’s like to be a NYC comic on a Friday night. He likes to do his hometown of NYC once a year, so he’ll be headlining Gotham the weekend of the 14th in October, and he’s currently on his HezzyTation Tour. In response to my question about whether he was changing his look cause he didn’t wear a baseball cap or plaid shirt the last time I saw him, he laughingly said it’s not a new style, he just felt like putting on a polo shirt!
I couldn’t wait to go see Nick Kroll and John Mulaney’s Oh, Hello show at the Lyceum Theatre, even though I’ve seen it several times, and actually participated in it a few times, most recently in Montreal where I presented Judd Apatow with the big tuna sandwich. But the show was completely different. The boys wrote a lot of new stuff to honor the fact that it was on Broadway. They knew they had to bring it, to justify it to a Broadway crowd. They still can’t believe they’re on Broadway. Kroll and Mulaney are the new young hot duo. And they went all out for Broadway. They even got new wigs, but fortunately kept their make-up person Annamarie Tendler Mulaney, whose Playbill bio says she considers Gil and George to be her greatest friends and her greatest adversaries. And then adds, “she is currently not on speaking terms with either of them!” She happens to be John’s wife and was gracious enough to take the photos you see below.
In the middle of the show, they do their Too Much Tuna thing and the recipient this night was Katie Couric who looked like she was having the time of her life. She was a great guest and engaged in spirited banter with the boys. After the show I went backstage to congratulate them and on the way backstage I was taken past something I guarantee you will not find in any other Broadway theater, tall metal shelves filled with cans of tuna and jars of mayo. They have to keep making these huge tuna sandwiches every night, so that part of the backstage area looked like a supermarket! When I saw the guys, they had already taken off their make-up cause they do that right away, and they told me that they had regards to me from Robin Byrd, my old friend from her eponymously named “Robin Byrd Show”, and who they said was the recipient of the big tuna sandwich on a previous night. John always kids me that I’m the Forrest Gump of comedy because he says I know everyone, and that’s when I told him I also know Katie Couric from our mutual friendship with my good friend High Voltage, the health guru, who at one time was Katie’s trainer. He didn’t even seem surprised!
Also backstage was Comedy Central exec Kent Alterman, and Nick’s parents who are so gracious. I asked them if they come every night or if it’s just a coincidence that we’re always there at the same time, and Nick’s Mom said she was going to ask me the same thing! The show opens officially on October 10th and runs for 120 shows, so you better get your tickets quick or they’ll be gone!
Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling did a charity event for the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center which houses 137 medically compromised children and it was a very nice crowd at The Cutting Room, thanks to the producer Jeff Buffum and Angel Compass Network. Knowing Jackie’s material I was hoping there would not be any children there and there weren’t. He started off clean and warned the upscale audience that it would get rougher, and it did, and they went along with him for the ride. They also had an auction and raised a lot of money for the charity, and they had me there to do a book signing for my book Laughing Legends because Jackie was in the book and he stayed after his set to greet people and sign books.
Roast Battle at New York Comedy Club was particularly vicious this week. The comics were funny, but I think the judges may have been even funnier. Yamaneika Saunders was straight-up brutal in her hilarious commentary calling each of the white comics the “n” word, which both surprised and confused them at the same time. Mike Cannon, who had just gotten back from his honeymoon in Bali was also a judge as was Leonard Ouzts who had just gotten back from pitching his sitcom in LA with Adam DeVine, who was interested in producing it. Leonard said it was a great feeling to be able to meet so many network execs and get such good feedback, and Mike said he saw cockfights in Bali where they attached knives to chickens and let them battle it out.
The Roast battle wasn’t that brutal where actual blood was let, but it came pretty close. It was Alex Engelbert first against Matt Maran, who may have told the longest joke in the history of joke-telling. It felt more like three jokes in one, and Mike Cannon referred to it as a sonnet! It felt more like a three act play. And Carly Aquilino came in and told me she didn’t really like to judge roast battles because she doesn’t like to be mean. I totally agreed with her because I understand that, but then when she came into the room, she agreed to be the fourth judge, and she was funny, but not mean! Chloe LaBranche, described on her website as a retired debutante, went up against Pat Dixon who had some great lines, and among other things told her that she was to comedy what geese were to Capt. Sully. He won!
And then the headline battle was SNL writer Dave Sirus vs. undefeated champion Marc Gerber with four straight wins under his belt. But I guess there was no more room under his belt because Dave who started off slow, came on strong and won the thing. And he was laboring under having dropped a knife on his foot which is always a big fear of mine, and then having had to attend a family member’s funeral that morning, but he came through depicting Marc as a child molester whose favorite pick-up line was “Let’s Nickelodeon and chill!”
Yamaneika said there’s a reason that more Black people don’t do these Roast battles because with some of the things said, they would just start killing people. Barry Ribs was there to watch and he said he asked the club for a second chance to do a Roast Battle because I guess the first time didn’t go so well, so he’ll be battling Mike Bocchetti and that will be one not to miss.
Dick Capri of Catskills on Broadway fame, and the very first comic I ever wrote for who was like a mentor to me, got to perform with his comedian son Jeff Capri for the very first time on the stage together at The Borgata Hotel this week in Atlantic City. Dick is one of the funniest, and nicest guys in the game who spends most of the year in Florida these days.
I ran into Jordon Ferber at Broadway Comedy Club who was there performing on a show produced by Janice Messitte, and Greg Kritikos. Many comics have podcasts, but Jordon’s is a very rare one because it deals with the loss of a loved one, and the grief that follows. Jordon, unfortunately has personal experience, because he lost his brother Russell in a car accident, and every year does a comedy benefit in his name. In this podcast, he will be talking with other bereaved people about their losses and the process of overcoming their grief. Janice Messitte happened to have been his second episode talking about the grief of losing her husband only two weeks after their wedding. The podcast is called Where’s The Grief? and it’s available on iTunes and Stitcher. Other guests have been Kevin Bartini, Dan Soder, and Angelo Lozada. It’s the kind of podcast that’s necessary and that you hope you never have to be a guest on.
Speaking of not wanting to be judgmental, I drove out to Secaucus to participate in Kevin Gootee’s Comics Watching Comics shoot cause I had been hearing so much about it and wound up with the honor of being the “Overall Judge” or as Kevin put it, the “Master Panelist”. The other esteemed judges were Jim Mendrinos, Amy Shanker, and Sean Lynch all hilarious in their own right. I had no idea that Sean was so good at doing voices and dialects. We were judging new comics, (except for a couple of established ones that made their way into the competition, and it was obvious that they knew what they were doing), and I had the final say. For four hours we watched comics who had been filmed performing live at New York Comedy Club, and made humorous remarks while judging their performance. For a person who tries not to be judgmental, I didn’t know I had it in me to be so mean! What we noticed about a lot of these young comedians is that they weren’t prepared. A few seemed like actors or sketch players that decided to try their hand at stand-up. The two don’t necessarily mix. Note to new comics: Just because it happened to you doesn’t make it funny. It requires jokes with punchlines. Not just a repeat of your day, packing the audience with your friends who will laugh at anything you say, cause they think you’re the funniest guy or girl in your group. 5 contestants will go on to the next round.
I sat with each of the judges to find out what they had going on. Jim Mendrinos is a walking miracle. It’s been about two years since he was severely injured in an Amtrak crash, and when I asked him how he was doing he said, “I’m no longer dying.” He suffered head injuries which left him unable to perform for a while. When he could start up again, he was only able to remember 15 minutes of material at a time. Through therapy and hard work, he’s back to doing 45 minute spots and headlining around the country. Plus, he pulled a Louis CK and wrote, produced and directed a TV series called Living in Exile which will start airing on Amazon Prime starting in January with Season 2 coming next summer. Jim said it’s about a guy who gets divorced after being with a woman for 14 years, and his ensuing mid-life crisis from the male POV, and it’s packed with tons of NY comics. I watched the trailer and saw Lori Sommer, Liz Miele, Carole Montgomery, Ellen Karis, and even Leighann Lord who was Jim’s ex. That’s very cool!
Amy Shanker is bringing a Chicago-based show to New York at Union Hall in Brooklyn. It’s called The Blackout Diaries and it’s comedians and regular people telling stories of when they got blackout drunk and crazy shit happened. Sounds really fun, and it’s going to kick off with Sean Patton and Nick Vatterott who just knowing them makes me confident that they have great blackout stories. She’s co-producing with Ali Clayton and Sean Flannery, and I was thinking maybe I should tell her about the time I came out of a blackout and found myself in a Japanese temple in Queens in the midst of a ceremony in my honor!
Sean Lynch is still doing his show at The Comedy Loft and was reallly excited about being in Season 7 of AMC’s hit The Walking Dead playing a character named Max who he said is one of the flunkies for the bad guy on the show. I thought they were all bad guys.
I finished off my comedy week at Corinne Fisher’s birthday party at a bar on St. Mark’s Place, because I would never miss Corinne’s party, or the chance to wish her luck and congratulate her on all of her success. A lot of people don’t know that Corinne was my assistant for a year and we got very close. She and Krystyna Hutchinson are kicking butt wherever they go. Sold out shows and tons of fans. The party was so crazy there was a long line to get in, two hours after it started. So many comics were there it was like a mini-festival, some of whom were A.Marie Castillo, Madison Malloy, Walker Hays, Mike Coscarelli, Myka Fox, Krystyna Hutchinson of course, and I wound up hanging out with Emilio Savone and Ankara Savone, and Harry Terjanian from the Beige Phillip Show podcast who’s leaving for Italy next week. I stumbled out around 1:30 A.M. and it was still going strong.
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 Gurian with Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, Luisa Diez and Neruda Williams, Jim Mendrinos, Amy Shanker, Sean Lynch and Kevin Gootee, and Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson.