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 Stand Up New York, The Gotham Comedy Club, and more.
It was the weekend of the Del Close Marathon’s 20th anniversary and all the big UCB stars were in town to honor it and to participate in 72 hours straight of shows. They opened it at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night. I attended the press conference on Friday which was at the new UCB Theatre on West 42nd Street, and it was all the founding members plus a succession of surprise guests. It started with Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts and a founding member that many people are not aware was a founding member, Horatio Sanz, who came out in pink glasses, bright red shorts and red sneakers which gave the other people fodder for Horatio jokes for the first few minutes.
Then Amy commented on the number of beards she saw combined with glasses and took a poll on how many attendees had beards and glasses. It looked like a majority. It seems that every guy feels compelled to grow a beard these days whether his genetics allows for it or not. If you can’t grow a nice beard don’t do it. Trust me, no one is interested in your interpretation of a beard. Long baggy shorts and T-shirts seemed to be the dress for the day.
Ian Roberts, who joined the stage last, polled the audience as to how many people smoked weed, and then identified himself as an undercover cop and told the audience they were under arrest. They also asked for a show of hands of how many people suffered with depression and anxiety and how many were on meds. There were people there who flew in from many countries including Canada, Australia, New Zeland, Scotland and Singapore. Amy gave the stats that the first year they only had 74 seats and 30 shows at their 22nd Street theatre. This year they had 11 stages, 2900 performers and 771 shows over the 72 hour period and Amy asked if anyone was planning to stay for all 72 hours. A couple of people hesitantly raised their hands. They brought out Program Director and longtime artistic Director Shannon O’Neill for a special thank you as she’ll be leaving after so many years, and the entire DCM will be moving to LA as of next year due to the size and problems with logistics of doing it in New York. It’s just gotten too big and they think it’s time for their L.A. brethren to have a shot at it.
There was a door onstage and suddenly there was a knock and Jack McBrayer appeared to huge applause, along with Owen Burke. Then Brian Huskey came out and they told the story of how he had fainted the night before at Carnegie Hall, which he claimed was from lack of food and sleep and ingesting too much of something. It had happened to him before at another DCM and that was the topic of conversation for a while as well. It also came into play later that night at the Kroll and Friends show.
And then a whole crowd of UCB’ers came out including Jon Daly who left fairly quickly, Katie Dippold who wrote for Parks and Rec and wrote the movie Heat for Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, Paul Scheer, who it was said created the famous Match Game thing they do at UCB where he plays his version of Gene Rayburn, and most of the players wind up picking on Jack McBrayer for some reason, and then there was Anthony Atamanuik, and then Sasheer Zamata came out with Keisha Zollar who started out performing in a trio along with Nicole Byer who I’ll be going to see at the 92nd Street Y in about a week or so.
It wasn’t your average press conference. Most of the celebs shared stories of their early days with UCB, and someone dropped a bottle of water which led to chairs being tossed and all the guys throwing themselves on the floor as if they were falling all over each other, in some wild improv sort of way.
Later that night I attended Kroll and Friends the special show that Nick Kroll does every year, and it was at the Griffin Theatre inside the Pershing Square complex also on West 42nd Street and of course it was packed and SRO. A lot of the people from the press conference were on stage with Nick and this time Jon Daly stayed for the whole thing. Nick started out by telling the Brian Huskey story of how he passed out and didn’t want to admit it or didn’t realize the extent of it and Jason Mantzoukas had to catch him and Nick tried helping him as well. After that Nick asked the audience of they had any pass-out stories in their history and called on people including my assistant Kristen who told a story about passing out and winding up in a bathtub. About five people told their pass-out stories and what I didn’t realize was that those stories were going to be the inspiration for what was to come for the next hour. Every performer on that stage absorbed the details of those stories and used them to improv scenes for the next hour which is an amazing feat to accomplish. They made it look easy.
Afterward I went backstage to congratulate Nick and the others on a really great show and to present Nick with a copy of my book which he said he already knew about. He always says he keeps track of what I’m doing! I never know if he’s serious or not when he says that. I thought there was a strong connection between my book and Nick’s hilarious animated show called Big Mouth on Netflix which talks about the pains of going through puberty and growing up, which are the “heart wounds” I talk about that we sometimes carry with us for the rest of our lives, affecting our self-esteem and self-confidence. Only by releasing them can we achieve Happiness. Nick totally got it. I always feel strange giving someone a book because if they have no bag to put it in, they have to carry it with them by hand. But he didn’t seem to mind! We took a series of photos in which he looked more surprised in each one, hence the last one below!
Deon Cole from Blackish and Grownish was headlining Gotham so I went to see what was up and it was very cool. Richie Redding was the host and Deon brought a friend from LA to open for him, and when the friend started Deon’s intro I was looking for him and didn’t see him near the stage. Sure enough he wasn’t in the room yet, but ran up on stage when he heard his name, and told the audience he had been sleeping because New York is so intense that it drains all of his energy. He announced that he’d be running a lot of new material he wants to do for an upcoming Netflix special in November and laughingly said if it didn’t work he didn’t care cause he’d never be seeing any of those people again anyway. But he didn’t have to worry cause it all worked.
He shouted out Tiffany Haddish and made a statement about her being the first Black female to host SNL, and said he’s tired of “firsts” and that we should be beyond that, because how about Black female comics like Sommore, Wanda Sykes and Tracy Ellis Ross as potential hosts. He said they like to talk about the first Black person to do this or that, like the first Black guy to wear a turtleneck while wearing a sombrero.
At one point I went outside the showroom to shmoooze with owner Chris Mazzilli and he was talking to an old friend that he introduced me to, who turned out to be Gary Greenberg the supervising producer and past head writer at Jimmy Kimmel. They were reminiscing about when they both were stand-ups 20 something years ago, performing at the old New York Comedy Club which inspired Chris to open his own club and go on to change the history of comedy in New York City.
Gary was a great guy with a bunch of cool stories and we had a really great conversation about comedy and people we knew, while Chris went off to find an old photo of Gary and his daughter when she was a little girl that he presented to him as a gift. It’s always a fun night at Gotham and you never know who you’ll run into. Gary said that Chris was very funny as a stand-up, and I asked Chris if he ever feels like performing again. He said if he did he could just go up on stage but he loves what he does and doesn’t ever feel the need to perform anymore.
Stand Up New York had a lot going on this week. Jay Nog was there hosting and told me that he and J.L. Cauvin have a podcast called “Making Podcasts Great Again” with J.L. doing his Trump impression which Jay thinks is the best in the biz. They just did their 11th episode and the running gag is that J.L. as Trump never calls Jay by his real name. It’s whatever he feels like at the moment, names like Ray or Kellog, but never Jay. Jordan Carlos was on recently playing Obama and Aaron Berg played a member of MS 13, the racist lawyer who was in the papers recently, and a Canadian football player talking about kneeling for the national anthem. Jay is also in the process of shopping his crazy show “Paid or Pain” for either streaming or regular TV.
It feels like Stand Up has a new innovation every week. They just came out with Laugh Pass -members get all kinds of cool perks and no cover charges, and the club is in the process of bringing that concept to clubs across the country to help them fill their rooms. And as if that wasn’t enough their new online comedy learning series called “Tight Five” is announcing that on a trial basis members can get a free 10 minute phone conversation with the new talent booker to review their set, or to discuss their career in general. Not only that they’ll be offering one on one sessions with the comics in the program like Aaron Berg, Gina Brillon, Marion Grodin, Modi, Tom Kelly and Godfrey. That is an amazing perk.
Speaking of Godfrey he was there when I got there and told me that his SiriusXM radio show “The Power Hour” is getting moved to prime time. It will now also be two hours, from 6-8 P.M. He used to be on from 12-1, but in less than one year because of the success of the show he’s been moved to a 2-hour prime time show. He says it’s mainly talk with an urban view, hence it’s large African-American audience, but it’s well rounded covering many different topics with a diverse guest list. Godfrey by the way is one of the few who actually IS an authentic African-American as he hails from Nigeria. You can also see him on Vlad TV on YouTube which is hosted by a Russian guy named Vlad who used to be a mixtape DJ, and who gets 45 million views a month, so he must be doing something right. He talks about everything from politics to entertainment and has offices in NY and LA, so when Godfrey is in NY they do his segment on FaceTime.
And in line with cool radio news, Geno Bisconte was there as well and made believe he didn’t see me come in by yelling out, “I sure hope that guy Gurian doesn’t come in tonight!” Geno does a show with Aaron Berg called “In Hot Water” that’s on Anthony Cumia’s Compound Media network, and they are going from 90 minutes once a week to one hour four days a week, as what Geno refers to as “the starter or anchor show for Compound Media.” They will now be on from 9-10 A.M. So I asked Geno if he thought an hour would be enough for them and he said, “ There’s never enough time for what Aaron Berg does.” And Geno never fails to thank me for what he says helped get them the show in the first place, because when they first started “In Hot Water” as a podcast, I was the first person to write about it, and they say that’s what led to them getting on Compound Media. Very cool!
I drove out to Queens to check out Gary Levitt’s podcast, “The Gary Hour” which he bills as “a podcast for the curious and introspective” as among other things he was interested in learning more about how I changed my thoughts to conquer my stuttering problem. He’s been doing it for about two years and used to do it with a couple of other guys but found that trying to accommodate everyone’s schedule was getting too difficult so now he does it by himself. You can hear it on iTunes, Sticher and anywhere else podcasts hang out.
One of the coolest alternative spaces is Black Cat Cafe down on the Lower East Side on Rivington Street, and the show I went to was produced by Ryan Dacalos and Danny Palmer, who I first met when he used to do my late night show at The Comic Strip. It’s basically a coffee and tea house but very chill like hanging out in someone’s living room, except there’s entertainment. There’s lot of couches and single upholstered chairs and it’s a really fun space. And fortunately the A.C. was working.
The line-up was strong and Danny told me that after 3 years, the show has really been building to the point where their 10 P.M. show is often SRO. Casey Balsham was there and told me she was looking forward to doing Stand-Up On The Spot, the improv stand-up show at New York Comedy Club later this month, and she said it’s scary at first but it gets easier the more that you do it. She’ll also be doing the Red Clay Comedy Festival in Atlanta later this summer with Ron Funches, Nate Macintosh, and Robby Slowik. Danny said they try and book edgier comics for the space and that many big name comics who I won’t mention don’t do well in this space because of the vibe. They have to have the right vibe and some don’t.
Giulio Gallarotti and Josh Wesson from Fat Baby were both there and Josh told me that since The Stand is closed they’ll be doing a Fat Baby show out at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, and an upcoming Virtual Reality show on the Lower East Side which they just shot a promo for. They’re working with “Jump Into the Light” which is a VR company, and he showed me some 360 3-D photos on his phone that they made of him and the other guys as well. Fat Baby also includes Benny DeMarco and Ricky Velez with Ryan Dacalos filling in for Ricky when he can’t make it.
I ended my comedy week at Alex Babitt’s birthday shows at West Side Comedy Club. He had two shows scheduled for 8 and 10 and on my way in I spotted this beautiful girl coming towards me. It turned out to be comic Eve Evans who reminded me that we did a pilot together for Rip Micheals called “Off The Rip” and that Cardi B was there that day doing sketches with us, and no one could have guessed she’d become one of the biggest stars in the world.
Neko White hosted as only he can and Alex had a bunch of his friends performing. Reg Thomas told me that he and comedy partner Jordan Rock did their Productively Stoned show out in LA, Denver, and D.C., along with an L.A.comic named Mike D’bey. They are currently in talks with Live Nation to take it to Canada. That’s dope! And he says they’ll be doing a Productively Stoned barbecue out in Brooklyn for friends and fans and it will be a comedy show and barbecue sometime later this month. I gotta be there! Reg told me he also created a game show called “The Group Chat” that he’s pitching to networks where comics shoot the shit about all kinds of topics and the comics are the contestants in the game show. That’s all he could say right now.
Other comics on the show were Jatty Robinson and Soraya Ortiz who accidentally told her mother to come to the 8 P.M.show when she was actually on the 11 P.M. show but like a good Mom she stayed to watch her daughter perform. And then a very talented singer opened the 11 P.M show. Her name is Amber Lee and she did a cover and one of her own songs and everyone loved it. I told her she belonged on Empire. Btw, Alex is 24 today! Happy Birthday Alex!
And that’s it for me, 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 Godfrey, Gary Levitt, and Nick Kroll.