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 visited Gotham, The Cellar, The PIT and UCB.
I walked in to The Comedy Cellar to check out the scene and joined the table with Estee “The Queen of the Comedy Cellar” who’s been booking the club for, I think she told me more than 30 years. I also saw Noam Dworman the owner, Jimmy Carr, Michael Che, and Mike Birbiglia. But it didn’t stop there. Soon we were joined by Gina Yashere, and Cipha Sounds who was hosting the late show, actually the fourth show of the evening! At the next table Gary Gulman was sitting with some friends. As the evening went on we were joined by Marina Franklin, Alan Havey, and Ricky Velez who closed the late show. But closing the late show at The Cellar is not like closing the late show like in the old days where there might only be 6 people left in the audience. This is a full room! I have never seen a light crowd at The Cellar! And just sitting at “the table” feels like an honor and a right of passage. Especially when Estee is there! I can only imagine what it feels like to be “passed” at that club. Every big comic tells me it was their goal.
Speaking of big comics, Jimmy Carr told me some cool things. Jimmy is probably one of the top five comics in the UK. When I asked him what he was doing here he told me he came over just to do The Cellar. And then he said, “ That’s it. I’m actively not taking bread away from any American comedians!” Jimmy is an elegant guy. He wears a sport jacket and dressed up really nice. And his accent sounds real! It was fun hearing him talk to Gina Yashere who has her own version of the accent. It made the conversation seem even more classy. They were trading cool show biz stories from the UK! When Jimmy went up on stage, he didn’t look like anyone else at The Cellar. I don’t think I ever saw another comic in a sport jacket and dress shirt. And he held a large pad proudly in his hand, with jokes on it, and glanced at it occasionally as if he was reading a proclamation. Some comics bring papers on stage and try to kind of hide them, or put them on a stool or something. Jimmy did it with elegance, like you would expect from a British guy! Very classy! He’ll be up in Montreal as usual at the ened of July for the Just for Laughs Festival.
Mike Birbiglia just had his first baby, a little girl named Oona, and he looked ecstatically happy! And a little bit tired. He’s preparing to go out on the road all this week with Judd Apatow, Colin Quinn, Vanessa Bayer, and Amy Schumer to promote their upcoming movie Trainwreck written by Amy and directed by Judd. I’ll be seeing Judd tomorrow night at the 92nd Street Y when he’s in conversation with Ira Glass about his new book Sick In The Head.
I excused myself from the table to go downstairs and see Gary Gulman’s set because it’s a joy to see him work. Then Greer Barnes took the stage and killed with his jokes and great sound effects. Later at the table Greer asked me if I noticed him looking at me while he was up there! To be honest I didn’t know if if he knew I was there. But Greer said he was directing certain jokes he knew I liked directly to me! Very cool! And Cipha Sounds just got asked to co-produce the second season of MTV2’s Joking Off. It’s kind of a competition show where three teams of two comics each get to make jokes about things on social media. I asked him how he got it. He said they wanted someone who knew urban culture, improv and stand-up, and they might as well have just asked for Cipha Sounds because that’s who he is. It’s hosted by DeRay Davis who is mad funny. Cipha told me he’s bringing his Friday midnight show back to The Stand after the summer but he’s doing his hip hop story telling show at UCB every Friday, and that will be my next stop.
I went to check out the stand-up show at UCB Chelsea on Monday nights called Whiplash hosted by Aparna Nancherla, and she had a great line-up with Mike Vecchione, Simeon Goodson who I had recently introduced myself to at New York Comedy Club because he was so funny, and he was prepping for his Caroline’s gig the next night, Sarah Tollemache and Randy Liedtke an LA comic. He uses props like 2 cell phones to talk to himself and an iPad and he plays phone messages in his act.
And Michael Che was also on the show talking about how dangerous white women are. He said he thinks they even killed Biggie! Michael is just so chill and does his act while leaning against the wall, with one foot up. I tried that once, and lost my balance. Not cool! He said he also writes for Saturday Night Live but you wouldn’t know it cause none of his sketches get on air, like the one he did about the richest Black guy in New York, … Duane Reade! After the show he told me his first year on SNL was amazing. He had so much fun and he said it was great because the cast gelled really well. He said it makes you happy when you see the whole cast score!
Comedy Juice, was strong as ever this week. Rus Gutin was hosting and gave me a copy of his new special Legal Guardian. Jay Pharoah came in and did a set. He also referenced sketches he wrote for Saturday Night Live that don’t get on the air. I guess there’s a lot of that. When Jay was finished they didn’t want him to leave. The audience actually protested him leaving the stage. He apologized but told them he had to go to let the other comics perform. After the show he told me he’s got a new special coming out this summer and is working on a bunch of projects, including a movie and some animated projects as well.
Ben Gleib was in from LA, and when he’s in town he often does Comedy Juice. He told me his show Idiot Test on the Game Show Network, now called GSN, is being moved from Wed. at 8 to Wed, at 10 because it gets it’s best ratings at that time following Rebecca Romijn’s body painting GSN show Skin Wars. Ben told me he did his second Today Show appearance in 2 months with Kathie Lee and Hoda and they played Idiot Test on the show. He said that Ellen has also been playing Idiot Test with her audience and he was getting ready to play it with Al Roker the next morning. He’s also putting time into his podcast Last Week On Earth which is back on iTunes and on Kevin Smith’s Smodcast Network.
Like I’ve been telling you comedy is not only happening in the clubs, it’s in all kinds of venues, and I’ve been branching out. I went to see Vondecarlo celebrate the 2nd anniversary of her musical improv group called Good Catch at The People’s Improv Theater, and it was great. The entire group is so talented it’s crazy. They make up like an operetta on the spot, based on an idea from the audience.
Von was Patrice O’Neal’s wife and she’s also working on a one woman show called Lasagna, title courtesy of Patrice who used that word to describe the stretch marks on a woman’s belly after she gives birth. Von thought it would be an appropriate name because even though the show is not about Patrice, his wisdom and insight was an inspiration for part of it. Von describes it as “a comnig of age story for a 40 year old woman.” It’s a personal journey pulling stories from her book Speak Fluent Man, which comes out on June 30th, in bookstores and on Amazon. The show will deal with Von’s personal growth, body issues and finding her own voice. Von is a strong powerful woman! She was there with her director Jamie Leelo. You can get the book at a discount on her website speakfluentman.com and use the discount code speak5offsm to save five bucks off the price! And the doc she’s doing on Patrice called Better Than You should be shooting some time this summer! I got rare crazy footage of me and Patrice on The Black Phillip Show which the producer is anxious to see. Patrice used to let me film while we were on the radio and it’s priceless!
I went back to UCB Chelsea to check out Livia Scott’s Sketch Program and it was great. Didn’t get a chance to see Livia but I did get to see a comic I had been hearing about for a while, Sean Crespo who is really very talented. Some comics only do improv some only stand-up, but Sean does both and hosts his own stand-up show at UCB called Lazers In The Jungle every Thursday at UCBeast from. His wife Carol Hartsell who I knew originally from Comix comedy club and UCB is now also the web producer of FOX’s new comedy site Internet Action Force. Must be a fun family at home. He said they also have lots of pets! And they’re developing a show for TV which will be part sketch. He’ll tell me more when he can. Another stand-out on the show was Jeff Solomon, from the sketch comedy troupe Elephant Larry, and who’s also been seen on Person of Interest and Orange Is The New Black.
I was excited to see Sebastian Maniscalco who was headlining Gotham Comedy Club, and who sold out so fast they had to add extra shows. Joe Matarese got them ready by having a really strong opening set. And he does a great Tony Soprano impression. He’s the perfect opening act for Sebastian. And watching Sebastian perform is not so much like watching a show but more like having an experience. He uses his unique voice in so many ways and he’s very physcial often acting out his jokes, which makes them even more powerful, and funny. The room was so crowded, I gave up my usual table to a group of people, and it was almost impossible to find a seat. I was sitting next to one woman who repeated each of his punchlines out loud as if she just had to hear them again! He literally got screams from the audience. They were SCREAMING with laughter. His family stories, especially about his Dad, are a great source for his material. He says his next special will be taped at The Beacon Theatre in Manhattan.
Jeffrey Gurian is a comedian, writer and all around bon vivant in New York City. Subscribe to his YouTube channel. Below, photos, Jeffrey Gurian with Jay Pharoah, then Jimmy Carr, and then Vondecarlo.