Notes From a Comedy Junkie Visits the New York Comedy Festival 2018: That’s Offensive, a visit to the Cellar, Louis C.K. and more!

It was my first time attending the New York Comedy Festival and here are a few of my highlights: A panel with , a private show, two trips to the Comedy Cellar and a drop in by Louis C.K.!!!

Saturday: Ron Bennington and his Degenerates

Ron Bennington and his panel of comedians: Ari Shaffir, Big , Yamaneika Saunders and Liza Treyger explored the various ways the “new sensitivity” is taking it’s toll on comedy. Three out of four of these comedians were featured in the recently released Netflix special, “The Degenerates” and Ari Shaffir is always fearless when it comes to speaking his mind, so Bennington definitely put together the perfect panel to address this topic!

It didn’t take long before the group brought up social media and it’s pitchfork mentality as being one of the major ways they feel the effect of this new sensitivity on a regular basis. They shared stories about not only receiving complaints but also being actually threatened through this online mode of communication which offers its users veiled anonymity. Big Jay shared how PETA and its constituents attacked him and even went after his daughter when they disagreed with a joke he wrote about Michael Vick. Yamaneika said that her haters never fail to insult her weight and race whenever they go after her, Ari Shaffir recalled receiving an actual death threat from a disgruntled troll and Liza Treyger revealed that men have threatened to rape her after disapproving of her material. This is horrifying! Where is the logic?! How could anyone actually think that disapproving of someone’s jokes makes harassing or threatening them with physical violence a reasonable response?! Social media is definitely a powerful tool and Yamaneika stressed the importance of being just as loud and vocal about the comedy you love as the haters are about the comedy they find offensive.

 

Ron asked the panel whether they could be friends with someone if they didn’t like their comedy. Most of the comedians up there said no because shitty material is often an artifact of that comedian being a shitty person. That reminded be of when Jerry told Howard Stern that he doesn’t have anything to say to a person unless they have good material.

One of the most interesting topics the panel discussed was whether or not you can laugh at comedy that you don’t agree with. This is an extremely important question because it seems that people are forgetting that consensus is not necessary for comedy to be funny. Agreeing with or personally connecting with what a comedian is saying can make the funny hit you harder, but it is not a prerequisite to laughter. I don’t have to agree with anything a person is saying in order to find them funny because funny is funny!!! Another caveat in this conversation is that I don’t look to comedy to calibrate my moral compass so politics, religion or anything else will ever get in the way of my sense of humor because I completely compartmentalize those things from one another. Liza Treyger shared and even named names (Patrice) of comedians whose material she did not agree with but could still admit that she could see the humor in it.

I was raised on Howard Stern and can still remember his countless censorship battles with the FCC like it was yesterday. It actually disappoints me that the battle to silence our freedom of expression is still waging and is maybe even more prevalent today than it was back then. I tend to lean towards a “Fuck the FCC” (or anyone who’s on the side of censorship) mentality and I’m glad that I’m not alone. If jokes insult you, please know that the moment you sit down in front of a stage or turn on the TV, it is no longer about you. It’s about the artist that is on the stage. They are there to share stories, jokes and material as told through their specific life experiences and filtered through the lens of comedy. Once that show begins, the only person in that room who’s entitled to a safe space is the comedian who is on the stage. If you are not open to receiving whatever that comedian is putting out; do everyone a favor, including yourself and simply leave. No one will be upset with you for leaving, just do it quietly and we will actually respect you for it. It’s up to us and our generation to keep fighting the good fight for our freedom of speech because learning to coexist among opinions and taste levels that are different than your own is the ultimate exercise in tolerance.

 

Me and a few of my favorite Degenerates, Big Jay Oakerson and Liza Treyger

The Comedy Cellar: Vol. 1; A Conversation with George

No trip to New York is complete without seeing a show or two at The Comedy Cellar. I had made my reservation to see the late show on Sunday night weeks in advance but when I got out of ’s show on Saturday, I knew I wasn’t quite ready to call it a night and wanted to squeeze in one more show… The Comedy Cellar listed both Big Jay Oakerson and Dave Attell in their late show lineup… PERFECT!!! I headed over to the Cellar and decided to try my luck at standby.

I arrived and took a seat at the bar and within moments the infamous George came up and ordered an espresso. From Just For Laughs in Montreal, to the Comedy Cellar in New York, I have run into George many times throughout my travels, so I said hello and reintroduced myself. He is always super nice and knows all of the ins and outs of comedy, so naturally, he’s one of my favorite people to chitchat with. “This Week at the Comedy Cellar” was being filmed for Comedy Central at the Village Underground that night, so I told him how much I’ve enjoyed the episodes that have aired so far. George explained that the show is meant to be topical and extremely current so there have been times when the comedians were given the list of topics being covered just a few hours before filming. This speaks volumes of the level of talent going up on that stage. I told George that Joe Machi has been one my favorite comedians on the show so far and I look forward to seeing more from him. George asked me who my favorite comedian was and I told him it was Dave Attell. He then turned around and introduced me to Dave Attell. I have already met Attell several times before but it was an incredibly nice gesture and I appreciated the sentiment from the bottom of my heart. With that, our conversation about comedy continued. George and I talked about some of the various different styles of comedy and which ones are our favorites. We talked about Louis C.K.’s return to the stage and although it may not be the popular or politically correct way to feel, I am glad that he is back. We talked about the new sensitivity and the effect it is having on every aspect of life. Then George asked me how I know so much about comedy and I told him that I love to travel and see as much comedy as I can and then write about it. I asked him about the new Comedy Cellar location in Las Vegas. He said that he loves it and that he designed the Vegas spot to be the exact replica of the NYC venue. I can’t wait to pay them a visit! He asked why I travel alone and I told him that I prefer it that way. I explained that I’m a comedy nerd so when I go on a “comedycation” it’s usually to a comedy festival or to a show of significance and that I’m not really interested in doing anything other than seeing shows once I’m there. The truth is that I have tried bringing both friends and family with me on these trips and it always ends up the same way… They’re not as interested in comedy as I am so then I end up having to comprise and miss shows that I wanted to see in order to do other touristy things they want to do. I’m an independent person, who actually has no problem making friends wherever I go, so it’s just easier and just as much fun for me to go by myself. I think he liked my answer because he laughed, said he would be right back and then returned with a ticket for me to see the 12:15 show! How cool! Thank you George!!!!

The show was fantastic and Adrienne Iapalucci blew me away. Her material was adult, hard hitting and edgy but also very well written and funny. Iapalucci would have fit right in as one of the Netflix “Degenerates” and if they ever decide to do a “Degenerates: Number 2” Adrienne Iapalucci should definitely be number one on their list. She’d also be great on “The Nasty Show” in Montreal, so if Just For Laughs is listening, please check her out! I hope to see a lot more of her in the future.  Big Jay Oakerson was another stand out and is always one of my personal favs. He took the stage and I was able to say hello to his girlfriend Christine who came into the room to watch him perform his set. They are the coolest couple in comedy. Jay was hilarious as ever and I swear that his wit must travel at the speed of light because the quickness in which he is able to think on his feet doesn’t seem human!He is such a natural talent. I can’t imagine that this kind of ability can be learned in a class and I’m not the only one who has taken notice of his skills. Oakerson was one of the featured Netflix comedians on “The Degenerates” and he absolutely killed his spot, just like I knew that he would. Besides starring in this edgy special, Big Jayis my favorite podcast host in the world!

Last, but not least was Dave Attell. Dave Attell is one of the only comedians whose cerebral, joke writing intelligence and natural, go with the flow, crowd working ability are both operating at a 10/10. Mastering both of these elements of standup is a very rare occurrence, he’s like a comedy unicorn! Needless to say, he was phenomenal and everyone should see him every chance they get. Checkout the series he and Jeff Ross filmed for Netflix called “Bumping Mics” when it comes out on November 27th! I was there when they filmed one of the episodes and it was amazing!!!!

Sunday Night: Joe List & Jason Kantor put on a Show, I Almost saw Gary Gulman Perform and The Comedy Cellar: Vol 2; Louis C.K. Drops In!!!

Joe List and Jason Kantor Present: Artspace PS109’s Standup Show

One of my favorite episodes of the podcast “Tuesdays With Stories” is the one when Joe List tells Mark Normand the story of putting a private show together in the basement of the building his friend and fellow comedian, Jason Kantor lives in. Last year’s basement show had a ton of great talent in it including Greg Fitzsimmons, Big Jay Oakerson, Ari Shaffir, Dave Attell and the guys even managed to get a drop in by Louis C.K. The show sounded like so much fun that as soon as I heard Joe and Jason were going to be producing it again, during a time when I was going to be in town, the decision to attend was a no-brainer. I immediately bought my ticket. I arrived to the venue. It was a beautiful building that used to be a Manhattan public school but kinda looked more like a haunted castle than a building that people actually live in. Regardless of how it looks on the outside, it had the perfect room for comedy in the basement and I was super excited to be there on this cold evening in November. The lineup consisted of Mehran Khaghani as our host, Dina Hashem, Paul Oddo, Jason Kantor, Joe List and Gary Gulman. There was also mention of a surprise guest that “wouldn’t be Louie this time” but I still held out a little hope that it might be…

Joe List and Jason Kantor put together an incredible evening of comedy

Joe List opened the show and welcomed us to the event and then, with the quick and painless precision of ripping off a bandaid, he broke the news to us that 100% of his “special guests” canceled… but we would still be having one surprise addition to the lineup. It was a comedian who was recently passed at The Comedy Cellar and also happens to be his wife, Sarah Tollemache. After her, Joe introduced our host, Mehran Khaghani. Mehran did a fabulous job. He really knows how to test limits, read the crowd, make appropriate adjustments and then gently lead us out of our comfort zones in a way that we barely notice him doing it. I loved him. He has that very specific likability factor which allows him to say anything he wants and completely get away with it because he’s already hooked the crowd and won us over. There aren’t too many comedians that can do this… Jeff Ross can do it, Big Jay Oakerson can do it and so can Mehran Khaghani.

One after another, each comedian on the roster came up and were absolutely hilarious.This was my first time seeing most of the comedians on the lineup including Jason Kantor, Dina Hashem, Paul Oddo and Gary Gulman. I’ve been wanting to see Gary Gulman perform live ever since I interviewed Jonathan Katz a couple of months ago and he named Gulman as being one of the best comedians in America right now. This marks Gulman’s 20th year in comedy and unfortunately, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that in the 20 years he’s been doing comedy Gary has learned when to hold em and when to fold em. The bad news is that I still haven’t gotten to see Gary Gulman perform live because he was only up there for a few minutes before three loud and intoxicated audience members caused him to excuse himself from the show.

These audience members were residents of the building we were in and had clearly been partying upstairs in their apartments before coming down for the show. All of the previous comedians had put up with them because although they were a bit crude and uncouth, they were having fun, enjoying the show and not really being so obnoxious as to prevent others from doing the same… but that changed with Gulman. He took the stage and there was a moment of quiet that should have been great but instead the two women started literally cackling/scream laughing and the guy who was with them made audible comments. Gary addressed it by telling the guy that he didn’t need any help and acknowledging that the women were laughing when he didn’t even say anything yet. He attempted to push through and get into his material about the differences between his generation and millennials but their weird, off mark laughing that kind of felt like they were laughing at him continued and he simply excused himself from the stage. I tried to change his mind and said, “We love you Gary. They are having fun in their way. This is just their vibe.” He respectfully responded with, “It’s just not for me” and left. I respect his composure and self restraint not to engage with them or show if he was angry because that could have effected the energy of the room and the entire show. Instead he made the mature, professional decision to leave and I completely respect him for doing so. It takes a ton of self control not to lose your temper in a situation like this but he took the higher ground… I only hope I have another chance to see him perform again soon because what little material I heard, I liked. Mehran came out, got the train right back on its track and the event finished strong with Paul Oddo who I had never seen or heard of before but was absolutely hilarious! It was an awesome show and if Joe List ever decides to leave standup, he may have a promising career in production because he and Jason Kantor put on one heck of a show!

The Comedy Cellar: Vol 2; Louis C.K. Drops In!!!

I returned to the Comedy Cellar for my final show of this trip. I got there a little early so the previous show was still going on downstairs. I checked in with the gentleman at the door and then hung out at the Olive Tree Cafe. Mehran Khaghani walked in and I couldn’t have been happier that he was going to be the host for the show I was about to see. I told him that he did an awesome job at the last show I was at and asked him to give Gary Gulman a hug for me. He said that he had already sent him a text in solidarity. Very cool.

A few moments later, the people next to me started taking pictures aimed in direction of the area behind the bar… That’s when I realized they were taking pictures of the monitor of the stage that’s back there because LOUIS C.K. was performing!!!!! The bartender quickly turned the monitor off. I was super giddy that Louie was in the building but also incredibly bummed that I had come so close and yet so far from seeing him. It was breaking my comedy nerd heart!!! Just then a lightbulb went off. What if I went downstairs to pee? I had to go anyway and if I went now instead of holding it until my show started, at least I could lay my eyes on him and get a tiny sample of his new material…. These were the desperate thoughts of a desperate comedy fan but it was my only chance so, carpe diem!!! At first I asked Mehran if I could go down there and pee but he kindly told me, “no” because Louie was on… but then a few minutes later I noticed another customer go downstairs to use the washroom so I asked the waitress and she told me that it was ok for me to go…. I have no shame. Did I mention that?! Anyway, I walked very slowly to the bathroom and took in as much as I could. Louie was telling jokes about penis size and it was very funny stuff. I sat there, peeing and laughing and then headed back upstairs feeling grateful for those few minutes of funny that I got to experience. I was hopeful that he might come upstairs after the show because I have a ton of questions about comedy and his show that I would have loved to ask him but he didn’t. Oh well. Maybe one day….

The crowd from the earlier show emptied out and our show soon began. Mehran did his thing and kept the laughter and good vibes flowing. All of the comedians in this show were hilarious but I especially enjoyed Joe Machi. Can I tell you how much I love him?! Joe Machi is ridiculously funny and completely original. I’m so glad that he’s one of the more frequently featured comedians on, “This Week at The Comedy Cellar” because I’ll take as much Machi as I can get! Will somebody give him an hour special, please?!?!

The show was almost over, so I got up to pee. There was a line by the restroom and Mehran was in it. This was the moment he became my new, favorite person… He turned to me and said, I just want you to know that I was wrong about the bathroom. I should have let you go when you asked and I’m sorry… I told him it was no big deal and I completely understood his reasoning. What a good person! I mean he didn’t owe me an apology and just when I thought he couldn’t be any nicer he said, “Do you want to know a secret? I’m bringing Louis out next so hurry up and pee!” And just like that, he became my new favorite person. I was so excited I jumped up and down and did a happy dance in that tiny bathroom hallway.

And just as promised, the next comedian Mehran brought to the stage was Louis C.K.!!!!! The crowd went ape shit!!! Everyone was applauding, whistling, whooping it up and shouting Loooooooouieeeeee!!!! He opened with some material that had already been worked out, including his acknowledgment of the time he’s been away and the actual dollar amount his transgressions have cost him. He then moved on and asked the audience, “How about some jokes? You guys want to hear some jokes?” We all clapped and eagerly expressed our approval. He had a sheet of paper with notes on it and went through each of the ideas he had written down and would make little comments after each one, like “there’s something there” or “they like this one” or “it needs more work.” This is the element of comedy that tickles me the most. I absolutely love watching the process and getting to be a part of it in even the smallest way is thrilling. I would rather watch a comedian work out their raw material than the finished hour any day of the week. The process fascinates me because it allows me to see them as artists working at their craft and not as mere performers reciting perfectly sculpted words and phrases. C.K. has some really good stuff in there. This could be his greatest hour yet and it’s almost done. I’d guess that he’ll have it all worked out and be ready to take this show on the road by early 2019 if he wants to. Good luck and Godspeed, Louis and for what it’s worth, I’m glad you’re back.

Until next time, New York. Thanks for the funny @benningtonsxm @siriusxm @siriusxmcomedy @comedycellarusa @joelistcomedy ✌🏼❤️🎭🥰 #adieu #comedy #standup #standupcomedy #comedynerd #comedyjunkie #manhattan #newyork #ilovenewyork #nyc

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Sara Dahms
Sara Dahms
Sarah Dahms is a comedy superfan hails from Chicago and travels all over the country checking out the best comedy everywhere.