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 went to see Russell Peters at Madison Square Garden, George Wallace taping for TV, Colin Quinn and other greats at the Liberty Theater, and more.
I thought it was bad having to drive out to Westbury in a rain storm to see Mike Epps. Try negotiating 20,000 people to see Russell Peters, while dealing with laryngitis, where I literally had no voice at all. I had to whisper all night, but there was no way I was missing Russell kill it in front of a packed Madison Square Garden audience. Up till this point I think he told me his biggest crowd has been in Vancouver where he drew 18.000 people two nights in a row. This was a solid 20,000 and he was as cool and unaffected as if he was entertaining 200 people in a regular club. It’s his Almost Famous tour, named that way stemming from the statement by Chris Rock that Russell Peters is the most famous comedian that no one’s ever heard of. He made $21 million bucks last year so evidently some people have heard of him!
Russell often has two hip hop DJ’s onstage with him, but this night he only had one, and it was Spinbad, one of the best in the biz. He definitely has the best name. Lots of people don’t know that Russell himself was a D.J. and still loves getting behind the ones and twos to spin hip-hop whenever he can. Russell’s openers were interesting choices– Zainab Johnson, the tall modelesque-looking comedian with the shaved head, from Last Comic Standing, and Gregg Rogell. Then there was a big surprise guest, Roseanne Barr. The audience was genuinely surprised. She was very blonde, and only did a few minutes of material before she brought out the one that everyone wanted to see, the one and only Russell Peters.
He opened the show with a very cool video with lots of special effects, and then went on to crush the Garden for the next hour or so. It felt like it went fast. and Russell did a lot more crowd work than he usually does, which is so risky, but he pulled it off. It’s risky cause you never know who you’re going to choose and what they’re going to say, so you’re basically making up your act on the spot. When the show ended we stayed in our seats for a while to let most of the people leave because it’s insane to try and negotiate 20,000 people leaving all at once. As I walked up the aisle I heard someone yell out to me, “Hey weren’t you on Kroll Show?” And who did it turn out to be but my buddy Greg Kelly, the co-host of Good Day New York. I addressed him in my best loud whisper and we agreed that it was a great show.
When we picked up our tickets there were little paper strips with the tickets that said “Immediately after the show, please make your way to the after party at the D.L.”, which is a hip club on Delancey Street. I’ve been there many times and luckily we chose to go and grab a bite to eat before we went down because The Garden show ended about 10:30, but Russell didn’t roll into his after party till about 1 A.M. Everyone was like, “Where’s Russell?” Those “in the know” were looking for Eddie V., Russell’s main guy, and when I hit the VIP room I asked the bouncer if Eddie was there yet and he said he was looking for him too. It was a very eclectic crowd in the VIP area. Comics mixed in with nightlife people which doesn’t often happen. Rarely do you see comics in a regular dance club, cause for most comics dancing is not their thing. But Russell is cut from a different cloth. So mixed into the crowd, I saw Drew Fraser, Gregg Rogell, Kyle Grooms, Keith Robinson, Greg Kelly again, and DJ Melle Mel, who had the most interesting beard, like from the ancient Egyptian statues, just a long point from the center of his chin.
When Russell finally came in I could barely get out the words “amazing show” because it was so noisy. I wound up leaving around 1:30 and the party was just kicking in but I had to go home and rest my throat cause I had other shows to cover this weekend and needed to recover.
So Richie Tienken owner and founder of The Comic Strip called me to let me know that our buddy George Wallace was coming in to be taped for the TV One show Unsung Hollywood, a spin-off of the original show Unsung. The show premiered this year on Feb. 26th and focuses on black film and TV stars like Pam Grier, Kadeem Hardison, Dick Gregory, Flip Wilson and now George Wallace. When I got there, Tom Van Horne who was the MC was hanging out at the bar with Mike Burton while the audience was filing in. George and the TV crew got there around 9:15 and filmed George coming into the club with all the big hellos from the comics who were there, as well as Richie and myself. I’m not sure that you’ll see me in the final cut because George is so big that when he hugged me hello I basically disappeared into his coat!They started out by taking photos of George standing near his old 8×10 from 1976 when he first started at the club, and then pointing at the photo of his best friend Jerry Seinfeld. George was the first comic I interviewed for my book “Make ‘Em Laugh” on the history of The Comic Strip, and he actually came by before the club was even finished and sold Richie bus advertising which is what he was doing in those days. The original logo of the club was “Eat, Drink and Laugh” and thanks to George every bus on first and second avenue in those days carried a poster advertising The Comic Strip. He and Jerry were roommates for 13 years, and he was the best man at Jerry’s wedding. He also said he was actually the father of Jerry’s children. George came up on stage with a yellow legal pad, with notes of new stuff he wanted to try out and stayed on stage for about an hour, maybe more. The other comics who were supposed to be on the show just sat there and watched enjoying the rare opportunity to see George work. You can tell that he just LOVES being on stage, and would have kept on going even longer but Richie eventually had no choice but to give him the signal to cut. And George said, “Look at this, I’m working for free and still get the light!”
George was so funny and stayed afterwards to take photos with all of his fans. The TV crew had been filming him in different locations, and the episode should air sometime next week according to what producer Erica Taylor told me. Since George decided to give up his top-rated Vegas show which he had been doing for ten years, he’s started working for The Pentagon entertaining our troops all over the world. He said he did 45,000 miles this past week alone, and I’m sure he was serious, but you can never really tell if George is kidding or not because during a Q&A he did with the audience, he asked everyone where they were from and every time someone mentioned a foreign country George said he had just been there yesterday, and just flew in. He actually did perform in Japan, Taiwan, Taipei, and Dubai. He also said about living with Jerry Seinfeld that Jerry is fastidious. He said that most people just throw away juice cartons but not Jerry. Jerry would fold them up first before throwing them away.
It pains me to stay home even if I am under the weather so I made myself go to a show that had an interesting concept. A young producer named Hatem Gabr invited me to a comedy show at the gorgeous, and relatively new Liberty Theatre in Times Square, which he called Up Close and Personal starring Colin Quinn, Godfrey, Keith Robinson, Tim Young from Last Comic Standing, and Sherrod Small. Friends of mine on the nightlife scene do big parties there and I had always heard the space was amazing, so I thought it would be an interesting concept to bring a comedy show to a hot club. It’s something I always wanted to do myself. “Hip” people need to laugh too! So my voice came back a little bit, … well actually just enough for me to go with my assistant Peter Lipera, and his lovely wife Chanthan, thinking that we’d film the step-and-repeat action from 7:30 to 8:30, watch part of the show, and then I could head out to Queens to catch Rip Micheals‘ show Comedy In The Hood at the NYC Arena in Jamaica, featuring 16 comics including my dear friend Chaunte Wayans, (does the last name sound familiar?) which was being filmed for Showtime. Only the event started a little later and the step-and-repeat was used to take photos of the guests, not the comics who were performing, so by the time the VIP cocktail party was over and we took our seats it was already after 9. The stage was set inside of this absolutely beautiful theatre which actually had boxes along the walls in the balcony like where Lincoln was shot. It was very dramatic for a comedy space.
A young comic from Brooklyn named Alex Babbitt came over to introduce himself which was very cool, and told me that he was the MC for the evening. It was a great opportunity for him to get to introduce the big names that followed. Luckily he was up to the challenge and was funny and did a great job. Tim Young opened the show very strong, and I recalled seeing him on LCS. He was followed by Colin Quinn, who is a master, and then a surprise, the great Artie Lange took the stage. It wasn’t planned and the audience was thrilled. Then Artie was followed by Russ Meneve, (who replaced Godfrey at the last minute because Godfrey had gotten a gig in Kuwait of all places), Keith Robinson who raised the energy in the packed room, and then closing the show was my pal Sherrod Small, who’s in Chris Rock’s new film Top Five, which opened this past Friday. Sherrod is actually Chris Rock’s cousin. He and Tony Rock refer to Chris as “Chrissy”, and grew up listening to Chris run lines by them to see if they thought they were funny. Sherrod definitely knows funny when he sees it, and the crowd loved him. Hatem Gabr should feel very proud of himself and hopefullly made enough money to buy another vowel for his last name!
After the show, the party continued as it was a regular Saturday night on the club scene and at 11 the club opens to the public. We went back upstairs to where the VIP cocktail hour was to find Artie Lange, Sherrod Small, and Russ Meneve still hanging out. But very briefly! There’s nothing more uncomfortable looking than comics hanging out in a hip “disco” if anyone still uses that word. Comics are used to hanging out in comedy clubs, not in clubs where people plan what they’re going to wear for the evening and come to dance. Russ still had his baseball cap on as you’ll see in the photo below, and needless to say the three of them didn’t stay long. As the club-goers filed in, the comics filed out. But it was a great evening of comedy and I hope they do it again!
My only regret was that I didn’t get to see Rip Micheals’ show in Jamaica! Hopefully he’ll invite me to the next one!
Then comedy producer Alex Brizel invited me down to see his show at Eastville Comedy Club on East 4th Street. I walked in to find Todd Barry and Jim Gaffigan engaged in conversation standing near the bar. After greeting them both Alex showed me to a seat in the club. Whenever I see Jim he always seems to be reviewing his notes on what he’s preparing to do on stage. And after the show he confirmed that for me by telling me that he writes new material all the time. I asked him if he was working on new stuff for a tour but he said no, he just writes new stuff constantly and brought it in to work it out. I won’t tell you what he talked about but believe it or not, none of it was about food! I asked him what he’s doing for the holidays and he said he was going to Milwaukee. Strictly for the purposes of this column, I didn’t know Milwaukee was a real place! I thought it was made up by a beer company or something. It’s the kind of word you’ve been saying all your life but when you really think of it, “Milwaukee” is a very strange word! Jim will be performing in Milwaukee, (if there really is such a place), on New Years Eve at the Pabst Theatre.
I also ran into Rus Gutin a transplant from LA who was booking the Comedy Juice shows at Gotham for a while. He’s taping his first album called Legal Guardian at the New York Comedy Club this week. It’s for Comedy Records a company out of Canada. He chose New York Comedy Club because it’s the second place he ever performed, and his wife and three year old son Rocco are pictured in the artwork on the cover of his album. He said it will be the first time he has anything available on iTunes that he didn’t put there himself. He’s having Mike Mattern as the host for the evening with Gibran Saleem as his featured act, both of whom are very funny guys! Good luck Rus! I will try my best to be there!
I also ran into Joe List who was also trying out some new material. Tuesday night in the clubs is definitely the place to do it. Joe does the Tuesdays with Stories podcast with Mark Normand and when I asked him what it was about he said that he and Mark talk about what they did on the weekend with Mark inevitably telling how he got laid, and Joe inevitably telling how he didn’t! Joe is playing Tacoma Washington in January but for New Years Eve he’ll be at Carolines with Mark Normand and Dan Soder. He said that New Years will mark two years since he stopped drinking. Good for you Joe! I asked him what he used to do for New Years, and he said he used to make a party at his parent’s house, so it’s a lot better to be performing at Carolines!
Then I spoke to Alex Brizel because there are not many young comedy producers these days. Alex is cool and he’s producing a monthly show at Caroline’s called Your Showcase of Showcases and he works with regulars like Mark Normand, Joe List, Michelle Wolf, Dan Soder, Jon Fisch, Nore Davis and Jena Friedman. He works with venues like Eastville and Carolines and he’s also producing a live talk show done in comedy clubs called Running Late which started at UCB, but as of 2015 will be a monthly show at Carolines. He has Scott Ragowski as his host and so far has had guests like Dick Cavett, Regis Philbin, Chris Elliott, and Cecily Strong.
At The Stand this week I found Ricky Velez hanging out at the bar. And Ricky’s been doing some cool stuff since winning the title of New York’s Funniest during the NY Comedy Festival. Caroline’s booked him along with James Adomian and Andrew Schulz to represent them from the New York Comedy Festival on a tour through Belgium, Sweden, Norway and Amsterdam. It was 10 days, 8 shows and 8 cities along with Jim Breuer, Whitney Cummings and Stephen Merchant who besides being Ricky Gervais’ writing partner is also a stand-up comic. Velez said that Antwerp, Belgium was their first stop and they stayed in an elegant hotel. He also said that Norway is the only country where you wake up every day feeling ugly, because everyone in the country is so good looking. When I asked him who hosted every night between the three comics he told me they drew straws to see what order they’d go in every night. Sometimes they’d use local comics to act as their MC’s and they’d perform in their native language which made it weird cause the American comics didn’t know what was being said.
Ricky also told me a great story about working with John Leguizamo lately. They have the same agent who booked them to work together. Ricky was very excited to work with John cause he had always been a big fan, and as he put it, had kind of grown up on Sexaholic. They first did Staten Island together and the next night they did Washington, D.C. Ricky said they now have a great relationship and that after the first show instead of seeing his friends right away, John talked to him in the green room for about 20 minutes comparing their upbringing. John is from Jackson Heights and Ricky is from Queens Village. He said that John goes on stage with a chalk board, and is workshopping a new show that he thinks is called The History of Latinos for Dummies.
Finally, I hit The Comic Strip holiday party that Richie Tienken threw for the staff and the comedy community at large. It’s always good food and holiday cheer. ( Holiday cheer? WTF is holiday cheer?) I can’t believe I write things that sound so corny! Anyway there were lots of comics on hand some of whom were JJ Rodriguez, one of the Latin Lunatics, Dean Obeidallah, the legendary Gladys Simon and her Bob, Ruperto Vanderpool, Dustin Ybarra, who rivals me in the hair department, Brian Scott McFadden who’s letting his hair grow long, Teddy Smith who’s hair is always nice and neat, Howard Feller, who’s hair is a whole other story in itself, Randy Epley, Harrison Greenbaum, Michelle Slonim, Tom-E Latsch, and Scott Blakeman who served as the MC like he’s been doing for the past 30 years.
They played a short comedy video about Richie Tienken which was made by one of the comics, and I got a special holiday present from Nore Davis, a copy of his recent CD from Rooftop Comedy called Nore Davis- Home Game. He came in and yelled out, ” Hey Gurian I got somethin’ for ya!” I couldn’t imagine what it was gonna be, and it was very nice of him to give me one! Nore taped it at The Strip this past August during the course of three shows over a weekend. A club really has to believe in you to give you a whole weekend to yourself. And Nore packed the place for all three shows. Home Game is available on iTunes and Spotify. And Nore also told me he’s working on a pilot for Comedy Central. It’s a late night talk show and he’d be the host. It’s called In Between with Nore Davis and he’s actually filming some sketches for it this coming week. Then on Tuesday, Jan. 20th he’ll be doing a live presentation of the pilot for the public and the industry at UCBeast, and I will be there to support for sure. Nore and I used to do Gladys Simon’s amazing open mic at The Strip, as did so many others before us, and I’m glad to see him doing so well.
That’s it for this week, but I’ll be jumping around all week and I’ll be back next Monday with another new column.
Pictured top to bottom, Jeffrey with Russell Peters, Jeffrey with George Wallace, Jeffrey with DJ Melle Mel, Jeffrey with Nore Davis, Jeffrey with Ricky Velez.