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Let's Do Something Different with Comedy Crowdfunding

By this point you’ve read a billion think-pieces on crowdfunding. Is it saving art? Is it the worst thing to happen to art? You’ve seen Veronica Mars and Reading Rainbow come back through it. And whether you like it or hate it, there’s no denying that crowdfunding is a major force in the creative world today and it’s going to be a tool that artists of all mediums utilize for the foreseeable future. Here’s the thing: there are so many weird and cool and thought-provoking ideas out there, but somehow the vast majority of the comedy projects out there have been the variations on the same theme: “Help me make my webseries.” “Help me make a short film.”

Hold up. I’m not saying webseries are bad. (Hey! Check out my author blurb at the end of this article to go watch mine!) They’re not. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what can be done with crowdfunding. So, to highlight some of the amazing stuff that can be done in this medium I’ve selected some really creative projects to inspire you. And, great news! They’re all still active so if you like it, put a ring on it! READ MORE

Louis C.K.'s 'Dianetics': Inside His Weird and Wild Three-Hour Radio Show

26 minutes into a three-hour advice show Louis C.K. hosted in 2007, a guy named Blake calls up. Blake says he’s driving solo from Dallas to Oklahoma City that night and wants to know if Louie is going to just keep fucking around, or if he actually has anything good planned. At the end of the three hours Blake calls again, about to arrive in Oklahoma City, and says it’s been an “amazing ride.” I want to argue that Blake is being an understating piece of shit here, because this show is like…well…it’s like… REALLY amazing! It’s like the most Louis C.K.-y thing ever, and on top of that: it’s good. And beyond that, falling where it does in his career, it acts as a near-perfect summation of what makes Louie so unique. Let's call it Louis C.K.'s Dianetics.

What the hell am I talking about? Good question. There’s a block of programming on SiriusXM satellite radio Saturday nights 8-11pm that they use to test out shows that might then be moved to different time slots. Usually a few people host them together, and usually they have a strong idea for what the show will be about beforehand. Louis C.K. agreed to host one night in 2007, but he had neither of those things. I actually couldn’t find the exact date, but he talks about getting his first iPhone that day and then sitting on a park bench trying to figure it out all afternoon rather than preparing anything for the radio show.

The show that night does start out with him kind of fucking around and insulting callers, even at one point lapsing into doing material (“Newscasters saying 'the n-word' is just white people getting away with saying the n-word.”) This beginning part especially is full of hilarious little Louis C.K.-isms: READ MORE

I Apologize For Your Negative Hotel Experience, by Jon Wolper

Dear Ms. Winters,

Thank you for your letter. Hopefully I can help resolve some of the issues you experienced while staying at our hotel.

As you wrote, your troubles began at night, when you found that our ice machine was empty. Our apologies. We try to run a tight ship, but sometimes things fall through the cracks. I promise to be more vigilant about the ice machine in the future.

After you went back to your room, you began to hear incessant banging coming from the walls and ceiling. Our building is very old, and the walls are thin, so the noises made by other guests were heard clearly. Thank you for your concern; we’re currently in the process of soundproofing the room.

Then, objects began to rattle, seemingly of their own volition. At one point, the 36-inch flat screen TV that had been mounted on the wall detached itself from the mount and crashed to the floor. A vase hovered in the air for several seconds before launching itself across the room and hitting the wall just inches from your head. All the while, a low drone filled the room.

Our apologies. That noise is, in fact, the cry of a restless spirit that has haunted the room for nine decades. His name was Gerritt Richards, and he was a hospitality mogul poisoned by his wife when she discovered his infidelity. We call him Gerry. READ MORE

The Passion of Kathy Griffin

There are few people working in standup that are more divisive than Kathy Griffin. It doesn’t stem from controversial remarks, like many other comedians in her peer group, so much as taste. People who love her think that she is tremendous. People who don’t like her think that she's a talentless hack. There is very little middle ground, and even though she recently become only the third woman ever to win the Grammy for Best Comedy Album, she typically does not get respect from the mainstream.

Griffin’s career has often been compared to that of the late-great Joan Rivers, however their styles of comedy are actually like fire and water. Rivers was an old-school comic, rattling off joke after joke, firing punch lines into the audience with the speed of a gatling gun. Griffin’s sets are usually devoid of punchlines, or setups, or anything that serves as a comfortable guidepost when watching comedy. She tells stories, often about celebrities and pop culture, and you're either in it with her or you're totally lost. The one thing their careers have had in common is the ebb and flow. They have both been down before, under the radar for years before popping up on a TV show or news story that catches the eye of the public again.

Griffin has been in a moderate upswing for the last few years, in the spotlight thanks to her near-constant release of specials and CDs (like Rivers she also never turns down a job as long as it meets her fee), and highly publicized TV specials, such as New Years Eve with Anderson Cooper. She's been in the news most recently when she went on record as saying she was told by a CBS executive that they were “not considering females at this time” when she inquired about putting her name in the running to take over when Craig Ferguson left the Late Late Show. According to her she responded to those allegations by telling the executive that the lack of females in late night was “embarrassing,” and that “women who represent half the population should hold half of such jobs.” The executive responded by telling her that women already had their own show: The Talk. CBS, of course, dismissed her claims as false.

These allegations, and Griffin’s public reporting of them, are nothing new. Late night TV has always been a man’s game, and Kathy Griffin has always been a whistle blower of sorts for the entertainment industry. She does this humorously in her standup act; often when she is given a list of words or topics she is not allowed to discuss by the venue or client, she responds by reading said list on stage. In the case of the CBS executive she’s clearly taking a more serious stand, even though she is more well known for making crude off-the-cuff remarks. Many of her detractors point to this as a reason that they can’t abide: she has something to say about everything, it’s not always “ha-ha” funny, and she doesn’t know when to shut up. What gets lost in this critique is that her inability to shut up also provides us an important glimpse about what goes on behind the scenes, and how censorship and misogyny influence the way we engage with media. READ MORE

Alyssa Stonoha on Tweeting as an Aggressive Teenage Misandrist

Alyssa Stonoha goes to college in New York City. She writes for the Livia Scott Sketch Program at UCB Chelsea in New York and performs at UCB and around town with her improv team Black Sabbath. Perhaps most notably, Stonoha appears semi-regularly on everyone's favorite public access late night program The Chris Gethard Show and even guest hosted an episode-long tribute to Beyonce in April 2013 when Gethard was out of town. On Twitter, Stonoha (@astonoha) is aggressive, smart, and uniquely funny, and she talked to me this week about some characters she likes to tweet as, how Twitter has changed for her in the years she's been on it, and why it's fun to tweet as a teenage misandrist.

Stonoha: This is a really great in-between for my tweets, or just my personality in general, because I tend to say things that are boy-crazy and also very aggressively misandrist. Even when I improvise, and obviously nothing is pre-planned, I almost always end up playing a teenaged girl and/or an aggressive, scary person. I like the crossroads of weird aggression and teen girls because I like to assert my dominance over the rest of the population as a teen girl. Teen girls are smart and intense and are looked down upon by people because people are actually afraid of us and of what teen girls would do if we all knew how much power we truly have. READ MORE

Inside the Confusing Origins of David Letterman's Top Ten List

The following excerpt reprinted with permission from Brian Abrams's new book AND NOW…An Oral History of "Late Night with David Letterman," 1982-1983, which is currently available to purchase at Amazon Kindle Singles.

By the summer of 1985, head writer Steve O’Donnell was no longer scouring for new personnel to come up with remote concepts and “Viewer Mail” pieces. (Monologue material stayed plentiful, as staffer Gerry Mulligan continued to oversee that part of the show.) Including co-creators Merrill Markoe and David Letterman, 13 individuals populated the writers’ room, and submissions from prospective writers continued to stack high on O’Donnell’s desk. An unassuming 23-year-old Tufts University grad named Rob Burnett wangled an internship in the talent department. And, at 30 Rock, the days of finding bored New Yorkers to fill up Studio 6A’s 200 or so seats at 5 p.m. tapings were ancient history.

But of all of Late Night’s much adored ironic obsessions that transformed comedy forever and enabled a generation of writers and comedians to flourish, there is one recurring bit that to this day has multiple writers claiming credit for its creation: The “Top Ten.” READ MORE

Chelsea Peretti on 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine,' Writing for 'SNL,' and Her New Netflix Special

As an early adopter and prolific user of Twitter, Emojis, Instagram, you name it, actress and standup comedian Chelsea Peretti is somewhat of an authority on all things social media.

So when she says it’s time to move away from our internet-obsessed culture and get back to the basics, we should probably listen.

This is just one of the topics Peretti will be exploring in her upcoming one-hour standup special, One of the Greats, which premieres in November on Netflix.

In the meantime, Peretti is back for another season playing self-absorbed office manager Gina on Fox’s breakout hit Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which debuts in a new timeslot this Sunday.

I recently caught up with Peretti to talk about the new season, her special, and her brief stint writing for SNL.

I saw the show is moving to Sundays.

Yes.  The show is moving to Sundays.  As usual I have no idea what that means.  I’m told it’s good.

That’s good.

I hope it’s good.  I hope more people watch the show this season because we’re starting off with a real bang here.

Oh yeah? 

Yeah, I think the cast has bonded.  We went to the Montreal Comedy Festival, hung out, and did a panel and had a bunch of good dinners and stuff.  I just feel like everyone got a lot closer and had fun chemistry. A lot of group improv kind of things.  I don’t know, I think the stories are juicy.  I’m just excited for people to see it.  It’s crazy because I think we shot seven or eight episodes and none have aired yet, so it’s a weird thing where we haven’t seen it yet.

Are there any new characters this season?  Any changes in your character?

Of course, you know Charles and Gina have their whole debacle and it definitely makes for interesting choices and how they handle their little tryst. That was fun to get to play some scenes with Joe where we had deeper things going on.  Yeah, there’s lots of new characters—Eva Longoria is on the show, Kyra Sedgwick , Patton Oswalt is back, Ed Helms—there’s a bunch of great guests.  READ MORE

Revisiting the Surreal World of 'Viva Variety'

The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)

The members of the popular MTV sketch group The State have successfully infiltrated all of popular culture at this point. They’re in TV shows big and small, they’re writing and directing small indie movies and the biggest four-quadrant movies out there. They’ve broken off from each other, reuniting only occasionally, no longer the 11-headed comedy monster they once were. Today we look back at the first show to leap out of The State and become its own thing. Its own… strange thing. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Viva Variety.

Though there are occasional attempts to bring it back, for the most part the variety show format died in the 1980s. Of course, I’m talking about in America. (Sabado Gigantes is still going strong.) The premise behind Viva Variety is that the show has been very successful overseas in some undisclosed European country and is now making its way to American shores, complete with all of its delightful Euro-weirdness. Each episode featured an American oddball celebrity such as Robin Leach, Eartha Kitt or Rip Taylor, original sketches, bands like They Might Be Giants, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and some sort of weird variety act, like a professional regurgitator. While strangely familiar, it was also unlike anything that had ever been on TV before. READ MORE

This Week In Web Videos: The Comedy of Jay Weingarten

Jay Weingarten is a weirdo and weirdos can’t work normal jobs. Instead, they’ve got two choices: get hugely famous or end up on the very fringes of society, forever banished to parents’ basements and midday video store liquidation sales. Jay has chosen the former and, lucky for him, he’s got star chops.

How’d you get your start in comedy?

I started about three years ago. I was a huge fan of comedy and was feeling kind of like I wasn’t really doing anything at the moment. I was a fan and then eventually went into doing my first open mic. At the time, I had a pretty awful job as a consultant.

Consultant? Was that the job you got after graduating?

Yeah it felt like I was living in a David Lynch movie because I was living in this beautiful area, the Oakland hills, living in this cabin, and it was beautiful but I just really hated this job. Everyone working there just seemed like all they cared about was money. Finally, I decided to move to LA because everyone I really liked and looked up to in comedy was in LA. I was listening to a lot of Comedy Death Ray, before it became Comedy Bang! Bang!, and they were all out in LA. So I decided to finally move out and do some open mics. Then I got into hosting some open mics at this place called Echo’s Under Sunset and then doing this show called Holy Fuck that was really popular, but the people running it quit and then passed the show onto me and my friend. That was a really big step for me to have a show pretty regularly and have triple digit crowds in these electric rooms, it was so much fun. I’m doing my first tour in a couple of months; I’m really excited about that. Driving from LA to Chicago with some of my good friends, stopping in 10-12 cities in the middle of the country, it’s going to be really cool. READ MORE

Should All Standup Comics Write Their Own Jokes?

I was thirteen when I first saw a comic glance at his notes on stage, and I remember wondering why I was surprised to see this. Did you think he was making all this up on the spot? I asked myself. Well, I guess I did. Years later, when I began regularly attending comedy shows and would end up seeing the same set a dozen times a year, I began to have a similar feeling. What, I again asked myself, did you think comedians come up with a new routine for every show? Well, I guess I did. After all, isn’t that the rouse that so many standups employ in their act, that this is all a spontaneous, one-sided conversation?

Young fans of standup inevitably go through these revelations. At some point, we develop the moxie to learn that the character a comedian is on stage isn’t necessarily who they are off-stage (though sometimes they can be, for good or ill). Even though I’m a child of the indie-comedy generation, I still have no problem accepting a certain amount of theater and artifice in someone’s set.

Though if that’s the case, why do we get so punk-rock preachy at the idea of a standup comedian not writing their own jokes? READ MORE

Steve Carell and Amy Sedaris Talk Insomnia in a Second City Sketch from 1993

Welcome to The Second City Archives, in which we post an exclusive clip each week of some of comedy's biggest superstars performing early in their careers on the legendary Chicago stage. Second City has generously given us a glimpse into their extensive archive of live performances, and over the coming weeks we'll be sharing some rare and retro comedy never before seen on the web.

Following up last month's video from Second City's 1993 revue Take Me Out to the Balkans starring Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello, and David Razowsky, here's another sketch from the same show starring ensemble performers Steve Carell and Amy Sedaris as a couple having a late night discussion about Carell's ongoing struggles with insomnia. How can anyone sleep when there's so much in the world in need of fixing?

The Economics of Internet Comedy Videos

Funny videos on the internet come from a plethora of sources, from established internet studios to TV networks to independent comedians. But how do comedy production studios fund their internet comedy videos? There’s no simple answer. In fact, one of the first answers I heard was “Our funding comes from everywhere.”

However, as I talked to representatives from CollegeHumor, Funny or Die, Jash, Above Average, UCB Comedy, and Comedy Central, a lot of common themes came forward. Branded content funds more than you think. YouTube revenue funds less than you think. Comedy studios, like everyone else, earn money so they can fund passion projects. Incubating new talent is also a huge part of comedy work, and that adds an extra line to the budget.

So let’s take a closer look at how some of the major comedy production studios fund their internet comedy videos, as well as how a few indie comedy teams gets work done. READ MORE

What to Expect From 'SNL' Season 40

SNL returns for its 40th season this Saturday, with host Chris Pratt, musical guest Ariana Grande, and pretty much the same cast — minus a handful of people we rarely saw in sketches anyway. Following a lackluster season, Lorne Michaels is now sticking with the tools he's got, replacing five departing cast members with only one newcomer — standup Pete Davidson — and promoting writer Michael Che to co-host Weekend Update. Meanwhile, Colin Jost will remain at the desk after taking on the job last February. It's a conservative approach, compared to last year's throw-everything-against-the-wall casting strategy, which resulted in a cast so overpopulated that some remained literal faces in the crowd at the season's end.

Counting its blessings isn't the worst move for SNL right now. Viewers warmed up to returning cast members during last year's transitional season, with Taran Killam, Cecily Strong, and (Emmy-nominated) Kate McKinnon emerging as bankable scene-carriers. Meanwhile, the show has been on a hot streak of video content — which now makes up a full third of SNL's sketches. With Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett staying on board, and the third Good Neighbor alum Nick Rutherford now joining them as a writer, producers appear to be doubling down on this transition. The rotation of Michael Che and Cecily Strong reflects a show carefully evaluating its strengths and how best to use them.

If replacing the late Don Pardo with sound-alike Darrell Hammond is any indication, SNL appears less interested in reinventing the wheel in its 40th season. And maybe that's a good thing. READ MORE

Looking at the Dark and Absurd Sci-Fi Comedy of 'Space Station 76'

The Jack Plotnick-directed Space Station 76 takes place in a 1970s vision of the future. You might ask what exactly that means, but it’s a fairly straightforward description: imagine the 1970s. Now imagine them in space. That’s what Space Station 76 looks like, with beautifully cold space station sets, throwback '70s costuming, and robots resembling R2D2. The second most-discussed film at South by Southwest, it’s flown relatively under-the-radar since, but as it comes out on VOD, DVD, and digital download next week, this quietly funny movie is worth your attention.

It’s tempting to view Space Station 76 as a straight sci-fi parody, an homage to the likes of Space:1999. But in order to get at the movie’s core, look to the opening voiceover. As the camera moves through a shot of an asteroid belt, Lieutenant Jessica Marlow (Liv Tyler) ruminates that “asteroids can fly in groups for millions of years and never touch each other, never connect,” then compares this lack of connection or collision to humans who can’t achieve such perfect orbits because they change. It’s clear from the start: Space Station 76 is a sci-fi comedy, definitely, but it’s a dark one undergirded by some deeply sad themes, all of them leaning toward loneliness and disaffection. READ MORE