Featured Posts

This Week in Comedy Podcasts: Mike Myers Does 'WTF with Marc Maron'

The comedy podcast universe is ever expanding, not unlike the universe universe. We're here to make it a bit smaller, a bit more manageable. There are a lot of great shows and each has a lot of great episodes, so we want to highlight the exceptional, the noteworthy. Each week our crack team of podcast enthusiasts and specialists and especially enthusiastic people will pick their favorites. We hope to have your ears permanently plugged with the best in aural comedy.

WTF with Marc Maron – Mike Myers

ROB: This week’s WTF with Marc Maron features a rare long-form interview with the relatively unheard-from comic legend Mike Myers, who is promoting his first documentary and directorial debut Supermensch. Despite being a very friendly, generous interview on Maron’s part, Myers does delve into some personal stuff. True to WTF’s style, Myers tells Maron about his big breaks, his self doubts, occasional bouts of depression that Myers referred to as his “existential funks,” and most prominent source of pain in his life – the slow illness and decline of his father, due to Alzheimer’s disease. While Maron completely avoids bringing up the more embarrassing topics (like The Love Guru), Myers does address rumors that he can be “difficult” to work with. And his explanation makes total sense. Since nearly everything Myers acts in is his own material, whenever he’s being a pain to producers or studio execs, it’s because he’s fighting to keep something he originally intended. For example, the now-iconic “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene in Wayne’s World: At the time, the studio wanted to replace the song with something newer and more popular. Myers fought that alteration tooth and nail, and we’re all glad he did. The episode is worth a listen, even for those who dropped off Myers’s movies years ago, because, for just one example, after a decade of everyone excessively over-quoting Dr. Evil, Myers’s Lorne Michaels impression (Dr. Evil’s inspiration) will almost certainly still make you laugh. READ MORE

How 'Nathan for You' Brilliantly Blows Up Reality TV

Popularized by The Office in the early 2000s, the “mockumentary” format has become the common TV style choice to tell loose, location-based, low-concept, character-driven comedies. However, aside from the interview cutaways and the cheeky Jim Halpert camera looks, shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation never truly embrace the idea that their presentation format is documentary or that their characters are anything but fictional.

Nathan For You, created, written, and directed by Nathan Fielder and now in its second season, is much more dedicated to being a true parody of the documentary/reality form both visually and thematically. Set up like a workplace improvement show in the vein of Bar Rescue or Kitchen Nightmares, the basic premise of Nathan For You follows a semi-qualified, semi-fictionalized Nathan Fielder as he pitches and sets forth massively elaborate and mostly unhelpful marketing ploys to help struggling businesses. Nobody in the show other than Fielder is in on the joke, so he has to carefully tow the line between his comedy and keeping these real businesses on the line so he can actually set his plans in motion. Fielder is so good at mimicking these business advice shows both in style and in content, which helps both the viewer and the subjects believe that he is in fact trying to be one.

Of course, if Nathan For You was only about reeling in and pranking suckers, the show wouldn’t resonate beyond the way shows like Punk’d or Jackass do. Instead, the perfectly executed prank and set up allow Fielder to dive into the deeper themes he is actually trying to explore with the show. He is hiding a much more complicated piece of comedy in a very-well executed but much more basic genre parody. READ MORE

Inside Whiplash, 'Review,' and 'SNL' with Leo Allen

Two decades into his comedy career, Leo Allen is both the host of one of New York's most popular standup shows (Whiplash) and a busy writer who's worked for shows like Saturday Night Live, Jon Benjamin Has a Van (which he co-created), Comedy Bang! Bang!, and most recently, Andy Daly's Comedy Central series Review. Allen recently directed A Night at Whiplash, a concert movie version of his long-running standup showcase Whiplash, which was produced by Splitsider and features appearances from Janeane Garofalo, Eugene Mirman, Michael Che, and more. I recently interviewed Leo Allen about the right way to run a standup show, his stint on SNL, and the John McEnroe '80s comedy he's writing with longtime partner Eric Slovin. READ MORE

Watch a Newly Unearthed Clip from Bill Murray's 1980 Show 'Bill Murray Live from the Second City'

We're excited to announce the start of a new recurring feature called 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.

Our first gem from the archives is this clip from Bill Murray's Second City Chicago show Bill Murray Live from the Second City from 1980 — the same year Caddyshack was released in theaters — with supporting cast members Danny Breen, Mary Gross, Bruce Jarchow, Tim Kazurinsky, Nancy McCabe-Kelly, Rob Riley, and George Wendt. By 1980, Murray had already completed his SNL cast member stint and starred in Meatballs, and in the clip above he delivers a nostalgic opening monologue that celebrates Second City Theatre's 20th birthday and looks back on his own memories (and lack thereof) performing on the famed Chicago stage.

The Social Media Graveyard of Canceled Comedies

Dozens and dozens of new shows premiere each new TV season (and mid-season, and off-season) but only a handful live to see season two. These days, a new show has to use every tool in its arsenal to attract viewers as quickly as possible: splashy advertising, big name guest stars, over-the-top promos, and of course, a blockbuster web presence, one that gathers fans on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr who will then faithfully promote the show with homemade image macros and clever hashtags born from love. But while a show might leave our airwaves, a Facebook fan page is forever. What becomes of the social media accounts of canceled shows? 

Sad things, it turns out. READ MORE

Saturday Night's Children: Morwenna Banks (1995)

Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 38 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member every other week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.

While there are plenty of SNL cast members whose stints didn't last many episodes — see Laurie Metcalf, Dan Vitale, and Ben Stiller — British sketch and voice actress Morwenna Banks holds the record of the shortest repertory player tenure with a mere four episodes under her belt at the end of the show's twentieth season in 1995. Four episodes weren't enough to make it in the American sketch comedy sphere, but for fans across the pond Banks remains a consistently talented performer and familiar voice who has remained a steady presence on British TV and radio shows for the past 25 years. READ MORE

Inside 'Nathan For You' with Co-Creator Michael Koman

Michael Koman is the co-creator of two of the best comedies on TV — Nathan For You and Eagleheart – and he's about to add a third to his roster. Koman is gearing up for production on an yet-to-be-titled Adult Swim sitcom that pairs Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and Jack McBrayer, which Koman co-created with Robert Smigel and David Feldman. After spending seven years on the writing staff of Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Koman left the late night world, and he's since become some sort of anti-Chuck Lorre, responsible for multiple TV shows that are some of the most original and funny things currently happening on TV. Nathan For You, the critically-acclaimed Comedy Central series that Koman co-created with its star Nathan Fielder, is currently in the midst of its second season. The show's "Dumb Starbucks" episode — in which they turned a coffee shop into a Starbucks ripoff called "Dumb Starbucks" to test the limits of parody law and attracted a ton of unexpected media attention in the process – is set to air tonight.

I recently interviewed Koman about struggling to hide his laughter during a surprising moment with a gas station owner on Nathan For You, a mysterious international episode that Comedy Central deemed too expensive, and whether or not there will be a follow-up to Eagleheart's excellent third season.

Is it difficult not laughing on set while shooting Nathan For You?

Oh yeah. It’s really important that the crew is not laughing while we’re making the show. When something like that happens, I’m not on camera, so I can go outside. But you do get good at it. Weirdly, it’s like method acting where I’ll just think about something sad while we’re shooting.

That’s the main way you deal with it? Thinking of sad stuff?

I tell myself “This isn’t funny.” I’m just watching a serious conversation, and I try not to imagine that there’s anything comical about what’s happening. Usually, if you really can’t stop yourself from laughing, it ends up being good on the show. In the gas station episode, when the owner talked about drinking his grandson’s pee, I had lost all control. I was behind racks of candy in this gas station. I was shuddering. It was really, really powerful.

But that was something where it seemed funny in the moment and as soon as it was over, it felt like that would never be part of the show. It was just too insane. It was so out of nowhere. Once we were editing, we realized how incredible it was. Because the people the night before were all talking about how comfortable they would be drinking urine. We thought to mention it to the gas station owner because maybe he would just have a small funny reaction that would be good near the ending. It was just the most amazing thing, that you meet what seem like the only three people on earth who will openly talk about drinking urine and you mention it to a fourth person and he would react that way. I still can’t believe it happened. READ MORE

The Golden Age of CB Radio, by Aboubacar Ndiaye

You may not know, it but for the past ten years or so, we have been living through a new golden age in the world of CB radio. Forty years ago, you could turn on your CB Radio, screw around with the dial a little bit, and listen to Big Cocker Jackson, Dakota Bull, and Ted Trouble 324 at their raucous, salacious best. Jellybean would come on at night and rill the boys up, and tell us about this or that strip club, and this or that truck stop, where the girls were easy and the beer was cheap. But then the '80s came with its media consolidation and government regulation and the shows of yesteryear faded away. For 20 years, there was Rush, Howard, and Sean, and we forgot about those halcyon days when radio was radio.

But something happened in the new millennium: out of nowhere, these small CB stations, who had remained independent, bucking the FCC rules, making money on subscriptions and donations, started producing dark, moody radio dramas. Johnny Tapper’s Jukejoint started it all. It was the story of a sheriff in a small town on the Mexican border who smuggled in immigrants and drugs on the side. No one had ever heard the kind of multi-layered storytelling, psychological depth, and macabre humor offered by this show. The radio press, who had long looked down on CB, began writing up the show, dashing off paeans to its tortured, Janus-like lead. Willa Stanley, writing in Radio News, called John Jukas, the main character, “an unholy distillation of all the prelapsarian myths about the American male in the West.” Emily Zoller, in On The Dial Mag, wrote that Jukejoint “was the first step forward in the annals of English-language storytelling since the Globe Theater burned down.” READ MORE

The Bitter and Acerbic Highlights of Andy Kindler's Just For Laughs Keynote Speech

Another standing-room only crowd, including some of the biggest names in comedy, came out Friday afternoon at the 2014 Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal for Andy Kindler’s 19th State of the Industry address, in which the long-time alternative comic burns bridges from his safe position on Hollywood’s periphery, as Kindler himself would likely acknowledge.

Kindler went after his usual targets, including himself, Jay Leno, Bill Maher, Jimmy Fallon and Adam Sandler, but he saved the brunt of his ire for former Opie and Anthony host Anthony Cumia, who was fired from SiriusXM recently after hurling off a series of racially insensitive tweets. The Cumia rant made for some awkward moments, but that’s never stopped Kindler before. It wouldn’t be a State of the Industry address without them.

Actor and comedian T.J. Miller had the honor of introducing Kindler, and described the impact Kindler’s had on young comedians.

“I owe my entire career to Andy Kindler. Every comic does,” Miller said. “Because he’s a comic’s comic but beyond that he’s a failure on a massive level.”

SiriusXM recorded the one-hour speech. Listen to it below. READ MORE

The Good, the Bad, and the Deeply Strange: Comedy Central's One-Season Wonders

Comedy Central cancels a lot of shows. Enough that Daniel Tosh was able to shout one out in every episode of the first five seasons of Tosh.0 (“We’ll be right back with more Michael and Michael Have Issues”). Tosh’s show has thrived, but what about the supposedly failed shows he mocked? Were any of them good? Why did so many of them only last one season? What if they were supposed to only last one season? Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look at all the Comedy Central shows that lasted just one season.

First up: the reality and mockumentary genre.  READ MORE

Mike Birbiglia and the Importance and Power of Jokes

Mike Birbiglia has a very unique ability: the ability to tell any story, like the story of jumping out of a hotel window in Walla Walla, Washington, and make it relatable. To a certain extent, this is one of the primary goals of standup comedy. Although Birbiglia saw great success in the traditional standup circuit early in his career, he didn’t feel that he had produced an act that was true to his own form. So, after appearing on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend at age 23, Letterman at 24, producing a Comedy Central Presents special at 26, and his album Two Drink Mike at 28, he opened a one-man show that was completely different. Birbiglia began building a bridge between standup and storytelling.

Since 2008 he has appeared regularly on NPR’s This American Life, produced a book, a film, and two one-man shows: Sleepwalk With Me is a reminder that the failure to be honest with others and ourselves can only come back to haunt us; My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend underscores the dangers of always needing to be right.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Birbiglia about his new show Thank God For Jokes, which examines the double-edged nature of jokes, as they have the power both to forge bonds and build walls between people. READ MORE

Follow Friday: Steven Rosenthal (@Rosenthaltweets)

A lot of Twitter users take to the platform to test out their latest jokes and quips, but certain people truly excel at making us laugh with the available characters and constraints. With the Internet being such a big place, it can be difficult to find the comedians most worthy of your RTs and favs. Each Friday we feature one person whose consistent short-form online humor deserves your attention and to be on your Twitter feed.

This week, we're recommending the Twitter feed of Steven Rosenthal. He's a TV editor who has worked for Comedy Central and MTV, including Comedy Underground with Dave Attell and Nikki and Sara Live. He's also a former standup comic. Check out some of his top tweets below:


Seinfeld Roasts Tommy Chong, and Other Weird Things That Happened on the Playboy Channel

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.)

A warning before we get into this: this installment is going to feel a little bit like a trip to an alternate dimension. A dimension in which the Playboy Channel aired things without boobs. Where Tommy Chong is a name big enough to be on a televised roast. Where Richard Belzer isn't a network TV detective. Where Jerry Seinfeld is big, but not Seinfeld big, and yes, he has to stand at the dais and say mean things about a fellow comedian. Welcome to the world of 1986's Playboy Comedy Roast of Tommy Chong, which aired exclusively on the Playboy Channel, and was a really weird time for everybody, including the audience.

To begin, let's run through the lineup. First and foremost, there's Tommy Chong, the guest of honor, best known as half of the original stoner comedy duo Cheech and Chong. Our MC for the evening is David Steinberg, currently the host of Inside Comedy on Showtime, and frequent guest of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. In addition to Seinfeld and The Belz, our roasters include Slappy White, a comedian of the old school, who came up on the so called Chitlin' circuit of standup in the 50s and 60s, working with Redd Foxx before becoming a Friar's Club roast superstar. Also at the head table are Mack and Jamie, a comedy team who at the time were the stars of their own syndicated comedy show Comedy Break with Mack & Jamie. Dick Shawn, who played the actor who played Hitler in the original film version of The Producers is there, breaking out of his traditional stuffy demeanor. And finally there's Marsha Warfield, who is probably best known as the bailiff from Night Court, who David Steinberg touts as the very first woman on the dais of a roast. "Because of the presence of a woman, we'll be a little more contained than usual tonight," he says, beginning his joke. "Fuckin' well better be," she interrupts, ending it for him. READ MORE

What It's Like Getting Hired – and Fired – by 'SNL'

It was late summer, 1982, and I was driving down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I turned to her and said, “This must be what winning the lottery feels like.” We had just been asked to join the cast of Saturday Night Live along with Brad Hall (and Paul Barrosse, who would become a writer) and were on our way to our last performance of “The Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee.”

The show was a collection of our best Practical Theatre sketches over a three-year period and it was a local hit that caught the attention of Tim Kazurinsky. Tim brought in Dick Ebersol and Bob Tischler who decided on the spot to make us the new cast. We were so excited we couldn’t contain ourselves. I even did something stupid like announce “Live from the Practical Theatre it’s Saturday Night!” before our finale started.

That’s the good part of the story. The less good part is…we were hired to light a fire under Eddie Murphy, who was already emerging as a superstar. We were introduced to the existing cast and writers, not as an addition, per se, but as competition. We’d do our thing, they’d do their thing.

Problem was, our thing had no credibility yet and we were more or less left by Dick and Bob to fend for ourselves. Perhaps they thought that was the best environment to bring out our best.

It wasn’t. READ MORE