Jay Leno: Working Class Hero

When I started this series I knew that sooner or later I would be writing about Jay Leno. No comedian has been as villainized in the past two decades as much as Leno. As soon as he replaced Johnny Carson as the host of The Tonight Show, Leno has been inundated with criticism from just about every corner of the comedy world. Almost overnight, Leno went from being a standup wunderkind to a representation of everything that is soulless and mediocre in the entertainment industry.

It didn't help that all of the dirty details concerning NBC’s handling of Carson’s torch passing was meticulously detailed in Bill Carter’s illuminating book, [...]

The Unfair Marginalization of Janeane Garofalo

Before we start, let me say that I know there are many that will take issue with Janeane Garofalo’s inclusion in this series and understandably so. She is, after all, one of the architects of the so-called “alternative comedy” movement and despite a lower profile compared to her 1990s heyday, still commands quite a bit of respect from the comedy community and continues to perform throughout the country as well as appear in film and television.

However, there are those within the comedy community who, to this day, take issue with Garofalo’s reliance on notes on stage, not to mention the many people who abandoned her idiosyncratic style of [...]

Dane Cook and the Art of the Hustle

I have a secret. A dark, terrible secret that I have trouble even admitting to myself: I don’t hate Dane Cook. I know I should. Practically ever since Dane Cook arrived on the national stage over a decade ago, his critics have been extremely vocal. He has been accused of being a joke thief, a douche, and plain old not funny.

However, despite all of these accusations, Cook is arguably the most successful standup comic working today. Numerous film roles, stadium gigs, and a double platinum comedy album (a feat not accomplished since Steve Martin’s A Wild and Crazy Guy in 1978) are just a few of the stand [...]

The Upside to Tim Allen's Manly-Man Brand of Comedy

When I have a tool in my hand, like a screwdriver, let’s say, or a power drill, I become riddled with anxiety and begin to sweat profusely. A tool offers less in the way of helping me fix things than it does a brand new opportunity to fail at something. My brothers built trucks when they were teenagers, and my Dad used to hang around with them, offering instruction and insight into the inner working of the combustible engine. Where was I? Probably in my room, nose firmly planted in a book. Or masturbating. Yeah, probably masturbating. So, a trip to a hardware store for me generally tends to [...]

Rob Schneider: Makin' Movies

This week, I decided to write about Rob Schneider after listening to him on Marc Maron’s WTF. The man who starred in dreck like The Animal, The Hot Chick, and Big Stan was on the show and he was laid back, interesting, and funny! He also had some fascinating insight into stand-up comedy. For example when talking about a venerated San Francisco comic, Schneider points out that while funny, the comic lacked the discipline to put together an act, which Schneider feels kept him from breaking nationally. Which is a pretty damned astute and reasonable advice for any comedian.

The Manic Unpredictability of Robin Williams

By the time I got to middle school, I was pretty much a comedy geek. All the signs were there: I would sneak out into the living room and watch the comics on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, I would listen to Steve Martin’s Wild and Crazy Guy album over and over again, and while other kids my age were interested in either sports or pop music, I was obsessed by the standups who appeared on the dozens of standup comedy shows that littered basic cable at that time. However, no one quite tickled my funny bone at that time as much as Robin Williams.

This was at [...]

The Sneaky Smarts of Russell Brand

Russell Brand is one of those comedians who, despite selling out theaters all over the world and starring in several films throughout the past decade, I have simply not paid much attention to. Perhaps it's due to my American-centric worldview, but Brand never quite jumped on my radar as far as standup comedy goes. It seems that I've been guilty of a particular form of American exceptionalism, in that I don’t really pay attention to standup from other countries nor give foreign standups much of a chance at all. This is a particularly hypocritical on my part as I write weekly about keeping an open mind toward all kinds [...]

Kevin James, 'King of Queens', and Being Content With Where You Are

Many shows throughout the decades have attempted to capture the antagonism and love shared between working class heroes Ralph and Alice Kramden in the seminal 1950s sitcom The Honeymooners. None have come as close as King of Queens. The mistake other shows have made in the past is under-developing the roles of the wives, making many attempts seem like some kind of bizarre hybrid of The Honeymooners and Donna Reed, which would lead many viewers to wonder, “Why would this beautiful and intelligent woman stay with such an ass?”

However, the chemistry between Kevin James and Leah Remini as Doug and Carrie Hefferman is spot on. While James’ Doug [...]

Is There Any Value to Be Found in the Intentionally Offensive Comedy of Andrew "Dice" Clay?

Madison Square Garden has a capacity to fit over 19,000 human beings in one area. The fabled stadium is host to both the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers. Hundreds, if not thousands of musicians from almost every genre of music have played at this stadium, but only a handful of standup comics have had the ability to headline this vast monolith, most recently Kevin Hart and Eddie Izzard. However, only one comedian has performed here and completely sold out the stadium two nights in a row. That comic is Andrew “Dice” Clay.

Let that sink in for a moment. For a brief run during the late [...]

Keeping it Clean: The Comedy of Sinbad

Every once in a while the concept of “clean comedy” will come up, though never among those of us who are passionate about comedy because to us it simply isn’t an issue. We love comedy and whether that means listening to Doug Stanhope tell a filthy hooker story or Brian Regan talking about Fig Newtons, the only deciding factor in our enjoyment is, “is it funny?”

However, in the mainstream this is still a subject of fascination. They tend to marvel at comedians who choose to avoid dirty language in their acts as if those comics are pulling off some kind of magic trick. Unfortunately, this tends to have [...]

The Rise and Fall of Pauly Shore

Creating a comedic character can be a tricky process. To a certain extent, every successful standup comic has a comedic persona. Listeners of the Todd Barry podcast may be surprised to find that instead of the glib, sarcastic comic they love will discover a warm and genial host. Likewise, comedians who have an open and friendly demeanor onstage can be complete dicks once the spotlight is turned off. Part of finding that “voice” as a performer is figuring out how best to present the thoughts and subjects one wants to talk about.

However, there are times that persona or character can bite you on the ass. Steve Martin created [...]

Dennis Miller: Not So Black and White

Winston Churchill once said, “Show me a young conservative and I will show you a man with no heart. Show me an old liberal and I will show you a man with no brain.” Now, he was probably drunk when he said this (unless he said it during breakfast) so take it with a grain of salt.

However, no comedian working today embodies this quote more so than Dennis Miller. As the anchor for Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, Miller became the avatar of hip, aloof cerebral comedy, cutting down both vapid celebrities and blow-hard politicians alike with an acidic, arrogant wit that could be alternately brutal and goofy. [...]

Carlos Mencia and the American Dream

Writing a joke is a tricky thing. Sometimes a joke comes to you fully formed, perfect, and complete. Most times it comes in the form of a garbled premise; you know there is something there and after weeks or in some cases years of bending, shaping, and wrestling with the idea, the jokes is pulled into shape. It is an experience that is as frustrating as it is rewarding once you have the finished product.

Beyond artistic achievement and the satisfaction that comes with crafting a new joke, there is also a pragmatic and financial benefit. New jokes mean that when you revisit a town you were in 6 [...]

That's Not Funny, That's Sexist: The Controversial Legacy of Benny Hill

The Benny Hill Show towered over even Monty Python in terms of worldwide appeal and popularity in its hey day, which is just astounding. However, history rewards the victors and while Monty Python looms large over sketch comedy even today, Benny Hill has been reduced to a curious footnote in comedy history. While both share an enthusiasm for absurdity, Monty Python’s sketches often featured a healthy dose of cerebral satire buried within the anarchic foolishness. Hill, however, strikes modern viewers as broad and cartoonish, avoiding subtly altogether.

Make no mistake; Benny Hill was a huge comedic presence for twenty years (1969-1989) during the run of his titular The Benny [...]