Posts by Eddie Vega:
By CLAIRE ATKINSON, New York Post
Last Updated: 12:53 AM, March 22, 2012
Posted: 11:55 PM, March 21, 2012
Not even SpongeBob SquarePants can bail them out of this one.
The ratings woes that showed up at Nickelodeon last year have spread beyond the kiddie network to Viacom’s other big cable properties, including MTV, Comedy Central and BET, according to data released yesterday.
Viacom — controlled by 88-year-old Sumner Redstone — depends heavily on its collection of cable channels to generate profits. Wall Street was surprised when Viacom’s ad revenue fell 3 percent to $1.35 billion in the quarter ended Dec. 31, in large part because of the ratings shortfall at Nick.
Viacom has shown before that it can turn around a network’s fortunes — witness the rebirth of MTV a few years ago with “Jersey Shore.” CEO Philippe Dauman has already told investors that the company will drop $3 billion on programming this year to boost its networks, including ordering up 500 new episodes for Nick.
Still, the media powerhouse has its work cut out for it.
By Eddie Vega
In 1973 when Frederick Karl Pruetzel, at the tender age of 17, dropped out of a New York City high school to pursue stand-up comedy, Los Angeles was the place to go. He performed at the Comedy Store in West Hollywood, a club where emerging comics hoped to be noticed by Tonight Show producers, followed by an appearance as special guests of Johnny Carson, and their own television shows.
That’s exactly what happened to Pruetzel who appeared on the Tonight Show under the name Freddie Prinze. Then it happened to David Letterman and Jay Leno.
How a stand-up comic goes about building a career has changed greatly since 1973. Today no one city or club can claim kingmaker status, and there are many more venues where careers can be nourished and talent noticed. The emergence of social media has seen to that.
Just ask the 1.36 million Twitter users following Dane Cook or his over 2 million MySpace friends. Cook, one of the first comics to use social media as a powerful tool to build an audience, has inspired other comics to do the same, Adam Sank among them.
Sank, 38, spent six years toiling in the comedy clubs of New York City, eventually appearing on season six of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” as well as various cable shows. But after beginning a relationship with a sailor stationed in San Diego, Sank moved there 18 months ago, only to find there were few opportunities for a working comic.
“I eventually had to get a day job working for a military housing community,” he said. “It was awful.” There were opportunities to perform in Los Angeles, where comedy venues were more plentiful, but the six-hour drive to and from San Diego after a full work day took its toll. “LA was too far away to be useful,” Sank said. He looked for other ways to build a following.
“I knew from what Dane Cook had done that I needed to create more of an online presence where people could find me.” While Sank had maintained a Web site and a blog, for years he found that hits to those sites had diminished with the explosion of social networking sites like Facebook.
“With Facebook, anyone can upload their thoughts, photos and videos with a few quick clicks,” he said. “No code involved.” Soon he had more than 1,500 Facebook friends and another 650 on a fan page. And those fans left numerous comments about his various posts and uploaded links. “Everyone wants their opinions to be read by people they know. That’s something they really can’t do on old-fashioned Web sites.”
That response, along with the break-up of his relationship, was enough for Sank pursue stand-up as a full-time occupation. And so, two weeks ago, he returned to New York, the place many comics had once fled for California.
By Eddie Vega, ComedyBeat
Given how many self-help gurus are unintentional comics, comedian Clam Lynch evens the score by being an unintentional self-help guru. For the last ten years, Mr. Lynch has done solo shows, most recently writing and performing his one-man comedy show, Cut the Crap, about a motivational speaker with his own life issues and self-doubt.
His advice is heartfelt and real. Heartfelt because there is a genuine effort—something that only stand-up comics seem able to do believably these days—to grapple with loss and grief without sounding maudlin or self-serving, to turn the sadness of one’s life into belly laughs and with it the sense that humor is the most efficacious weapon against negativity and self-absorption. And Real because Lynch offers genuine life counsel that’s as good as anything offered by Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, and Dr. Phil, and a dozen other motivational speakers but without the octane fueled optimism that sometimes comes across as anxious self-delusion. In Lynch’s optimism—a theatrical trope belied by a barely disguised vulnerability—we see the truth of our daily lies.
In anticipation of his forthcoming live performances at San Francisco’s Dark Room, Clam Lynch took some questions from ComedyBeat.
ComedyBeat: How old are you?
Clam Lynch: I think a more important question is, How new am I? I have been new for 46 years, that was the day I arrived at the home of Walter and Sharon Lynch in the state of Maine in the country of the USA on planet earth. Walter and Sharon would eventually be known as the parents of the manifestation known as Clam—also known to myself as Me.
ComedyBeat: How long have you been doing comedy?
Clam Lynch: Since birth—with a little slapstick routine with the doctor that delivered me here to this place and then in the hospital I rolled off the bed—which I’m told was pretty darn funny, my first attempt at a pratfall. At about 8 I touched myself in the bathing suit area with Vick’s Vapor Rub and ran around the house screaming, which really cracked my brothers up. Also a lot of singing and dancing to try and cheer my mom up, who was very depressed and struggling with my dad’s heavy drinking. And I was the only white kid at my junior high school where you could often find me playing the crazy kid catching food with my face tied to a tree, locked in my locker, or just rolling down the stairs with my shoe laces tied together. I basically had the whole school in stitches. So, I was definitely an early bloomer to the craft.
ComedyBeat: What was your schooling like?
Clam Lynch: I was schooled by the world of mistakes, bad decisions, pain, suffering and regret with a major in What Not To Do If You Want To Be Happy, which I’m pretty proud of because, having been schooled in these things, I’m now able to help people to not have to go through these things, I have already done it for them.
ComedyBeat: What was the most important lesson you learned that helped you with comedy?
Clam Lynch: To always pee before putting on your magic pants.
ComedyBeat: Who were your best teachers?
Clam Lynch: If you’re asking me if I wear a suit or dress casually while rehearsing? The answer is a suit. As far as teachers, just everyday folks, folks with problems, they teach me by letting me teach them, what I teach—then the student goes out and becomes the teacher. Now to be fair, I am the only one in this equation who has a paid position, and if any of my students go off and tries to teach what I’ve taught them I do get a percentage of their income usually, 10 percent in the form of a tax free tithe.
ComedyBeat: Are you doing comedy now on a full-time basis? Or do you need to engage in noncomedy employment to cover living and other expenses?
Clam Lynch: Helping people is my full time job. When I’m not doing my seminars, I provide folks an opportunity to attract money, because it’s only by giving and trusting that the universe will give back—cause and effect—that we attract more of what we put out. So I selflessly get folks started by letting them give me some money to get the cosmic ball rolling.
ComedyBeat: What was your worst comedy job?
Clam Lynch: Doing a seminar at a Girl Scouts meeting. I was brought in to try to get the girls jazzed about getting their cookie sales up up up. Let’s just say it ended in tears, MINE mostly but also many of the children. I was eventually asked to leave, but I think even that was helpful.
ComedyBeat: Your act pokes satirical fun at self-help gurus, such as Dr. Phil. Does your act have a serious purpose?
Clam Lynch: I do not believe in poking, punching, slapping or hitting of any kind. My philosophy has always been you can get more honey with honey bees. As far as Dr. Phil or Doctor Phil Good, as I call him when we’re hanging out, I’m always telling him to “use your inside voice when helping folks” and “why so many words?” cause, man!! He uses a lot of words!! We just march to the beat of a different trumpet. As far as serious? Um Yeah—This is life or death for me. I need some serious help and the way I get that is by helping others, help me, help them. The helping is what keeps me going—and in my humble opinion it’s a win, win.
ComedyBeat: You use Youtube and other online social media platforms to promote your act. How did you decide to go the social media route?
Clam Lynch: About 8 months ago I said, “Hey maybe this whole inter webs stuff isn’t just a fad like I had predicted.” So after eating some humble pie, I took some of my students’ advice and let them start putting some stuff up on the World Wide Web and from what I’m told it’s doing pretty good—but I don’t own a computer yet. This just might be the year I finally swallow my pride and go out there and get one—and I will check out some of this new media, Friendster, Napster, all the latest stuff.
ComedyBeat: How did your promotional videos come to be made?
Clam Lynch: First, I ask someone if they have a video camera then I ask someone if they have some money, next I ask someone if they will work for free, then I write down some words, then I ask the person with the camera to turn it on then I say the words that I had previously written down. I then have someone go around and ask people to watch what we have filmed. It’s called film making—and it’s pretty straight forward.
ComedyBeat: What do you aim to accomplish with the show at the Dark Room?
Clam Lynch: Help people, get paid, say words, get paid, try out some new techniques. Try to get some more gigs and bigger audiences and hopefully get paid in the process. So, yes, my main focus is to just try and help folks.
ComedyBeat: Tell us more about the Dark Room. How long has it been around? What is the maximum capacity of patrons? Do they serve food and alcohol?
Clam Lynch: All I know is we can squeeze in as many folks that need help. I also know you can drink and eat as much as you want outside on the sidewalk. I would say the best way to find out more is going to DarkroomSF.com for the facts.
ComedyBeat: Is there a question I did not ask you that you are fired up about answering? If so, here’s your chance.
Clam Lynch: Hey!! Mr. Clam Lynch, “Are you fired up about helping people?”
Mr. Clam Lynch: “Of course I am. You idiot!!!”
Cut The Crap! with Semi-Motivational Guru, Clam Lynch
Friday, December 2 & 16, 2011 @ 10:30pm; Friday, January 6 & 13, 2012 @ 10:30pm
The Dark Room, 2263 Mission Street (18th and 19thStreets), San Francisco
Taking her first tour on Friday night of the completed Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, known as U.C.B.East for short, in the East Village, Amy Poehler examined its renovated 124-seat performance space, its twin lobbies on Third Street and Avenue A and its momentarily immaculate bathrooms, “so clean you could improvise off them,” she said.
But being a comedian Ms. Poehler, the “Parks and Recreation” star and a principal member of the Upright Citizens Brigade troupe, eventually made her way to the bar.
As she drank canned wine through a straw, Ms. Poehler was reminiscing with Alex Sidtis, troupe’s managing director, about the coming of age of their comedy-training institution.
Only a few years ago Upright Citizens Brigade was admitting audience members to its shows by tapping them on their heads as they stood in line instead of selling them tickets; now it was just 24 hours away from the official opening of its second New York location.
By Eddie Vega, ComedyBeat
NEW YORK - Meghan O’Neill, 29, a star performance in last year’s Sketch Comedy Festival in New York City, has returned with new material intended to stitch and mend the divisions between sketch and theater. At her upcoming performance at the Ars Nova Theater, in Manhattan, she will be exploring personal themes: the fear of being alone on stage, lingering questions about Vietnam, and the high social costs of liquor store discounts.
ComedyBeat: Where did you study sketch comedy?
O’Neil: UCB, The PIT, The Magnet, 2nd City.
ComedyBeat: What is the most important lesson you learned?
O’Neil: The most important thing I’ve learned in writing/performing Fraidy Cat is that it’s a process. You have to go back to the script all the time and keep making changes. Eventually it will all work brilliantly, but rarely is it brilliant on the first go round.
ComedyBeat: What is the relationship between sketch comedy and theater?
O’Neill: I think the two are very similar when it comes to exploring character and relationship. They both allow fascinating people and scenarios to take the stage for a short amount of time and highlight the absurdness of human behavior.
ComedyBeat: Why is it news that a sketch comedy show has made a crossover to a theater festival? (I imagine insiders know, but you need to explain it to a general comedy audience.)
O’Neill: Fraidy Cat is a hybrid of sketch comedy and theater, combining the fast pace of sketch and the full story arc of theater into one show. This is the first time it’s “theater” side is being highlighted as opposed to its sketch side in a festival of this nature. I’m so excited Ars Nova is including the show with their line up of amazing artists from all sides of the entertainment world!
ComedyBeat: What do you aim to accomplish with this show? Personally? Professionally? Artistically?
O’Neill: I’m excited to meet a whole new audience and continue to work on the show after putting it in front of artists who may have a totally new perspective on it.
ComedyBeat: Tell us more about the theater festival. How long has it been running? Who are the organizers?
O’Neill: Ars Nova is committed to developing and producing theater, comedy and music artists in the early stages of their professional careers. By providing a safe environment where risk-taking and collaboration are paramount, Ars Nova gives voice to a new generation of artists and audiences, pushing the boundaries of live entertainment by nurturing creative ideas into smart, surprising new work. All New Talent (hence the name ANT Fest) is designed to give emerging artists an opportunity to bring a full evening of innovative new material to life in front of an NYC audience. This is its 4th year.
ComedyBeat: Did you get that from the Ars Nova website?
O’Neill: Yes, but I have a good memory.
ComedyBeat: Are the sketches autobiographical? If so, are you using sketch to work things out in your mind, find meaning, that sort of thing?
O’Neill: Most of the sketches are based on things I resonate with, but I would say they are more personal that autobiographical. I’m not using sketch to find meaning…sketch seems like the least helpful venue to find clarity in the things that have happened to me. Absurdness, yes. Meaning, probably not.
Fraidy Cat, Written by and starring Meghan O’Neill, Directed by Megan Kellie and featuring Matt Weir and Brandon Lisy.
Ars Nova Theater, 511 West 54th, New York, NY10019.
November 2, at 8 p.m.
Tickets available here.
A sudden horror: the kind that sears itself into memory and resurfaces in recurring nightmares, the kind that wrecks nascent careers, the kind aspiring comic Bradley Moore experienced at age 6.
Alone on stage in a room large enough to swallow his lanky frame, he faced a caboodle of glaring parents and other children his age. The seconds passed in his mind like hours in detention. He played with the bottom of his San Francisco Giants T-shirt, waiting for the words that would free him and his audience from the embarrassing lock. But having forgotten even how to speak, Bradley moped off.
“He was sullen and looking stunned,” recalled his mother, Carolyn Moore, 42. “But something funny happened on the way to the crying room.”
That something was Bradley’s teacher, Terry Sand, who runs Comedy Kids, a small comedy school in San Francisco that caters to children ages 5 to 12. As a member of Robin William’s comedy troupe Papaya Juice before Williams left for instant stardom on the “Mork & Mindy” television show, Sand knew funny. She also has more than 20 years of teaching experience.
She didn’t tell Bradley any jokes to cheer him up. Instead she asked him to look at the experience as a gift. “Your mind going blank is like having a blank canvas,” she recalled telling him. “You can put the paint anywhere you want and make anything you want of it.”
She then gave him some strategies for loosening a knotted tongue, like asking the audience for a suggestion and playing off the response.
Primed with these new skills, Bradley has not walked off since. “It’s easier now to come up with things to say,” Bradley, now 10, says with relish. “It’s fun to be on stage, not knowing what’s coming next.”
His mother sees invaluable life skills that could take him beyond a career in comedy to success in the boardroom.
“Whether or not he pursues comedy, these are skills that will help him later in the business world and certainly in life,” said Moore, a director of human resources for a Silicon Valley tech company. In her line of work, she sees how employees with few social skills sometimes struggle when communicating directly with clients. She does not want that fate for her children and believes comedy training will help. And on that point, she is not alone.
Enrollment in children’s comedy schools is on the rise across the country. Many parents, like Moore, are not looking to produce stars as much as well-socialized children who will do well whatever direction their lives take. Moreover, they get to laugh while they do it.
At Second City, the largest comedy school in the United States and Canada with more than 15,000 students, enrollment in programs for children as young as 4 is up 57 percent over the last three years and is outpacing the growth of the adult programs, officials say. Most of Second City’s schools in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Toronto are at capacity, and some, like the one in Los Angeles, have had to move to larger facilities to accommodate the surge of new students.
Rob Chambers, 46, president of the Second City training centers, understands the programs’ appeal for parents. “If these kids become stars, that’s great,” he said, “but in the meantime they learn to be creative thinkers, confident communicators and team players.” As part of their routines, students are asked to invent scenes together and to play other characters. “And because they are asked to play other people their own age,” he added, “they develop greater empathy for others, an essential part of being a good citizen.”
Dr. Carrie Lobman, a professor at Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education, agrees that the curricula of comedy schools are on sound pedagogical ground. “Life itself is an improvisation for which there is no script,” she said. “Improv allows children to do what they don’t know how to do, which is what learning and development is. For example, when they play at being firefighters, they are both the kids they are and who they are becoming.”
But she sees another reason for the spike in enrollment, a subject she explores in a forthcoming book she co-wrote with Matthew Lundquist, “Unscripted Learning: Using Improv Activities Across the K-12 Curriculum.” “These schools are fulfilling a role that public schools have abandoned,” she said. “Lack of imagination in budget cuts has eliminated many programs that allow children to be creative.”
Perhaps so, but for Jonathan Kolleeny, 50, the reasons are closer to home. He supports his son Alejandro’s comedic studies at New York’s Kids ‘N Comedy because, he says, his son loves stand-up and he loves his son.
Alejandro, 16, has dreamed of doing stand-up since he first heard a George Carlin monologue. Alejandro’s own humor has a Carlinesque quality that focuses on the odd things that happen in daily life, like falling asleep while chewing gum and waking up with a fat gummy ball at the back of his mouth. As he continues honing his comedy craft, he auditions for television and movie work about seven times a year.
In the meantime, his father is impressed with how attuned to life his son has become.
“I’m always thinking about what I see and hear,” Alejandro said. “There are jokes everywhere you look, if you look hard enough.”
Ryan Drum, 12, uses his comedy to connect with his autistic twin brother, Chris. He has been trekking from New Jersey to attend the Kids ‘N Comedy program for two years to learn how to connect with an audience. The effort has paid off. When he realized that his brother responded to movies, Ryan memorized lines from his brother’s favorites and delivered them with funny voices, Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter among others.
“That is something that has certainly brought the family closer,” said Don Drum, Ryan’s father.
Onstage, Ryan performs a routine about always being given the children’s menu at restaurants and his failing efforts to order from the adult menu, a tender subject for those in his age group.
“He appeals to other kids his age,” his father said, “but he gives us access to the special way children view the world and helps us better understand them.”
July 25, 2010
It is difficult sometimes to ascertain the contours of professional comedy. It zigzags into and out of many disciplines that might otherwise seem inviolately self-contained. The onstage performances of the iconic Lenny Bruce were often as much acts of improvisational poetry and social criticism—witty, ironic and sometimes angry—as they were of humor. Bruce presented social and political truths with the cadences of free verse poetry. And contemporary comics like HBO’s Paul Mecurio fuss over their joke writing with the same level of attention that the Augustan poets paid to rhyme, rhythm, and beat. It seems only fair then that serious poets should zigzag into comedy. Flarf poets are doing just that.
Recently profiled in the Wall Street Journal, Flarf poets are the latest wave of avant-garde writing. Their work often employs illogic and impossible juxtapositions, on stage and on the page, to make their audiences laugh. They do so by mining Google search results and other online sources for their wacky compositional material.
At a recent performance at the We-Are-Familia Pop Up Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, Flarf poet Drew Gardner, 41, had this to say about a coworker named Sarah Farkas, who was unhappy with her employer-assigned e-mail address. They told her it didn’t matter that the department was wrong, but that’s going to be confusing to people she emails. She is also unthrilled with her username—FarkasS.
As part of his performance, Gardner, who counts Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and Monty Python as influences, used skateboarders and audience chants to create a background rhythm to accompany the text of his poems, a kind of contrapuntal poetry that combined independent layers of sound into one sonic unit. (The blue blur in the background of the headline photo is a skateboarder crashing during the performance.)
A fellow poet, Nada Gordon, incorporated dance—heavy on the hip action—into her reading. One audience member sniped at whisper level, “That is totally inappropriate.”
But in all other respects, Gordon offered a conventional reading. She read from the page and kept her clothes on.
Readers of the Wall Street Journal article—which published illustrative poems by Sharon Mesmer and Gary Sullivan—added to the movement’s growing body of criticism in the comments section.
For example: Fluff + Barf = Flarf.
While the use of existing online material to create new work is of recent vintage, the concept is similar to the found art of Dadaist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), who used street refuse, such as bicycle wheels and stools, as the basic materials for his sculpture. The high critical regard that has placed Duchamp’s work in permanent museum exhibits has not drained it of its comedic power. His Fountain, a sculpture that was actually a simple urinal purchased from a bathroom supply manufacturer then flipped upside down, continues to draw laughs. And scorn.
In 2000, two Chinese performance artists, Yuan Cai and Jian Jun Xi, urinated on the glass casing of a replica that was on display at the Tate Modern in London. Fountain was not an object of art to be fawned over, they argued. It was just a urinal. And that was what urinals were for. Some got the joke. Others did not. Cai and Xi were banned from the museum.
To be sure, Flarfists are serious about their writing. Gardner is author of Petroleum Hat (Roof Books 2005). And Mesmer, who holds an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College, has several books to her credit including Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo Books 2008) and Virgin Formica (Hanging Loose Press 2008). Other founders of the Flarf movement, Shanna Compton, Katie Degentesh, and Gary Sullivan, who is credited with coining the term Flarf, are also widely published.
What is art? What is comedy? Whatever makes the audience think? Laugh? Duchamp and Bruce aimed consciously to do both in their art. The Flarf poets continue that tradition even as they cut new paths in U.S. and international literature. But as most beginning artistic movements go, Flarf faces a familiar struggle. At the conclusion of their program in Brooklyn, they divided the money from a tip jar, the only source of revenue from the show. It came to under $6 each.
When the Rev. Jay Laffoon began organizing Christian marriage conferences 12 years ago, he worried that many couples would arrive expecting cautionary tales about sin and hell and a long list of don’ts and few dos. Believing that Christian marriage is a thing of joy instituted by God, Laffoon wanted people to enjoy the gatherings.
“A joyful heart is good medicine; but a broken spirit dries up the bones,” he said, quoting Proverbs 17:22. So he tried a radical approach; Laffoon hired a stand-up comedian as an opening act.
Not just any would do. The comic had to be dentures-flying-out-of-the-mouth funny. He also had to be able to profess his faith in Christ. After an exhaustive search, Laffoon found a comedian who joked about relationships and recounted how Jesus had changed his life. His routine got laughs. His personal story got a standing ovation.
While using comedians in evangelical work may raise some eyebrows, Laffoon insists it’s not a radical departure. Many clergy use humor in their sermons, often as icebreakers in the introduction or as an anecdote that teaches important lessons about life and faith. While the strategy was unusual a decade ago, today Christian comedy has a loyal following, and the practice is growing.
Laffoon, 45, an ordained minister in the Church of God in Michigan, now has 10 comics who perform at 13 “Celebrate Your Marriage” conferences a year.
What’s driving comics into churches? Many comedians have discovered that churches make great performance spaces. “Nationwide, there are more than 300,000 churches and less than 300 comedy clubs,” said Lenny Sisselman, 49, a booking agent based in Nashville, Tenn., who specializes in Christian acts. And “some of these churches have better performance spaces than the clubs. They have better sound systems, lighting and more seats. [The audience members] also have longer attention spans. Remember, these are people who enjoy sermons.”
Some mega-churches, like televangelist Joel Olsteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, seat upward of 16,000 and have an architectural style closer to Radio City Music Hall than a traditional church. They even have giant video screens that allow for close-ups of the speakers.
And pastors are finding that entertainers can help fill those seats, Sisselman said. “Many churches have found that their numbers surge at outreach programs aimed at nonbelievers or believers who don’t normally attend church,” he said. “It’s clean entertainment and they can bring their families.”
Non-Christian comics, who perform at generic family nights, simply have to offer a clean, family-friendly act consistent with Jesus’ message of hope, said Tom Sobel, a booking agent. But there are many more opportunities for practicing Christians.
“Pastors are looking for comics to profess their faith in Christ and to do it from their hearts,” Sisselman said.
But most important, a comic must be funny, said Jeff Allen, Sisselman’s star comedian. Allen, 50, started his performing career in the smoky comedy clubs of the 1980s. An alcoholic facing bankruptcy and divorce, he found Christ and a meaningful story to share with Christian audiences.
“In a club, if I took a break, it gave someone an opportunity to interrupt, to heckle,” he said. “But in church, I could take my time to develop a story, to make a point. There’s no heckling in church.”
When performing at pastors’ conferences, marriage retreats and outreach programs intended to draw nonchurch people to church, he tries to follow the advice a pastor gave him early in his new career: Let your faith drive your comedy but leave the preaching to the preacher.
“If no one ever came back to church after I made them laugh, I would still be happy,” Allen said, “because it is God who works on the human heart, God who decides if they come back.” But, he added, “if after a lifetime that’s all that happened, that my comedy had no impact on God’s Kingdom, then I would be disappointed.”
Catholic comedian Judy McDonald agrees. She views comedy as a religious vocation, a way of building the Kingdom of God. “I don’t mock my religion. I don’t tear it down,” said McDonald, 30. “Christian comedy is a gift from God.”
While hesitant at first, pastors have become welcoming. In the four years McDonald has been performing, her number of engagements has increased to about five a month from six a year.
Her routine includes jokes like: “You can always spot Catholics at ‘Star Wars’ movies. They are the ones who hear the phrase, ‘May the force be with you,’ and stand to respond automatically, ‘And also with you.’”
At St. Meinrad’s Archabbey in Indiana, a conservative Catholic college and seminary that trains men for the priesthood, humor like that is welcomed, said Jeremy King, a Benedictine monk and director of cultural events. McDonald participated in a retreat there for Catholic educators and youth ministers about how to make religious vocations more appealing to young people.
As for Christian comedy, the real question for King, 60, concerns appropriateness. What might be fine in an outreach program might not be at a High Mass. He has not caught McDonald’s act but is hoping to book a Dominican nun, Nancy Murray, who uses comedy in her one-woman show about Catherine of Siena, a Catholic saint known for her good humor. Murray is no stranger to comedy; her brother is the actor Bill Murray.
October 2, 2010
by Eddie Vega, ComedyBeat |
NEW YORK – As Harry is about to retire from a successful law practice, he envisions his final years bringing old cars back to useful life. His heart is set on one in particular, a Nash LaFayette, a popular sedan during the 1930s. But his plans are frustrated when a young and idealistic lawyer named Leonard pleads for his help in a criminal case in volving a murder suspect who confessed to a Rabbi over a game of golf. Harry has as many doubts about the innocence of Leonard’s client as he has about finding a LaFayette in working condition. But he is won over by Leonard’s persistence and sense of ethical duty to a client who may indeed be innocent. Harry foregoes retirement for one last case. So begins Myron D. Cohen’s musical comedy, “The Last LaFayette,” a play about lawyers played by lawyers.The playbill reads like a Who’s Who of the Manhattan legal community.
The lead role of Harry was performed by the playwright, Myron D. Cohen, a senior attorney with Hunton & Williams. Cohen is not new to comedy. He paid his way through Harvard Law School by working nights as a stand-up comic. “These programs are fun,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who is in the audience. Humor is humor. Everyone laughs at the same jokes.”
“It also humanizes lawyers,” added Brian D. Graifman, counsel in the law firm Gusrae, Kaplan, Bruno & Nusbaum, who accompanied the performers on piano and co-wrote the music and lyrics with Peter W. Dizozza and Nancy D. Zehner. Audiences can see them in a different light, not as advocates or adversaries but as regular people who love music and laughter.
Although the play delighted in wonky details of medical and legal practice, it made for arresting drama as it tackled the question: how could a man, who later became a woman (demurely played by Antoinette Gallo), drive several miles at night, stop at red lights, break into his father-in-law’s home and stab him 20 times, then drive back to his own home–all while in a state of sleep.
That question actually passed the laugh test in a case heard by the Canadian supreme court, which provided some of the play’s material. Produced by the New York City Bar, a lawyer’s association located in mid-town Manhattan, the comedy aims—through laughter and song—to educate both legal and lay audiences about certain aspects of trial strategy and legal theory. Additionally, such programs allow attorneys to network, hone their public speaking skills, and promote the cause of legal education.
“There’s a clear professional value,” said Stewart D. Aaron, a partner at Arnold & Porter, who played Leonard. “Practicing lawyers can see an examination of an expert witness. But it also helps keep us sane.”
“It has cathartic benefits,” agreed Susan Guercio. “It helps lawyers release pent up energy in a healthy way.”
Guercio, a volunteer on the entertainment committee that produced the show, knows something of the matter. As a trial lawyer with the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation, she helps enforce Kendra’s Law, a New York State law that requires people with a history of violence and serious mental illness get the treatment they need.
On stage and off, the lawyers of the New York City Bar are offering theatergoers a healthy reprieve.
(For more photos from the play Click Here.)
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