LA’s own Erica Rhodes creates a live comedy variety show based on the perfect amalgam of friendship and talent; the result being a hybrid of the Alt-Comedy Movement and good ole traditional Comedy Variety.
The Open Space venue is in the heartburn of the Fairfax district. Just about the most culturally diverse concentrated neighborhood in Los Angeles, you have everything from the most institutional deli of Canters, to hip-hop and skating board culture shops to overpriced dive bars and Russian eateries. And all conveniently located just south of my old alma mater Fairfax High School, where students dream of no bigger things than eating an everything bagel whilst skateboarding past the old Jewish lady with the shopping basket,mumbling something about socialism. Variety is the key here and when context and content meet up and high five each other, there you’ll find Erica Rhodes’ “The Night Light Comedy Show” once a month and serving up the most delicious comedy variety menu this side of the Poconos.
Variety is diversity
The best part of my job (as well as the hardest) is being surprised. I’ve been around the comedy block more than a few times in cultures as diverse as Hollywood, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto, Amsterdam and London, England. Each city had its own standard recipe for everything and comedy is no exception. The template of LA comedy has traditionally come from the kitchens of The Comedy Store, The Improv and The Laugh Factory — all great comedy institutions from day one and all of them still producing a wide menu of quality comedy items – within the certain thin bandwidth of “stand-up”. All the independent comedy shows I’ve been to, performed on, and reviewed, seem to specialize in a tiny sliver of it all. The intimate story-telling value of “Sit n Spin” at the Comedy Central Stage, the town-hall discussion and almost torch bearing ritual of Bill Bronner’s Political Nation, the casual Millennial madness of the awkward confession comedy shows downtown at the Lexington.
The template of LA comedy has traditionally come from the kitchens of The Comedy Store, The Improv and The Laugh Factory — all great comedy institutions from day one and all of them still producing a wide menu of quality comedy items – within the certain thin bandwidth of “stand-up”.
All these independent shows tend to be one thing or another. And, that’s cool. Like a food truck of comedy, they foster newish comedians, and if these independent shows don’t have a strong loyal following such as the aforementioned Sit n Spin and Political Nation, the audiences are populated by the newish young comedians themselves often performing for the unwitting bar patrons and the rest of the comedians waiting to go on. Half the time, independent comedy shows turn out to be nothing but a great poster which never lives up to the advertised excitement and in the end, you might as well go watch a comedy show at Kinkos. Although almost all worthy great concepts, many of them expertly packaged and delivered, when one focuses on only one menu item in the vast food court of entertainment, you’re automatically excluding most of the public. That’s why The Night Light Comedy Show is really a great expertly executed concept and has the most big time potential of any show I’ve seen so far since coming back to America 9 years ago, after living abroad in a yellow taffeta house dress.
Produced by Monique Thomas and hosted by the very funny Erica Rhodes (who co-produces), the feel of the night is Alt, but warm and super friendly to everybody and she does it all with young Goldie Hawn innocence with a little bit of Sarah Silverman by way of Sylvia Plath awkwardness thrown in.
Opening the show was a duo of musicians. Made up a double-act of keyboardists (one wearing a face-covering hood for some reason) “Scatterplot” is like hipster Burt Bacharach if Hal David was a very disturbed yet enlightened lyricist. Their “I Just Can’t Get Enough” is as infectious as Ben and Jerry’s, and like Cherry Garcia, although good, you don’t want to eat too much at once. They graciously introduce and play on our hostess for the evening and there’s even a little back and forth kibbutzing between the two, as they are literally cousins.
I’ve seen a lot of comedians do crowd work and most of them stink at it. But Rhodes is expert as she pulls heretofore invisible threads out of the crowd, weaving them into the most important and memorable thing any show of any kind must have: Immediate relevance.
When telling proper jokes, Erica needs a little more work and her delivery can be awkward for both the right and wrong reasons. Having said that, her jokes have what most youngish comedians’ jokes don’t have: a point. It’s her ability to immediately gage the crowd and self-awareness recovery is the gold. Soon enough, E.R. acknowledges there’s “silent laughter” and BOOM!, we got our first big laugh. You see part of the problem is the uninitiated Los Angeles audience. They’re often kinda stupid when it comes to knowing what’s funny and when to laugh and indeed if to laugh or not. Let’s put it this way. As funny as Ms. Rhodes was the night I saw the show, the audience was not completely with her a 10th of the time and that is their fault, not hers. I sat in the middle of the show as I reviewed and people seemed to be witnessing spectacle rather than being an audience. Being an audience requires full attention. Nothing else matters. Not your phone or what dress someone is wearing or where we’re going to eat afterwards. But I’m not just talking about looking up; I’m talking about having the mental training as an audience member to have the ability to recognize a joke. I swear – and I’ve been saying this for years – I’m gonna teach an audience workshop. Having said that, 93% of the crowd present was on the same comedy page as the show itself. So. Let’s bring up the first act.
I swear – and I’ve been saying this for years – I’m gonna teach an audience workshop.
Bronston Jones is a 50-ish grey bearded laid back hipster comic who opens with an out of nowhere bad taste zinger. “Melania has the taste of Trump in his mouth“, followed by the comedian saying: “I just love that joke.” Really? Well, maybe not the best material to open with on a show hosted and produced by a lady and with half her friends and family there. Much of Jones’ material focused on criticizing the giant swath of middle America’s Walmart culture. “As American as apple pie with pesticides”, a 7 year old boy with heart disease: “Bless his little heart disease” got audible groans followed by Jone’s literally admonishing the audience with: “These jokes worked in the Midwest!”…and CUT! No. Doesn’t matter if they worked in Timbuctoo. I get it; Bronston shouldn’t have been on this early. He’s a late nite bluish edgy comic and it was frankly jarring to the theme of the night. That’s not his fault. After a lot of work, he delivered some of the best laughs of the night and he probably thinks I’m a dick and will never book me on his show in Venice. Next….
Zach Bornstein was up next. A writer for Kimmel and SNL, I never know what that means. Is he on staff? A stringer? Doesn’t matter anyway because we weren’t there for a writing course. Combining Shelly Berman skills of verbal picture painting with Red Skelton physicality, Zach was truly and uniquely funny. From his “jazz hands when confronted with danger” routine to his great true story of literally cocking the wrong person’s head in public was absolutely cathartic, hilarious, and memorable. More Zach please. Next…
The interview portion of the show had Erica and busy film composer Brian Tyler on stools shooting the shit. Plenty of lighthearted laughs and career questions for the composer of such soundtracks as for Ironman and The Fast and the Furious, but for my money I would’ve liked to have heard at least some dry academic questions, which is why when Q&A opened up to the room, I raised my hand and asked about film music leading the narrative. He loved the question; I think the rest of the crowd thought I was a heretic. Next….
Tanner Horn is a musical trio consisting of 2 singing guitarists and a singer sans guitar. They reminded me of one of my favorite 90’s British bands, Blur and their anthem-like “I could use somebody; I could use your body” lyrics veered very close to a Barry White white sensibility but with Thom York-like musicality. I liked their low-key “it’s not about us; its about the music” approach and my only knock would be the sometimes off-key harmony. Overall, they are really good and I would pay to see them. Next….
Joel Ward, magician. Along the lines of the now modern classic of the seemingly failed magic tricks, Ward has cruise ship slapped all over his mug and man he works it like the ship’s toilets are broken. His audience member’s T-Rex ring appearing magically inside an uncut tennis ball was truly amazing. The quintessential audience pleaser by definition, Ward is just the guy want for your corporate phony baloney employee appreciation day.
Melissa Villaseñor. SNL cast member. Worth waiting for and the wait was entertaining anyway.
You know what would make SNL funny-er? Give the stand-up performers in the cast a chance to solo perform, a rite usually reserved for the guest host. I can’t watch SNL past the opening bit and that’s because the show seems to have lost its comedy powers after Bill Murray left. However, each show is written and performed by a myriad of magnificent comedians and writers and why the fuck not use them? Take for example our star of the evening. Clearly used sparingly as extra Parmesan, Melissa Villaseñor comes across like fine peppered Dutch Gouda and I immediately wanted a second serving and a third and so on. From the silly “booping her boyfriend’s ass-crack” she shows us who’s boss and yet hanging with her family is tantamount to brushing her teeth before bed when her mother appears like a zombie, guilt-grilling her for parasitical information. Hilarious right outta the best modern independent films is she and her mom driving around their suburban hood roasting houses. Villaseñor’s impression of Diane Keaton not accepting compliments was genius even for the uninitiated. Her dead on impression of Steve Buscemi at a wedding was truly Oh My Fucking God knock-down hysterical. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical at first seeing a television star do their thing without a net, but I have to tell you, Melissa Villaseñor is worthy of a Netflix special on her own.
Villaseñor doesn’t use a comedy net; doesn’t need one. Speaking of net…Hey, Netflix! Give this very talented gem a special?
SATIRE ALERT! (By the way, Melissa? I really think you’re talented and you did make me laugh for sure. I just thought I would be honest and maybe suck up publicly so that we can connect and I can try and viciously shoving Erica aside, exploit the so-called connection to my own selfish career ends. I’m on Facebook.) SATIRE ALERT!
Wrapping up the evening, Erica Rhodes returns center stage, thanks everyone on the show and the audience as well. I think with a little tweaking (particularly in the booking department) it could turn out to be as reliable and as popular as Largo. Promising another show in August 27, I am truly excited The Night Light Show exists. And if there’s anyone in this town who can pull it off, it’s Erica Rhodes and producer Monique Thomas.
Erica Rhodes one of the funniest and charming-est comedians bubbling up from the slime and sludge which is Hollywood. And, The Night Light Comedy Show is her magical space ship to take us all to great comedy worlds unknown.
The Night Light Comedy Show: 4 outta 5 stars.
One last note: The air con was turned on WAY too high; thought I was gonna freeze my bollox off. I am informed that issue has been fixed.
Comedian Louie Anderson, the two-time Emmy award winner, is one of the country’s most recognized and adored comics; named by Comedy Central as One of 100 Greatest Stand-Up Comedians of All Time. His career has spanned more than 30 years. He is a best-selling author, star of his own standup specials and sitcoms, and he continues to tour the country performing to standing room only crowds worldwide.
The Larf Magazine Interview: Louie Anderson
by Mark Miller
In 2016, Louie was cast to co-star along with Zach Galifianakis and Martha Kelly in the hit FX series, “Baskets.” Anderson’s extraordinary new role is Christine Baskets, the matriarch of the Baskets clan. The character is based on both his mother and his five sisters, who were a major presence in his life. Anderson was nominated for the 2016 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance as Christine.
Sharing the ups and downs of his childhood experiences as one of eleven children in Minnesota, Louie crafted comedy routines that rang true for his early club audiences, routines that led him from his career as a counselor to troubled children to the first-place trophy at the 1981 Midwest Comedy Competition. Henny Youngman, who hosted the competition, recognized the diamond-in-the-rough genius of the young comic and hired him as a writer, providing invaluable experience that soon put Louie in his own spotlight on comedy stages all over the country.
Johnny Carson, the comedy icon for generations of rising stars, invited Louie to make his national television debut on the “The Tonight Show” in 1984, and the rest is history. Leno, Letterman, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, “Comic Relief” and Showtime, HBO and CMT specials followed, including hosting the legendary game show, Family Feud, making Louie a household name and opening doors for him as an actor. He has guest-starred in sitcoms like “Grace Under Fire” and dramas like “Touched by an Angel” and “Chicago Hope,” and he has had memorable featured roles in film comedies like “Coming to America,” opposite of Eddie Murphy, and the classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” In 2013, he took a dive on the ABC reality series, “Splash” where he conquered his own fears while becoming an inspiration of hope. His standup Special, “Big Baby Boomer” premiered on CMT, in 2013.
People would always laugh at what or how I said things, and most times I was being serious. One night, a friend dared me and in 1978 I signed up, got up and did stand-up for the first time. I got some laughs, felt the excitement and some love. A fat poor kid from the projects knew a good thing when he felt it.
In 1995 Louie put his creative energies to work on the Saturday morning animated series “Life with Louie.” The long-running series based on Louie’s own childhood and his life with his father, won three Humanitas Prizes for writing on a children’s’ animated series, making him the only three-time recipient of this award. It also earned a Genesis Award for its depiction of the proper treatment of animals and, most significantly, two Emmy Awards.
His best-selling books include Dear Dad – Letters From An Adult Child, a collection of alternately touching and outrageous letters from Louie to his late father, and Good¬bye Jumbo…Hello Cruel World, self-help for those who struggle with self-esteem issues, and his latest installment on family, The F Word, How To Survive Your Family.
When not in production, Louie continues to tour, traveling the States doing what Louie loves to do, stand-up comedy. On May 24, 2018, FX renewed “Baskets” for a fourth season.
Was Minneapolis a good place to grow up? Any fond memories?
Growing up in St. Paul Minnesota was great until I realized other places had sun and no snow! But, yes, people were great, mostly friendly and lots of social programs for this fat poor projects kid—me! One fun thing we looked forward to, even though it was freezing, was The Winter Carnival, a palace made of snow! Plus, a chance to Find King Boris’s Hidden Treasure—thousands of hoping people trudging & digging through the snow for a single Gold Medallion worth $2500.00. Which seemed like a million dollars to a poor kid from a family of eleven!
What do you remember about growing up in a household of eleven children?
Waiting for the bathroom and getting the smallest glass of Grape Shasta! My mom had sixteen births.
What were you like in high school?
I was friendly, kind of shy, kind of a hippie. Wanted to be liked. We hung out at the local restaurant, trying not to be cool.
What jobs have you had other than those in show business?
I worked at a gas station, an ad salesman, and doing social work.
Did you have a fallback plan in case the comedy career didn’t work out?
My fallback plan if comedy didn’t work was some sort of job in politics.
What made you decide to get into comedy?
People would always laugh at what or how I said things, and most times I was being serious. One night, a friend dared me and in 1978 I signed up, got up and did stand-up for the first time. I got some laughs, felt the excitement and some love. A fat poor kid from the projects knew a good thing when he felt it.
How much did you struggle before making it?
I worked in Minneapolis clubs with nice success for about a year and a half, then moved to Los Angeles in ‘81, struggled, then met Jimmie Walker, who kindly hired me as a joke writer. I wasn’t very good, but he got me in at the Comedy Store and after two years of auditioning, I finally got on the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. My career took off and I’ve been very lucky, pretty much working steadily since 1984.
How was your experience writing for Henny Youngman?
Henny was great to me. He had a grandson and I wrote some comedy for him—Larry Kelly a lovely guy. I wrote some fat jokes for him. Henny loved to work. He was very business-like, but sweet at the same time. He worked hard and expected everyone else to do the same.
What do you remember about your network debut as a stand-up comedian on “The Tonight Show” in 1984?
The memories of my first “Tonight Show” are still bright. I arrived in a limo to NBC, got out the car and noticed a parking spot that said “Johnny Carson’. I paused and smiled. I was greeted by the talent coordinator and an assistant. Lots of smiles, how do you feel, I replied great, I was escorted to my dressing room, my name was on the door, there was a wardrobe person who came in and took my clothes, I could hear the band tuning up, then I was shown into makeup, things were moving faster, the talent coordinator came in and said you’re the second guest, Freddie De Cordova executive producer would be in to talk to me, the makeup person pulled off the bib he put on me and that was my cue I was finished.
Back to the dressing room, 15 min to show time. “What!?” I silently screamed. I took a deep breath and settled, looked at my manager and he said something positive. Freddie came in and told me the mechanics of the night, gave me a “you’ll be great” and away he went. The band was blaring now and I started to think about getting dressed, after the monologue I’ll get dressed, I thought. There was no Twitter back then, so I couldn’t tweet, “I just looked one more time at my set list and said to myself I got this, I’m ready!” I watched Johnny’s monologue on a small monitor. Then he threw to commercial.
I started to get undressed and I stood there in my tee shirt and underwear and thought about my Dad who was always in his underwear, let a fart go in his honor and giggled, he would have laughed. A knock at the door, talent coordinator, you’re up after this guest and after the next commercial “What!?” I silently screamed again. Got dressed, & drank some Diet Coke. Breathed deeply looked in the mirror, another knock you know who, talent coordinator, “ready?” he said. Yes sir, I replied. He was talking as we walked—something about if Johnny calls you over, go to the desk! No kidding. Every Comic knows that. We ended up behind the striped light-colored curtain that I saw a thousand times on my 18 inch black and white as a kid, I reached out and touched it, like any other kid of my mother, because she would have asked me after the show, “Louie, what material is that curtain made of you came out of on the Tonight Show, Starring Johnny Carson?”
I can’t believe it, back to reality, the band is blaring and we are back from commercial and I hear Johnny Carson’s voice: “Our next guest is making his national television debut and will be performing tomorrow night at the Comedy Store at the Dunes Hotel, please welcome Louie Anderson.”
I walked through that curtain, found my mark, and ad-libbed a joke a joke about McDonalds from Johnny’s monologue and I’ve been doing stand-up ever since. It’s the one thing in my life that I can count on, no matter what happens, no matter if the space shuttle blows up, no matter who dies, no matter who is president.
From that day in November of 1984, I had a friend I could count on, a drug that was non-toxic, an addiction that could help others and one that night after night saves my life and keeps smiling. Oh, yeah—he called me over. Thanks, Johnny!
I started to get undressed and I stood there in my tee shirt and underwear and thought about my Dad who was always in his underwear, let a fart go in his honor and giggled, he would have laughed. A knock at the door, talent coordinator, you’re up after this guest and after the next commercial “What!?”
Your 3-year hit animated show on Fox, “Life with Louie,” centered on your 10 siblings, a sweet-hearted mother and a loud, war-crazed father. Autobiographical?
Semi-autobiographical. Had to tone down my actual family, especially my father, who was alcoholic and abusive. Because this was a family show cartoon and I had to make a show that folks could watch with their kids. And that would have been a really good show for me and my dad to have had.
You’ve said you were picked on for your weight and dealt with that through humor. Did that occur throughout your youth? Could you give an example of how you dealt with the teasing and abuse?
When you’re a fat kid or different in some way, other kids who aren’t that way don’t understand it. It’s funny to them. It’s an easy target for them to call you “Fatso”, etc. And I didn’t like being teased; I was a sensitive kid. As Popeye said, “I can stands so much, but I can’t stands no more.” But I think I did a really good job of cooking up those hurts and turning them into anecdotes with jokes. I was fairly quick-witted and I soon found out how cruel I could be, but I didn’t really like that. I had bullies threaten me because I’d go right after their weak spots; I could see them. But finally they decided, “Well, maybe I’ll use Louie more as a jester than a whipping boy.”
I think also to some degree being fat is an addiction. My dad was an alcoholic and there’s lots of drug use and alcoholism and mental illness in my family. I think I’ve used food as a defense mechanism. Food became my second best friend after stand-up comedy.
What do you love about stand-up?
It’s so immediate. It’s like surfing the big wave. If you really work hard at it, you could get a really big wave of laughter coming your way. The idea, then, is to keep topping it and going deeper and deeper into it. Stand-up is a beautiful experience, night after night.
How much preparation is involved in putting together one of your televised stand-up comedy specials?
It starts with an idea, such as what’s going on in the world; what’s my take on it? Or, being a fat kid, with a lot of exclusion going on and you’re never included. The challenge is making some of these serious ideas funny. So, I look for a comedic vein in these ideas. I start out with a beginning and then almost always want an ending I can work towards. And I keep working on it and shaping it. You can tell what’s going to work out and what isn’t. I work it and work it and work it. And when I think I’ve got an hour, I crush it out at a club for a whole week, until it just becomes the song I want to play. Take a few days off, then do one more club, then I go shoot it.
How long do you work on a joke?
I once worked 11 years on a joke. The joke: My mom used to have me and my brother guess the price she paid for clothing. We hated it because we didn’t know; we were just 10 and 12. We’d complain, “You’re ruining our lives!” My mom would say, “Kids, what do you think I got this outfit for?” And being a wise guy, I’d go, “Eleven hundred? Nine hundred?” And she would say the price. I always knew it wasn’t the right joke. Finally, I was on stage one night, got to the point where mom said, “What do you think I got this outfit for?” And I said, “Halloween?” And that was the joke. That was the missing part of a complete joke. Underneath every joke is a better joke. And I don’t think comics hardly ever peel the tape off. Because the first one’s the zircon; the second one’s the diamond. And the third one’s the emerald—really ambitious. Also, the original question was “How much do you think I got this outfit for?” And without thinking, I changed it to, “What do you think I got this outfit for?” I allow myself to deliver the same joke differently each time. Because if you’re not different in every joke, how can you find the other joke?
What was it like playing in the 2006 Word Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas? How did you do? Are you a gambler?
Let’s be honest: I’m in show business—I’m a gambler. There are no guarantees. I got in because I lived in Vegas and someone at “Poker Stars” was a fan of mine. I’ve rarely played poker and almost never tournament poker. The problem with me is I always think I have the best hand. But I loved doing it; it was so much fun. There were 6,000 people there. I think I made it 12 hours, which I felt great about. Poker became a really cool thing for a while. I enjoyed the strategy. Coming from a large family, there’s always a strategy. And I love cards. When you’re poor, you have a deck of cards.
What was your experience hosting the TV game show, “Family Feud”?
Living in the projects sitting in our living room on the arm of the couch, dad in his “dad chair”, mom in the kitchen, “Family Feud” comes on and we played it.
When I got the offer to host, I wanted to do it! (I might not have hosted any other game show) but the “Feud”, it was a no-brainer, it gave me a chance to come full circle, for my mom, dad and me! 30 years earlier revisited, and now I’m the host, it was a honor, I was no Richard Dawson (the man they created the Feud for) but I loved giving away money to people who could use it. That was my favorite part of the show. And when they’d lose it, it was a bummer for them and me.
You play Christine Baskets, the put-upon mother of Zach Galifianakis, on the FX comedy series “Baskets”. What was your initial reaction when you were offered that part? How did you arrive at the character? How has the experience been over all?
I was working in Vegas at the Plaza Hotel. I was on my way to work and got a call from Steve Levine, my old agent. He said Louie C.K. wants your phone number. Louie calls me a short time later: “Louie, hi, it’s Louie.” “Hi, Louie.” “Hi, Louie.” Which is one of my favorite things ever because it hardly ever happens. He said I’m with Zack Galifianakis and we’re doing a sit-com and we’d like you to play a character. I said yeah! I mean, these two guys call you; are you going to say anything but yes? I mean, unless you’re crazy. They’re royalty in comedy right now, and probably forever. He said, we want you to play Zack’s mother. And I go, “Yes!!” I was excited because it was some sort of divine thing. Like you’re waiting for something but don’t know what it is, but you know it could be really good. And that’s really how it felt. I never thought it would lead to an Emmy nomination until people started mentioning it to me. Zack’s manager, Marc Gurvitz, told a friend of his that he thought I was going to win an Emmy. He also told an old manager of mine, Alex Murray, “I saw the dailies and Louie’s going to win an Emmy.” It’s weird when you hear stuff like that. How do you respond, except, “I am?” And then people started making those Emmy comments on my Twitter and Facebook pages. And people in airports would say that to me. And I said, “Are you guys voters, though?”
I’ll tell you what was so cool about it. I worked really hard with Louie and Zack and Jonathan Kreisel on making the relationship between Zack and I real. And I worked really hard to make Louie Anderson disappear on screen. And I thank my mom for that, because if you could become someone else it’s best if you know that person. I had been doing my mom in my act for a long time, and Christine Baskets is a version of my mom. And my mom had very funny mannerisms and was a very funny person in her own right. A really clever person and could find joy in a bottle of DeSante.
You have a wonderful relationship with Zack’s girlfriend on the show.
That was such a hard scene for me to do. When I had to send her home to Paris. We both cried.
No, I’m talking about Martha Kelly, the nerdy girlfriend/insurance salesperson.
Oh my god, I love Martha. I feel bad that she’s Zack’s whipping post. He really gives her a hard time, but I think he really loves her.
Was this the first time you’d worn women’s clothing for an acting role?
No. Comedian Dom Irerra did one of those specials we used to do for Showtime and HBO. They’d all have an opening comedy bit. So, Dom asked me if I would play the maid in the scene. The scene was I wake Dom up as the maid. Then after I leave, the other covers come off next to Dom and it’s Bruce Willis. And Dom goes, “Hey, didn’t that maid look like Louie Anderson?” And that was the only time I did that. I had 5 sisters and a mom, but I never really tried on any of their clothes. Wearing women’s clothes takes a little getting used to, but it’s much more comfortable in some ways than men’s clothes. Because you’re not all strapped in.
One of the three books you’ve written, Dear Dad: Letters from an Adult Child, is a collection of letters to your late father. What kind of relationship did you have with him? Were the letters things that you didn’t or weren’t able to communicate to him while he was alive?
I wrote the book 10 years after he died. I took a friend of mine to his father’s grave where he read a letter to him. I was very moved by it. And I knew in my heart I’d have to do that same thing someday. So, 10 years later in Milwaukee, I was on the road and started writing these letters in a journal and they just poured out of me. And they became a book. I ended up getting 10,000 letters from people who had much worse times with their dad than I did. And my dad was an abusive alcoholic. Writing the letters healed me, because I was able to forgive my dad. And I think the book helped a lot of people; I hope it did, anyway. People mention it to me quite often. It just came out on Kindle and I’m excited about that. This may sound crazy, but I’d love to do it as a stage performance where I read the letters and do the comedy part in there. I’d love to find a director who could help me make it into a stage production. Because I feel that people don’t read as much as they used to, especially books, and this is an important subject.
Another of your books, Goodbye Jumbo… Hello Cruel World, is a self-help book for those who struggle with self-esteem issues. What has been most helpful to you in dealing with self-esteem? What would you tell someone you met today who was dealing with self-esteem issues?
They have to believe they can be healed before they can start healing themselves. They have to believe they’re a good person, before they can start being nicer to themselves.
Your third book, The F Word: How to Survive Your Family, features 49 family survival tips. Could you share one of your favorites?
This is my favorite one: For every family function, arrive late and leave early. Because it’s just better. And make sure your emotional gas tank is full before you go. And it’s unlikely with the story of your family you keep replaying, that the third act is going to change. So, you should be more accepting, smile, giggle, and go, “Oh, mom!”
Louie Anderson’s favorite family survival tip: “For every family function, arrive late and leave early.”
Have you done everything on your bucket list? What other goals do you have?
I’d like to turn my book “Dear Dad” into a stage show. I’d like to write a one hour drama for TV because I’m a huge one hour drama fan. And I’d love to get to a weight that is completely healthy for me. That is really my main goal—my health. I’ve been eating sprouts and drinking wheatgrass juice. Someone told me when I was about to start drinking it that the wheatgrass juice would taste like Kool-Ade. I keep calling them. But it’s much easier after a while. And it’s so nutritious and good for you and sets your system. I look at it this way: I’ve eaten everything I need to eat.
What hobbies and other interests do you have?
I just started painting. It’s always about my family. I just took a class and painted something that was nice; I liked it. I have a lot of big underwear and thought they’d be wonderful canvases. I think it would be really funny as well as an effective canvas.
Do you have a favorite charity?
The homeless. I had a program called Hero that ran for several years in Flint, Michigan, that I started with my manager’s sister. I’m working on an infant mortality charity in Detroit, MakeYourDate.
Who do you admire in stand-up comedy? In acting?
People who really influenced me were Johnny Carson, Bob Hope—had such great patter; he really knew how to deliver a joke; Richard Pryor—his heart was so unbelievable, Jackie Vernon, Rodney Dangerfield—I loved his jokes and character, Bill Burr, John Mulaney—he is so prolific; I was so jealous. Emo Phillips—I realize what a great performer he is; his jokes are so solid. I love great solid jokes. Nick Swardson—we’re both from Minnesota. Of course, Louie C.K. And Jonathan Winters had a giant impact upon me, too, with my character stuff.
Bryan Cranston was my co-star in the “Louie” pilot, where I played a therapist. I’ve always rooted for him and I’m really proud of all his success. I love great comic actors on TV—Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Ted Knight, Carol O’Connor, Jean Stapleton. I loved Laurel & Hardy and Abbot & Costello.
The greatest thing about my life is I got to meet so many of those people. I got to work with Audrey Meadows, who told me stories about Jackie Gleason, who was so great. I loved Red Skelton. I never wanted to be a comic, which is the funniest thing. Someone just dared me. But I was going to be a politician; I wanted to be President.
Do you see yourself in a storytelling tradition, like Bill Cosby?
Bill came from an adult point of view, telling his stories. I feel like I come from the place of a son. I’m the kid whose parents are driving him nuts to this day. But Bill was a great storyteller, standup, great delivery.
What’s it like living in Las Vegas?
I’ve been in Vegas since 1984. The day after my “Tonight Show” debut I started working at the Dunes Hotel. You’ve got to stay off the Strip for the most part; you can’t live that life. I’ve had a lot of fun there. It was the greatest. I worked at Bally’s for 11 years for 6 weeks a year. I would either go in as Paul Anka was finishing. And then when I would go out, George Carlin would come in. Next time I’d come in, Dean Martin was there. Then I’d go out and Smokey Robinson would be there. I got to meet everybody. Got to see Frank Sinatra perform at the Desert Inn.
I got to open for so many acts because my agent Frank Rio at Triad Artists was Bob Hope’s agent and all the great acts’ agent. The week after my “Tonight Show” debut, I was opening for The Commodores. And then The Pointer Sisters. And then Dolly Parton. And Kenny Rogers. And Glenn Campbell. And Ray Charles. All these unbelievable acts. It was surreal. So, I got a peek in at how fame worked. And how they lived. And who was nice. The greatest thing I experienced was that the majority of stars were super nice. The bigger the star, sometimes the bigger the niceness.
Joan Rivers and Rodney Dangerfield—both people who guided and mentored me early on. They were fans. They came to Minnesota and I was lucky enough that they connected with me and gave me encouragement to get to one of the coasts.
If you could choose one person, living or dead, to have as your dinner companion for one night?
Standups? A tossup between Lenny Bruce and Groucho Marx.
Favorite music album?
Harvest, by Neil Young.
All That Jazz.
If I was on an island? I guess it would have to be Gilligan’s Island. ‘Cause I could then at least learn how to make the things.
French bread. [LAUGHS]. No, probably one food I’d have to eat forever? Well, the new Louie says wheatgrass. The old Louie says Jerry’s Fried Chicken in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was a broasted secret recipe chicken that once in a while my dad would treat us.
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This interview appeared originally in The Huffington Post.
Fat Chance featured at The Hudson Theatre during the 2018 Hollywood Fringe Heads to Edinburgh.
In Danny Lobell’s first outing as a one-man shower, the 35-year old comedian, podcast host and festival organizer, took us on an inside journey into a personal and intricate world of the short con to success and survival.
“Broke as a Joke” was an hilarious heartfelt reveal and went on to sell out houses and enthusiastic reviews at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In Lobell’s new show, “Fat Chance”, Danny once again opens up his comedy veins, spilling insightful blood while delivering huge laughs to a hungry audience.
Camp Shane became Camp Shame.
The plump yet lovable Lobell’s opening gambit is a zinger: “I wrote most of this show when I was still fat” shows us who he’s kidding and begins to explain that being fat brings you attention and that getting fat in the first place was from his parents guilting him out over starving children in Africa. While his parents sent him to “fat camp” (which Lobell’s twisted mind interpreted as a place to get fat), he ruined playground heckler’s and bully’s “your mom is so fat” jokes with encyclopedic logic. Camp Shane became “Camp Shame”. After that sweet little appetizer, Danny moves immediately to the main course.
Danny played Santa at a Peruvian Christmas party of all things, pimped out by his parents and this is just one feather of his misadventures. You see, Danny is more than a comedian. More than a fat guy. Danny is a central character. That’s what’s so fascinating about him. The world literally revolves around him, but not at his choosing. Which is the classic Medievil food. I mean fool.
Danny explains his observations of the human race around fatties:
“Everyone wants to be the cool fat kid in the cool group. But more than one fat kid and it becomes a fat group.”
Everybody Thinks Your Fat is Their Business
Someone comes up to him at a show and says: “I was gonna tell you you look like a fat Kevin Smith!” Meant as a compliment, Danny replies: “You almost said that?”
Full of Funny Fat One-Liners
“My wife got me a Fit-Bit. I put it on the dog.”
“I joined the gym because the bench press was really comfortable. I napped.”
“The treadmill shows down time. I’d put a terminally ill patient on a treadmill.”
The Machinations of Losing Weight
Weighing portions, food on scale, reading the box, and finally sitting on a steak first to order a second steak.
“The ‘lottery’ of fat people is a bad thyroid,” explains Danny. Good excuse for people, Danny says. And when you first hear that, you begin to realize that being fat is no joke for people on a day to day basis. In fact, just at this point of the show, Danny suddenly shifts to his heartfelt and painful mention of his friend the late comedian Ralphie May, himself a fat comedian who passed away last year. May took Danny under his wing (and breast and thigh) and taught him how to deal with these clowns and took him on tour as his opening act.
“Get your comedy just desserts by seeing the sweet Danny Lobell’s Fat Chance. A show filled with delicious creamy ideas is comedy comfort food at its best.” – Steven Alan Green, Larf Magazine
Danny’s basic philosophy is never to put office supplies into his body. After all, people suggested over the years: stomach staples, rubber bands, paper clips and probably even copier toner. Lobell’s poetic insight that it’s not a heart “attack,” it’s a heart “surrender”, deftly leads us to the end of the plank with “I wanted to do this show while I still had a fat chance.”
Full of charm and humanity and laughs, Danny Lobell’s new one-man show “Fat Chance” is surely to attract a comedy hungry crowd at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. Make sure you catch it. He’s got a lot for you to digest. And, it’s a free show. You won’t need to spend any of those British “Pounds”.
Fat Chance written by and starring Daniel Lobell premiers at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival August 3 at “The Coffee House” 144 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1QS and runs through August 26. Shows daily, except Saturdays.
“Fat Chance” Edinburgh Preview: Five outta Five Stars
In this Larf exclusive, British comedian Earl Okin reveals the tale of the evolution of the British comedy boom and it’s ultimate collapse.
The year was about 1980. Through the 60s and 70s, alongside comedians who told gags written by other people, gags about mothers-in-law, Englishmen, Irishmen and Scotsmen etc., there had been some groundbreaking comedy, beginning with the Goon Show on the radio, the political satire of That Was The Week That Was (TW3) and its spin-offs and, of-course, the Monty Python crowd. There had also been some classic sit-coms, such as Porridge, set in a prison.
In addition to this, another type of comedy had been seen in Folk clubs. I performed on that circuit regularly through the 70s. We were divided into ‘Traddies’, those who actually sang traditional folk songs, mainly from all around the British Isles, and the ‘Entertainers’ who would sing/play all sorts of things from historic tunes from past centuries, through Music Hall (Vaudeville) songs to Jazz and Blues and their own self-penned comedy songs, often writing alternative lyrics to well known pop-songs, such as those by The Beatles. These ‘entertainers’ would also talk to the audience in between songs, about their week, things in the news and of-course the next song, usually in a manner to make people laugh. With a few of these, they began to talk much more and play less and less music. Two of the best were Mick or Mike Elliot and Billy Connolly. The latter has become perhaps the UK’s favourite comedian, hilarious, outrageous and unique, and has recently been knighted.
Mother-in-law jokes were out; satire was in.
As I say, the year was 1980 or thereabouts. A new generation of comedians were fed up with what was on offer, hated the racial and gender stereotype type of jokes and were fed up with anti-establishment political humour which had become tired and predictable. Their style was anarchic, very individual, self-written and stereotype jokes were banned. On the other hand, you could say ‘F–k’ on stage…or indeed any other swear word. In a way, they were doing for comedy what Punk had done for Pop music.
A new generation of comedians were fed up with what was on offer, hated the racial and gender stereotype type of jokes and were fed up with anti-establishment political humour which had become tired and predictable.
The first two clubs were The Comedy Store and The Comic Strip, both held in what were normally Soho strip clubs.
Around 1981 or so, the entire Folk Club circuit seemed to collapse, almost all at once. It’s day, beginning in the early 50s and with its heyday in the 60s-early 70s, had gone. It wasn’t long before, often in the very same rooms over pubs that the nascent comedy clubs took their place.
One night around that time, I met Nigel Planer and Peter Richardson, who had come down to the 606 Jazz Club, then still in its original venue on the Kings Road, to try some of their material on Jazz musicians, since they’d heard that Jazz musicians had a special brand of humour, which is true. Their prescient sketch about terrorists taking over London Airport and putting people in microwave ovens to cook them was very black and very funny. Chatting afterwards, they explained the rules of the new comedy…no stereotypes of any kind, but you can swear and when I mentioned that I did a bit of comedy, I was immediately invited to be in one of their shows. Difficult to believe now, but back then, there were hardly any comedians apart from the ‘mother-in-law gag’ type.
Like 60’s London pub & club scene fomented The Kinks and the Stones, so came this new wave of comedians.
So it was that I did my first comedy gig. I just took the funny bits of my Folk set out and performed them. Funny songs. The other comedians were mainly double-act sketch acts…Nigel and Peter, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders with newcomer Arnold Brown, a Jewish accountant from Scotland and the compere (MC) Alexei Sayle providing the stand-up element. These became some of the biggest names on UK TV in years to come, but that night, we had an audience of 6. One of these, however, worked for Granada TV and we were all invited to make a pilot of a sort of updated TW3 show in Manchester. This never came to anything, but the others were soon snapped up for various TV shows, all except me. Nobody was interested in music comedy. What they wanted was stand-up and sketches that might develop into sit-coms, a pattern which has never changed.
From being an underground thing, this new ‘alternative’ comedy began to spread. Various venues tried it. I remember doing shows in Piccadilly for a nightclub disco called Xenon. There was a wonderful room at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe called the Fringe Club, where all sorts of acts – comedy, musical…ANYTHING…would do 10 minutes in order to sell tickets for their show. Do well and your show might sell out. Do badly and you might be attacked with beer, glasses, bottles and a huge chorus of ‘f–k off’ from the young audience.
Jongleurs became the biggest comedy animal, attracting all kinds of beasts.
Back in London a huge and at first really exciting club opened…by Maria Kempinska. Partly based on The Fringe Club, it was called Jongleurs and, unusually was to be found South of the river in Battersea. It was home not only to stand-ups, but comedy impressionists, jugglers, musicians, magicians and all sorts of brands of comedy, including, for instance, an act which consisted entirely of ‘torturing’ teddy bears. For a short while, I have no way of expressing how exciting it was for performers and audience alike. However, it wasn’t long before, as with Edinburgh, heckling became a standard part of the evening and a stand-up was partly judged on his/her ability to invent instant put downs to deal with heckles.
Sadly, after a couple of years of this, John Davey, Maria’s husband saw that Jongleurs could be a money-making brand. More and more clubs gradually opened, all sorts of people were allowed in and drunken stag and hen parties often made up much of the audience. The public image of alternative comedy became for a while nothing but a place where you could go and heckle the performers. Jongleurs also developed a series of controlling rules for the comedians who performed for them., eg, if a comedian had to cancel a gig, then they would cancel all their gigs, etc. It became a horrible place to perform and the early culture of variety in comedy was replaced by that of hard-nosed stand-ups who could deal with drunken hecklers and heavily controlling management.
There were other clubs, of-course, run by people who loved comedy…Noel Faulkner’s Comedy Café in Hoxton and Peter Grahame’s Downstairs At The King’s Head in Crouch End come to mind…and a plethora of other, usually weekly clubs in pubs, followed. No matter which day of the week, you could always find a comedy club to go to somewhere in London and, gradually in other parts of the country too.
An Empire Collapses in on Itself; British Déjá Vu?
This state of affairs continued for a decade or so and then the whole comedy scene began to be invaded by agents and from being alternative, it all became very corporate. Off The Kerb and Avalon and other such agents began to snap up comedians whom they could market and a few became famous on TV and thus household names; (not always the most talented ones, but that’s the way of showbiz).
This trend has continued in the 21st century. After one or two comedians became as famous as rock-stars, quite a few youngsters have gone into comedy not because they love comedy but as a perceived step to fame and riches. Worse still, the big names of comedy have had tours arranged in bigger and bigger venues…and we’re talking arenas! The public, wrongly assuming that these must surely be the best comedians on offer, tend to save up money to go to these huge shows with ticket prices to match, no longer attending their local comedy clubs which, just like the folk clubs before them, have begun to fold…even famous clubs such as The Comedy Café.
So, we now have more and more comedians chasing fewer gigs and the comedy provided by many of the newer comedians has become as predictable and generic in its way as the old comedy of the past, though, of-course, there are always a few true originals.
It could well be time for some new form of entertainment to start bubbling up from below. There was a little renaissance of ‘new’ variety a few years ago, rather like that old original Jongleurs club, but that seems to have died away.
What will be the next big thing? Who knows?
EARL OKIN. June 2018. London.
For more information about Earl Okin as well as bookings, click hereto his website.