Author: Sean L. McCarthy

HBO vs. Showtime vs. Comedy Central

Late into the night, or early this morning, after seeing parts of three different comedy specials on Showtime, I couldn’t help but think about how Showtime’s comedy specials all have a uniquely odd look and feel to them. Especially when compared to the consistent theater sets and production values of one-hour comedy specials that get aired on HBO and Comedy Central. Why is that? For one thing, HBO tends to control its own comedy output, which means its comedians often tape their hourlong sets at the same venue with the same crews. Comedy Central does the same for its half-hour Comedy Central Presents, and for hour specials, they’re most likely edited versions of highly stylized and produced DVDs. But Showtime is another matter. Whether it’s Joe Rogan (at the Tempe Improv), Paul Mooney (at the Laugh Factory) or Mo’Nique at an Ohio prison (or even Doug Stanhope at Gotham Comedy Club), these specials will go anywhere. They’ll feature lots of close-ups. They’ll bounce the camera angles around the room. They’re as OK filming in a small club as they are outdoors. They’re independent. They’re rogue, even. Performance art pieces. I get the sense that many of these specials were made by the artists themselves, then later sold to Showtime. But does that make one network’s comedy specials better than the others? Depends upon what you mean by better, I...

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My Extras special interview with Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais welcomes me into a nondescript conference room at HBO’s Midtown Manhattan offices, looking cool and casual. Wait. I’m not writing some sort of clichéd magazine piece, am I? How could I? Sometime in the middle of our half-hour chat, what started as an interview became, unbeknownst to Gervais, a pep talk – not just for me, but for anyone in the creative arts to stand up for what we believe in and tell the naysayers off. He just got Golden Globe nominations for best actor and show this morning. This following his Emmy win this fall. And his Extras finale debuts Sunday on HBO. Gervais told me the finale really can exist as a stand-alone. "People who have never seen us can enjoy this, kind of like a TV movie. I think we hit the ground running. It’s pretty clear what’s going on. This is a guy who’s struggling with his fame and his press perception, and it’s not what he expected. And he sort of sold out to get this awful comedy on the air and now he wants more. And then soon he forgets what he wants altogether and it’s just fame is the master…I think whether you’ve watched this series or not, by the end of the finale, I think you realize that Extras was about friendship. It wasn’t about media. That was just...

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ECNY Award nominees announced

This just in…The ECNY Awards are back this year, and they’ve announced their list of 2007 nominees. Winners to be announced Jan. 28, 2008, at a ceremony at Comix in NYC. It’s no longer just about recognizing emerging comedians, the EC in the ECNY. From the press release: "The ECNY Awards reflect the best comedy in New York, and therefore the world," said ECNY producer Alex Goldberg. " We couldn’t be more proud of this list of nominees, and consider them all winners. Except for those who are going to lose." Nominees were selected after three rounds of selection: a public nomination process; voting by a committee composed of industry professionals; and advisement from the ECNY panel. Nominees must have lived and performed in New York for the majority of the year ending Oct. 31. For further rules and regulations, please go to The ECNY Awards are produced by Alex Goldberg (Fearsome), Jon Friedman (The Rejection Show), Carol Hartsell (Drink at Work), Nate (The Apiary), and Alexander Zalben (SketchFest NYC). And here are the nominees! Best Host: Jackie Clarke and Julie Klausner (Obsessed @ The UCBT), Jon Friedman (The Rejection Show @ The UCBT), Seth Herzog (Sweet @ The Slipper Room), Margot Leitman and Giulia Rozzi (Stripped Stories @ Comix), Eugene Mirman and Michael Showalter (Tearing the Veil of Maya @ Union Hall) Best Improv Group: Big Black...

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Comedians, on comedy and the industry

If you want to find common ground among comedians, no matter whether they consider themselves club comics or "alternative" comics, observational or prop, just ask them how they feel about the industry. The machinations of show business, that’s what all comedians love to mock. So let’s look at a couple of recent examples of this courtesy of Super Deluxe. First up, ["(Layers)"], which follows the workings of an agent for agents (Nick Kroll) and his publicists (the Sklar Brothers). Here is their latest episode, the conclusion of the "cold war" between Kroll’s agent and a potential competitor. Very inside humor, but also a good release for comedians to spoof agents, managers, publicists and the whole Hollywood dance. More than a few performers approached Kroll during The Comedy Festival in Las Vegas last month to tell him how much they love him in that Web series — and this is the same season in which Kroll has made his network TV primetime debut as the main reason to watch ABC’s Cavemen. To catch up with the rest of ["(Layers)"], click here. The other ongoing series is Comedy By The Numbers, shorts directed by Bob Odenkirk to promote the book of the same name. I’m not a huge fan of this week’s new episode, on Universal Appeal, but here you go…think of this as their most "artistic" work… Past episodes have...

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Richard Pryor, Live on the Sunset Strip

Showtime aired Richard Pryor’s 1982 stand-up concert film, Live on the Sunset Strip, early this morning, and when you watch it 25 years later, you cannot help but notice how raw he was — five years before Eddie Murphy called his concert special "Raw" — in dealing with his fame and his personal troubles onstage. Also, watching the camera spot the Rev. Jesse Jackson laughing in the front row, a mere year or two before he’d pursue his presidential aspirations, you remember that he was just like you or me first, a guy who likes to laugh at brutally funny material. The next Richard Pryor concert screening on cable comes Saturday on Cinemax (his 1979 special filmed in Long Beach,...

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