Month: November 2007

Tim Minchin’s proper American debut

After electrifying the Las Vegas audience with his extended introductory performance of "So F–king Rock," Tim Minchin said this was his first time in America. Well. Not quite. I’d seen Minchin earlier this year when he wowed the crowds in Aspen. "Aspen’s not America, really," Minchin told me backstage after rocking the socks off the audience for an hour-plus. "They just plop you down on the mountain and then pick you back up." "I didn’t have America as an intention," he said. "The opportunity came to me." Winning the Perrier Award for best newcomer to Edinburgh in 2005 led to an invite to Montreal in 2006, which in turn led to Aspen in February of 2007, where he received more industry kudos. "But after Aspen, I said, ‘Hold on, wait a second…" So here he is, or was, for three shows in New York City last week at Ars Nova — "Ars Nova is the most wonderful small theater I’ve perhaps ever been in," he told me — then Saturday night in Las Vegas for The Comedy Festival (organized by the same HBO folks who recruited him to Aspen), then two nights earlier this week in Los Angeles. Minchin said he hopes to come back in 2008 with something proper and new. "I’d like to sit for six weeks and write a new season in New York," he said....

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The 2007 Andy Kaufman Award finals

Through methods not entirely spelled out — although, really, anything associated with the late Andy Kaufman should go without any easy explanations — eight comedians from across America got invites to Las Vegas to perform in front of Kaufman’s dad, Stanley, and his manager, George Shapiro, for the coveted award named for the eccentric performer. This was the contest’s first visit to Vegas, having been conducted the first three years in New York City. How would it play in a ballroom of Caesars Palace during The Comedy Festival? Well…you can watch the video submissions of all eight finalists here… Past winners Kristen Schaal and Reggie Watts co-hosted the affair with their usual pluck and delight. Chad Fogland chose a clowning mime striptease for his act, disrobing 12 pairs of pants, three pairs of boxers and a pair of briefs to reveal…another pair of briefs. Impressive enough, but far from extraordinary. Mary Mack made her case with a washboard that she plays in her day job as a one-woman Eagles cover band. "This is where the show really amps up," she said. Certainly off the beaten path. Nick Gibbons used a lie detector during his act that prompted him to change his answers repeatedly, almost exactly like an improv game my old troupe used to perform with bells and buzzers. Even Gibbons said on his blog later that the bit...

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Chris Rock, at the TCF

I had the chance to watch Chris Rock try out new material twice in recent months in the intimate environment of the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village, so imagine my delight and surprise (not to mention the 4,000-plus people at Caesars Palace) to hear him deliver even newer riffs Friday night as part of his first theater show in four years during The Comedy Festival in Las Vegas. After the show, he said "it felt good…still need to shake off a little rust, but it felt good," adding: "It’s a good room. I haven’t done this in so long. I had to get used to the sound…sometimes the laughs go up high to the balcony." Highlights from the show after the jump. Oh, right. The show. Rock opened by acknowledging Britney Spears and her child-rearing skills, then deftly turning to Michael Vick and dog fighting, comparing him favorably to Don King and pointing out how Americans treat dogs differently than other animals. "If Michael Vick had killed 100 deer, he’d be free. And Atlanta would be 6-2 right now." That got a big laugh. Rock, of course, likes to keep pushing, so he then wondered about the comparison between 100 abortions and seven dog deaths. Rock’s views on the election prove he ain’t voting for Clinton. "I think America is ready, but does it have to be that woman?!"...

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Jerry Seinfeld, at the TCF

If people were tired of seeing Jerry Seinfeld seemingly everywhere this month, it didn’t show Friday night for either him or the 4,000 cheering fans at Caesars Palace for The Comedy Festival, where he was introduced to the stage as "the star of the number one movie in America." After opening with a couple of Vegas jokes, Seinfeld got to work with a workmanlike precision and also a physicality I hadn’t remembered seeing from him, crumbling to the floor during a comparison of how your life battery syncs up with your cell-phone battery, as well as acting out several other bits. When comedians get too rich and famous, they sometimes cannot get away with the same types of observational humor that helped them get laughs on their way up. Seinfeld knows this and built his set list accordingly, by taking a bit about the narrowing gap between "great" and "sucks" to his own life. "Now I’m sure (my life) doesn’t suck as much as yours…but it does!" He went to great lengths to demonstrate his humanity — that I’m just like you quality — throughout his 55-minute set. Despite the constant shout-outs from the audience who think they’re expressing their love but only disrupting the show. Seinfeld must be more than used to this by now, and used one shouter to talk about his own "random thoughts" that include...

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Unprotected Sketch! at the TCF

Could relatively unknown sketch comedy groups compete with national headlining comics for eyeballs, attention and laughs at The Comedy Festival in Las Vegas? That was the challenge for "Unprotected Sketch!" a series of sketches hosted by NYC’s Kurt Braunohler and Kristen Schaal. Kurt and Kristen, who host Hot Tub at Pianos in New York, already got industry approval in Montreal earlier this year (and Kristen is a past Andy Kaufman Award winner and Aspen winner, too), so they took the lead on this one, too. "We’re excited to be here in the city of broken dreams…and secrets!" Kurt said. The duo introduced a new recurring sketch for Vegas called "Double Down Hearts" to show off their "dramatic" side, as well as their "dancing" side — not only then but also in their proven glowstick body dance to promote polio awareness and the rousing crowd-pleaser, "Kristen Schaal is a horse!" Gareth and Evan, or is it Evan and Gareth? Either way, this duo’s entrance looked odd not because they were both wearing all white turtleneck-and-pants outfits, but because Kurt and Kristen also exited the stage in similar getups. Anyhow. On this night, Evan Mann and Gareth Reynolds weren’t worried about Axe but about letting us in on their "final" performance together…all really to set up their series of flashbacks…to letter-writing to Jon Bon Jovi, to the first time they met...

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