A year ago this week, Comedy Dynamics filmed six stand-up comedy specials back-to-back over consecutive nights at The Palace Theater in Los Angeles, all of them with the same opening and closing montages.
They released them over a period of several months this year, available everywhere but Netflix.
Among them: Louie Anderson, Tom Arnold, Paul Rodriguez, Jimmie Walker and Michael Winslow, and Rita Rudner.
Their tapings were billed as “The Legends of Comedy Tour.” OK, so perhaps the word “legend” has a malleable meaning here. Your adjectives may vary. What I can say with great certainty is that the quality of each of these hours depends greatly on how much that particular comedy act still cares about stand-up. Because some put more effort into this endeavor than others.
Louie Anderson, coming off of his Emmy win for acting in FX’s Baskets and with a new memoir published, keeps delivering, and is clearly enjoying his new round of fame.
In Big Underwear, you can hear Anderson’s mother (or rather, his Baskets character’s voice) in his complaints about everything from flavored coffee creamers to the TV series Naked and Afraid. He jokes about hoarders, and the realization that he’d hoarded all of his old underwear (the titular set-piece comes some 13 minutes into his set). “No one wants the underwear, either. Six big boxes of nice underwear.” But he realizes how growing up poor made him cherish and appreciate the little things, such as clean undies. His tighty whities ain’t so tight, of course, because Anderson remains large and in charge onstage. So he has plenty of jokes about food and his inability to lose the fat.
As for his dearly departed mom, Louie thinks she would’ve wanted to talk to Trump to straighten him out. Whereas he has a great visual closing bit in which he understands the president’s peculiar hairdo.
Tom Arnold, on the other hand…is still telling the same stories about Roseanne and True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger, all of these years later.
If you haven’t seen Arnold in a long while and want a refresher, then go for it. Otherwise, not much new to see here.
Paul Rodriguez, with The Here & Wow, starred in ABC’s AKA Pablo way back in 1982, but I cannot think of anything he’s done recently except appear giving quotes in comedy documentaries or news segments as a part-owner of The Laugh Factory. With the spotlight back on him here and now, Rodriguez jokes about not being molested by his Catholic priest, about how Mexicans will build the border wall, and sex jokes that don’t exactly mine new comedy territory, either.
Much of Rodriguez’s comedy revolves around his family, from his beloved mom to his two kids, one of whom has become a professional skateboarder.
It may be unfair to compare these comedy specials to the new ones coming out on Netflix, HBO or Comedy Central. Perhaps these particular hours are meant more to document the old-guard from the 1980s comedy boom, to let today’s comedians know who came before them, and to make sure the streaming world is represented across multiple generations.
The Jimmie JJ Walker & Michael Winslow co-headlining hour, We Are Still Here, epitomizes this.
Walker was thrust into stardom in his 20s as the breakout character on the 1974 sitcom, Good Times, with a catchphrase that came to define the comedian, for better or worse: Dyn-O-Mite! It feels as though Walker was frozen in time, defrosted, ate a bunch of food, and then came here to tell us how far we’ve fallen since the good ol’ times. He has become his generation’s Andy Rooney of observational comedy. Cell phones are bad. Texting is bad! Political correctness is very bad! “We need to cut the crap right now!” Walker actually says at one point.
Winslow comes onstage halfway through, and simply notes: “I’m Mike. I make noises. And so do you.” Winslow, too, became defined with a singular role: Sound effect impersonator. Made famous in the Police Academy movies of the 1980s. He remains a vocal wizard all these years later. And he’s even better when he has someone or something to work with or off of. And he ends his set with gratitude. “You gave me a real life and a career,” Winslow says. “I am indebted to you.”
Rita Rudner, with A Tale of Two Dresses (one of which she wore way back on Comic Relief in 2006!), has been living and working in Las Vegas for the past 16 years.
Which has kept her sharp.
“Strangely, it’s one of the only places where a comedian can have a normal life,” Rudner says. The steady casino/resort gigs allowed Rudner and her husband to raise their adopted daughter together in a somewhat traditional way. Rudner, now 64, joked about considering other methods of becoming a mother before adopting, about being an older mother, and about how the Klan ruined one of her jokes by marching in Charlottesville last year without sheets on. “Maybe they should put the sheets back on,” she suggests.
Rudner jokes that she needs to stay relevant, offering to change her name to Lady Haha, but she’s still very much in the game. It’s no wonder she still gets the marquees in Vegas.
And she’s even gracious enough to devote a few minutes of her time for her daughter, Molly Bergman, to perform a song on the guitar.