As we continue to follow the Beards of Comedy across the country, the guys recently filed what could be their most urgent video yet. If television has taught us anything, it’s that the zombies are nearly upon us, and it’s only a matter of time before The Walking Dead gets a little too real. Luckily, the Beards have you covered. In the latest installment of Beards Across America, the guys find themselves in Atlanta–the epicenter of all things zombie. From physical training to camouflage tips to shelter building ideas, these Beards will teach you everything you need to know to survive the imminent zombocalypse. You can watch the episode here.
Rooftop pal Keith Alberstadt (pictured here with Danny Bevins) recently went overseas to perform for the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. As part of the Comics on Duty World Tour, which also included Bevins, Phil Palisoul, Shawn Halpin, Drake Witham, and Paul Ogata, Keith did some shows and generally pal-ed around at the military base. He also documented being mauled by a US Army-trained dog. Don’t worry–Keith was fully protected. That said, the dog could use a little cinematic enrichment (seriously, Raging Bull? C’mon). Watch Keith face off with the dog after the jump.
And here’s a montage of Keith and the rest of the touring comics. Welcome back guys!
In November 1972, the Ms. Foundation for Women released Free to Be… You and Me, an album and book geared toward children, championing self-acceptance and rejecting societal gender norms. Actress Marlo Thomas, who came up with the idea for the project, hoped to fill what she saw as a void of progressive children’s entertainment. Singers on the album included Thomas, Alan Alda, Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson, and Carol Channing. Forty years later, Joel Levinson (The Tonight Show), Stephen Levinson (Channel 101, Funny or Die’s Noah’s Ark), and Rob Kutner (Conan) decided to do a comedic send-up of the classic album they listened to so often as kids. Turning the album, titled It’s OK to Do Stuff, around in an incredibly short two-week period, they invited actors and comedians like Lizzy Caplan (pictured), Eddie Pepitone, Fred Willard, Samantha Bee, and Colin Hanks to lend their vocal talents. It’s OK is a light-hearted and funny take on the original, mixing songs and skits to pay tribute to Free to Be. We chatted with Joel, Stephen, and Rob to discuss their musical comedy inspirations, the songwriting process, and more.
Rooftop Comedy: So what, if any, exposure did you have to Free to Be…You and Me while growing up?
Stephen Levinson: My parents, who were also Joel’s parents, bought it on vinyl and I played it until it was battered. It was one of those albums, as a kid, I made them play it over and over and over again. It’s funny because I probably haven’t listened to it since childhood, but when Rob approached me with the project, I re-listened to it and it was just—amazing. When you haven’t listened to a song in so long, you listened to it so much back then, you instantly remember so much.
Rob Kutner: I have a four year-old daughter and, pretty recently, I was playing it on CD for her after not hearing it for a really long time and almost every one of those tracks opened up a well of memory. And I remember at the time, it was kind of this mind-blowing album for what it is—there’s nothing else out there like it. Not only are there all these empowering things about boys and girls and what you can do, but also so entertaining and so charming. It wasn’t at all ideological, even though it’s highly ideological now.
SL: That was the original impetus, I think.
RK: I saw that story being listed. I have a twisted mind so my immediate thought was, “What if there was this bizzaro version of it? What happens in the recording studio that we can do sort of like an ultimate history of it? And then I remembered that I knew Joel and Stephen and they’re amazing. [Joel laughs] I have a string around my finger to help me remember. I was like, “Oh, that can actually exist”.
Joel Levinson: Yeah, ultimately, it was driven by the 40th anniversary so it was kind of like, “We’ve got two weeks. Let’s see what we can do”.
RK: My wife had a baby a few weeks ago, so literally there was this biological ticking clock going on, where Joel and I were like in this creative frenzy trying to get this thing going. And then we brought Steve in because Joel and I are incapable of actually taking something into the real world.
SL: My baby’s not born until January, so I had a little bit more breathing room than they did.
RC: Did you listen to any musical comedy growing up?
SL: Stan Freberg in particular. Stan Freberg was one of those albums that we listened to it as music, before we even knew it was comedy.
JL: You’re right! [Laughs]
SL: Our parents played those albums for us…
JL: Before we had any chance of getting a joke. We just knew that people in Allan Sherman’s audience were losing their shit. They couldn’t get enough of Allan Sherman.
SL: I was going to say Tom Lehrer also. I think also, the musical songs that Monty Python does. They do these amazing dark and twisted songs that sound very light and upbeat. No one else does songs about the things they do, like “Finland” and things like that.
RK: I was just going to say, I’m the youngest of the bunch of us and the music I listened to growing up, I think, the line between comedy and real music blurred a lot. If you look at Poison and Billy Idol and the videos I was watching. When Steve was watching them in high school, I was watching them as a five year-old and it’s much harder to see whether or not they were joking.
RC: I wanted to ask you guys if you could tell me about what went into writing some of these songs and what the process was.
JL: Rob brought about the general idea then he threw some titles at me, I threw some titles at him and we tried to get a laugh and whichever one did was our pick. It was all done via e-mail.
RK: There was one point at which Joel just sent a list of potential song & album titles – I remember one was “Friends Of Friends” and I just immediately starting writing the song in my head. I could instantly hear this whole story of awkward people who didn’t really know each other and were stuck in a room together… things like that would be like a little spark and explode and other songs grew into something.
JL: Musically it’s born out of the original Free To Be… The music they wrote and performed on the original album is actually really great music. Those songs had a lot of rhythmic changes though, and with comedy you kind of want to stay away from that but it was basically pretty major chord-heavy and simple so we could lay the jokes over it. The whole point on this musically is to stay out of the way as much as possible.
SL: And Joel, for a living, enters online video contests and most of his entries involve songs, so he’s great at just whipping out a song and then forgetting about it – and it’ll be stuck in my head for the next month.
RC: Do you think Free to Be holds up today as a relevant, useful piece of entertainment for parents to share with their kids?
RK: I do think that, like with the Doll thing, Disney has sort of set up this empire that every girl is indoctrinated into princess school, starting at age three and a half. Our daughter is already obsessed with unicorns, just because the culture is there.
SL: Our parents bought me a doll, I think because of this album. I was not into it. They tried.
JL: The Free to Be album also went with this amazing Free to Be book. Some of those Shel Silverstein poems are just as worthwhile today as they were when they were written. Same with “It’s Alright to Cry”. That one is totally timeless. It’s totally beautiful.
SL: And how many times does that get quoted and people don’t even know where it’s from?
Carmen Lynch, one of our favorite NYC-based comics, performed on Letterman on Friday night. It was her first time on the program and she was awesome. The former Last Comic Standing finalist enjoyed several applause breaks as she talked about her bedroom secrets, fear of mice, and more. Watch her full set after the jump and be sure to follow Carmen @lynchcarmen
We’ve been following The Beards of Comedy all around the country and one day we can only hope to go on a road trip with these guys. In the first edition of Beards Across America, the guys dove into the SF dining scene, finding weird meat alternatives (brain tacos, anyone?) in the face of a pork shortage (remember that?). You can catch the two newest episodes, which take the guys to D.C. and NYC. First up, the Beards investigate the US Treasury Department, finding all kinds of conspiracies and little-known-facts about money. Next, the guys head to NYC to find a small slice of privacy in the city of over-stimulation. Watch both episodes after over at MSN!
Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children Macnuggits–it’s certainly a mouthful for a band name. Dan Abbott and Corbett Redford, the core members of Bobby Joe Ebola, take on a whole variety of musical genres: doo-wop, death metal, punk, good ol’ acoustic guitar sing-along, to name a few. Bobby Joe Ebola has produced a bunch of music videos–with the help of crowd-sourced funding and their talented, filmmaking-inclined friends–that showcase their skills for mixing sharp satire with catchy melodies. One of their most recent videos, “Life is Excellent”, plays like a campfire sing-along meditation on what it means to be blissfully ignorant in today’s world. Watch “Life is Excellent” below (filled with SF comedy scene cameos) and you can read an interview with Dan and Corbett over at PopMatters. On December 18, Rooftop Comedy Productions will release Bobby Joe Ebola’s new album, Trainwreck to Narnia, which is available for pre-order now.
To help prepare for his role in the 1988 film, Punchline (pictured here), Tom Hanks stopped by The Comic Strip in New York to get a feel for what it’s like to be a comedian. Movies.com came across this footage of Tom on stage, doing what any good comic would do: making fun of Sylvester Stallone. Watch a bit of his set after the jump.
Rock and comedy mix more often than you might expect; many people in the rock world say they wish they had the ability to speak as coherently as comedians do, and many comedians wish they could achieve rock star status.
Derek Sheen loves rock, specifically the late heavy metal vocalist legend, Ronnie James Dio. His latest album, the Rooftop Comedy release Holy Drivel, pays homage to RJD in both title and cover artwork.
Rooftop sent author Nathan Timmel to chat with Derek as he toured the northwest with Patton Oswalt. They discussed finding your voice, playing alternative venues, and what geography–if anything–does to your comedic sensibilities.
Derek Sheen: I am a huge Ronnie James Dio fan! Originally, Mark Allender sent me the cover art as a joke, thinking I could use it as a poster somewhere down the road? The moment I saw it, I thought it was too cool to just use as a show poster: it was the inspiration for the album and the Kickstarter project. I wanted to make something that was, both, an homage to one of my heroes and that showed off Mark’s awesome skills. Also, in keeping with the metal pedigree, it was a huge “get” to have Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Minus the Bear, Isis) and Trey Gunn (King Crimson, TU) produce, mix and master the album. For a stand-up album, it sounds amazing and the material isn’t bad either.
NT: You’re from Seattle, and open the track with good-natured ribbing of Portland. Is there a genuine, if light-hearted, rivaly between the two cities?
DS: Not really. Portland knows it’s better! Both have a great comedy scene, but Portland is my favorite city; it’s like Seattle, if Willy Wonka designed it! Plus, they have the Bridgetown Comedy Festival! Some of my favorite comics are there: Ian Karmel, Whitney Streed, Shane Torres, Gabe Dinger, Anthony Lopez, Tim Hammer, Jimmy Newstetter, Xander Deveaux and Sean Jordan. Go check ém out! Also, check out Spicy News! It’s where comics have to eat a Habanero pepper and then deliver the news! Brilliant.
NT: What kind of sensibility does a Pacific Northwest comedian have, when compared to a Midwest or New York or Southern comic? Do you notice differences in style when you travel to different regions of the country?
DS: I think Northwest comedians are slightly more passive-aggressive than East Coast comics, but that’s probably because the pressure to succeed in the Northwest isn’t anything like it is in NY or Chicago or Boston? They also have all four seasons there? In Seattle we have two: Stygian, crippling, moist darkness and 30 days of some sun. I spend 8 months out of every year battling ‘Soul Rickets’.
NT: Where did you record your disc? Do you have a history with the venue? Is it where you came up in comedy? One show, or multiple nights edited together?
DS: I recorded my album at the Comedy Underground, in Seattle. It was the venue that I performed my first open mic, when I was twelve. I remember seeing all of the pictures on the wall, comics that I respected and admired, and saying “I want to be THAT good someday”. Still am not there yet, but it’s my home club and has always fostered young comics and provided a stage where they can grow. We did six shows, over a weekend, and I took one show for the album. I thought I might cut some things together depending on how the audience and the energy was, but Saturday (1st show) was the one we went with. All the pieces seemed to fall into place with that audience and it was my favorite.
NT: How long have you been performing? How long in did it take you to find your comedic “voice?”
DS: I had an agent when I was 12; he took me to a couple of state fairs. It was/I was horrible. No one is funny at that age. I also suffered from crippling stage fright. I studied music and got into several bands, to help overcome it. Once I felt like I had a handle on it, I quit music altogether and got back to writing and performing stand-up. It’s been about 7 years of hitting every show, every night and I’m still not where I want to be, but I don’t think I ever will be? It’s quite a ride.
NT: Talk about the Holy Drivel World Tour. Where are you going?
DS: On the first leg, I’ll be hitting most of the Southeast: Louisville, South Carolina, North Carolina, Athens, Nashville, Chatanooga and also Chicago. Then Eugene, Oregon and Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
NT: I notice theaters and coffee shops—alternative venues—on your calendar; do you prefer non-traditional locations for comedy to comedy clubs? Or are some of these places known for sponsoring “underground” comedy shows?
DS: I have always preferred small theaters and rock clubs. They seem like a destination location, where you have to know what you are seeing before you agree to go, can curate your own audience and they seem to be more open to fostering independent artists. Unlike comedy clubs, which I still love, where there seems to be more ‘walk-in’ traffic, that isn’t always prepared for what they’re about to see. But the money is always better and there is a built-in support system, most of the time. Clubs are a risk averse business model.
NT: Talk about the Funny or Die series, Adventure Buddies. Is that something you’re a part of, or just a cast member in?
DS: Seattle comedians Travis Vogt and Kevin Clarke, have been shooting comedy shorts for over a decade. In 2009, they wrote and directed their first full length feature; a Post-Apocalyptic-Science Fiction epic, titled Steel of Fire Warriors 2010 A.D. and cast me as the robot sidekick “Robobot”. We had so much fun, I stuck around and never left their side, in the hopes that they become famous Hollywood directors and don’t know any better than to just hire their one friend, for every part. Adventure Buddies was a great experience! It was shot in hi-def, digitally, and was a bigger budget production than anything they had ever attempted. It looks great, it’s weird and very funny and also utilizes every single comic in the entire world. I highly recommend it!
NT: Once the Holy Drivel Tour ends, what’s next for Derek Sheen?
DS: I have a feeling that this tour will never end. I am going to keep dragging this out until I have a completely new hour of material and hope that not everyone is sick of me by then. After that, I’ll try this all over again. I have been very luck (blessed really) to be surrounded by so many supportive, talented people and Rooftop has been absolutely amazing! Big thanks to Dominic Del Bene for being the coolest!
John Pick and Mike Hoy, the duo responsible for the hilarious Best of Craigslist shorts, are back with an all new edition. Each sketch features John re-enacting some of the more bizarre Craigslist ads and reading the listing’s text verbatim. This time around, they take apart a sublet listing from an old woman, advertising her (large!) bathroom floor as space for rent. Keep your eyes open for guest appearances from Beth Stelling and Josh Fadem (who you might recognize as Liz Lemon’s agent Simon on 30 Rock). New Yawk real estate–am I right?
We’re very excited to release the latest album from Paul Morrissey, Paul Morrissey‘s Back. After finishing his college basketball career and falling just shy of the NBA draft, Paul went westward to California to pursue a career as a sports news anchor. While sports has always been a passion of Paul’s, he also greatly enjoyed injecting his broadcasts with healthy doses of comedic commentary. This launched Paul on his stand-up path and he’s been busy ever since, performing several times on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Comedy Central’s Open Mic Fight, and Comics Unleashed. We recently chatted with Paul while he was performing in Montreal, getting his take on political comedy, making his act personal, producing a good-quality TV set and more.
Rooftop Comedy: The Just For Laughs Festival is obviously a huge draw for comedy in Montreal. As someone who regularly headlines clubs there, how are the crowds during the rest of the year?
Paul Morrissey: It’s kind of funny. I’ve never done the festival, but I’ve been performing here for six years. Whenever they want to do a showcase for Montreal that’s like five minutes. I do an hour here every eight months. There’s definitely some nuances you have to know. I don’t really talk about politics or religion too much. There are a lot of differences, especially in the political arena up here. So I usually don’t end up talking to that. Most of my stuff is observational and personal experiences and stuff. You just have to find a way to make a connection and I find I do that pretty well up here.
PM: It’s not even staying away from it. I feel like my strength is my personal, observational stuff. There are some guys that just talk about, “Hey, what about coffee?” They keep it kind of impersonal. I think the best way to speak about something like that is—and I have nothing against doing simple subjects. I love doing common subjects and then making it my own. You know what I mean? “This one time I got coffee, you gotta hear about this.” So you make that funny. I think that’s the way I make that extra step and I find that with people, it doesn’t really matter where they’re from, if you’re telling them a personal story, they usually connect a little bit better than if you just speak about a subject. And politics—I have no desire to speak about that. I know that everyone has an opinion so it just seems like a minefield to go through. When people agree with you, I’m sure it’s like preaching to the choir. And if people disagree, I’m sure it’s an absolute nightmare. So it’s not something I even have to deal with, luckily. One of my other favorite comedy cities is Washington D.C., because I find it has very smart crowds and it’s not connected to show business at all.
RC: It can be refreshing as an audience member to not hear another bad Mitt Romney joke.
PM: The guys who do it really well—there are some bad political comics as well—but there are guys who do it great, like Jimmy Dore and guys like that. When some of those guys talk about it, it just makes me depressed. I’m like, “Oh you’re completely right, but now I’m sad.”
PM: Well, obviously, for me, that’s always been one of the goals of doing stand-up. I felt my material was kind of really perfectly suited for TV. That wasn’t something I went out to try. When I first started doing stand-up, I just wanted to be funny in the club. Then the more I did material, people were like, “You have some really well-written, cleaner jokes,” and that’s really my strength. I always found that when there were nights where you had to be cleaner, I always ended up having the best sets. It just seemed that my comedy kind of developed toward that end. If there was a contest or a five-minute thing, because that’s basically what you have to do on TV—you have five minutes. I got to work with a lot of those guys who are really good at doing those five-minute spots. I toured with Jim Gaffigan for a long time and Tom Papa. Both of those guys work on the cleaner side. It’s not that they’re against swearing, but if you’re talking about food or if you’re talking about certain things you don’t need to swear or say “F*ck” in the middle. [Jerry] Seinfeld is kind of famous for saying that swearing is like cheating. It’s lazy. I still have dirty jokes in my act, but there are some jokes—let’s say for the TV appearance—I had to make it cleaner and I would maybe use the thesaurus a little bit. It’s a challenge that I enjoy. A five-minute TV spot is like writing a hit song almost. You want it to be funny and unique but you still want it to be relatable. The first thing you find out is if you try to write one of those things, it never works out. So you have to use the best material that’s best suited for the show. If you watch the shows, you’ll see on Letterman where they’re shorter, stronger jokes. Whereas some other TV spots, you can do longer stories. There are all kinds of different ways to attack it. So that first appearance, I think I showcased two times and literally, I think this was when Louis CK was filming a movie. He was supposed to be on the show and then something happened and that spot opened up and I got called and that’s how I got my first appearance. I got called the day before or something like that. That first appearance—I think at that point I had been doing comedy for seven or eight years. The funny thing is that as soon as you’re done doing it, I felt like I went pretty well. I wasn’t that nervous, surprisingly, because it was a TV studio and I used to be a TV sports anchor.
PM: With Gaffigan, like his Hot Pocket joke, he’s probably got 30 punchlines and so for Letterman, he uses the best four. That’s the thing: when you’re in a club, you can tell a joke and you can tag it or say “Hey, look at that guy’s shirt.” On TV, you’ve got to stay within those restrictions. The jokes have to stand on their own, basically. When you’re going through your set, you’ve got to know “Hey, this is a strong TV joke. This is a perfect TV joke.” And you can feel that. Even if I do a joke in a club that doesn’t necessarily do incredible in the clubs, but I know it’s just an original, strong, short TV joke. I don’t write towards that. Sometimes, it just happens. There are times when I really enjoy just playing around. I love doing the clubs because you can play around and say a lot of things and then I know what I got to trim down when I’m making a TV set.
RC: You used to be a sports news anchor. Do you have any interest in getting into the sports-comedy world?
PM: It was a weird thing because when I got into comedy, it was all the stuff I couldn’t do while I was working as a TV sports anchor. I basically lost my job because I thought I was being funny, but it was just at the expense of the viewers. I was doing Daily Show stories on a real news station. And this was in 1999 or 2000, so it was almost like the beginning stages of The Daily Show. So when I started doing stand-up, I just got as far away from that as possible. I think there’s definitely some room for that. You can develop some stuff and just have fun with it, instead of just analyzing it from a serious standpoint. You’ve got to be able to have fun with it. I think it’s still missing. They’ve been trying to do a really good comedy sports show for a while and I think Norm MacDonald’s probably was the one that came closest to it. I think they only gave him six episodes. I think that would be a fun thing to do, a fun thing to get involved in.
PM: I think the fun kind of stuff, especially for people who listen to a lot of comedy, is the spontaneous stuff. It’s a live show, so the audience is a lot more a part of the show than the comedian would like. I guess if you listen to Ray Romano at Carnegie Hall, you’re listening to all these jokes in the ideal circumstance. And that’s almost like watching someone on a Letterman appearance. This is the perfect surroundings. I wouldn’t put out a CD where the jokes aren’t going well and people are yelling the whole time, but, in the average show, there’s going to be a little bit of that in everything. There’s going to be two idiots in the back who everyone hates and you tell them to shut the hell up and then you get an applause break. Those are all those skills you get when you start and you’re doing all these shows in bars and in laundromats. People would rather do everything but watch a comedy show, but now all that stuff seems really easy.
RC: You also keep the audience interaction pretty light-hearted and funny, rather than showboating how you can take down someone who’s being obnoxious.
PM: Yeah, even when I’m at a show now, and somebody’s talking, I wish somebody would tell them to shut the hell up. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m a pretty happy-go-lucky dude. But everybody has their moment where they’re like “Alright. Enough’s enough.” It can feel a lot like you’re a substitute teacher but after doing comedy for so long, you figure out the right way to say “Shut up.” I don’t have to insult their mother or anything like that but it’s distracting the show and I thought that was an interesting peek into what you deal with in a live comedy show. I guess I didn’t want it to be the perfect perfect circumstances. I wanted it to be a unique kind of recording, you know?
Paul Morrissey’s Back is now available on iTunes, Amazon, and the Rooftop Comedy shop. You can also stream Paul’s latest album through Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, and other services. Be sure to follow Paul Morrissey @PaulMorrissey