What’s so funny?
February 25, 2004
Which is the best one?I stared, flummoxed. Hadnt I just informed Mr. Ivy League that I hadnt seen any of the films yet? The logical conclusion of such information being that I have no farggin idea about the quality of said movies?But I kept my head level, and calmly handed him the video of The Yes Men, explaining that, though I hadnt watched it or any of the others, this was certainly the best of the lot. And it dawned on me that I didnt need to know what I was talking about to talk about it anyway. Hell, everyone else does it. And its not like theyre going to sue me if Im wrong. So now, when my cohorts beg for USCAF tickets and information, I nod knowingly and give authoritative assurances. Oh, Stand-Up A will obviously be better than Stand-Up C; thats why they call it Stand-Up A.Dont waste your time with Tommy Tiernan. Much better to see Wigfield.Kops. Those Swedes and their crazy spelling. Yes, hysterical.Janeane Garofalo? Youre kidding, right?Using a patented blend of investigation, Tarot cards, titles, past experience, interviews and wise-ass insight, I make the following recommendations for the 10th annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, running Wednesday through Sunday, March 3-7. (No claims arising from such recommendations may be made.)AFI Star Award: Diane KeatonSaturday, March 6, at 7 p.m.St. Regis BallroomNever mind how hot she was in Somethings Gotta Give, or how singularly brilliant she was in Annie Hall, or that shes as good a dramatic actress as she is a comedian.The best reason to honor Keaton is for her work in the underappreciated Love and Death, which has its own category in the Oksenhorn Family rankings of Woody Allen movies. Keaton stars as Sonja, the beautiful 18th-century Russian peasant who hatches a plan to assassinate Napoleon. (Woody Allens Boris, after hearing of Sonjas plan: Have you been drinking out of the glass we use for the village idiot?) When I was 12 and HBO was in its infancy, my brother Howie and I stumbled across Love and Death, a quasi-spoof on The Brothers Karamazov. It was, and remains, the funniest thing Ive ever seen. The jokes were nonstop and esoteric; even the ones I didnt understand had me in stitches.So Howie made an audio tape of the movie this was the pre-VCR days and for six months my idiot brother schlepped a tape recorder everywhere. I specifically recall being in a fancy mens store, shopping for my bar mitzvah suit, with my brother playing Love and Death. We memorized Love and Death word for word, down to the facial gestures and camera angles. To this day, Keatons infamous pseudo-philosophical monologue is burned in my memory: Yes, but a judgment system of any type or a priori relation to phenomena exists in any rational or metaphysical or at least an epistemological contradiction to an abstract and empirical concept such as being, or to be, or to occur [HAND GESTURES] in the thing itself or of the thing itself. (Boris reply: Yes, Ive said that many times.)It wasnt just me and Howie who obsessed. Our friends named their dogs after Love and Death characters; our mothers quoted the movie, usually out of context. (It was very funny to hear my mother quote, relative to nothing, Where did you say the fish was caught?)The Keaton event will surely include the usual film clips, and an interview conducted by Nancy Meyers, who directed Keaton in Somethings Gotta Give. But if you really want something different and funny, get me onstage with Keaton, and let us exchange Love and Death lines for an hour or so.Super Size MeThursday, March 4, at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 6, at 11:30 a.m.IsisYes, there is something funny about moronic, childish, health-endangering self-abuse. In Super Size Me, New Yorker Morgan Spurlock decides, for reasons unspecified, to go 30 days eating nothing but good ol Mickey Ds.Even Spurlocks team of doctors are stunned by the effects of a month of meatlike products, sodas big enough to flood the mighty Mississippi, and so-called Chicken Nuggets whose connection to an actual bird are so tenuous that even the chicken wouldnt recognize itself in the Nugget. Within days, the once-healthy Spurlock is gaining weight and fat, throwing up mid-Mac and feeling like hell. Painful meal scenes are interspersed with commentary on the fast-food industry, Americas declining health and footage of horrifically fat people.Whats particularly funny, and equally frightening, is how Spurlock continues to crave his double Quarter-Pounders and fries. At least for a few days.The Onion LiveFriday, March 5, at 2 p.m.Wheeler Opera HouseSatiric newspaper admits: Real Bush/Cheny headlines funnier The editorial staff of the Onion, the satirical weekly born in Madison, Wis., will discuss the media, current affairs and, as always when a newspaper staff gathers together, each others weak spots and odors, in a live event moderated by CNN host Anderson Cooper.The Moth, No Way Back: Stories from the Frontlines Thursday, March 4, 8 p.m. Raw SpaceThe Moth, Call of the Wild: Tales of the Untamed Saturday, March 6, at 1:30 p.m.Raw SpaceThe Moth, a New York-based storytelling event, successfully transferred to the USCAF in its debut last year. This year, The Moth expands into two separate events, and be warned: These are two very different shows. Call of the Wild: Tales of the Untamed includes a story by Janeane Garofalo, who I have hammered continually in these pages. Apparently, Im not alone in finding nothing funny about her: Her Moth tale is about doing work for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and getting a surly teenager who tells the so-called comedian that her friends cant believe shed blow a wish on meeting Garofalo. The girl confesses that getting to meet Garofalo was actually her fourth choice. A story about Garofalo getting dissed is promising but it does mean having to listen to Garofalo.No Way Back: Stories from the Frontline, on the other hand, promises to be genuinely funny. Featured are Teri Garr, and the gifted Robert Schimmel, the runaway star of the 1999 USCAF whose story is about his battles with cancer. Coincidentally enough, Schimmels experience with cancer has a connection to the Make-A-Wish Foundation; it is one of my favorite jokes.Schimmel had a young son who was dying of cancer, so Schimmel called the Make-A-Wish Foundation. When the representatives contacted the family, Schimmel told them his son was too weak to talk, but wanted to pass along his dying wish: to see his father receive oral sex from Dolly Parton.Neutrino Video ProjectsWednesday, March 3, at 9 p.m.Thursday, March 4, at 8:30 p.m.Friday, March 5, at 4:30 p.m.St. Regis BallroomBob Wiltfong, one of the founding members of the comedy troupe Neutrino, estimates there is a 5 percent chance of the groups Video Projects falling apart completely. And theres another 20 percent chance that the eight-person troupe just wont be funny at a given performance.Which strikes me as pretty good odds, considering what Neutrino is attempting. Their Video Project is an effort to create a 40-minute film, with cohesive plot and coherent characters, in just more than 40 minutes. No pre-production, no story boards, no best boys or gaffers or even directors or editors. Instead, a two-man team leaves the theater, goes about town shooting scenes, and hauls ass back to the theater, tape in hand and ready to pop into a projector. Then another and another and another, with just seconds of space in between scenes.The way I see it, Death to Smoochy probably took several months to film and had a full-size crew and was god-awful. So what chance is there of making a worthwhile movie in an hour or so? On the other hand, even the dreaded technical glitch that botches the project entirely is an improvement over Death to Smoochy.Beau Sia, Fish Out of Water (performing with Yolanda Kae Wilkinsons Untitled & Unfinished)Wednesday, March 3, at 11:30 p.m.Thursday, March 4, at 10 p.m.Saturday, March 6, at 8:30 p.m.Raw SpaceThe funniest thing I saw at last years USCAF was Beau Sia doing his extreme bit at the Def Poetry Jam. After seeing that, Id go anywhere to see this wild Chinese-American. Even somewhere called the Raw Space.But dont just take my word for it. Yolanda Kae Wilkinson, who performs Untitled & Unfinished, her one-person show about her first 18 months (and first eight apartments) in New York, says it was seeing Sia that led her into writing and performing poetry.EpitaphThursday, March 4, at 6:30 p.m.Friday, March 5, at 7 p.m.Saturday, March 6, at 5 p.m.St. Regis CourtyardEthan Sandler and Adrian Wenner, two 30-ish comedians who met at Northwestern University and have remained best buddies since, co-wrote and co-star in Epitaph. The center of the one-act play is Georgia the most extraordinary person youd ever meet, according to Sandler who, alas, has died. This leaves two of her former suitors, Corey and Warren, to battle over which one loved her more, which one was most loved by her.Its not just me, is it? You see the homoerotic subtext all over this scenario, right?These guys create the perfect woman and then, instead of arranging a threesome or some similarly debauched scenario they KILL her! This ideal women doesnt even show up after the first few minutes of the play; instead, the focus is on the relationship between these two guys as they wrestle over her memory. And those names: Corey, Warren, Adrian, Ethan. Gay, gay, gay and bisexual at best.Heres the kicker. Sandler says the idea for Epitaph came up a year ago, when Sandler moved from New York to Los Angeles, and reconnected there with Wenner. (Did I mention that the two first collaborated in something called The Meow Show at Northwestern?) In L.A., the two were missing a third college friend, another guy, so much they decided to write a play about someone who isnt there, as an homage.Behind the Scenes: Pootie TangThursday, March 4, at 5 p.m.St. Regis BallroomPootie Tang screeningThursday, March 4, at 11 a.m.IsisThe USCAF is billing Pootie Tang, the 2001 film directed by Louis C.K. and starring Chris Rock, as an instant cult classic. Reviewers, however, have called it other things. Roger Ebert, terming it inexplicable and a train wreck, likened Pootie Tang to one of those lab experiments where the room smells like swamp gas and all the mice are dead. (Good one, Rog!) Leonard Maltins BOMB rating calls it jumbled junk, and adds a parenthetical warning at the end, Dont ask and dont watch. Viewer comments on imdb.com range from Best creation by man ever to my favorite, Crap got a new name.Behind the Scenes will feature Rock, C.K., and Lance Crouther, who played unintelligible folk hero/recording artist Pootie, dissecting the film. The USCAF will also present a separate screening of the film for those who dont care to see what the thinking was behind this thing.Colin HayThursday, March 4, at 5 p.m.Friday, March 5, at 5:30 p.m.St. Regis CourtyardYes, that Colin Hay, frontman of Men at Work, star of early MTV. Hes got a kind of funny hairdo. And a new album, Man at Work, which has him attempting a comeback with reworked versions of his old hits. Other than that, I cant find the comedy element in his appearance.All I can think is that some higher up at the USCAF is dying to hear a live, solo version of Who Can It Be Now. Joe Rogan (with Louis C.K. and Adele Givens)Thursday, March 4, at 11:30 p.m.Wheeler Opera HouseSaturday, March 6, at 11:30 p.m.St. Regis CourtyardTake Joe Rogan away from Fear Factor, which isnt comedy, and away from The Man Show, because the original hosts were better, and the guy is hysterical. Make sure to shout out for him to do his Noahs Ark bit, the part about how even a retarded 7-year-old isnt buying this story. Hell like that.Nobodys Perfect, showing as part of Comedy Shorts Program 1Wednesday, March 3, at 2 p.m.Friday, March 5, at 10:15 a.m.Nobodys Perfect, about a picky guy using magic glasses to find Ms. Right, doesnt sound like much. But consider that the 22-minute film is co-written and directed by and stars Hank Azaria, the voice of The Simpsons Apu Nahasapeemapetilon (as well as Snake, Moe, Superintendent Chalmers, Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, Bumblebee Man and Drederick Tatum). Im guessing comic genius here. And since the short is being screened twice, if you really like it you can come again.Stewart Oksenhorns e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org