Hello there! Welcome to the second day in the row of a residual hangover! Yesterday I wrote about the BBB at TIMF, which you should read because:
1. It would mean a lot to me and
2. It has a lot of contextual information that I REFUSE to rehash.
Some noticeable differences from Day 1 to Day 2:
-The sun, while still hot through the Blah, Blah, Blah’s windows, was sometimes blocked by clouds, the contrast of warm room and misty outdoors greater
– I missed the Throwing Shade Podcast recording. Lo siento Shaders.
– And I’m drunker! The weekend was dwindling and I had to make the Sunday count. No water in me today! That day! Whatever.
It’s lazy to designate “likeability” as a reason to favor a comedian, but Jermaine Fowler had a jovial je ne se qua that made cliches apt. Hair dreaded and styled-up as if Basquiat met Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII, Jermaine had a fun, engaging, positive energy, comfortable going off script but consistent across the two days. Purely as a standup, Fowler felt stilted, not necessarily in subject or substance—it’s a music festival, it’s supposed to be light and accessible—but in length. From a complicated courtship of a homeless woman, to his able bodied girlfriend’s special needs bank account, Jermaine’s congenial energy left me interested in increased exposure.
As a host though, oh boy! Fowler got his Def Jam on. He hyped up the intros with expletives, spammed the n-word, and attributed false credits and achievements like, “this next comic was the star of the Steve Harvey Show, they also invented Helvetica” with AAVE peppered in. “I’ve never had an intro that I couldn’t repeat before,” admitted Chris Gethard in response. There was a better sense of Jermaine’s sensibilities in between the other comedians, playful and in love with his blackness (and yours), like my own, which made me like him even more.
Funny. Talented. Emphatic. I knew these qualities going in. Michelle Wolf was a tangentially familiar comic in town from New York, recognized from Late Night with Seth Meyers. What I didn’t know was that Michelle was The Truth. Few comedians are “The Truth”; it’s a amorphous, ambiguous designation that, above most and all things considered, a person is going to receive prestige (and maybe relevance), through their prowess as a standup. Some are designated to be road dogs, some are designated to be in the writers’ room, few are destined to be the Truth. The validity or appraisal of a performer being the Truth can be argued a million ways to Sunday, but once you see that comedian live, you see that the jokes seem to come “easy”, and they’re in tune with the zeitgeist in a remarkably unique, personal and effective way, you’ll understand the Truth.
That’s how I felt watching Michelle Wolf. Between two vastly different sets and roughly 20 minutes of stage time, the glowing comedian took common topics like texting anxiety or presidential election ramifications, mined a depth through allusion and allegory, and a bubbled up in pitch and timbre, from muppetesque mumbles miming futuristic wastebaskets to libido-lowering grate. The result was a lot of laughter, a new ride or die support in yours truly, and a confused young boy who was grossly underprepared for all the cum jokes going over their tiny little head.
Three things go over with the low commitment/high turnover music festival crowd: winding, easy to follow narrative with visceral details, hubris and a slam dunk ending; unplanned developments the unifies the collective; and a sizable representation of diehards. That’s exactly why Chris Gethard was perfect for the Blah, Blah, Blah. The host of public access phenomenon, the eponymous Chris Gethard Show, lured us with masterful storytelling, personal episodes of folly or grandeur. Then, with a keen awareness—brought on by the unusually bright, but muted house lights, revealing the typically hidden audience—he noticed a person sleeping in the fifth row. He doesn’t shame this person, in fact, Gethard’s probably one of the few comics alive with enough empathy to incorporate the slumbering spectator with compassion. The young man, Peter, became our glue; Gethard provided frequent updates of their alertness, adding to our collective investment. Finally, as Gethard concluded, I felt a continuity to my relationship with the performer, a rekindling catchup from a, albeit one-sided, conversation.
With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus: “We Don’t Know This World”
All improvised. I had my suspicions otherwise but the eye-test refuted the notion. Other than the initial choice of faux show, ours being “Talking With T&T” an imagined public access show with Southern traditionalists Tonya (John Early) and T (Kate Berlant), everything thereafter sprang from the moment. Whew. That’s a relief. Thought I was being tricked by one of those sketch shows, trying to pass months scrutinized script-crafting as spontaneous brilliance. Nope. The Blah, Blah, Blah’s live With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus was just three hilarious individuals, on three stools, with three mics playing make believe for our entertainment. A capella runway struts, short daughters and dead husbands. It’s a little redundant to give live impressions of a readily available/relatively disposable medium so here’s what to keep in mind when consuming “Talking With T & T”:
- In case you assumed incorrectly, Lauren Lapkus, in character, is down to start shit and has a nasty, sarcastic scowl in their repertoire.
- When warping the word “sports”, John Early contorted his countenance and tilted his head not dissimilar to a demonic possession.
- Kate Berlant really committed to her character’s ailment, limping while serving face
While audience could be docile, there was no end to the delight onstage, trying to make each other break character with a weird delivery. Off mic and huddled in deep chuckle, collect oneself before escalating the fray. The dynamic was swell, like we were invited to a very eccentric sleepover by popular dorks.
Talk Show: The Game Show
Something to the effect, “I’m clumsy and I might hurt my knee but I’m not afraid to go down there”. Already heads were set to roll. “Tepid,” Guy declared in disgust of the audience’s opening applause, before noticing Cathy (or Kathy, or Cat-tea), an audience member that refused to clap, or cheer, or, when harassed, to even say their name—neighboring friends sold out that bit information. Guy, one part comedian, two parts loving despot, was to have none of it, circumvented the backstage, curtains, and chairs to confront the reef-wearing thorn in his side face-to-face. He never got a response from the irksome mum, but we were all put on notice. This was Guy Branum’s party, Talk Show: The Game Show, and he commands and demands respect (and love).
Our judges were comedians Michelle Wolf, Natasha Muse (The Business, Cynic Cave), and Nato Green (Iron Comic, FSFSF). Contestants were TV and movies’ John Early, TV and movies’ Erin Lapkus and writer and Internet darling Mallory Ortberg. Natasha doubled as our tally announcer, notifying achievement when certain conditions were met. Dear-in-headlights, nascent Bay Area comedian Adrian McNair served as scorekeeper.
Participants were tasked with engaging Branum in the art of late night panel, to gab with superficial charm about their projects and pets, and generate points by incorporating explicit etiquette:
Talk about International Travel (2pts)
Talk about pets (5pts)
Name Drop (2pts)
As well as secret menu items including but not limited to:
Imply drinking | Political grandstanding | Mention city, get applause | Humble brag | Call back to previous guest | Mention charity | Flirt
Afterwards our judges would credit additional points based on subjective analysis (while offering salty snides and slights). Natasha’s critiques were often elaborate set up for pillow-soft puns. Nato served as Professor Comedy, pointing out when jokes were socially uncouth or problematic, and lampshading the failings of funnies that didn’t land. Michelle took umbrage with the showt’s rigid criteria:
Michelle Wolf: I think you should get more points for getting a laugh. It’s like the hardest thing to do!
Guy Branum: Oh, I’m sorry. You can invent your own game!
Michelle Wolf: Did you invent the late night talk show?
Guy Branum: No, I reinvented the late night talk show!
John Early came in with an advantage: he’s previously served as scorekeeper. Quickly gifted the host, plugged projects left and right, and name-dropped Zac Efron before he hit a snag when becoming cagey about not spoiling an unannounced role, mindful of the Hollywood hand that feeds. Lauren Lapkus was a +500 favorite coming in, took huge schmozzey swings at magic tricks and on-set pranks (high value, high risk) and emptied their chest of riches: anecdotes from Orange is the New Black and Jurassic World. They also playfully insinuated a major crime in their trademark neon blueness. Molly Ortberg, co-editor of The Toast, was disadvantaged but undeterred. She stumbled out of the gate (jumping the gun), but charmed judge Natasha Muse for a perfect 10. Midshow standings were Early, 53, Lapkus, 60, and Ortberg, 38, but it was anybody’s game as we moved into the ⚡️Lightning Round⚡️!
Pulled from current events, twisted in Guy’s acerbity, the contestants fielded 10-point prompts, while understanding the metagame of just entertaining the questioner. Guy had a great laugh but a strict aesthetic. Molly raised hell, the call and response fitting their personal brand of wit. Lauren staved off Molly’s push with a few successful scrums for the buzzer. In the end, John Early took home third place, a bottle of wine I became too drunk to identify, Molly Ortberg took home gay pornography (Tahoe, Keep Me Warm), and Lauren Lapkus reigned supreme, $20 richer from a Starbucks gift card.
There’s an overwhelming relief from diaspora when I see Jerrod Carmichael do stand-up. The surface level similarities pushed aside—black, youth—I imprint on the avatar of my sentiment, my soul. The playful nihilism, the casual challenging, the unapologetic stances against inherited yet unexamined respectability. Our laughter alluded to a collective catharsis, an admission that we entertain the dark fantasy given form by Jerrod’s musings, which seemed to delight the performer, a toothy smirk after a successful subterfuge.
“Everybody’s grandfather was probably a piece of shit. At best, they were emotionally distant,” he proposed in a set that proclaimed that the world isn’t ready to have the cure to cancer as long as Instagram is still around, and argued that infidelity should be an exclusive and explicit benefit for the ambitious. Sure, I’d probably get in trouble if I said the things Jerrod said in polite company. And yeah, I’m a coward for laughing at criticisms about relationships harder than if my girlfriend was with me, but I’m happy that Jerrod Carmichael gets to say what he wants and get away with it seemingly unscathed.
A lot of comedians, used to dingy bars and comic book shops, couldn’t reconcile competing with the majesty of a gorgeous view such as San Francisco in the distance.
Ahmed Bharoocha won the “set dressing interpretation” award by noting the thin, phosphorous tubes looked like retired lightsabers.
The staffed eventually recognized my face, which is always humbling. And a number of fellow comedians recognized my laughter, which is always humbling.