Friday, April 19, 2013

FFB: Books By or About Comedians (Standups, Dramatists, Sly Observers, Tellers of Tall Tales)

Stop me if you've read these before, but this collects some of my FFB reviews from the past five years, this group devoted to funny people...with a few items on the fringes of the humor industry or the fringes of actual books added for swank or because they were reviewed with the relevant tome (and my most widely-read posts relevant here left out)(some fine comments, though, on the original posts these reviews below are reprinted from):

Seriously Funny by Gerald Nachman
I Still Have It...I Just Can't Remember Where I Put It by Rita Rudner
From the Back of the Bus by Dick Gregory
Quick Shots of False Hope by Laura Kightlinger
Fast Lanes by Jayne Anne Phillips
The Years with Ross by James Thurber
Learning to Drive by Katha Pollitt
Seducing the Demon by Erica Jong
This Life She's Chosen by Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum
The Man Who Made Models and Other Stories by R. A. Lafferty
The Meteor by Friedrich Durrenmatt
Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome & The Maria Bamford Show by Maria Bamford
Downloading Nancy, starring Maria Bello
Comedy Central Presents: Maria Bamford, Chelsea Handler, Laura Kightlinger, Lynn Koplitz, Tig Notaro ...and Jackie Kashian



Seriously Funny is a book that did its job well, not perfectly, but well—pop culture historian Gerald Nachman’s survey of the “new comedians” (not solely in nightclubs, though nearly all did some time in those venues) of the US in the latter ‘50s and ‘60s, ranging from Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl and Shelley Berman (of course) to Nichols & May to Tom Lehrer to Jean Shepherd to Godfrey Cambridge to Stan Freberg to Vaughn Meader to Joan Rivers. Chapters devoted to Jonathan Winters, Dick Gregory, Bob Newhart, Phyllis Diller, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Bob & Ray, the Smothers Bros. Fleeting or extended references to Redd Foxx, Allen Sherman, Mad magazine and its extensions, Second City and its extensions, Lord Buckley, David Steinberg (folks who might’ve warranted chapters, but Nachman gives chapters essentially to the folks he’s interviewed over the years). Unlike, say, Albert Goldman, Nachman’s not looking for all the tawdry he can find, but it’s hard to deal with Bruce, Winters, and many of the others without going into their hard times…and the obsessions that pulled Gregory and Sahl (among others, but they most obviously) out of comedy to one extent or another, among the interplay of other events that these “rebel” comedians helped spark and those which messed them over—as Lenny Bruce reportedly announced from the stage on the day after John Kennedy’s assassination, “Vaughn Meader is screwed.” (The First Family album JFK impressionist didn’t quite lose his career overnight, but close.) Well-written, not exhaustive but inspirational (a number of books, particularly about chapter subjects here or the next generation of innovative comedians, soon followed and continue to appear) and out of print in both hardcover and paperback, though available secondhand and electronically from a number of vendors…how things go in publishing today, despite respectable sales (even with the paperback edition coming from a shortlived house, and Pantheon having its own problems not long after this book’s release). Worth having.





Rita Rudner's newest book has put me in the mind of all the books (or as they sometimes formerly were called, non-books) by comedians over the last fifty years or more...where you'd see the results of a stand-up comedian, well-trained in that focus, grappling with writing prose fiction or essays and even their memoirs, and not quite getting the hang of it, though credited well enough because they were often still funny, certainly usually to the audiences who were following them over to the books. For example, Woody Allen's vignettes and short stories (and what Steve Martin fiction I've read) are very much in this tradition, usually extended jokes that are relatively flat as fiction but are often at least as funny as his routines used to be; perhaps the most obvious example of memoirs that fall into this category in my early reading is Fred Allen's Treadmill to Oblivion, his relatively tired and bitter recounting of his radio and subsequent career (his other memoir, Much Ado About Me, was somewhat less bitter as it dealt mostly with his earlier career; Fred Allen's Letters is also very much worth seeking out), where much of the writing is still building to a punchline entirely too often.

So, too, I Still Have It..., though Rudner, one of the better comedians active, is both honest and witty enough to keep one reading this volume easily, even if it it simply a fleshed-out version of a number of her jokes (with single-page interlineations of some of the standalone jokes without elaboration). I'll suggest you take the "look inside" spin of the first link above rather than my pulling any particular bits out, but the book is very pleasant reading, actually touching in Rudner's memoir of her mother, and absolutely a very good (if not completely satisfying) reading experience.

One of the first books I read in this mode was Dick Gregory's From the Back of the Bus, which is basically also his routines with good, appropriate accompanying photos, mostly of Gregory in performance but some, like the cover shot, of him in comedically (and otherwise) charged poses. Another good book, if not quite the experience of reading his autobiography, Nigger, with its famous dedication to his late mother, suggesting that anytime anyone uttered the word in the future it would be an advertisement for his book...like Lenny Bruce's How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, the Gregory autobio is full of interesting and a few wrenching details (comedians often do not have the happiest of marriages), and unlike even the Bruce (despite Bruce having the help, reportedly, of Harlan Ellison and other editors at Rogue magazine for the articles that his autobio is based on), Nigger is not a primarily jokey patter in print...but From the Back of the Bus is, and is still worth the look (even if much of the patter will be familiar to any fans of Gregory's early career). The Avon edition is very reasonably-priced on the secondhand market still (I've had a copy of that edition since the very late '70s or earliest '80s).



Laura Kightlinger's Quick Shots of False Hope: A Rejection Collection is a partially fictionalized memoir, apparently accounts of most of the more outrageously affective incidents in her life up till the date of publication (she was thirty when it was published, and in the midst of her television sitcom-writing career); Jayne Anne Phillips's Fast Lanes is her third collection of short stories. I didn't begin to suspect how much they would echo each other in incident and occasionally tone, when I read them back to back over this last busy and not particularly well-rested week. (That last is a warning and an apology in all senses...I'm still thinking about these, as best as my tired mind can.)

Kightlinger is a challenging and frequently brilliant comedian and scriptwriter; she was apparently the child of a woman conducting a decades-long affair with a married man who did little if anything to support Kightlinger or her mother, in any way, aside from regular visits to come get laid some more. In the small town of Fayetteville (standing in for several towns and small cities according to various mutually contradicting online sources), Kightlinger makes her way past high-school talent shows (after somewhat greater success as a mainspring of the Drama Club) and the joys of working at the Ponderosa Steak House, and on to college and the beginnings of her intentionally comedic performance and writing career. She manages to fail upwards in some key and helpful ways, being fired from Tom Arnold's first sitcom as a cast member only to be offered her first professional writing gig, on Roseanne, to soften the blow...not the worst bargain anyone has ever made. But the early rejections and embarassments don't help her feel any better about the later ones, even if she has honed her coping mechanisms...perhaps because of the stated nature of the book, she doesn't dwell much on the development of her craft, though it is touched on, from her college career up to about the time she joins the staff and cast of Will and Grace (a steady paycheck unworthy of her talent, but an entrée into some more interesting work since).

Phillips's stories focus mostly on young women who are at least as lost and uncomfortable in their lives as Kightlinger was (and to some extent perhaps remains), but like her are mostly coping, even when the scars show...in the course of the seven short stories here, we have a young woman covertly moving to and around in a small town while pregnant by her married lover, a young woman moving through group houses as she makes her bread working in a Bonanza Steak House (I believe this was the same chain either at different times or in different states) and consults tarot readers (less surprising in Phillips's latter-day hippie character than in the seemingly cynically rationalistic Kightlinger), and the general sense of "non-traditional" and "broken" families that are nonetheless making their lives as they might, in working-class/lower-middle-class America. What Kightlinger refers to as "white-trash" heavenly pleasures, and not entirely dismissively, recur in the Phillips, which somewhat oddly opens and closes with what might be the weakest stories (a first-person ramble from the POV of an alienated young man to start, "How Mickey Made It," and a slightly less convincing turn of the 20th Century historical fiction, "Bess," less convincing than the contemporary and near-past historicals that comprise what comes before in the book), though perhaps the greatest challenges to write. Her prose in "Bluegill," particularly, which slowly lets the reader know that it's the story of the pregnant, and financially "kept," mistress in a new small town, has prose as fiercely and initially opaquely elegant as Avram Davidson's or Jack Vance's or Edith Wharton's or Anthony Burgess's, though Phillips more frequently strives here for utmost clarity, with strong resonances of the sexual and other tensions life holds for her characters. Unlike the Kightlinger, the Phillips is in print...barely (a 1990 reprint edition from Vintage). I read the Faber & Faber paperback, its first UK edition, but clearly struck from US plates.



The Years with Ross is a memoir by James Thurber of his experiences, and those of the rest of the The New Yorker crew, with founding editor Harold Ross, a colorful character to say the least and one as full of seeming contradictions as H.L. Mencken, who might be his closest correspondent in American letters in their era...except that, as Thurber noted, Ross could never bring himself to write extensively for publication, after his early career in journalism.

It's also a rare example of a book in print among my entries in this series of reviews, but in discovering it was still in print (since I have the first Book-of-the-Month-Club edition from the 1950s, and first read it some twenty five years ago), I had an opportunity to read Adam Gopnick's self-congratulatory little deposit as foreword to the edition pictured here. In noting, correctly, that Thurber's Ross seems rather a comic figure (a man who consistently affected an aw-shucks Midwestern manner while running a magazine that made a point of insulting Midwesterners on occasion, in favor of presumably un-provincial NYCers at heart if not in address; a man who constantly swore yet blanched at the notion of impropriety of any sort advocated by his ostensibly sophisticated magazine; this is not a man who lacks in comic potential), Gopnick decides that he knows Thurber was merely taking Ross down a peg, and we moderns can clearly see that Thurber was merely resentful of Ross as any writer is of their editor, and today's reader doesn't care about the details of the publishing life in the '30s...what's interesting is the relation between writer and editor, even as so cleverly distorted by grumpy old Thurber-bear. I'm not getting across the full smugness of Gopnick, but it is a pretty remarkable performance, pretty amazingly echoing the sins Gopnick ascribes to Thurber only the younger man commits them less deftly. And, yes, this 21st century reader is indeed interested in the details of publishing in the 1930s, which is why I read books about publishing in the 1930s. Goodness.

But Gopnick isn't completely wrong...Thurber clearly was letting festering irritation out in much of what he wrote about Ross, but unless Thurber made up incidents out of whole cloth, one can see why he might be harboring those resentments, given the capriciousness of much of Ross's decision-making...in the manner of many great yet not consistently correct editors...who were Right even when not correct, by dint of their passion and willingness to shape their medium to fit their vision, as much as the vision of their contributors.

In short, a very useful book, as a look at both Thurber and Ross and how The New Yorker established itself, before becoming the relative bore it became under Shawn and the weathervaning creature it has been since Shawn. And Gopnick's little contribution, and the inclusion of some Thurber memos by the writer's heirs, in this edition make it a slightly more Interesting experience, it's true.




So...two memoirs by two of our poets...one better known for her political essays, the other for her sexually liberationist novels. One a collection of essays, the other a unitary memoir that began as a writing manual. Both, despite a bit of furor over the Pollitt and the supposed "bestselling" status of the Jong, are already out of print, at least by the measure of primary Amazon availability...

The hassle over the Pollitt came mostly from such quarters as the dancer and repressed-anger sexual submissive Toni Bentley (whose most famous recent work is a fussily-written account of a no-strings/fetishistically all-anal-sex affair and how that helped her find her spiritual self) who was shocked, shocked that Pollitt would be such a man-hater as to “cyberstalk” (actually, just engine-search and read about) her ex-boyfriend. Bentley was accorded considerable space in the New York Times Book Review to expound on this thesis and the other obvious sins of Pollitt, who seems an oddly unembitteredly heterosexual target for such a backhanded slap at feminism. Pollitt’s book is actually a rather cheerful, for the most part, collection of essays about her life at various times, including accounts of good and bad affairs, her early life and her parents’ marriage, her literary career and particularly her early gig as an editor for a soft-core porn novel publisher in the 1970s, a decent source of pay for a young poet and rather eye-opening in several ways. Also, she learns, rather late in life, how to drive a car…happily, this is not employed in any distended way as a metaphor. Those who have read Pollitt’s essays in The Nation and elsewhere can expect a rather similar mix of down to Earth sensibility and incisive observation. It’s typical of our most overrated paper, and certainly of its ridiculous literary desk, that they so eccentrically hoped to sink it…and perhaps they helped.

Jong’s book is less sharply-written than Pollitt’s, as is perhaps not too surprising…poets, and particularly poets who have found greater success with prose, often are relatively lax in the “looser” form, one which less obviously demands (though it still demands, for artistic success, for the craft) concision or at least a sense of when concision can be temporarily forgotten. Jong’s still has a bit of the writer’s guide about it, while mostly being a series of anecdotes about her affairs and passage through the literary world, writing erotica rather than editing it but otherwise not treading too terribly different a path in many ways than Pollitt…just, perhaps, a somewhat more public life, and certainly one which saw an early infusion of cash and attention. I couldn’t shake the sense that Jong is a bit less happy than Pollitt, who seems to have found a rather comfortable place for herself emotionally by her narratives’ end, but both books provide a useful and entertaining opportunity to know a bit of the lives of two of our more engaging feminist literary lions.

(Pollitt’s most recent Nation column on the stands deals with the debate over Jonathan Franzen and Gary Shteyngart’s publicists arranging for their work to suck up all the Literary Hype Opportunities of late; she’s kind enough to refer to Franzen as a good writer, though the current Atlantic features B. R. Myers's review of Franzen’s Freedom that rather forcefully states something akin to my own perception of the man’s work as second-rate, at best, ersatz Philip Roth with a few hints of Robert Coover tossed in.) Jong's book was rather negatively reviewed in the NYT as well, as she notes in this reflection on her life after its publication...





It's almost too easy, the contrast between these two collections, which I can recommend with a few reservations (and both are essentially out of print, though available, the Lafferty in this form only at collector's prices). Two writers with clearly not enough names nor ethnicity implied in those names between them, Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum, born 1979, has been a creature of the MFA programs and the AWP (the Associatio of Writers and Writer's Programs, which like the SFWA [now the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America] used to fit its acronym better); Raphael Aloysius Lafferty was an eventually retired engineer who began writing fiction as a form of therapy and distraction from alcoholism, and began publishing in 1959 and 1960 in New Mexico Quarterly Review and Science Fiction Stories magazines. This Life She's Chosen is Lunstrum's first collection; she's since published another, which was met with less praise (a particularly harsh review from Publisher's Weekly sits on the Amazon page); The Man Who Made Models was one of Lafferty's last, a chapbook in a series of booklets published by bookseller Chris Drumm in the 1980s and '90s, after the larger commercial publishers and Lafferty had largely parted ways. Both are collections of stories that were, as far as I can tell, never previously published.

The Lunstrum is a collection of tales of mostly young and middle-aged women enmeshed unhappily in family relations, with mothers, sisters, husbands; there are deft descriptions of small slights and continuing minor cruelties which alienate the characters from each other, while also rarely being enough to allow for clean breaks, nor does it occur to most of the characters to try to tell their family members how they are being chivvied, until explosions of rage or sublimation into cold resentment occurs. They are well-written, but clearly the work of a talented but young writer--she paints delicately, but in all primary colors, and certain tropes are too much in evidence--people are always smelling strongly of the air and leaves and other outdoor scents as they are greeted or (often grudgingly) embraced; the horizon is forever merging into a gray or gray-like haze in the distance, from story to story (that latter not too surprising given that the stories take place almost exclusive in the Pacific Northwest, from Juneau to the SF Bay Area, locus of Lunstrum's primary residence up through the time of publication). The single biggest factor in my picking up this remaindered paperback edition was Karen Joy Fowler's largely correct blurb, that these are "Deft [so apt I steal it above], rich, moving, and memorable"...and they are rich in detail, and can be moving, even given the delimitations Lunstrum places on her characters, who lead sexless lives (perhaps not so oddly, but the consistency of the sexlessness of the protagonists' lives, and indeed the consistency with which sexuality is seen only in terms of threat does encourage a certain vest-pocket humming, particularly in the work of a writer who seems to have married rather young). While most of the characters are almost stereotypically Norwegianly closed off emotionally, they do tend to be industrious (her portrayals of work life and other busy-ness are also rather good for a writer who seems to have been in academe so thoroughly throughout her adult life), and there are nice touches of wit to alleviate the gloom.

While R. A. Lafferty was all wit and invention and the constant questioning of received wisdom and of the limits we accept in ourselves. He, more than any other writer I can think of, was a brilliant teller of tall tales, delivered in raucous and yet elegant prose. Patti Abbott was lamenting recently the dearth of new fair-play detective fiction that she sees; Lafferty responds, in these stories originally written in the mid 1970s but slightly revised by Lafferty for their 1984 publication here, with "Two for Four Ninety Nine," offers a detective agency featuring two ridiculously perceptive geniuses, putting Holmes to shame, one a Homo sapiens named Roy Mega, the other an Australopithecus named Austro (who is also a popular cartoonist)...who are joined in their efforts by the disembodied soul of a young woman, who serves as their in-house oracle. (This kind of thing had not been done to death when Lafferty was writing it, and it still is fresh in his hands.) You'll have to read the story for how the grackle fits in. In fact, all of the stories here are at least borderline criminous, as well as mostly fantasticated, instructive, and funny as hell. It is genuinely difficult to find people to compare Lafferty to...Avram Davidson in his more antic moods is similar, Robert Benchley if he tackled matters with serious subtexts might be somewhat comparable, Peter De Vries if he was willing to take more risks with form and structure and admitted more fantasticated content into his work...neither Kingsley Amis nor even Bruce Jay Friedman have quite matched the joyful liberties, the Tall-Taleness, of what Lafferty regularly does (Donald Barthelme in his more arch way also came close at times, and fellow-traveler Carol Emshwiller also comes close in certain moods), and one of the stories here, the utterly unfantasticated "Of Laughter and the Love of Friends," is even a tale of not so small cruelties between a husband and wife that serves as a manic flipside to Lunstrum's work.

There's more to say, but so little time...here's the Locus Index for the Lafferty (I believe thes Drumm Booklet short stories have been since recollected, shall look around for that volume if so):

The Man Who Made Models and Other Stories, R. A. Lafferty (Chris Drumm, Sep ’84, $2.50, 51pp, ph) Original collection of five stories. Drumm Booklet #18.
3 · The Man Who Made Models · ss *
14 · I’ll See It Done and Then I’ll Die · ss *
22 · The Effigy Histories · ss *
31 · Of Laughter and the Love of Friends · ss *
41 · Two for Four Ninety-Nine · ss *

This play, apparently a key work in the development of Durrenmatt's career and approach to writing his plays, but still not the first item thought of when discussing the author of The Visit, was published in English translation in paperback in 1974 by Grove Press and sold as a remainder by my favorite bookstore in 1978 in Derry, NH, and read aloud by me and my three closest friends on a slow August afternoon that year. It's a mild if wistfully bitter comedy, featuring a slowly dying writer and Nobelist who stands in for Durrenmatt's grim prescription for his own future, and the various vexing folks who come to visit him over the course of his waning days. David Lapadula, Mike Frankauski, Steven Durost and I, having spent the night at Lapadula's house, passed the book around to do the reading as various characters, and generally enjoyed the experience (and amused David's younger brother Tony), with a rather dismissive description of a daughter by her mother, in jogging the memory of the writer about her offspring, damn near putting us on the floor. (It does rather come out of left field, and half-asleep 13-year-old boys are often easily amused.) Steven was the only true actor (and a good one) among us, though all of us had at least some keen interest in the arts...David and Mike would eventually become engineers, but at the time David was a good trumpeter (and a comics fan) and Mike at least a pretty good clarinetist (I was a terrible trombonist, but already showed a bit of facility for playing by ear), and Steve, as noted, was already an accomplished if at times a bit florid thespian (he could commit).

Inasmuch as we lost touch after I left New Hampshire for Hawaii, and I gather they lost touch with each other after high school, that was still a very pleasant memory, even given the play's rather-good rather than outstanding or memory-searing quality on its own. But you could do worse, and often with rather overpraised work.

(Mike has an engineering firm in New Hampshire, Dave was in the NY Times a while back as he and his wife were attempting to sell their Massachusetts house at the beginning of the Big Slide...how they chose the Lapadulas to highlight, I don't know...and Steve has been wrestling with an undesired homosexual tendency through Christian "post-gay"-related thearapy activities for some years, and was working as that sort of therapist a few years ago, when last I saw press about him. Life is full of odd and interesting turns.)


[The following dates from before the unfortunate demise of Bamford's dog Blossom.]

*Resolved: Maria Bamford and Maria Bello are Not the same person:





Despite malicious rumors to the contrary, driven by the fact that both women are intelligent, talented, sharp-featured petite bottle-blondes who both are reported to have two dogs each, and, as far as I can determine, have never been seen at the same place at the same time, they are not the same person, as I hope to demonstrate tonight.

After all, Maria Bamford's two dogs are famously pugs. The breed or breeds of Maria Bello's dogs is not publicly known, as far as I have found (without looking too hard).

1. They are both given to fearless performances. Bamford tends, in her standup routines and her own dramatic projects, toward the confessional but also the very idiosyncratic...which she makes as universal as anyone could (she reminds me more of Lenny Bruce than any other active comedian, as I've mentioned before). Her newest album, pictured above, in not only brilliant but is augmented by a DVD of her web-series, the nearly one-woman Maria Bamford Show. Bello is never afraid to take an unsympathetic role, or to present the layers of charm and steel in characters who are facing severe challenges in their drama...brilliant work in A History of Violence, or in the rather less crowd-pleasing film in its DVD package, above.

Resolved: Bamford has two pugs.

2. Bamford has done extensive voice-acting for children's cartoons, while Bello has acted in a number of films aimed at children, such as Flicka and The Panda Adventure.

Resolved: While Bello might have two pugs, as far as can be determined, this is not specified.

3. Bello did what she could with a severely underwritten role in the disappointing, well-cast black comedy Thank You for Smoking; Bamford did what she could with a severely underwritten role in the disappointing, well-cast black comedy Lucky Numbers.

Resolved: Pugs.

4. Both have taken roles in their art in which they mock the therapeutic/mental health professions, while implicitly suggesting the value of such efforts.

Resolved: Bello was apparently born in 1967, Bamford in 1970. A three year (and some months!) difference in ages...surely this can't be dismissed as a trivial gap in the vital statistics of two women around 40...also, you know, pugs.

5. Both are implicitly when not explicitly feminist in all their work...even in such buck-hustles as Bamford's television ads for Target stores and Bello's cheesecake film Coyote Ugly...

Resolved: Both have new DVDs out this week, Bello as a cast member of The Private Lives of Pippa Lee; Bamford's Plan B is a formal one-woman show dealing in depth with her life. (Among other new work coming out in theaters and on television and DVD/BluRay from both.)

So, would the same person, in different personae, thus "compete" with herself? Perhaps, for our benefit...looking forward to the mutual performance, just to set the record straight. And, pugs.

 _________________________________________________________________________
 

So, you're probably aware of Comedy Central, the cable channel that has flourished since the merger of the struggling Comedy Channel (which had Allen Havey's Night after Night and Mystery Science Theater 3000 and a lot of rather free-form clip shows) and Ha! (which had mostly sitcom repeats and a few original productions such as the gameshow Clash...the post-merger entity did much better with Win Ben Stein's Money, to say nothing of The Daily Show and its offshoots, and such surprises to the brass as Chapelle's Show); among the more durable showcases for comedians on CC has been Comedy Central Presents:, wherein a single comedian does a set for somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour and the Rick Mill Productions folks trim that down to about 22 minutes, so as to fit in the commercials and wraparound credits. The various corporate entities make these episodes available, via on-demand from cable companies and far more readily from online dealers such as Amazon; and they offer DVD-Rs of multiple episodes, such as this one first offered in 2008, the only one so far devoted to women comedians, which included two of my favorites before purchase (Maria Bamford and Laura Kightlinger), one I was barely familiar with (Tig Notaro, dubbing herself solely "Tig" for this segment, and a cast member of The Sarah Silverman Program), and two I liked well enough (Handler and Koplitz). It's an interesting set of choices, made perhaps because all five had some television exposure/steady gigs at the time (Bamford's were often in voiceover work on cartoons, such as PBS's charming-enough Wordgirl, though she had also been on The Comedians of Comedy series CC ran and abruptly cancelled, as well as in the two accompanying longform features/DVDs released from that tour), or just because they were seen as potentially the most commercially "hot" women comics in inventory (that all are conventionally attractive surely had no bearing on the selection, pardon me while I try to get my coughing fit under control). Bamford's set is charming, and a decent representation of what she does on stage or in her albums and one-woman shows (such as the fine Plan B or her web series The Maria Bamford Show, both available on DVD); Handler's presentation is bit more hostile than actually funny, though not too far from her sets I've heard of similar vintage (she seems more assured, and is probably a lot more secure, after having become the biggest draw on the E! cable channel). Kightlinger's set is challenging and definitely goes into the ultraviolet, or X-ray spectrum (quite literally when she prominently displays an image of her skull for a series of jokes), and she lets us know what she thinks of the posing she's asked to do for the bumpers by wearing a bondage mask. Koplitz's set is fairly typical of her approach as an apparent ditz who nonetheless isn't easily fooled; Notaro is her usual sly, very low-key self as she digs in and provides a nice mixture of one-liners and developed variations on several themes. CC and Rick Mill have done nothing here to provide the raw footage the episodes were cut from, and the language "blanking" (rather unnecessary for basic cable, but CC enjoys running these half-hours at all times of day) can be annoying, as are some of the edits. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this disc...if not as much as the unmeliorated products from particularly Bamford, Kightlinger, and Notaro. 

I've also sought out the Jackie Kashian CC Presents from on-demand, and thoroughly enjoyed that, as well (though it definitely suffers from the editing imposed on the set)...and her website has a nice bit of original animation prominently displayed, accompanying a bit Kashian has called simply "Los Angeles Pet Owners"...you also will not suffer if you check out her podcast, recommended here previously and also prominently linked, The Dork Forest.

For more, and newer, reviews for this week, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

5 comments:

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Fascinating post, Todd. I am making a note of some of the writers mentioned here, particularly in the wit department such as Thurber, as well as Lafferty and Jong—heard but not read. Thurber has been on my reading plate for a long time and I can't say why I have never read any of his books, though I have some of them in e-format including LANTERNS AND LANCES, THE 13 CLOCKS, and THURBER COUNTRY which seems more promising of the lot. Is there a collection of his short stories that were published in THE NEW YORKER?

Comedy Central, a new entrant to cable, is fairly entertaining in India.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks! You've only recently begun seeing Comedy Central in India? That's interesting...as you gather, it's been on the scene here for a couple of decades, after the merger of The Comedy Channel and HA!, which spent two or three years trying to compete to no great success. These days, Turner's Adult Swim block on their Cartoon Network, and the cable channels TBS and the newly announced FXXM are striving to present serious challenges to CC, with some success.

An excellent introduction to Thurber, which incidentally is made up of work of various sorts first published in THE NEW YORKER, is A THURBER CARNIVAL.

Todd Mason said...

(I had forgotten about the stage musical adapting some of Thurber's work by that title...I refer above to the anthology of short stories, essays, cartoons and his autobiography published in 1945.)

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I'll see if I can get hold of A THURBER CARNIVAL. Thanks for the tip, Todd. I enjoy reading wit and satire more than most genres with the possible exception of western; the humour writers including Wodehouse, Groucho Marx (whatever I could read so far), Woody Allen, Tom Sharpe, Erma Bombeck, Dave Barry, Kurt Vonnegut, Paul Gallico, Malcolm Bradbury, and a few others. I haven't read Saki yet.

Comedy Central started beaming in India last year though they show a lot of old sitcoms like EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND (a favourite with the family), DHARMA AND GREG (which I don't care for), THE WONDER YEARS and MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE, apart from SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE with Jon Stewart (I never see the humour) and such banal stuff as JUST FOR LAUGHS and POPCORN TV. I enjoy CC mainly for reruns of old Brit sitcoms like FAWLTY TOWERS and ARE YOU BEING SERVED? that we saw on Doordarshan in the 1980s.

Todd Mason said...

That's a pretty eclectic mix of humorists, Prashant. I suspect you'll like Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, and Saki when you catch up with them.

Comedy Central India:

http://tv.burrp.com/channel/comedy-central/267/

That is an interesting mix...though they don't seem to run Jon Stewart's THE DAILY SHOW there (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE hasn't been consistently interesting for about twenty years, now, since the late Phil Hartman left, and is heavily dependent on US pop culture immersion for most of its jokes, such as they are).

DHARMA AND GREG is pretty poor television, indeed. Doordarshan doesn't import British sitcoms any longer?