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Category Archives: Standup reviews

Jeff Garlin runs a very loose ship when he hosts a comedy show. For his “Combo Platter” he clearly prepared a bare minimum of an agenda, and then let the pieces fall together how they will. His style makes the show drag in brief moments where he tries to reorganize his acts on the fly, but overall it adds to the energy of the performances. I got the feeling that everyone in the theater, performer or audience, had a great time and the feeling of not knowing just what comes next is rare for a performer to be able to convey to an audience with the easiness that Garlin manages.

His first act, Supercute, a comic music act of teenage girls, by Garlin’s own admission, caught his ear by simply handing him a CD. For girls their age they had an unusual amount of confidence and stage presence, and their ukulele-rich version of “Misty Mountain Hop” needs to be heard to appreciate it. Their act lives up to the moniker for certain.

Interspersed were comedians Jessi Klein, whom I knew to be really funny from her gig last year opening for Zach Galifianakis at the Skirball Center, and Amy Schumer, whom I had not before heard perform. Their sets felt a little ramshackle, as they were at Garlin’s whim as to when they went on and seemed unsure as to how long to go, so the endings felt too abrupt; but both did some great jokes, if briefly performing. I would love to see each of them again.

Garlin holds the show together with stories in between, more than jokes, but really anything he does or says is funny. He has so much presence on stage and such an easy rapport with the audience that even a silly prize giveaway segment (he gave a box of Jell-O at one point) was far more entertaining than it deserved to be. It went a little long as he had at least a couple dozen prizes, but he could have done that all night and everyone would have been satisfied. His “Combo Platter” segment went a little off the rails as his closer. He had to keep too much track of the time as he ran the show to the absolute limit of what he had allotted, being a very giving performer, and he clearly had very little preparation with the two comedians, Klein and Schumer, but their chemistry kept it moving pretty well.

Anyone who can see the show really should check it out (he hosts it weekly at the L.A. UCB theater). Best five bucks I ever spent.

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Important Things with Demetri Martin accomplishes a very difficult task: it manages to translate the style of an offbeat standup comedian into a coherent, funny and entertaining television show. The show combines the best parts of Martin’s shows, his off the cuff ideas of things he wants to do or create or invent, the doodling style of his sketch pad drawings surrounds many frames and transitions, and he maintains a good rapport with the audience throughout. It looks like a great show just to attend live. The format of one idea explored through the series of sketches and audience moments supports his manner nicely while giving the show a free but tangible shape.

Though he is not a favorite, I do appreciate the sensibilities Martin brings to his performances and he impressively maintains them in his show. Even more impressive is that they translate to and never clash with the format of a television program, as he is unique as a comedian. I doubt a lot of comics could pull off the same sort of transition while maintaining their identity so solidly in the show’ overall atmosphere.

Martin is also complemented with a good cast, especially his most frequent costar, the always underappreciated H. Jon Benjamin. Benjamin saves potentially poor sketches and elevates good ones to great just with his presence. Sketches like the “Passive Aggressive 500 Meter” really show off how solid his support is. Everyone in the sketch adds something to its premise to make it better.

All in all, Important Things with Demetri Martin is a well executed and uniquely crafted approach to a sketch comedy show. I’m glad to see a network, Comedy Central in this case, show enough confidence in a performer to give him such free reign to pursue his vision. 4 stars harrybadface.com

If you’ve seen a single show from Kathy Griffin, you’ve pretty much seen The Bitch Will Cut You. She blabs about her obsessions with celebrities (mostly Cher in this instance) and namedrops ad nauseam (Cher again) and spends the usual time sucking up to her fallback audience, “her gays,” as she says. But, for whatever reason, I still find her funny. Maybe it’s her manic energy and her never ending chatter that’s so endearing, the way she has far more words than each sentence could possibly bear. Maybe it’s her willingness to literally get down in the dirt for a joke, such as her Grammy appearance. Or maybe it’s that she’s just a really good storyteller, an art that I very much appreciate. And some of that, and most of what makes her celebrity stories a) funny and b) bearable at all, is her willingness to be the butt of her own jokes. There’s something of the crazy-fan-turned-loose-in-Hollywood in most of her bits, and the good part of that is that she clearly knows that this part of her personality drives the comedy. You have to admire someone who can be that honest about their own obsessions and their own willful subjection of themselves to that potential humiliation to follow them (and make a living talking about them). While I think that her obsessions are largely with meaningless bullshit, and she would likely feel the same toward mine, I do appreciate the fact that there is a genuine love beneath her comedy and a need to share these stories with likeminded audiences. No matter what the subject, a good story is a good story, and Griffin has plenty of them. 3 stars

Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening is a hilarious stand up special. Aziz kills on multiple bits from bed sheet thread counts to the inanities of facebook pages. He gets an inordinate amount of mileage out of his cousin, Harris, and his reactions to simple posts on a study group page. Aziz maintains a high energy show from start to finish, too, running, leaping, singing and dancing, just generally rarely standing still. He has great timing and storytelling ability, too, and can make any topic interesting.

Aziz is still great in the lesser moments of the special, too, which revolve around celebrity stories with Kanye West and LL Cool J’s workout tape. These parts are very funny, I just feel like they don’t connect on the same level as the jokes that are more universal. They’re good stories, I just don’t particularly care what Kanye West does at home.

Aziz finishes his main set with an introduction to his character from the movie Funny People. If you’re unfamiliar, the comedian Randy is terrible on every level, 100 times more showman and braggart than comic. But Aziz sets this up perfectly with smoke machines, a loud, loud shirt, his name in lights and his personal DJ, DJ Old Youngin’. These details sum up the character, I think. He’s never actually funny but the sheer spectacle of Randy needs to be seen.

For what it’s worth I actually enjoyed Aziz’s set from the tiny stage of the Los Angeles Upright Citizen’s Brigade theater as much if not more than the main set. This is the DVD’s only special feature but is worth buying it just to get this. It’s a much more intimate, relaxed atmosphere where Aziz is free to banter with and make jokes at the expense of audience members. However you watch it, though, it’s great comedy from a terrific performer. 4 stars

Greg Giraldo is pretty much the cream of Comedy Central’s crop of roasting, slob comics. He was a hilarious staple of Colin Quinn’s “Tough Crowd,” and is always reliable for a laugh. But you can always see that there’s more beneath what the guy puts out, that his wit and intellect could really be honed into something amazing if he put in the effort. Giraldo’s the smart-kid-coasting of this set, funny, sometimes insightful, but always happy with a cheap zinger.

LatT is a very uneven set of performances. Some (Zach and “Seth” Galifianakis, Oswalt, Posehn, Bamford, Benson, Murphy) do a lot with their short set times. Several of the lesser knowns still manage to stand out on this disc. Jasper Redd seems every out of place during his set. Others (Andy Kindler, Blaine Capac) just don’t even seem to try being funny very hard. Kindler’s endless, ridiculously trying-too-hard introduction of the comedian following him also set a precedent of these intros that should have been edited out. These were indicative of the self-indulgence present at this show, which came out most heavily in Sarah Silverman’s not-that-funny song and the worst bit of the disc, David Cross and Jon Benjamin’s never ending where-did-you-go video/performance bit. Even the premise is labored but it goes on way past the audience tolerance. So, the show is worth a rental but definitely flawed. 3 1/2 stars for enough good bits to get past the muck.