When a comic decides to do a character as their act, it is making a commitment to one particular point of view, one particular persona. And, within that set of limits, there can be unlimited freedom. It is not for everyone since most comics have a healthy ego that demands undisguised attention. But some comics like an added artistic challenge, like Andy Kaufman. And so it is my honor to introduce to you, Smork Bolson. He is erudite, a bit out of touch, and ironically unironic. The comedy of Smork Bolson is mellow with sharp edges. This is a man seemingly of small words but maybe not. It just depends upon how long he is going to tolerate you.
The best way of looking at Smork Bolson is to not stare. Just look. Just listen. And let the comedy come to you. Deadpan. Droll. Maybe even a bit of steampunk–or maybe not. One thing’s for sure, Smork Bolson is not to be toyed with. He is serious about being serious and that’s what makes him hilarious. I hope you enjoy this conversation between Bolson and myself. I turned it into something like a card game as I had a stack of questions from which I drew from. It turned out to be a fun game and you might enjoy playing it with a friend. And getting back to our subject, be sure to stop by and check in on what Smork is up to at his new website. There are plans for puzzles, games and wordy amusements plus you’ll find a blog there too.
Alyson Chadwick is a standup comic and an activist. That keeps her busy balancing the funny and the serious. In this talk, we cover it all, including Paul Ryan and even Matt Gaetz! On the serious side, be sure to look up Paul Rusesabagina and his being kidnapped by the Rawandan government. You may know Paul from his story turned into the film, HOTEL RAWANDA. Paul did his part in opposition to the genocide of the Tutsi by Rawanda in 1994. Last year, Paul was kidnapped by Rawanda’s Kagame regime and is awaiting trial on false charges.
John T. Reynolds is a writer and actor, who draws comics and writes for television including The President Show on Comedy Central and “six pants-busting years” on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS. You can find his comics at A Fistful of Babies. We cover a lot in this conversation and there was definitely more we could have chatted about! For this one, I focused on the art of comedy and I think it was a good glue to keep things together.
Craig Ferguson, at the top of his game.
This is a conversation about understanding comedy. Now, to begin with, does comedy need to be understood? Wasn’t E.B. White who said that comedy was like a frog? Once you begin to dissect it, it’s dead, right? Comedy writer Scott Dikkers refers to that in his book, How to Write Funny, and concludes it’s a small price to pay in order to learn comedy! Indeed, that is what this interview is all about: understanding comedy. We run a class act here at Comics Grinder so I opened by interview referring back to a book that Reynolds mentioned in a comedy writing class I took that he was leading. Reynolds referred to a recent collection of writer workshop essays by George Saunders and commented that it’s interesting to note that the mechanics of creative writing considered to be at the highest levels are just as relevant to the mechanics of comedy writing for the general public. Ah, so we began on a classy high note. There was nowhere else to go but down from there–or so it seemed. Because, in fact, the point here is that there’s an art to everything, even a seemingly goofy show like The President Show, about one of the goofiest creatures to ever roam the earth.
Anthony Atamanuik mercilessly channels Donald Trump on The President Show.
Reynolds trained with the Upright Citizens Brigade. It’s from there that he teamed up with Aubrey Plaza and other comedic talent. My connection to all this is a course that Reynolds leads, The Writers Room at Laughing Buddha Comedy in New York. I did an open mic a while back, pre-Covid, and I recently took his course, Late Night Writers Room available via Zoom, among an array of awesome comedy workshop courses. We discuss that and many other things, including Mr. Reynold’s own cartooning adventures that you can find at A Fistful of Babies.
cartoon by John T. Reynolds
And here is some more data in a different configuration via the UCBT site: John wrote and performed on the Peabody Award-winning The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS for six years before the host quit. Now John writes full time for DreamWorks Television. He has been in many shows at the UCBT in both NY and LA, most notably in ASSSSCAT, Reuben Williams: As Seen On TV, as Joe Eszterhas in Showgirls: The Best Movie Ever Made and on Harold Night. He has also performed in many roles on television, radio and film and has written for many other TV shows like MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch and Comedy Central’s little seen, but greatly loved, Window Seat.
The latest dumpster fire no one can take their eyes off of.
As you will find, the world of late night comedy writing is all about topical humor. You can create masterful “evergreen” pieces, that are timeless and have their place. But you also have to keep on your toes and be hip to whatever the latest thing has gone viral and is the latest dumpster fire no one can take their eyes off of.
Joe Hill, #1 New York Times Bestselling author, is the current go-to creator for a certain quirky brand of horror. Head over to DC Comics and you’ll find he’s been set up with his own fiefdom, Joe Hill Presents Hill House Comics. In there you’ll find such tasty treats as the series, Basketful of Heads. Over at IDW, Joe Hill offers up a five-part miniseries, Dying is Easy, which sets his sights on the often turbulent world of stand-up comedy. It might be fun for you as an audience member but it’s not so easy up on stage, even if you get some laughs. With art by Martin Simmonds, this is a comic that brings on the atmosphere and authenticity of what’s it like to struggle as a comedian. Bad enough that it’s a rough business but it can always gets worse.
On point art by Martin Simmonds.
Our story focuses on an ex-cop comedian who somehow gets in over his head when he finds himself thrust into a blood feud. In the capable of hands of Joe Hill and Martin Simmonds, this first issue sets the tone for what promises to be a satisfying crime thriller. If I was a betting man, which I am on occasion depending upon who is asking, I would place my bet on this comic. Give it a solid 10/10 rating.
Dying is Easy is published by IDW Publishing and is available as of Wednesday, December 11, 2019.
We are in a golden age of comics, specifically webcomics. We all have our favorites that we follow. Cartoonist David Daneman brings together some of the best work out there. Last year he presented Launch Party which proved a success. This year, it’s Art Block, with a whole new group of talent. A Kickstarter campaign in support of this new project launches March 4 and runs for a month. Check it out right here.
“Projects like this are the reason we get up in the morning. When David calls, we’re in.”
—Jonathan Kunz & Elizabeth Pich, War and Peas
~75 strips from 25 different artists
–Full color interior
~$20.00 (usd) + shipping/handling
–Ships anywhere in the world
In 2017, Montreal-based cartoonist David Daneman realized he had found a niche to fill in the comics ecosystem. The type of comics he loves, short and funny gag-strips, are increasingly published but rarely in anthology form. Under the name The Original Content Collective, Daneman published the 2018 proof of concept book, Launch Party, and paid all of his contributors a fee per comic plus a share of the profits. Building on the success of Launch Party, Daneman returns this year with Art Block, a new anthology with a new crew of cartoonists and including some very impressive titles: Poorly Drawn Lines, Cassandra and The Perry Bible Fellowship, to name a few. Kris Wilson, author of Cyanide and Happiness, will write the introduction.
Randy Wood is one very funny, inventive, and artful performer. Here is a recent photo of him wandering through New York City. Somehow he got a hold of a bad piece of pizza! I’m not sure that’s possible but I’m staring at the proof, I think. Randy knows a lot about getting evidence and lawyer stuff, or it’s his ongoing character that sort of knows about all these legal matters and such: none other than Sweaty Dee, attorney at law, “the best that you can afford!” Wait a minute. Maybe that pizza is delicious. Is Sweaty Dee taking it out of the garbage can? Is that his meal for the day? Oh, Sweaty!
If you are in Seattle, then you owe it to yourself to catch the Spectacular comedy revue at Pocket Theater, located at 8312 Greenwood Avenue North. This Friday, Nov. 2, from 8:30-9:30 pm.
There will be some great performers, music, and Sweaty Dee explains how the justice system works!
Check out Pocket Theater for more details on this highly entertaining monthly event. Get your tickets right here.
The biggest fear for many, apart from death, is a fear of rejection! Well, I say, Fugetaboutit! In fact, if you’re in New York City, I encourage you to consider doing what I did: go up and do an open mic at a comedy club! Yes, that is what I did as part of an Airbnb experience, “Learn Stand-up with a Comedian,” hosted by Rishi and John, both NYC-based comedians there to show you around the NYC comedy scene. You can certainly just observe but I felt I was ready to jump in and go on stage.
New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world–and that definitely includes comedy. Within the closely knit area of Greenwich Village, are a number of comedy clubs all with their own energy and history. And, at the epicenter is the Comedy Cellar where on any given night you might get to see such legends as Amy Schumer and Jerry Seinfeld. With the help of my mentor for the evening, comedian John Kim, I got quite an immersive experience. I learned a lot and was fueled with plenty of inspiration which made going up on stage for open mic all the easier. And what a stage! I couldn’t have asked for a better venue for a first-timer, The Lantern Comedy Club!
The Lantern Comedy Club
The great challenge is in confronting any doubts: Is the material good enough? Am I good enough? Yes, trust me, you’re more than worthy to go up on stage and just give it a try. More than likely, or let’s say it’s just about a guarantee, any misgivings will melt away once you start. Something will trigger in your brain: Go! Okay, here’s the next hook! Stop, try to pause. Go! Add this. Don’t say that just yet..okay, say it now.
As in anything, you get what you bring to something. I’ve been working on a particular character and his story arc for quite some time. I decided to put together a comedy bit and featured Maximo Viaje, a guy form Mexico City who has somehow stumbled upon a journey of self-discovery in the U.S. even though he entered the country illegally. For Max, that’s just a small problem in a much bigger picture. Okay, so this is a fictional character that I’m bringing to life on stage. Now, for all you fellow writers, tell me: Wouldn’t this be a very useful exercise for you? Check it out:
You get into a frame a mind and, yes, your mind is a beautiful thing and it’s in it to win it. Thanks to my beautiful mind and to such an insightful and inspirational guidance from John Kim, I did more than just get through my set. I really learned and grew from the experience. And, just like hitting the gym, you know when you’re in the zone and you know you want to get back to it again and again.
Desperado Miller (Abby McEnany) rallies the troops.
I love quirky stuff and this hits the spot: a comedy about inept ghost hunters. Ghost Squad is a new project by Andy Kushnir, a staff writer for the popular game, Cards Against Humanity. Kushnir recently directed and co-wrote with his writing partner, Carley Moseley, this mockumentary pilot which releases to the public on October 1st.
Our story begins with a lead-in narration by head paranormal investigator, Desperado Miller (Abby McEnany). You can think of her as Michael Scott, the manager from The Office, played by Steve Carell. McEnany is hilarious as the ill-tempered and insecure psychic detective. Her ragtag team of misfits are either out for themselves or too self-absorbed to be of much help.
Zorba Dinkel (Jo Feldman) in search of chips and salsa.
One scene, to give you a taste, has one of our misfit investigators, Zorba Dinkel, (Jo Feldman) entranced by a vibe that leads her to a cupboard. She is transfixed by a pulsing energy that leads her to a bag of chips and, ultimately, to a jar of salsa! She has made quite a tasty connection with the other side. Very funny stuff.
This series gets to juggle a variety of tropes: office sitcom, reality-tv, and a touch of horror. The results are pleasing. Ghost Squad is definitely something to watch this October which, of course, is the kickoff to our cavalcade of holiday season entertainment.
Ghost Squad is the creation of Andy Kushnir and Carley Moseley. I look forward to more of their collaborative work.
Comedy Review: David Cross at Moore Theater, Seattle, June 29, 2018
David Cross is one of the great conversational comics, among a short list of greats. Well, you may have a long list. If a gun were put to my head, and I could cough up, say, only four comedians currently working at this level, I would go with: Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and David Cross. They’re all around my age and they’re all very relatable but, more than that, they are all masters at this deceptively simple casual banter that, bit by bit, builds into something epic. I caught The OH COME ON 2018 World Tour at its stop in Seattle, at the Moore Theatre, June 29th and I loved it!
Be prepared for some very funny material about being a new dad from a comic known for being jaded and highly ironic. Cross assures his audience he’s not one of those comics that does an hour of dad jokes only to end up doing quite a lot of dad jokes–but they’re very subversive dad jokes so it’s all good.
Lots of Good Trump Jokes
If you’re expecting intelligent humor from an intelligent comedian, you’re in luck here–but also be prepared for it to get pretty weird and crass. The material on Trump is priceless and I certainly won’t give any of it away here. I will say that Cross isn’t kidding when he confides in his audience that making fun of Trump is a challenge. As Cross wades deeper and deeper into the Trump swamp, you can see Cross fighting off the fumes and doing his part for his country. One of the best bits is Cross wrapping his head around the recent trend of regretful Trump voters. It’s a thing of beauty to see Cross rattle off all the things that have had to happen before these Trump voters had regrets.
Chemtrails and Vinegar
You’ll thank me for including this YouTube video as accompanying material. Out of the blue, so it seemed, Cross jumped into a long bit explaining this very strange Deep State conspiracy theory. The idea here is that true believers are convinced that there’s a vast government scheme to pollute the air and only a vinegar spray can combat it. Enjoy.
Oh, Come On
The actual bit that is the title to his act glides in for a landing at the very end of the show. It’s just one of those special things you have to see for yourself! Again, I will just say: Cross is masterful at articulating simple and goofy material in a sophisticated and artful way.
Perhaps one of the best of the quickie jokes was at the very end, just as some people were sharking their way out. There was David Cross, back on stage, with one last bit. Cross wanted to share a very special item he discovered at one of his recent hotel stays. It is a very special “ergonomic” and “sustainable” soap. Just the sort of thing begging to be made fun of. And, to top it of, it has a gaping hole right in the middle. Well, sometimes comedy material just writes itself. Cross was now armed with a hilarious symbol for all he hates about Santa Monica liberals who live in a bubble–and are thrilled to pay premium for soap with a hole where most of the soap should be.
The OH COME ON 2018 World Tour is on, baby! Visit the official David Cross website right here.
These White House Correspondents’ Dinners always seem to sneak up on me. It seems that this year’s crept up on me all the more-so given the absence of a president. There was Trump in Michigan doing another one of his weird rallies and that got me to thinking, Why is Trump in Michigan? Oh, wait up, is he avoiding the WHCD? Why, that rascal! Say what you will about dowdy ole C-Span and humorless inside the beltway elites, the WHCD proves each year to be good for some very good laughs. All you need is a sense of humor.
The White House has already had to deal with one Wolf (Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury) and now they’ve got Michelle Wolf. If you listen to her set with a healthy sense of humor, you would probably be hard put to dismiss her out of hand. Her material is not beyond the pale by contemporary comedy standards. And, if we focus on the roasting of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, nothing is particularly unreasonable within context. The art of great comedy is to synthesize down to the essentials a myriad of ideas. To compare SHS to Aunt Lydia, the villain in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is utterly hilarious on so many levels. Obama or Dubya would have taken a similar jab and laughed it off. But not Her Royal Highness of Deceit. Is there something wrong here? Well, it sure don’t look good.
C’mon Sarah, all you would have needed to do was chuckle!
There is a moment in Wolf’s monologue when she lets loose with a real zinger at former beleaguered chief of staff Reince Priebus. What did he do? He laughed! He even gave the joke a thumbs up! That displays a level of sophistication that is completely lost on Sarah. For her to look upset shows she still has much to learn.
Hmm, Sarah, it would be pretty awkward to chuckle, wouldn’t it?
Getting to the heart of the Aunt Lydia comparison, consider this excerpt from an excellent piece by Megan Wood at Rifinery 29:
Sanders is used as a mouthpiece to protect those in the Trump administration. Much like Aunt Lydia, she lies to Americans who are having their rights stripped away. For instance, Sanders falsely stated that immigrants coming to the U.S. through the diversity visa program aren’t vetted before their arrival. Meanwhile, Trump has been working to remove Dreamer’s rights to undocumented immigrants who were legally allowed to work and study in the country. She has tried to tell American woman that the Trump administration’s effort to remove birth control from mandated health coverage is all about religious freedom. Apparently that is more important, and more endangered, than having control over ones own body. Sanders has also protected those who are accused of crimes against women (much like Aunt Lydia). Recently, she came under fire for protecting former White House aide Rob Porter after accusations of disturbing alleged domestic abuse.
Finally, the myth about Trump is that he’s been this amazing disruptor. He doesn’t stand on ceremony and gets the job done. So, why can’t we also embrace the disruptive force of Michelle Wolf and let her not stand on ceremony and get the job done? Don’t worry. She got the job done.