A Patrice O'Neal documentary is coming

Can't wait for the discourse!

On Tuesday, Comedy Central announced that a documentary about the late, great comic Patrice O’Neal, who died at the age of 41 in 2011, is in the works. Directed by Jerry Before Seinfeld and The Great Depresh helmer Michael Bonfiglio; and executive produced by Bill Burr, Al Madrigal and Michael Bertolina’s All Things Comedy, and O’Neal’s fiancée Von Decarlo, the untitled project will begin filming this fall.

This is great news, because O’Neal was one of the greatest (and most underappreciated) comics of the last 20 years. From his 2011 special Elephant in the Room and his dais appearance on the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen to his numerous spots on talk and panel shows, his confrontational and humorous demeanor were uniquely unmatched by his fellow comedians.

And Comedy Central (as well as Burr and everyone else who has kept singing O’Neal’s posthumous praises) knows it.

“Patrice was a tour de force in comedy who left an indelible stamp on the stand-up community and beyond,” the network’s Sarah Babineau and Jonas Larsen said in a statement.

“So happy that Mike Bonfiglio and Comedy Central are going to make this happen,” added Burr. “Patrice was the best that I ever saw.”

Decarlo also gave these sentiments a deeply personal flare: “This makes for an absolute dream team to help his mother and I bring Patrice’s story to the masses, and solidify his legacy for generations to come.”

The thing is, doing a deep dive into O’Neal’s life and comedy right now is most likely going to re-generate a never-ending discourse about what comedy should and shouldn’t do, and why, and I’m already exhausted by this prospect. For, much like George Carlin and Richard Pryor and the other deceased greats critics and fans will often compare him to, O’Neal’s jokes and intentions are a treasure trove of landmines.

Comedy aficionados and joke appreciators celebrate his style and format, while free speech fanboys celebrate his fearlessness for tackling “taboo” subjects that often irritate women, feminists and similarly left-leaning critics. Frankly, such a wide diversity of interpretation and opinion is a good sign, as it means O’Neal truly had something for everyone — both in life and, now especially, in death. But it also means that the Internet, which is already (and practically always) a garbage fire for cultural critique and intelligent discourse, is going to get a whole lot worse come the documentary’s release.

Share

Also, there’s just too much goddamn comedy right now, but at least there’s Jenny Slate.

Houston traffic sucks

Cristela Alonzo and I joked about how much we hate it

Earlier this month, I had a wonderful chat with comedian Cristela Alonzo about her new memoir, Music To My Years: A Mixtape Memoir of Growing Up and Standing Up, and her ongoing book and stand-up tour promoting it, My Affordable Care Act. She’s long been one of my favorite Texas comics, and though she’s called Los Angeles her home for some time, I’ll always categorize her as such.

As is often the case, I only used select snippets of our conversation, which clocked in at just under half an hour, in the final draft of the Forbes article. Cutting, editing and revising these pieces — even straightforward Q&As — is always necessary and always a bummer, especially when some of the good, enjoyable stuff is excised. This was the case for me and Alonzo’s opening discussion on the perils of traffic (since our phone call was delayed due to Los Angeles’ pristine highway conditions), specifically Houston traffic, as my home town’s roadways are truly some of the worst ever designed, constructed and abandoned to the whims of insane Texas drivers.

I thought I’d share a few snippets of our Houston traffic commiseration below. Also, make sure to check out Alonzo’s My Affordable Care Act when it drops by your city. The west coast leg begins in Irvine, California on Tuesday, October 22nd and goes from there.


Cristela Alonzo: Thank you for playing along with my schedule. One thing about living in Los Angeles is that sometimes you think it’s a short trip, and then all of a sudden, traffic tells you, “Haha, you’re wrong.”

Andrew Husband: That’s totally fine. I have been to LA many times and also I’m originally from Houston, so I recall the good ol’ days of traffic and not going anywhere anytime soon.

Look, I’m from Texas, and growing up back then, you either went to Houston or Dallas. You rarely went to both cities. My sister lived in Dallas so we would go to Dallas. Growing up, I would hear horror stories about the Houston traffic and I always kept thinking to myself, “It can’t be that bad!” And I remember the first time I went there, I rented a car and it was one of the worst things I have ever seen in my life. People need to understand because it’s a different kind of traffic than LA. It’s a different kind of traffic than anywhere else. If you’re not from there, I suggest everybody get stuck in Houston traffic at least one time, because it makes you appreciate life on such a different level. Especially if it’s rush hour. Oh my God. Once, I was all day there.

I live in Boston now and my wife is from the New York area. She’s always been used to New York and New England driving conditions, which also suck. But the first time I took her to Houston, she just lost it. We saw plenty of traffic, but it’s just so different from everything else. Plus, we also drove over some of the state’s biggest overpasses and she was gripping her seat like she was riding on a roller coaster.

I always tell people, “In Texas, we build up towards the sky. That’s kind of like our thing.” Like, we don’t really do eight lanes of traffic across our highways. We just build higher and higher roads.

Share

Whoops, a few months have passed

My bad, folks

Sometimes, you just get tired, lethargic and don’t want to do anything.

This is happening a lot in the wider (though shrinking) world of journalism — especially entertainment journalism, of which I still consider myself a part — as, week after week, countless print and digital outlets are downsizing and hundreds of writers, editors and freelancers (like myself) are forced to compete over fewer and fewer gigs.

I’m in the middle of a massive (and possibly career-altering) job hunt that, I hope, will either help support me so that I can keep doing this on the side, or take me out of the writer’s pool altogether. So, yeah, I’m tired and haven’t been nearly as productive as I initially promised I would be on Too Much Comedy. For that, I apologize. Hopefully, things will pick up and, as a result, I’ll be able to stick to weekly editions.

Anyways, today’s edition of the newsletter follows below, though I’ve made a few slight changes to its structure. Going forward, I’m not going to insert separate, repeated sections for smaller bits and feedback. Instead, I’m going to make use of Substack’s button feature, which is either completely new or just something I’d never noticed before.

See what I mean? It’s so convenient. (And, probably, annoying.)


Hey, want to watch 24 hours straight of uninterrupted comedy?

Ahead of Friday’s premiere of Comedy Central Stand-Up Presents’ latest season, the cable channel will launch a 24-hour live stream on its official YouTube channel consisting entirely of “its deep vault of half-hour stand-up specials” from the past.

Per the official press release:

The live stream will include performances from some of the biggest names in comedy including Kevin Hart (2004), Jim Gaffigan (2000), Amy Schumer (2010), John Mulaney (2009), Zach Galifianakis (2001), Patton Oswalt (1999), Michael Che (2014), Gabriel Iglesias (2003), Anthony Jeselnik (2009), Daniel Tosh (2003), Sebastian Maniscalco (2008), Chris Redd (2017), Donald Glover (2010). In all, the 24-hour live stream will feature a curated playlist of over 60 half-hour stand-up specials.

I know I’ve branded Too Much Comedy as being about how there’s “way too much goddamn stand-up comedy right now,” but this? This is a lot. But hey! At least it’s located on YouTube and not Comedy Central’s actual network. This means that the Viacom-owned channel won’t have to cut into its latest The Office marathon, and viewers interested only have to watch when they want to. It’s a win-win for us all!

Share Too Much Comedy


What about new, proper half-hour specials?

Obvious sarcasm notwithstanding, Comedy Central Stand-Up Presents has routinely espoused some of the industry’s greatest talents, be they just-established or on the rise, and this latest batch is no different. From The Daily Show correspondents Jaboukie Young-White and Dulcé Sloan, to the previously Austin-based Vanessa Gonzalez and New York’s own Nore Davis, the 12 half-hours set to air between Friday and late November feature plenty of names known and unknown to general audiences.

If you’re one of the holdouts who haven’t managed to “cut the cord” from their lives (and replace it with Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and other streaming options that, combined, cost the same as — if not more than — cable), then Comedy Central Stand-Up Presents is definitely worth your time.

The first two episodes, Young-White and Gonzalez’s half-hours, premiere Friday, October 18th at 11:00 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.


No? There’s always Netflix!

I almost subtitled this “No? There’s always (and will always and forever be) Netflix!” but we all know that cannot possibly be true. Nothing lasts forever. And considering the sheer speed at which social media, metrics and technology-driven entertainment is moving now, the current comedy “boom” is inevitably going to burst. As Bloomberg recently noted, Netflix “is cutting back” on its stand-up production and distribution. (To the tune of 20 or so specials, as this time last year, the streamer had released 50 titles. Right now, that number’s closer to 30.)

Even so, October has been one hell of a good month for Netflix, comedy-wise. From (internal) The Standups veterans Nikki Glaser and Deon Cole, to actress Jenny Slate and late night host Arsenio Hall, the streamer has managed to release (or schedule) a good variety of stand-up.

Share Too Much Comedy


Or HBO, which may be launching a comeback of sorts

Of course, Netflix’s stand-up cuts mean less stand-up overall. Sure, Bloomberg reports “the company is now investing more in areas like sketch comedy and shorter sets from lesser-known comedians,” and yes, they’ve been releasing (and supporting) oddball titles like Tim Robinson’s sketch-driven I Think You Should Leave and other similar programs. But the numbers don’t lie.

Maybe that’s why Comedy Central (Stand-Up Presents and many other scripted and non-scripted shows) and HBO have been doing more stand-up-specific programming in recent months than the past few years. As the latter’s programming chief Casey Bloys told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017, “stand-up specials account for less than 1 percent of usage on [HBO] Go and Now.” Therefore, the thinking at the time concluded, doing more stand-up was not a winning strategy. “It's hard for me to pay [an] exorbitant price,” he said, referencing the colossal figures Netflix was paying to the likes of Amy Schumer, Dave Chappelle, Ellen DeGeneres and Jerry Seinfeld. “When prices come down, or when it makes sense again, it's relatively easy to get back in. We'll wait it out.”

But now, HBO is producing and distributing a great deal more stand-up. From Ramy Youssef and Julio Torres’ first specials, to new hours from industry stalwarts like Gary Gulman and Sarah Silverman, all kinds of new traditional and genre-bending shows are pouring out of the premium network. Yes, they’re nowhere close to reproducing Netflix’s numbers — even in an “off” year for the streamer — but that’s not the point. Netflix has been trying to amass a huge library of stand-up specials from big names and new faces alike since 2012. Seven years later, they’ve got it. HBO, on the other hand, must contend just as much with streaming and social media as cable subscribers. So while they too possess a big library of titles, they’ve also decided to focus more on innovation and originality.


As promised, here’s Molly

There she is! She’s so good. Gonna go give her a treat now.

Share Too Much Comedy

Grappling with the Netflix monstrosity

The streamer's comedy boom is good and also bad

It’s the second day of August.

A few weeks ago, a new batch of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee dropped on Netflix (during which Eddie Murphy discussed his potential return to stand-up). Next week, Tiffany Haddish’s series showcasing six of her favorite comedians drops on the streamer. There’s also more episodes of Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act and a new comedy special from Simon Amstell. Oh, and later in September, a Between Two Ferns movie from Zach Galifianakis and Scott Aukerman is coming.

Netflix is a comedy monster that’s haunting our dreams and transforming them into content(ed) nightmares.

This isn’t new, of course. The platform has been in the original stand-up (and/or) comedy game since Bill Burr’s You People Are All the Same first premiered in its streaming queue back in 2012. At the time, Netflix was mostly licensing comedy specials from either acts who had produced their own hours, or companies like Comedy Dynamics that were footing the bill then approaching potential distributors like Comedy Central and HBO. Netflix’s entry into the game offered a brand new outlet for such materials, and its relative newness and frugality quickly made it a popular place to be.

Hence the streaming comedy boom that we are still living through right now. No single thing caused all of this, necessarily, but based on the conversations that I’ve had with comics, club owners, producers and other industry professionals whose careers are steeped in, or adjacent to, the comedy world, Netfix’s arrival has played a big part in all of this. And as you can see by its August listings alone, it still is — and will be for a bit longer.

At least, before this bubble inevitable bursts. And it definitely will, and it will assuredly result in a mixture of profound losses for the industry and unique opportunities for extreme creativity. Until then, though, we’re stuck with the fact that Netflix is still churning out special after special, series after series, and movie after movie that explicitly stick to (and break from) the standard stand-up model.

This is happening across the board of genres, obviously, as the clarion calls of “peak TV” and “too much TV” are as strong as they’ve ever been. Plus, with Disney’s recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, WarnerMedia’s arrival as a new entertainment conglomerate and NBCUniversal’s renewed efforts to enter the streaming wars, it’s all about to get even more “peakier.”

Yes, that’s right. In addition to Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, which have remained the three dominant (and surviving) streaming services, Disney — which now owns a majority stake in Hulu — is set to launch its own platform with Disney+. WarnerMedia is also making a move with its forthcoming HBO Max service. And NBC? Well, despite the fact that they created (then shuttered) the comedy-centric Seeso, they’re gearing up to launch yet another streaming attempt.

Toss in Comedy Dynamics’ own Comedy Dynamics Network (and its massive presence on Amazon Prime), the short-form Quibi service that’s looking to bank on our ever-decreasing attention spans, and other eventual players, the competition for our eyeballs is about to get even more cutthroat than it already is.

And, yes, that’s the big picture. Netflix still is the dominant force in stand-up right now, though Comedy Central, HBO and Showtime are still doing what they can in terms of producing and distributing new specials. Amazon Prime also maintains a sizable back catalog, with the occasional new releases here and there, but later this month, Comedy Dynamics will be making a major push into Netflix’s territory with the help of their significant audience base. We’re talking new specials from Jim Gaffigan, Alice Wetterlund and many others, as well as a new hour from Broad City co-creator Ilana Glazer.

To be honest, I consider myself a comedy critic but there is just no way in hell that I can possibly watch all of these in a timely manner. I’m still slowly but surely making my way through a backlog of specials and shows from the past year. And this is just stand-up. I also try to make the time to watch other shows and films that I enjoy as a lay viewer or, when the opportunity arises, that I’ve been tasked with writing about.

The beauty of all of these options is that more and more kinds of people and viewpoints are being catered to. There’s a much larger diversity of content out there than there ever has been before. But it’s also becoming very niche.

So… good luck? At least we got Tim Robinson’s phenomenal (and thankfully renewed) I Think You Should Leave out of this deal. Then again, we’re also losing equally fantastic original comedies like Lisa Hanawalt’s Tuca & Bertie.


Random Bits

For no reason whatsoever, here’s a short video that the 92nd Street Y put together of John Mulaney making Bill Hader laugh uncontrollably during the pair’s recent appearance there to discuss HBO’s Barry. Hader’s giggles (and Mulaney’s purposefully causing them) made his tenure on Saturday Night Live what it was, especially whenever the “Weekend Update” character Stefan was involved. There are plenty of unofficial collections of such clips on YouTube, but it’s nice to see an official outlet catching on and doing the same.


Crowd Work

Don’t forget, I actually want you to respond. Send me whatever questions, comments are snide remarks that you may have about my thoughts on stand-up comedy, or comedy-related matters I didn’t cover, but are nonetheless on your mind. To get in touch, simply email me and we’ll go from there.

Aziz Ansari is here right now

He's reexamining pop culture and himself, but is it enough?

Last week, comedian Aziz Ansari surprised everyone with a special announcement: Right Now, his first comedy special since 2015’s Live at Madison Square Garden, was coming to Netflix. Not only that, but the Spike Jonze-directed new hour would begin streaming just over a week later on Tuesday, July 9th.

Well, today is Tuesday, July 9th, and Right Now is streaming… right now… on Netflix.

So, aside from the fact that Ansari is a well-known comic whose television bona fides includes Parks and Recreation and Master of None, why does the fact that he just dropped a surprise comedy special even matter? Because in January 2018, the 36-year-old performer was accused of sexual misconduct in a controversial article published by Babe.net, a since-shuttered youth-oriented news and gossip website. The woman who made the accusation, “Grace,” claimed that the pair went on a date that ended with Ansari repeatedly ignoring her verbal and nonverbal cues regarding non-consensual sex.

The article arrived in the midst of the Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K.-fueled #MeToo movement, which had already seen those two entertainment titans finally taken down a peg or two after years (if not decades) of repeated (and oft-ignored) rumors. As a result, both Ansari and the Babe.net article were discussed and debated ad nauseam. The latter spurred vigorous and nasty back-and-forths in numerous media circles. The former, meanwhile, removed himself from the spotlight soon after he addressed the accusations in a statement.

So, yeah, Ansari is back on television a year and a half later, and judging by all of the press that Right Now’s announcement and premiere has already generated, it seems both his comedy and his baggage has rejoined the zeitgeist as well. From headlines as monotone as CNN’s “Aziz Ansari returns to Netflix with comedy special,” to titles with more direction and argument behind them — like HuffPost’s “Aziz Ansari Is Returning To Netflix After Me Too Scandal” and Refinery29’s “Netflix Announces A Surprise Aziz Ansari Special & The Timing Is Interesting” — reactions have been across the board. (The latter is especially intriguing, though, as the Refinery29 article connects Right Now’s reveal with the recent closure of Babe.net.)

Not to mention social media and comments sections, where Ansari’s fans and detractors have already engaged with Right Now’s release.

Regardless of the media controversies the Babe.net article sparked, I believe that we should listen to all victims of sexual assault. It’s the least we, as a culture, can do, since more often than not, the structures inherent in our society tend to ignore (or lessen the claims of) victims of rape, sexual assault and other forms of abuse. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have called more attention to these disparities in recent years, but the disparities are still ever-present.

I also believe that you cannot separate the artist from his, her or their art. To claim otherwise is to make a bullshit argument based on bullshit philosophy that I’m not going to dig into right now. (But, I’ll happily do just that if asked by enough people. Fair warning: you’ll be bored out of your mind.) So, in that sense, it’s impossible to talk about Ansari’s new comedy special without mentioning the Babe.net article and how it has affected the comedian’s career — and our perceptions of him as a person and an artist.

(Though the “separate the artist from the art” topic makes for an easy entryway into all of this, as Ansari explicitly discusses and plays with the idea in relation to the recent documentaries about R. Kelly, Michael Jackson and the sexual assault allegations against them.)

As a stand-up comedy critic, however, I also believe that, despite all of these things, Right Now is worth watching. (Netflix obviously does, too, or they wouldn’t have given Ansari and Jonze the chance to film the comedian’s Road to Nowhere tour and a place to show it to a global audience.) I try to keep track of what the industry’s big movers and shakers are up to, and Ansari definitely remains one of these. Otherwise, why are we even still talking about him?

Some of Right Now’s beats hit hard and fast, like the routines about woke white people, hot take culture and separating artists from their artistry. Others… not so much. Though this is generally the case with most new comedy specials, but with the highly-focused microscope the Ansari now finds himself under, what’s good is really great and what’s not is even worse.

More than anything, however, I’m intrigued by Ansari’s decision to reorganize and reframe what I saw of his early Road to Nowhere tour. Back in February, when the tour officially started just north of Boston, his combined bits addressing the Babe.net article and being mistaken for Hasan Minhaj came at the end of the performance. In Right Now, however, the comic puts these beats front and center. It’s the first thing he talks about after walking across the Brooklyn Academy of Music stage.

“I felt so many things over the last year,” he says. “There’s times I felt scared. There’s time I felt humiliated. There’s times I felt embarrassed. But ultimately, I just felt terrible that this person felt this way. And after a year or so, I just hope that it was a step forward. It moved things forward for me. Made me think about a lot of things.”

It was a poignant moment in the live show, and it’s just as poignant in Right Now — if not more so, thanks to its new place at the beginning and Jonze’s decision to film Ansari up close and off to the side while on stage.

It’s also a stark departure from the one other major instance of a comeback that stand-up comedy has seen since the initial #MeToo spark in late 2017: Louis C.K. Last August, after keeping to himself for about nine months, the Louie star returned to New York’s famous Comedy Cellar for an unannounced performance that rocked the comedy world. It sparked multiple rounds of takes about whether or not Louis had done enough penance or said the right things after he’d admitted that multiple claims of sexual misconduct levied against him were true.

Since then, Louis has gone on the offensive. He’s poked fun at the Parkland shooting survivors, issued severe legal threats against would-be bootleggers and reporters (?) covering his live gigs across the country, and more. He is, as the comedian Hannah Gadsby put it in a Los Angeles Times interview, “angry and bitter.”

“He is a joke now. And I think it’s important to keep making that joke. This is dangerous to talk about, but I’ll give it a go. What the issue is, for a long time Louis C.K.’s comedy platform was that he was this hopeless guy bumbling through the world. And at some stage, he was no longer that, but that was still his voice. And I think he still believes that. He has not reassessed his position of power, and that is why he was able to abuse it. It’s difficult to see a shift in your own power and privilege. It’s not something we’re trained to do. He still honestly thinks he’s the victim in all of this.”

At least in terms of how each comes across during their stage performances, it seems that Ansari’s approach to reentering the spotlight and addressing the claims made against him has been far more mature and productive than what Louis has done. So, there’s that.

To be honest, I haven’t watched a Louis C.K. comedy special or listen to one of his albums since November 2017. I hadn’t watched or listened to any of Ansari’s comedy since January 2018, either, until I attended his Road to Nowhere stop in Boston last February. I was skeptical then, and even after watching Right Now, I remain skeptical about it all. But from my perspective — that of a white cis straight male who has never been sexually assaulted in his life — my initial feeling is that Ansari is going about this in a far more open and productive way that Louis.

Of course, seeing has how I did not experience what “Grace” allegedly did on her date with Ansari, or what the many women who were confronted by Louis’ abuses of power experienced, I defer to them.


Random Bits

In September, Bill Burr and Al Madrigal signed a new deal with Comedy Central that, among other things, would see the former “present” new specials from lesser-known comedians on the cable network. The first of these, Paul Virzi: I’ll Say This, premiered in November. The latest, Bill Burr Presents IanTalk: Ideas Not Worth Spreading, debuts this Friday, July 12th at Midnight. Remember when Hannah Gadsby’s critics all said that Nanette was more of a Ted Talk than a comedy special? Well, Ian Edwards’ latest is a comedy special in the form of a Ted Talk.


Crowd Work

Don’t forget, I actually want you to respond. Send me whatever questions, comments are snide remarks that you may have about my thoughts on stand-up comedy, or comedy-related matters I didn’t cover, but are nonetheless on your mind. To get in touch, simply email me and we’ll go from there.

Loading more posts…