Chris Rock Dave Chappelle and More

Chris Rock Dave Chappelle and More

 

A second show at the Cellar was one of “those” shows that make life the wonderful thing it is. Just before I brought up the last act, I was apprised of the possibility that Dave Chappelle was coming in. I told the audience Godfrey was the last act. When Dave got there, Godfrey was signaled by the manager to seriously wrap it up. Godfrey was having a fine set, but when Chappelle is in the house the feeling is, let’s get him onstage ASAP. Godfrey comes off and a few people start to rise up.

“Wait, I know I told you Godfrey was the last act, but every now and again somebody comes in and we extend the show. Tonight we have a man you will recognize from his appearances on the Chappelle Show on Comedy Central, Dave Chappelle”.

The audience that had just seen a great 2:20 of standup goes absolutely apeshit. (Of course) Dave opens very businesslike, much sharper than I’ve seen him in years. He did a bit on the no feet killer that will soon be a classic and I’ll bet he’s not done with it yet. I won’t spoil it for you here but it had to do with what life would be like in jail for the guy. Pure Dave, pure funny. Then Chris Rock shows up and sneaks to the back of the room and Dave doesn’t know he’s there. I asked Chris if he wanted to go on and he said if he was coming off soon, he would just walk on. I wanted to intro Chris with a chicken wing in my hand. (you had to be there!) When it looks like Dave is gonna wrap it up after an hour or so, Chris walks on stage. Servers are scrambling around stopping folks from taking pics and video, they cannot believe what they are seeing. The two exchange lines and bits and backs and forths for another hour. Chris slipped in some of the material he’s been working on pretty seamlessly but Rock was a little awed at Dave and the shit he was coming up with. Dave would bang the mike on his thigh or the piano when Chris said something he particulary cared for. It was music. Jimi Hendrix trading licks with Stevie Wonder.

Rock: (to the crowd) You are some lucky motherfuckers.

The best part for me, it wasn’t a competition. (I don’t believe standup should be competitive , part of my overall disdain for festivals and the like) It was two brilliant comedians combining their talents which produced an amazing live experience that few ever witness. Only about 120 people did on this night, but in a year, 10,000 people will swear they were there the night Dave and Chris did their thing together.

Oh, and for some dessert, for the last 20 minutes the fellas were joined onstage by Marlon Wayans. He came with a entourage that barged their way into stage side seats. ( A few folks had left ) Marlon admitted being drunker than anybody in the room and said he was just there to hang out. The last time Dave was in town and doing a set at the Cellar, Chris and I watched him from the floaters. After a few minutes, Chris leaned over to me and said. Dave is P Funk! I’m Earth & Wind & Fire! Whatta night!

William Stephenson

Funkiest Songs In The World

Funkiest Songs In The World

 

Recently I wondered aloud what was the all time funkiest song in the world.  Impossible to name one of course but I was curious to see what folks would come up with.  With so many Facebook friends with about half being comedians, I got about 40 comments.  The first was Debbie Boone’s You Light Up My Life.  I’m sure that might be the unluckiest  song in the world but things got much better once the peoples started looking in the right places.  I then posted 20 songs I felt any of which could be the funkiest.  Soon after I found another 5 tunes that needed to be on the list.  Here is a breakdown of the 25 funkiest songs ever.  Any discussion of funk has to start with two of the most prolific funksters.

James Brown and George Clinton

Both are represented on my list twice and could’ve held down a top 26 list on their own.  I went with The Payback and Papa Don’t Take No Mess from James and Give Up The Funk and Flashlight from George’s Parliament.  It was illegal to have a house party back in the day without these strong songs.

Kool & The Gang

This self contained band was also represented twice with Jungle Boogie and Funky Stuff.  A Facebooker mentioned Kool’s Get Down On It.  Clearly this commenter was too young to remember that this song came during their switch to disco.

 Sly & The Family Stone

provides a very popular choice, Thank You Fa Lettin Me Be Mice Elf (agin). Sly and his crew is another group that can fill any funk list all by themselves.

Earth Wind & Fire

In their heyday, they were the standard. They will always have a special place in my heart because of their two album in one year output, and the second Gratitude was a double, giving us a live side and more great new jams.

Jupiter from their All N All album because I can’t get enough of that tricky bass line.

Stevie Wonder

What can’t he do?  Stevie had several nominations, with me offering You Met Your Match but it didn’t make the final list.  To paraphrase the guy in the movie Fargo, “With Superstition, you got no complaints!”

Ohio Players

When you hear the opening fire alarm in Fire, you know you’re about to burn it up! (When doing “the bump” to this song and try not to bump your partner into the next room.

Billy Cobham

Billy is the drummer all the drummers I knew wanted to be.

His Total Eclipse was seriously considered for the piano solo alone, but I used Red Baron for this list. Classic thumping funk.

Return To Forever

Dayride makes the cut because it blows me away every time I hear it. This is one furious jam, with perfectly sloppy drums- a quick hitter at only 3:28 with not a second wasted.

Sam & Dave

I tried to capture the wild variety of funk so I went back to Hold On I’m Comin’, the first funk I was exposed to.

Public Enemy

The rap world is represented here by Don’t Believe The Hype.  This is funk you can smell a mile away.

Tower Of Power

This west coast super group had snap crackle and plenty of pop.

What Is Hip? is sharp as a tack on Sunday and another easy choice.

Prince

Deciding what cut to include was most difficult given his enormous catalog.  I finally settled on Musicology because it was a funk song talking about funk.

Rufus & Chaka Khan

You Got The Love is on this list because of Ray Parker Jr.’s opening guitar line. This is “hold your nose” funky!

George Duke

I had to give Mr. Duke 2 slots with Funny Funk coming in as my personal favorite. When George’s  Reach For It came out, everybody thought it was the other George, including the owner of the record store where I was working at the time.  I suggested he use it for the background to his radio commercial and it worked well.

The Impressions

We’re A Winner is an early entry to the world of funk, and is still as nasty as a crusty knee scab.

I thought I was done with the above 20, but soon realized I had left out some major chunks of funk.  Mandrill’s Fencewalk, Funkadelic’s Comsic Slop and Rick James Bustin’ Out were all added.   Oh but I still wasn’t done.  Graham Central Station’s The Jam truly deserves a spot. And I can’t believe I left out this one- Silly Putty by Stanley Clarke.  I feel a personal relationship with all of these songs. They’ve taken me to a place I needed to be, and will always try to get to. Funkville USA!

William Stephenson

Poker

EBPG

In 1994 several comedians decided to start a weekly poker game.  Comics have long been attracted to the game of poker because it shares a risk reward experience with performing. Plus you get to say the sickest things.  Eddie Brill is our host and the game is usually held in his apartment on Monday nights. In the beginning we started at 11PM on Sunday. With a kitchen table provided by fellow comic Dennis Regan, we brought our rolls of quarters and played until about 5 AM. Then we’d head around the corner for breakfast at a diner, with the  big winner buying.  Sarah Silverman, Dennis, Eddie, Sam Greenfield and I were the OP’s.  (original players) Our small stakes game is filled with wild stories and jokes we could never do on stage. Louie CK, Colin Quinn and Marc Maron are just a few of the comics who have graced our table, which we have upgraded through a series of actual poker tables to our current custom made model.  The quarters evolved to chips with EBPG stamped on one side and the denomination on the other.  Our game is classified as friendly, meaning much of the banter at a non friendly game is banned.  After winning a hand at our game you don’t want to linger on the fact that you won.

“You stay in hands when you have no business and I’ll take all your money every time, dumbass!”

This is not to say we don’t say inappropriate things to each other because we certainly do.  Recently Pat Dixon asked Eddie quite randomly would he rather cut off his own dick or kill his mother.  Eddie responded that while his mother was blowing him, he’d cut her neck off and smoke weed through his dick.  Eddie’s mom has been to the game, knows what it’s about and was fine with the joke.

In the early years, Jay Mohr lived down the hall from Eddie  and celebrated his gig on Saturday Night Live by running through Eddie’s apartment butt necked.  Louie CK takes best exit honors with his classic that is our all time favorite.  After losing several big pots in a row, Louie got up, slung his jacket over his shoulder old movie style and said, “So long suckers, come see your money sometime!” Instead of opening the apartment’s front door, he opened the one next to it which is a closet.

Our mantra is Focus and Enjoy.  With all the talking going on it sometimes slows the game down to a crawl so we encourage players to have fun, but keep in mind why we are all sitting at the table.  That is of course to enjoy poker playing pleasure.  Our favorite activity is changing lyrics to the songs playing in the background.  When the classic Chi Lites Have You Seen Her is on, we might changes the words to

Oh I see my balls everywhere I go

On your face, and even on the radio

When the Tempts and the Supreme sing I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, we change it up to

I’m gonna make you rape me

Against my will, against my will.

The player make up is mostly male but we’ve had a few lady visits including the aforementioned Sarah who gave us our second sickest gag.  While in the bathroom, Sarah yells out to the table “I need a coat hanger!”  I said I’d bring her one if I could smell her fingers afterward.  Yep, I sure did.

For comics, doing your act at the table is seriously frowned upon and a quick way to not get invited back. On the rare occasion we come across players that are not a good fit, they go away via an exit letter I compose and email them.

I was living in Brooklyn on 9/11. I turned on the TV after the first tower fell and before the second.  There was a poker game on 9/12.  We really didn’t know what else to do.

William Stephenson

Anatomy of a Joke

Anatomy of a Joke

 

One of the most often asked questions of me after a show is “how do you come up with your material?”  My stock answer is “ I think of funny shit.”  The truth is, this is the first time I analyzed how I write jokes. I know my enthusiasm over the years  has waned for the writing process.  In the beginning I did my homework.  I’d cassette tape every show and go home that night and transcribe it onto a legal pad long hand.  I underlined all the um’s ah’s and other utterances I wanted to take out. I’ve never been a joke machine, preferring quality over quantity.  I write jokes that aren’t time sensitive for the most part and deal with the human experience.  My focus is on adults because I’m usually talking to grown folk.

There seems to be two ways I get to the funny.  One is when something bothers me and really ticks me off.  I write down whatever that is and ridicule whoever does it.

The last time I was at the Laundromat, I thought about somebody I saw on the train. It was about 4 in the morning, my favorite time to write so I took out my phone and wrote a draft on my email.

When somebody pulls onto the road to ridiculous a good friend should be your GPS system and recalculate your dumb ass. To the dummies out there trying to beat father time..give it up. All that botox doesn’t make you look younger it makes you look like a botoxaholic.  Like an alcoholic,you know one  when you see one and it hurts to look at them. You can’t tell what they’re gonna do. It appears they are happy all the time. Where are the good friends at this point?  I bet they have given up.

“She’s gonna do what she wants,I can’t talk to her anymore. ” and who’s telling these frozen faced freaks they look better or good at all?  It looks like thousands of women prepared for a role as ghoul in a horror flick.  You want your face to be expressive, be proud to show how long you’ve stuck around.  I bet this whole thing started when one woman told another woman “look at her,she thinks she’s cute “. We are either going to die sooner or later so instead of fighting a battle you gotta know you’re gonna lose learn how to get the most out of life and all it’s various stages. Wrinkles and lines have stories to tell.

(The above draft will probably boil down to a couple of jokes)

The next step is to go back and remove everything that doesn’t sound funny right away or that I can’t re work.  Then I figure out what order to put the words, and try saying them in front of an audience.  A positive response and it stays. If I get absolutely nothing, I never say those words in that order again.   Most comedians have at least one joke that gets moaned at.  We’ll keep them in the act because we love them for our own entertainment, or use it as punishment for a crowd that we feel doesn’t deserve our best stuff.

The other way I usually find some funny is  to think of something while on stage.  Those moments are highly rewarding.  I liken it to giving birth.  The joke is healthy and weighs in with good poundage.  In the late 90’s I stopped smoking marijuana for a while. The plan was to go onstage one night and make that announcement and see what came to me.

“I quit smoking marijuana….tomorrow”.

William Stephenson

 

Show Business

Show Business – The Biz Of Show

 

For some comedians, stand up is simply a stepping stone to their own show, movies and all the fame and money that comes with it.  For others, myself included, it’s a life’s work.  When I first came to New York, I told myself if at the end of my life I looked up and all I was is a comedian, I’d be quite fine with it.  Most big time comics have representation, but I don’t care for parasitic agents and managers.  You make a few calls and want 20-30% of my money?  I don’t think so. You didn’t write joke one! My early experience with these people wasn’t positive, and over the years my distaste has grown to the point I hardly be in the same room with these soul suckers. I’m sure this has cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars, but having my spirit intact is more important to me.

I did have a manager for about a year who booked me into the Aspen Comedy Festival. That led to a couple of meetings with casting directors and agents in LA. Those meetings led to nothing.  The relationship ended soon after I was asked to audition for a TV show called Homeboys In Outer Space.  Based on the title I knew I didn’t want to have any part of this project.  As I predicted it was one of the worst shows ever to make it to the small screen.

Most of the work I’ve gotten outside of standup came because of my relationship with some truly funny people.

One day in the late 90’s I ran into Louie CK who was sitting in front of the Comedy Cellar.  He showed me a script he was working on, a movie called Pootie Tang.  I knew he worked with Chris Rock, writing on his HBO series but didn’t know Pootie was his idea.  I was familiar with the Pootie character and I asked him to put me in it because I loved all things Pootie.  I was elated when he told me he wrote a small part for me.  I had been in a couple of short films Louie wrote and directed and always enjoyed working with him.  Louie works well with comics and the movie was filled with the likes of Wanda Sykes, Dave Attell, JB Smoove and many other comedians.  My day and a half on the set was some of the most fun I’ve had in show biz to date.  While Pootie Tang has since achieved cult status, it did not do well at the box office.  I remember going to the “premiere” in the summer of 2001 with no red carpet and 12 people in the theater.

Being a comedian for me isn’t about trying to be all things to everybody.  I’m not even sure I try to be some things for anybody.  I just can’t bring myself to work for any other reason than the funny.  I don’t have that part of the brain that allows you to schmooze, or deal with out of control egos.

I might always be a broke ass comic because of this attitude but don’t bet the house on it.

William Stephenson

 

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