<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> The Comedians

JAN/FEB 11
THE COMEDIANS
Louie Anderson
Luke Cunningham
Julian McCullough
Jared Logan
Kurt Metzger
Tic & Tac All-Stars

HUMOR
David Baker
Jared Bilski
Sarah Blodgett
Ophira Eisenberg

Tic & Tac
All-Stars

written by Ken Carlson

A NIGHT OF COMEDY in a typical downtown room in the middle of the week: The performer’s name is announced and he lazily strolls to his spot. He drowsily accepts the muted applause and opens by putting down the establishment and the half empty house. He stands at the mic or leans on a stool, reciting his memorized material for the tenth time that week. After a while, he acknowledges the light, puts the mic back in the stand, finishes his final bit, thanks the audience and walks away. His most arduous activity; waiting in line to cash in his drink ticket.

Then there’s Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village on a recent warm late afternoon: Two electrifying individuals gather their own audience (crowd stealing, they call it) through acrobatics and emotion, cajoling the passersby with one-liners and positivity. The music starts from the accompanying piano and drummer for the beat. It’s a touch of vaudeville for a new age, complete with break dancing.

There are times when a comic will be called energetic for the way he walks from side to side on stage. For this pair, it’s about dancing and rolling, laughing and wise-cracking, launching and catching one another, all on concrete and finishing with a somersault to uproarious applause.

These are the Tic & Tac All-Stars; twin brothers from the Bronx, who, on this day, at the first hint of sunset, are entertaining a few dozen. At other times in their performance schedule, they are seen by thousands.
They joke in unison. They flirt and gab. The people they guide by the hand to join them in their show are nervous and fidgety, joshed with, but always in a upbeat way. Tic & Tac have honed the practice of patiently setting up their act to build tension, to draw the crowd near. At one point in their set, Tic gathers some hopeful volunteers. Tac walks through the crowd, takes a moment to stretch his neck and tap his feet while the crowd parts like they’re allowing a golfer to set up his shot from the rough. He takes a running start, a burst from the throngs like a sprinting gymnast, preparing to send his body hurtling in the air, over the anxious, crouched volunteers, then back down toward the asphalt.

The thrill of a live performance and the immediate reaction in a wayward setting is the workplace of the street performer. Perhaps the difference between a town and a city is whether that place has enough people who care to stop and watch a performing artist give his or her all for loose change in a guitar case or cigar box; whether it’s teenage drummers banging on plastic tubs and accompanying break dancers, opera singers at a train hub, or magicians and puppeteers in the park.

For Tic and Tac, twin Brothers, known in real life as Tyheem and Kareem Barnes, it began twenty years ago on the crowded subway cars in the Bronx as small children. Now the dancers/acrobats/comedians have toured extensively, working with the NBA, Harlem Globetrotters, Michael Buble, Michael Jackson, and Alicia Keys. They’ve also appeared numerous times on Showtime at the Apollo, and been featured on The Best of the Apollo, Martha Stewart “The Apprentice” , and Jay Z’s video, 99 Problems.

After their show, it’s Tac that does most of the talking. Tic, amusingly and patiently waits his turn, just as he seems to have been all his life.

“We have been everywhere,” says Tac in assessing their success.

“We’re on our second passport. God has been good to us. We’ve made a career out of doing what we love. We’re buskers, comedians, acrobats, dancers, showmen; and self-trained!”

With performance teams, from trapeze acts to figure skaters, the amount of trust needed for some of their stunts can’t be underestimated. The same can be said for these brothers; who when they’re not exchanging one-liners with the crowd are undertaking a risky profession to say the least.

“There’s definitely some trust,” jokes Tic, “because he used to drop me on my head a lot I was younger. It got to the point, where we either had to get it right or I’d get more lumps on my head. In New Orleans once, we had this drunk lady push us while we were doing a ‘helicopter’.” That’s when Tic takes Tac and spins him on top of his head (see it on MySpace & YouTube). It’s their signature piece.

“She couldn’t see the show,” recalls Tac, “and was yelling, ‘I can’t see!’ and pushing her way to the front. We had less space than we have here. It’s something that has to be precise. That’s when she bumped us.”
“I started spinning in the air,” said Tic. “This one [Tac] had to catch me by my feet!”

During the spring, fall and summer they get to spend time with friends and family, work smaller groups around the city, like parks and schools. In the winter they tour everywhere else. On this night, they’re in Manhattan’s hippy-est park where players of acoustic guitars and hacky sacks thrive, elders and eclectics hunch around chess tables, and weed salesmen are busy.

Tic & Tac accept the applause and accolades from passing tourists and lounging college kids. Some young admiring co-eds ask to have their pictures taken with them. Their pay is accepted in the form of donated dollars in a bucket, often dropped in by the awe-struck children of excited parents.

“This is our first love,” says Tac on the show and impact of surprise. “I love the intimacy of performing for a crowd, especially when they haven’t seen us before. When we’re indoors [at booked events], people tend to know us. But out here, where they don’t know us or what we’re about to do, it’s amazing!”

“It’s so exciting to get someone,” interrupts Tic, “to stop carrying on with their day to come and watch you and brighten their day with entertainment.”

For more on Tic & Tac, visit them on MySpace, Facebook or YouTube.

The Big Time, eh?

written by Jared Bilski

THE CALGARY COMEDY Festival. Its website includes phrases like “delivers 50,000 comedy lovers,” “11 day mass media event,” and “largest comedy festival in Western Canada & second largest in the nation”. I pictured myself in front of sold-out theater crowds where the uncontrollable laughter was interrupted only by thunderous, Comedy Central-style applause breaks.

1:40 p.m.: Our plane lands in Calgary. My girlfriend, Liz, asks what the plan is. I pull out a printed e-mail confirming that someone is supposed to pick us up and take us to the hotel. I start worrying about the packet, containing the schedule and hotel info that I was supposed to receive a few weeks ago. After 20 minutes, I call the festival organizer, Stu.

Stu: What are you doing? We have a show. You need to be at the hotel.

Me: I thought someone was picking me up. I sent over an itiner...

Stu: We lost a car. You gotta get over to the hotel, eh. (Note: The majority of Canadians end their sentences with ‘eh’, the verbal equivalent of a period, exclamation point or even a question mark in some cases.)

Me: What hotel?

Stu: Best Western. Call me as soon as you get into your hotel room.

Me: Sounds good. I’ll see...

Stu: As soon as you get there, call. (Hangs up)

The hotel appears to the only functioning business for miles. In the lobby there’s a giant cutout of the festival’s mascot, a cartoon cow adorned in a jester’s cap and collar. The cow holds a microphone and sits cross-legged on a stool fashioned from its own udders.

3:35 p.m.: Back in the lobby, there’s a guy pacing back and forth. He notices my girlfriend and me and introduces himself as Ben, our ride to the show. Inside Ben’s car, the odometer shows 395,000. It takes few minutes to remember that Canadians measure everything in kilometers.

On the ride over, Ben points out where he took anger-management classes after the “fucking all-knowing Province of Alberta” took away his license. I ask why, and Ben tells me aggressive driving and “a shit-ton” of speeding tickets. “In Calgary, they care more about speeding than drunk driving, but I got a few DUIs, too.”

Show No.1: China Rose – 3:50 p.m.: We arrive at the China Rose, a standard Chinese restaurant, and a side room
continued on Page 13
is packed with 20 guys and two older women. This would be a great crowd, but it’s clear that everyone here is a comic. Behind a makeshift stage, a few people wearing blue polos hang an unnecessarily large “FunnyFest” banner.

4:00 p.m.: A man donning the same blue polo as the stage crew enters and makes an announcement about the magnitude of the festival. He lets everyone know they’re to do three-minute sets, then asks, “Is Jared Bilski here? Good. You’re closing the show. Do six minutes, eh?”

This is the head of the festival. I introduce Liz and myself, and my second conversation with Stu follows:

Stu: You didn’t tell me your girlfriend was coming. This really messes up the logistics. Jesus Christ, eh!

Me: I told you over the phone, and I sent you our itineraries...

Stu: Yeah, whatever, OK. This messes things up, eh. When you’re done, hurry and get a ride to the next place. Jesus Christ, eh?

For the next hour, there’s a steady flow of movement: Comics walking to the stage; comics exiting the stage; comics at the buffet with heaping plates of laxatives disguised as Lo Mein and General Tso’s chicken. I do the full six minutes and exit to the thunderous sounds of four pairs of clapping hands and one timid, “Nice job, man.”

Show No.2: King Henry VIII – 6:30 p.m.: Several TVs are showing playoff hockey and the handful of patrons seem unaware Canada’s second-largest comedy festival will be starting in a mere 30 minutes. Next to the bar is a makeshift stage, a slightly raised block of wood with a checkerboard design. The regular-sized microphone in the center of the “stage” adds to the sadness of the set-up. The ubiquitous FunnyFest banner hangs proudly in the background.

The 22 comics are huddled around the complimentary food and drink, a single appetizer sampler and a pitcher of beer, when Stu enters.

Stu: Everyone listen up. This is important, eh. I need everyone to listen. Everyone do around four minutes. Corey, you’re going to close, so do seven. Hey, can all of ya shut up, eh! This is serious.

Stu asks Ben to hang up some flyers at the local businesses. When Ben mumbles an objection, Stu says, “It’s a privilege to be here. You don’t want to hang flyers, eh? Get the fuck out.”

Ben informs Stu that he’s “a human being” and storms off to hang flyers.

The show’s another marathon of rushed sets with zero audience reaction -- save for an old, leather-clad biker guy with his back to the stage. A few moments into the headliner’s set, one of the polo-wearing workers bursts in, “Hey man, show’s over. We don’t have a microphone at the next place, so we need that one.”

The headliner’s response, “Thank fucking god,” gets the biggest laugh of the night.
I check my e-mail to see if I can find a schedule. Instead, there’s a message from Stu.

Rides are for performers only. No exceptions. No lap sitting. Thanks for understanding. Stu

I head outside to search for a cab to the next show.

Jared Bilski is based in Philadelphia. Look for him on Facebook.

Luke Cunningham

written by Tabitha Vidaurri

Luke C

“WHEN YOU DO STAND-UP REALLY WELL, and you have the audience waiting for a joke, there is this part building in the back of your head that’s like, ‘Oh shit, they’re completely on the line for this. I can feel it coming,’” says comedian Luke Cunningham. “You feel your synapses fire and you’re like ‘Oh they’re going to get it’ and…boom! It’s almost like a magic trick.”

When I saw Cunningham hosting a show at the Luca Lounge in the East Village it was at one of those shows where the comedians outnumber the actual audience members. You know the kind of show I mean. There’s a lot of inside jokes and the comics bust each other’s balls quite a bit. I noticed that every time one of the other comedians took the stage they would make some kind of crack about Cunningham being a big jock.

In all fairness, if you look at Luke Cunningham without knowing anything about him, he does kind of look like a jock. Then when you find out he’s really into rowing and attends boat races. He went to Brown, you think Ivy League jock. He’s lanky and rangy, and has this sort of all-American prep thing going on. However, if you see him do stand-up, all preconceived notions pretty much go out of the window.

“I’ll say this about Luke,” says fellow comedian Nicholas Cobb, “From the very beginning, he already had his voice figured out.  There was no trial and error for him.  He didn’t necessarily know what he was going to say, but he already knew how he was going to say it.  That’s huge.  And it wasn’t even something he tried hard to accomplish; it was already there. “


I’M INTERVIEWING CUNNINGHAM in his mercifully air-conditioned Upper West Side apartment. Behind me, there is a pair of oars at least eight feet long leaning against the wall. When asked about said oars, Cunningham tells me he recently attended a regatta in Philadelphia. His day job (and health insurance providing job) is selling boats for WinTech Racing. His interests in rowing and comedy keep him on the road pretty regularly. He has a good system going, because all of the rowing hot spots tend to be good places for stand-up as well: Boston, DC, and Philadelphia. He spends most of his time in the latter.

“Philadelphia is a beautiful place to row,” he says. “Get down there early in the morning, kick off… it’s like going to church. There’s no noise, its just you.”

“The only reason I have an Ivy League degree is because I’m six foot six and was good on a rowing machine,” Cunningham says with a self-deprecating smile. He was crew racing and performing in sketch comedy shows at Brown. “When I was a kid, I was a big fat kid who wore red all the time. Everybody in my neighborhood called me Red Delicious,” Cunningham laughs. “Everybody that was on our crew team in college was six foot three or taller. We found either they were a big fat kid or their mom was very well endowed. It was a weird thing, either you were fat or your mom was breast-feeding you until you were like, three, that’s what you needed in order to be a big dude and be good at rowing.”

Recently, Cunningham has been working on a new live show called Alt Stars, a monthly alternative comedy showcase that debuts in September at JD McGillicuddy’s in Philadelphia. He also performs at Hug Life, a first-Friday gig at the Luca Lounge with a rotating cast of comics and free pizza, which I was psyched about.

When asked what his favorite place to perform was, Cunningham replied, “One of the best sets I’ve ever had was at Whiplash [at the UCB Theatre]. That night, I thought, ‘Oh my god, I prepared four more minutes of jokes, but there’s been so many applause breaks that I’m not going get to do them!’”

Cunningham grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Upper Darby. After graduating with a degree in history, he took the big, post-college, leap and moved to New York. “I was terrified to do stand-up at first, it took me forever to work up the nerve to do it,” he recalls.

“I assumed everyone here would be really good, and then I went to an open mic and realized that is not the case,” he laughs. “Before people go to a [standard] comedy show and be say, ‘That guy wasn’t very good’, they should have to sit through three open mics; you know, so they get to see how the sausage is made.”

After moving, Cunningham wasn’t exactly sure where to start. “I ended up doing a lot of improv first, which I think is good, but there’s not a lot of movement forward in improv,” says Cunningham. All told, he ended up taking improv classes for about eighteen months. “The first time I did stand-up was at UCB at their show Liquid Courage. That was summer 2005. By that point I was twenty-six. I feel like everybody else had gotten started so much earlier.”

Luke Cunningham
“I think people think they’re working towards a goal sometimes, and then you see who is actually working towards the goal and then you go, ‘Oh I wasn’t working at all,’” Cunningham reflects on his earlier days in New York. “I thought. ‘I’m taking an improv class one night a week, I am really pursuing comedy.’ Then I went and did stand-up and saw see these comics doing three or four spots a night and hitting multiple open mics and I went, ‘Oh that’s actually pursuing a goal. I’m going to do that.’ So now, when I can, that’s what I do. I’m up multiple times, every night, and now I feel like I’m honestly pursuing it.”

Regardless of whether or not Cunningham got what he considers a late start, he made up for lost time. About six years ago, he began hosting at the Comedy Cellar, which led to further gigs, including production work on Important Things with Demetri Martin and a stint playing Abraham Lincoln on the Colbert Report. Cunningham is currently writing a weekly blog for TV Guide that painstakingly chronicles the cringe-worthy details of each new episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm as it premiers on TVGN.

As a comedian, you don’t necessarily know right away what your approach is going to be. It can also be extremely hard to choose a medium. However, Cunningham’s period of trying out different forms of comedy before arriving at stand-up helped hone his skills as a stand-up comedian. “In improv, you have a degree of dispensation from the audience. They’ll let you off the hook a little bit because you’re coming up with the stuff off the top of your head,” he explains. “In sketch, you can prepare it so much, and you have other people to rely on, so you’ve got it down. But stand-up has all of the pressure of sketch, where you have to know your jokes and hit your beats, but none of the dispensation of improv. Nobody goes into stand-up and is like, ‘This guy’s coming up with this stuff off the top of his head.’ But they kind of expect it; like when you deliver it, it better look like a point you’ve just arrived at.”

“Luke has a casual style with a witty, rapid-fire delivery that keeps the audience on their toes,” says close friend and Philadelphia comic, Tommy Papa. “Luke is one of the few comedians who isn’t fully self-absorbed. He’s the same person on and off stage. He listens and internalizes his surroundings, and it shows in his material and crowd work. Although his presence and intellect are intimidating, he creates a lot of likability by actually caring about people.”

I asked Cunningham about his creative process. Does he tend to take grievances in his everyday life right to the stage, or is there some kind of filtering process? “I have a very hard justice meter, and I’m big on fairness,” he answers. “When I see things that aren’t fair, I call bullshit right away. I think a lot of comics are like that.” He continues, “I write down ideas all the time, then I usually flesh them out on stage. I’ll start combining. Lots of times it will be like, ‘that joke didn’t work, but there were two phrases that would hit. Let me see if I can work those phrases into this other joke.’ What you think is going to be the foundation never turns out to be the foundation. At least in the way I process things.”

“I always try to infuse myself into the joke, because they work way better if I use the first person,” Cunningham explains. “I have a bit on evolution vs. intelligent design. My joke is, ‘I was not always a fan of the strict literal interpretation of the bible, then I spent forty days and nights inside the belly of a whale.’ It used to be, ‘What’s with these idiots who don’t believe in evolution, maybe they all spent forty days and nights inside the belly of a whale, am I riiiight?’ When I changed it to the first person the audience responded better,” he says. “It’s just that one subtle shift, and that’s all stuff that your elementary school teacher told you when you were a kid. Show, don’t tell. Put yourself in the story. Try not to use pronouns. It’s elementary education that people forget.”

“I’ve always been impressed,” says stand-up comic Chelsea White, “by Luke’s ability to weave in a reference or draw a parallel in his jokes that strikes the perfect balance of being unexpectedly obscure and universal all at once. He has a knack for reaching every type of audience member in one cleverly creative sentence.”

“We all work from the same awful rubric, the same romance everyone has to aspire to in Western culture. And everyone has to aspire to Romeo and Juliet…it’s always around. It’s been around for four hundred years and it’s terrible! Juliet was fourteen. Romeo was sixteen. They dated for six days, and then they both killed themselves. Like, if that happened now, it would just be the sad Goth kid footnote on Verona’s class of 2010 yearbook. ‘Hey, do you remember those two weird kids who used to wear a ton of eyeliner and use giant words out of context? Did you know they both killed themselves because they couldn’t get tickets to see Slipknot at the Mayhem Festival?’”

“If you get the jokes really humming and everything’s going downhill and flowing, you kind of feel like you’re singing to them,” Cunningham muses. “That part is better than any drug I’ve ever tried. Nothing beats it on earth. Like taking a roomful of strangers and undressing yourself a little bit and charming them. It’s a wonderful gig. It’s the best job on earth, and it’s the worst business. Know what I mean?”

I think we do.

Tabitha Vidaurri is a writer from Philadelphia living in New York.

For more on Luke Cunningham, visit lxcmaps.blogspot.com.