CityBeat Blogs - Comedy <![CDATA[Comic Musical Duo Igudesman & Joo Performs at SCPA Tonight]]>

Comic musical duo Igudesman & Joo performs at the School for Creative and Performing Arts’ Mayerson Theater tonight, presented by the Constella Festival. Korean-British pianist Richard Hyung-ki Joo and Russian violinist Aleksey Igudesman mix Classical music with other popular genres and humor for a wholly entertaining performance. Check out this popular performance (which has more than 7 million YouTube views):


CityBeat writer Anne Arenstein spoke to Joo about the duo's unique spin on performing the classics.

It was hate at first sight when Igudesman and Joo met. There’s a hilarious account of what brought them together on their website, but according to Joo, the moment of truth came a couple of months later. 

“We shared the notion that the Classical music world which we loved so much was taking itself way too seriously,” Joo says. “Going to concerts was like going to a funeral.”

“We were young and we didn’t know much but we knew Classical music was full of life,” he continues. “Through our own projects and the music we wrote, we could at least create events that we would want to go to.”

Go here to read the full interview.

"An Evening with Igudesman and Joo" takes place at 8 p.m. tonight at SCPA’s Mayerson Theater, 108 W. Central Parkway, Over-the-Rhine. More information and tickets: 513-549-7175 or

<![CDATA[<i>Sullivan & Son</i> Comedy Tour Tonight at the Funny Bone]]>

When most sit-coms have a day off from taping or filming, the cast takes it easy. Not Sullivan & Son, the TBS sitcom that launched its second season last month. 

The show’s star, Steve Byrne, along with fellow cast members Owen Benjamin, Ahmed Ahmed and Roy Wood Jr. hit the road for a series of one-off gigs. Tonight they perform at The Funny Bone on the Levee. “We have four episodes left to film, so on the weekends, when we have free time, if we have the opportunity to do a live show we’ll jump out," Byrne says. "The Funny Bone asked us to come out, and we’re really excited to do the show.” 

Each comic will do about 20 minutes worth of material. The show closes with all four doing an improv sketch. The four are great friends, as is the entire cast and crew of the show. Often they’ll have a grill out and Dan Lauria’s place. He plays Byrne's father on the show. “He’ll make us watch these old black-and-white films,” says Byrne. “He’ll say ‘Watch this cut. There’s no cut for eight minutes. That’s acting. That’s what you boys should be doing.’ And we’ll say ‘Dan, we’re on a sit-com on TBS!’” 

The Sullivan & Son Comedy Tour stops at The Funny Bone on the Levee, tonight (Monday, June 17). Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 859-957-2000.


<![CDATA[Long List of Pryors]]>

In the beginning, there was Lenny Bruce. And Lenny Bruce said the word "fuck" and the word was good. 

Unfortunately, the word killed his career, and heroin killed his body, but he softened the ground for the Holy Trinity of comedy to follow; Robert Klein (keen observationalist with a social/cultural conscience), George Carlin (an acrobatic magician's use of language in the service of every possible subject) and Richard Pryor, the heir to the throne and, in Pryor's own parlance, the baddest motherfucker of them all.

In the liner notes to No Pryor Restraints: Life in Concert, a new seven-audio CD/two-DVD box set from Shout Factory further illuminating the legendary comic's brilliance, great-in-his-own-right Robin Williams suggests that, just as baseball honors its heroes by retiring their numbers, comedy should retire the word "motherfucker" as a tribute to "one of the best there ever was, ever shall be, comedy without end. Amen."

Pryor would never go for that, of course. He would tell you that he fought long and hard to transform the word "motherfucker" from a horrifying epithet relegated to other-side-of-the-tracks establishments and their low clientele to a uniquely descriptive word that punctuated his bits with conversational ease. If he'd gotten wind of that campaign before his death, I'd be willing to bet Pryor's response would have been, "Retire it? You motherfuckers are going to have to start saying it twice as much because I ain't gonna be here to hold up my motherfucking end. Ain't nobody retiring shit, motherfucker."

No Pryor Restraints is not the first collection to attempt to encapsulate Richard Pryor's revolutionary comedic brilliance. In 2000, Warner Brothers released ...And It's Deep Too!, a definitive (and Grammy-winning) box set which largely served as the CD debut of the bulk of Pryor's catalog, and five years later, just months before Pryor's death from multiple sclerosis, came Evolution/Revolution, a two-CD set that cherry-picked his 1971 Craps (After Hours) album, his appearance at Wattstax and a handful of unreleased bits. 

To dip into that same well a third time seems perhaps slightly redundant and mercenary, but producers Reggie Collins and Steve Pokorny and Pryor's widow Jennifer Lee Pryor (who all oversaw ...And It's Deep Too!) have assembled a completely satisfying and beautifully presented collection that features a lot of old favorites and an impressive amount of unreleased material.

No Pryor Restraints begins at the dawn of Pryor's career in the mid-to-late'60s when he was still working in the general confines of conventional comedy. Even then, his increasingly unrestrained use of the word "nigger" served to defuse its inflammatory intent (it was used in the the titles of three subsequent albums and ultimately created a new self-awareness and empowerment for the Rap/Hip Hop generation), and by the early '70s, Pryor was bravely referencing his prodigious drug use, his rampant sex life and his complicated and often violent relationship with whoever was his wife at the moment, not to mention calling out America for its racist attitudes, both blatant and subtle. 

If Lenny Bruce's approach to those subjects in the '60s could be viewed as subversively distributed underground texts, then Pryor's expansion of them in the '70s would be considered wildly unedited and graphically illuminated manuscripts hawked from sidewalk tables right out in the open.

By the mid-'70s, Pryor had gotten signed to Warner Brothers and was quickly becoming recognized as one of comedy's quickest and most scathingly brilliant minds. By then he had also embarked on an eclectic career as an actor, and proved conclusively that he had dramatic chops that were every bit as finely tuned as his gift for stand-up. 

As Pryor's life became more chaotic and tumultuous, his routines became more honest and soul-baring; one of No Pryor Restraints' unreleased gems is a greatly expanded version of "New Year's Eve," Pryor's account of shooting his wife's car after an all-night party and an argument.

One of the things that No Pryor Restraints accomplishes — in a well designed and gorgeous book — is an accurate charting of Pryor's progress, from an edgy yet still relatively orthodox comic to an unbridled social critic who was not afraid to call a motherfucker a motherfucker. One of the problems with the Laff albums was that they were all shows recorded at the beginning of Pryor's career and yet their releases were interspersed with his far superior Warners albums. In this context, the listener can actually witness Pryor's evolution as he becomes more and more confident, not merely in the writing and honing of the material but in his swaggering presentation of it.

In addition to the (loosely) chronologically sequenced bits culled from the early material that comprised the albums that came out sporadically on Laff, Pryor's legitimate releases and the unreleased pieces that came from his archive, No Pryor Restraints also contains two DVDs that offer three of his most notable concert films, 1979's Live in Concert, 1982's Live on the Sunset Strip and 1983's triumphant Here and Now. 

After seven audio CDs of heart-stoppingly hilarious bits, it's almost a revelation to see Pryor do the exquisite dance that accompanied his obscenity-laced symphonies. No Pryor Restraints doesn't necessarily tell us anything we didn't already know about Richard Pryor, it merely reinforces the things we did know in a beautiful and effective way. We already knew that Pryor didn't just change the way people thought about comedy, he changed the medium itself by expanding the parameters of what was acceptable to discuss and the manner in which it's done. He also single-handedly changed race relations in America; with a criminally genius sense of humor, Pryor identified and skewered stereotypes (and obvious flaws) on both sides of the racial divide, ultimately bridging the chasm by bringing fans of every diverse ethnic group together under his all-encompassing umbrella (and poking them in the eye when they arrived).

And in changing the comedy landscape and narrowing the racial gap, Richard Pryor changed the culture in the United States. Television, movies, music and art have all been touched in immeasurable ways by the influence that rippled outward from Richard Pryor's 30-year comedy reign. That's all that motherfucker did, and it was more than motherfucking enough.

<![CDATA[Punk Rock Comedy Tour Comes to Northside]]>

If you Google search “John McClellan,” you’ll find the late Democratic senator from Arkansas and the 19th century chemist. So what is comedian, Akron native and onetime Cincinnatian John McClellan — who brings his "Punk Rock" stand-up tour, the Fuck All Comedy Ball into Northside's tiny music club/bar, The Comet, this Saturday — doing to distance himself from his fellow McClellans?

“None of those guys are funny,” says the funny McClellan. “That’s why I had to get, because some guy already had, and asking people to spell my last name was a chore. They’re working on old cars or selling real estate and I’m just out there trying to bring the jokes to the people.” ---

McClellan’s current joke delivery system is the Fuck All Comedy Ball, essentially his standard show booked into Rock venues. Although the difference is subtle, there are shifts from McClellan’s usual routines.

“It’s the venue and the vibe,” says McClellan. “It’s kind of a Rock & Roll show. Sticky floors, man. We‘re not going to confine you to seats with people you don’t know and exorbitant prices and worry about offending people. The title of the show should tell you what you’re in for. We’re leaving the in-laws at home so they can bail us out in the morning.”

McClellan’s been doing stand up for over 20 years, so he has more than a little experience in the inner workings of the comedy club circuit. It’s that intimate knowledge of the comedy system’s flaws that inspired the Fuck All Comedy Ball.

“I’ll go to comedy clubs and they’ll go, ‘Well, we have a church group here tonight.’ What the fuck are they doing here? ‘You’re going to have to watch it.’ No. I’m not watching anything. You paid me to be here, this is what you’re getting. That’s why I wanted to take this to Rock clubs, to equal everything out.”

McClellan’s act is about contemporary observation but not necessarily the headlines of the day unless, as he notes, it’s something cool. His most recent topical joke concerned Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav (“I don’t know what he did, but I do know it’s not hard to get arrested for a crime when you’re wearing a 50 lb. clock around your neck. ‘Did you see what he looked like?’ ‘No, but it was quarter to 11.’ ”), but generally, McClellan avoids the news.

“I don’t want to bring the pressures of the world down on people,” he says. “ ‘Hey, let’s go to the comedy show and hear about how horrible things are.’ No thank you. I can open a window and get a whiff of that.”

McClellan was born and raised in Akron, began his stand-up career in Dayton and then moved to Cincinnati in the late ’80s, when the comedy atmosphere was pretty healthy, citing local friends like Bert Challis, Michael Flannery and John Riggi (in fact, Challis’ son Thad is McClellan’s opening act for the FACB; “If I could cyberdesign a comic, it would be Thaddeus Challis...”). He subsequently moved to Chicago and then to New York, his current home, but he still feels a definite affinity for his home state and the environs he called home … to a point.

“For me to be the most famous person in my high school, I have to kill 48 people,” McClellan says. “Chrissie Hynde went to my high school. The Black Keys, Rachel Sweet, Olympic diver Phil Boggs, Melina Kanakaredes from CSI all went to my high school. I’d have to be like a supervillain with the mask and the claws.”

During his Cincinnati period, McClellan did several opening slots at Bogart’s, warming up music audiences. Through good and bad experiences, he learned plenty.

“You have to sieze and maintain control,”  McClellan says “I opened for David Lee Roth and had 1500 people booing me, ten minutes into a 30 minute set, because they’re thinking, ‘We get this guy off and Dave will come on.’ I got news for you, Dave isn’t backstage going, ‘Oh my God, the comic’s in trouble! Come on, guys, let’s bail him out!’ He’s coming out when he’s ready. I was like, ‘Listen folks, you don’t like me, go to the bar and have a drink. You like me, watch the show. I’m not leaving. If I leave early, I don’t get paid.’ It was the worst show in my life. Then I go out because I want to see the show, and I’ve got girls all over me! I’m like, ‘Do you know who I am? I’m the guy you were yelling at five minutes ago; it was like I was married to 1500 girls.’ And people are going, ‘You were hilarious, we loved you!’ And I was like, ‘Where were you, man?’ And they said, ‘Dude, we laughed but the wave of boos was too strong to overcome.’ I could respect that.

"What I learned was you don’t go to them, you bring them to you. My will and my jokes have to be stronger than your will not to laugh.”

With shaved head and black leather jacket-T-shirt-jeans wardrobe, McClellan looks like Michael Chiklis channeling the Sam Kinison’s rage and Lewis Black’s outrage. He’s quick to clarify the frequent Kinison comparison.

“It’s flattering, but I don’t want to seem like a knock off,” McClellan says “There is screaming and yelling, folks. Beware. But I’m not the Rock and Roll Comic. I don’t want to be the Science Comic or the Bicycle Comic, because those comics suck. ’He’s the Shoe Comic.’ No! I don’t want to be that guy.”

McClellan still gets recognized for his role on Bravo reality show Millionaire Matchmaker, where he was a potential date for iconic Simon & Schuster book editor Judith Regan (“I was trying to fuck my way into Wikipedia…"”), proving television is still a powerful comedy force.

“When I first came out, you got on The Tonight Show or Letterman,” says McClellan. “That doesn’t mean as much anymore. It’s still nice, but getting on a show to do stand up, that’s six minutes. I was on (Millionaire Matchmaker) for 12 and a half minutes.”

After that bit of television soapboxing, it seems only natural to ask if McClellan ever made it to the late night stand up showcases.

“No! Are you kidding? You’d be talking to my publicist,” McClellan jokes. “You’d be talking to the girl fetching my green tea. ‘Who’s calling? CityBeat? You had your chance before I was on Letterman …’ ”

<![CDATA[Letterman Makes Amends With Bill Hicks]]>

Jan Leno bores me, I dig Jimmy Kimmel and I think Conan is the king of late night (even before he takes over Leno's show in the very near future). David Letterman is the Jack Benny and Johnny Carson of our times, all rolled into one.

Last night, Letterman showed his class, his legendary status and his sense of history by having Bill Hicks' mother on and then playing the legendary Hicks' appearance he originally censored some 16 years ago. Hicks had a career-making appearance on Letterman's show, and it was "banned," as Letterman said last night, by himself. Hicks, disappointed by what had happened, died soon after the show's non-airing.---

The set came just months before Hicks died of cancer. Letterman on his show last night was completely apologetic, taking full blame for Hicks' set being cut. It was a brilliant piece of TV and comedy, parts of which were released later on one of Hicks' many posthumous CDs; Letterman ran it in full last night. It choked me up; Hicks is one of the greatest comedians of all time. His Letterman set was tame by today's standards. Having Letterman say he was totally wrong by not allowing it to air was truly moving. Has that ever happened? I don't think so.

Hicks was way more controversial in his usual routine and, seeing the Letterman clip last night, it seemed totally benign. It was clear that he "toned it down" for network TV. He said NOTHING that should have got him "banned." And, reading a lot about Hicks after his death, that moment was something that ate him up.

Is it revenge? Salvation? No. Bill obviously never got the apology his mom got last night. But, at very least, it might lead people to see and hear his (far more inflammatory) art. Buy it on the many Rykodisc reissues. If you love cutting comedy that doesn't pussyfoot and comes straight from the heart, there's few better than Bill Hicks. Genius? Fuck yeah.

I miss you, Bill. Dare I say … I love ya. I'll smoke a couple for you tonight. Here's hoping there's a smoking section in heaven. And here's to Letterman — he never had to do that, but he recognized Hicks' genius and gave him his due last night. Thanks, Dave!

Here's Bill, shortly before his death, talking about his Letterman experience: