This week the SVA Theatre on West 23rd Street hosted the semi-finals of Wil Sylvince’s 13th annual NBC Universal Short Film Festival. Wil got a nice introduction from Karen Horne, who has the long title of Senior Vice President of Programming Talent Development and Inclusion for NBC Entertainment and Universal Television Studios. She must have a very long business card to fit all that in. It was two nights of short films ranging from just a few minutes to just under 40 minutes. Both nights were great but the first night was spectacular with films packed with such talented actors that in most cases you’ve never seen before. Films were so well done and were often shot in far-off locations like Israel, and one of the films Kyenvu was shot in Uganda and chronicled the journey of a young independent woman enduring the taunts and catcalls from men in Africa, just like it happens in New York and probably all over, and as the playbill summary says, “tries to find her footing in a patriarchal society that entitles men to women’s bodies.” The first night the host was Godfrey and the second night the host was Zainab Johnson who really wowed the crowd with her hosting ability. She told me afterward that she’s developing a project with Amy Poehler but couldn’t discuss it yet.
There were comedies of course like B.U.T.S: Spanish Class where a couple planning a trip to Spain enroll in a Spanish class for a week and wind up being taught by a dominatrix who punishes them when they make a mistake leading them to be fluent in just a week. The theatre had popcorn and ice cold bottles of water for everyone and after the screenings, there was an opportunity to meet and take photos with the filmmakers and stars that showed up, many of them traveling in from long distances. There was a great array of talent and Wil, who most of the time is dressed very casually really dressed up for the occasion. Several comics were in attendance like Wali Collins, Kenny Warren, and Jacob Williams.
Later friends were honoring Kenny Warren’s birthday with a show at The Grisly Pear. There were two shows, and Kenny had like a photo booth set-up when you came in for all the comics to take fun photos with Kenny and each other. Kenny was wearing a Stetson cowboy hat he said his father had bought for him for his birthday with, … and I quote “the blood, sweat, and tears of some cowboy, with someone else’s hair in it, but it was my birthday, so fuck it!” He said they also sang the “Black happy birthday song” for him which unfortunately I must have missed. Kenny co-hosted with Jack Byram, and it was a fun show including the Stone brothers who I hadn’t seen in a while, along with Richie Redding, Norlex Belma, and Chloe Hilliard.
Sherrod Small and Pete Lee’s combo birthday showdown at The Village Underground was crazy as you might expect and packed as you also might expect. As I pulled up I first ran into Ron Bennington who had just finished doing a show there and we caught up on all kinds of stuff, including his Unmasked interview with Elayne Boosler, and Gail’s new baby, and how cool it was being the “G” word. Big Jay Oakerson was hanging outside with Sal Vulcano who had just run down after his Comedy Juice set, along with Ricky Velez and Giulio Gallarotti. I went inside with Yamaneika Saunders in time to catch Chris Redd killing it on stage. Derek Gaines was in rare form and had the audience laughing so loud there were times you literally couldn’t hear what he was saying. He brings such crazy energy to the stage. He’s reaching his long-stated goal, which he’s told me many times, of becoming undeniable! I confirmed that for him while he was outside afterward hanging with his homey Monroe Martin. Everybody who came through crushed, including Artie Lange who made a surprise appearance and was his usual hilarious self, and when Yamaneika took to the stage to huge applause. She warned the women in the crowd not to kiss Sherrod because “ his lips are filled with Herpes” so when she finished he came up on the stage and kissed her full on the lips in an extended kiss. Sherrod and Pete took turns hosting and doing material and Cipha Sounds was DJ’ing and playing the comics on and off the stage. Chris Distefano closed the show and seemed surprised that he was the final act. He jokingly apologized to the audience for closing and not being a bigger act.
Afterward, everyone hung outside in the street. It was like a comedy youth gang, with among others Alex Babbitt, Greer Barnes, Alia Janine and Krystyna Hutchinson. Krystyna told me that she and her comedy partner Corinne Fischer were putting on ‘Guys We Fest‘ at the Brooklyn Studio which went down this past weekend. It was an all-day charity event with daytime and nighttime activities encouraging listeners to “ease up on the retweets and instead engage in actual community activism.” It benefitted two charities Corinne’s “New Alternatives” which benefits the LGBT and homeless communities and The Reproductive Health Access Project, which if I got it correctly “trains physicians to provide full reproductive health care, and make it accessible to everyone!” Comedy performers besides the Sorry About Last Night girls were Michael Che, Harrison Greenbaum, Jessica Kirson and Mehran Khagani. I heard it was very successful. Krystyna told me it was to be hosted by a drag queen named Shequida, and I’m sure it was.
Gina Yashere was headlining Gotham and she always puts on a fun show. We got there early to order food and drinks and her Buchwald agent Conan Smith dropped by with his wife to say hello and catch up before the show started. Gina literally tours the world and is very big in Asia, and she tells hilarious stories about what it’s like for a Black woman with an English accent to perform in places like Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
Yamaneika Saunders who seems to be on every cool show these days was the feature and told me that the very next day she was working on the final edit of her first album. As I was walking back and forth taking my photos I saw a big mustache in the darkness that looked like Erik Griffin from one of my favorite shows “I’m Dying Up Here” and it turned out it was Erik Griffin. He was in New York with his model girlfriend who will be modeling in the upcoming New York Fashion Week and he was doing a set in the downstairs lounge for the new Comedy Juice show that takes place on Friday nights, besides the long-standing one on Tuesday nights. After Gina’s killer set she confided in me that she’s working on a big project with Chuck Lorre, but like Zainab Johnson was not at liberty to say anymore as yet. Conan confirmed to me that it was something big and that he’d fill me in as soon as he could. Good luck to Gina on that. It’s well deserved.
One night after leaving West Side Comedy Club I dropped in at Stand Up New York and caught a show that club co-owner James Altucher was hosting. James is an interesting dude who was celebrating the five year anniversary of the release of his book “Choose Yourself- Be Happy, Make Millions, Live The Dream” and he was giving away copies to anyone in the audience who wanted one. I say he’s an interesting dude because he’s got a very eclectic background. He’s described as a successful entrepreneur, angel investor, chess master and prolific writer who’s written 18 books, including two Wall Street Journal best-sellers. His eponymous blog has attracted more than 20 million readers since it’s launch in 2010. His podcast “The James Altucher Show” which he hosts has had guests like Tony Robbins, Mark Cuban, and Arianna Huffington. It’s had over 30 million downloads, and here he is up on stage hosting the comedy show and doing stand-up. I tend to relate to people with a diverse background. He recently joined Judah Meiteles’ Skitish Media group along with club co-owner Dani Zoldan, and Stand Up Lab’s podcast guru Jon Fatigate. By the way, Yamaneika was there too in the most amazing fun and colorful outfit!
I ended my comedy week enduring what I considered to be a personal test for myself. In Montreal recently up at Just for Laughs Russell Peters and I made plans that I would attend his performance at this past weekend’s Forest Hills Stadium, which holds about 15,000 people, and get together afterward. I try and never miss one of Russell’s shows whenever they are local as they are always something special. He’s calling this one his “Deported Tour”!
My first test came when I got to the stadium to find that there was no stadium parking, just street parking that 15,000 people had to find, when most of the area was permit parking reserved only for residents. Right away I wanted to turn around and leave but after driving around a bit I found someone pulling out of a legal spot and took it even though it was many blocks away from where we had to go. Luckily my date brought flats and left her heels in the car. As we left the car, I thought to bring an umbrella with us because the forecast threatened rain, and I figured if I brought it wouldn’t rain. When we finally reached the entrance to the stadium, I went to Will Call and got my tickets which had separate VIP passes and a slip of paper inviting those with VIP passes to an after-party, which I thought was cool, and also thought would be exclusive.
As we entered further there was a woman loudly announcing that no umbrellas would be allowed in the stadium and they would either have to be checked for 5 bucks or left for free in a big barrel where anyone could take any umbrella when they left with no guarantee that you’d get yours back. My second test. I waited on a long line and checked my umbrella for the five bucks. It was then that it dawned on me to ask if the stadium had a dome. My third test was being told it did not have a dome and that if it rained it would rain directly on us. Anyone who knows me knows I have a phobia about getting wet, probably something to do with my hair, but I hate getting dressed up and getting caught in the rain. It makes as much sense as taking a shower with your clothes on. Just coincidentally they happen to sell plastic ponchos for 5 bucks apiece. I bought two of them. Then we walked to the entrance which was an extended walk but we were joined by what seemed like most of the 15,000 people who attended. My third test, but not my last, … being crushed into a crowd. When we finally got to the gate it had already started to rain down on us, and my date had no problem putting on her poncho. Mine, of course, required her help. My fourth test. I don’t wear hats. Haven’t worn one since kindergarten. Probably something to do with my hair. This poncho had a plastic hood so my choice was to wear the plastic hood or attend the show with wet hair. I pulled the hood onto my head and withdrew into my inner self, just telling myself that if other people could do it I could do it too.
As we reached the entrance point guards were announcing that everyone had to empty their bags and that we had to go through metal detectors. I couldn’t get to my pockets because of the stupid plastic poncho, and almost had to rip it off to get my keys out, and my phone and all the other metal stuff while the rain was coming down on us. At this point, it was about 7 P.M. and someone said the show wasn’t going to start until at least 8. I wanted to leave and sit out the rain in my car and come back later when it wasn’t so crowded but there were too many people behind us and we were stuck. I couldn’t get all of my metal out because I had my tickets in my hand and the envelope was getting soaked so I handed what I had to the guy checking us in, and walked through the metal detector with a pocket full of contraband, expecting to have to strip down in the rain, but the woman who was wanding me, just waved me through. Then they asked for my tickets and I inquired whether there were any covered seats for VIP seating, and they told me to wait there while they checked. In the meantime, the woman scanned one of my tickets which she said meant that we could no longer leave and sit in my car because once you left you could not re-enter. They came back with a higher-up who also had no idea if there was any covered VIP seating but led us inside to ask without scanning my second ticket. That meant that only one of us could leave if we had to but that wasn’t too convenient, or likely. But at least we were inside already. We decided to get some food, and got on huge lines in the rain while many people asked me where I got my plastic poncho. Typical stadium prices. A cheeseburger was $11. Water was $5. We got our stuff and scarfed it down. The rain kept stopping and starting, sometimes light and sometimes really heavy.
We went to the portal where our seats were supposed to be, but because it was still raining, we stood at the top of the covered steps watching the opening acts Gregg Rogell and Jake Johannsen, and then Russell came out and security told us we could no longer stand on the steps. Luckily I always carry a little powerful flashlight which came in handy making our way down the soaking wet metal steps to our seats, which were great, and right in the center, and would have been spectacular if it wasn’t pouring. Russell thanked everyone for coming out in the rain and told me later they were concerned that it would affect attendance, but it didn’t. Suddenly I felt it starting to come down hard and pulled my plastic hood tight across my head not looking at anyone as if anyone cared how I looked. That was my 5th or 6th test of the evening. My date said she was very proud of me for handling it as well as I did.
Russell had a killer show as he always does and was projected onto a huge screen behind him as he performed.His material on Indian people was so hilarious that all of the Indian people in attendance, and there were many, were falling out of their seats laughing.
Afterward, the rain had let up and I was psyched to go to the after-party. We had to line up and members of the tennis club aligned with the stadium were let in first and that’s when I realized that it wasn’t as exclusive as I had expected. We were led into an area that had covered tables and lots of grass which is probably usually beautiful but now it was totally soaked and there was nowhere to sit and no food or drinks and I realized that this could not have been Russell’s after-party. Just at that moment, my phone went off and Russell’s assistant texted me that they were coming to get me. That’s when the party really started. They took us to a little cabin, actually kind of a big cabin that was packed with Russell’s friends, his brother Clayton, his girlfriend and her family, along with lots of food and drinks. I had left my plastic poncho on to show Russell what I endured just to see his show, and it was worth it because the show was that good.
Russell started out as a hip-hop DJ and so it was cool to see my pal Melle Mel there from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, along with other hip-hop DJs like Starting from Scratch and Spinbad. There was an after-after party at a hotel in Long Island City where Russell was staying but we were tired from our rain ordeal and made up to meet in LA in October. As we left on our long walk back to the car, the place that was storing my umbrella had already closed for the evening so we had to walk all the way back to get someone to get it for us, cause I wasn’t about to drive all the way back to Forest Hills for an umbrella, and that’s when the thought hit me that they should take all the money they make from the umbrella checks and the plastic ponchos and invest in a retractable dome like other stadiums have done so people can enjoy an event the way they were supposed to!
And with that, … I’m OUT!!!