Happy Birthday.

Everybody sing!

Happy Birthday To That Fat Bastard.

If you’re of a certain age you remember the show The Young Ones either on the BBC or, bizarrely, on MTV. Back in the late ’80’s when MTV was still mostly a music channel it featured some British comedy, starting with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but that’s another story. If you remember The Young Ones you remember Alexei Sayle whose roles on the show varied. His roles in life have varied too: comedian, author, philosopher, commentator, Mussolini impersonator, and runner-up in the 1993 Miss Universe Pageant. His first collection of short stories, Barcelona Plates, had me hooked from the first line: “Barnaby’s girlfriend thought the funniest thing in the world was people being killed while they were on holiday.” His second collection The Dogcatcher offered up even more stories that were darkly funny, or just plain dark. And I loved his memoir Stalin Ate My Homework, which provided insight into how a boy raised by ardent communists in London in the sixties grew up to be one of the most beloved cartoon characters of all time.

‘Ullo Alexei. Got a new motor for your birthday?


Lizz On.

lizzfreeHappy birthday Lizz Winstead.

She’s best known as a political commentator and co-creator of The Daily Show, but she started in standup comedy and theater, and her book of personal essays Lizz Free or Die provides some hilarious and poignant insight into her background. She explains a lot about who she is and how she moved so far from the conservative Catholic family she was brought up in.

She discusses her decision to take up babysitting even though she didn’t really like babies, and how babies knew she didn’t like her and would “scowl” at her. “Every photo of me as a kid holding a baby looks like a poster promoting a heavyweight championship fight.” And her young obsession with a praying hands statue mounted on the wall—wondering whose hands they were and why they’d been amputated—cracks me up every time I reread it.

Like these.  Source: Amazon.com

Yeah, I can see why these would freak out a kid. Lucky me I was raised by Presbyterians.
Source: Amazon.com

Winstead also takes more serious turns, such as when, almost completely ignorant about sex other than how to do it, she got pregnant and her first boyfriend left her to deal with it on her own. Then there’s, among other things, the time she put in paying her standup dues. Winstead started at a time when comedy was notoriously unfriendly to women comics and she faced plenty of unfriendly audiences, including once disastrously opening for Frankie Valli.

The book seems to cut off too soon—she briefly covers her time creating and working on The Daily Show, but ends there—but that’s okay. Yes, I would like more, but she does some pretty serious soul baring in her essays, and it would be unfair to expect anything more.

Shakespeare in the slums.

Happy birthday Danitra Vance. If you don’t recognize her name that’s not surprising, but also sad. She was the first African American cast member on Saturday Night Live, as well as the show’s first lesbian (although this wasn’t made public at the time). Her tenure on the show, and her life, were too brief. Born July 13th, 1954, we lost her to breast cancer a little after her fortieth birthday in 1994.

She did a few sketches on SNL, including some recurring characters, but it’s Shakespeare In The Slums that I remember. It was hilarious, but so tight I was afraid if I laughed I’d miss something.

Wait, He’s Canadian?

“Did you know one of The Kids In The Hall is gay?”

It was 1990, and I was part of a cabal who’d seen The Kids In The Hall pilot episode. This was before they appeared on one of the new comedy channels that appeared on basic cable. It was a small number of us who were familiar with The Kids In The Hall before anyone else, except, of course, the people who’d seen them live, the producers who gave them a shot at a show, and anyone else who’d seen the pilot episode. I understood how the previous generation felt when they discovered Monty Python on PBS.

So when one of my friends asked me, “Did you know one of The Kids In The Hall is gay?” my natural first reaction was, “Only one?” I then went through the names and eliminated four before saying, “Um, Scott Thompson?”

Happy birthday Scott Thompson. I’m sorry I took so long to get around to you.

Next: Advanced Acting English.

Source: Goodreads

Happy birthday to Shappi Khorsandi, British stand-up comedian and author of A Beginner’s Guide To Acting English. In at least one interview she’s said her original title was White People Smell Of Milk, which I think is brilliant. I wish the publishers had let her go ahead with that title, but maybe the final version works a little better.



I Was A Fan When He Was Bing Hitler.

fergusonHe had me at “Shut up!” I was sixteen, spending the night at a friends’ house, and we were watching the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival being broadcast on HBO. Several comedians cracked us up, but the one who really got my attention was Bing Hitler. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. He was aggressive and made loony jokes about worms, bees, wasps. I had no way to find out anything more about this guy but it didn’t matter. I was a fan for life.

Five years later a friend who’d been brought up in England played me a tape of  a couple of stand-up routines by this guy named Craig Ferguson. He did a whole bit about two Scottish families on Family Fortunes (Britain’s version of Family Feud) that had me in tears. I didn’t know anything else about him but I was a fan for life.

It never occurred to me to wonder why they sounded similar until I heard Ferguson asked about his original stage name Bing Hitler in an interview.

When he took over The Late Late Show he gained a whole new group of fans, but I get a special feeling knowing I was there almost from the beginning.

Happy birthday Craig Ferguson.


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