Happy Birthday.

Everybody sing!

Great Expectations.

If I said “British comedian” without any other information what would your expectations be? If I added that he was born in Lancashire what would your expectations be? When I first heard Tez Ilyas, whose birthday is today, on a radio program where the host introduced him as one of her favorite comics I really only expected him to be funny, but I also thought his background—he’s of Pakistani descent–might be part of his comedy. And it is, and it’s really funny.


Everybody’s Comedian.

Source: YouTube

There were a lot of funny people on Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. I was already familiar with some while the show introduced me to others who were so funny I couldn’t wait to tell  jokes the next day at work until my boss would have to interrupt and ask about the earnings reports, but that’s another story. One of those wonderful discoveries was Ron Lynch, whose birthday is today. And my boss was glad that repeating a Ron Lynch joke is nearly impossible, unless, of course, you’re Ron Lynch. Years later I was lucky enough to start reading Ann Koplow’s blog, and while she’s even luckier to have worked with Lynch I feel lucky to have learned more about him through her.

I’m going to use a term I’m not all that fond of, but bear with me. Normally when someone is described as a “comedians’ comedian”—or a “musicians’ musician” or, well, you can fill in the profession, especially if the profession is mason—it’s a backhanded compliment that means someone so brilliant at what they do their work is only truly appreciated by other professionals. Sometimes it’s really an insult, both to the performer who’s being subtly criticized for not being “accessible” and to regular audiences who are faulted for not getting it.

Some people might call Ron Lynch a “comedians’ comedian” because of the way he plays around, interrupts himself, and breaks down a joke—and, for that matter, because he frequently doesn’t rely on the traditional setup : punchline, but Ron Lynch is like a magician who shows you how a trick is done and still manages to dazzle you with it. Or, to put it another way, fool me once, that’s hilarious, Ron Lynch, fool me twice, you did it again, Ron Lynch, fool me three times, it could only be Ron Lynch.

Little Things Get Big.

Source: Village Voice

Sometimes all it takes is one little thing. Back in 2012 comedian Josh Gondelman, whose birthday is today, co-created the Twitter account @SeinfeldToday which has spawned dozens of imitators. This is not to say that he stopped there, of course. He performs regularly. One of his life performances was featured on the Bullseye With Jesse Thorn podcast as part of the End of Year 2017 Comedy Special. He has a story about how he had what may be the most memorable wedding reception ever, and that’s all I’m gonna say.
And these are only steps in a career that’s been steadily rising. He’s had articles published in McSweeney’s and other publications,  and since 2014 he’s been a writer for John Oliver Tonight.
Yeah, I guess now that I think about it that’s a lot of little things adding up to a lot.

Rocket Man.

Many years ago when I was in Britain I fell in love. And how could I not? Snooker is unbelievably complicated but also elegant and fun and I was absolutely smitten from the first moment I picked up a cue and potted a red ball. Granted I was, and still am, not very good at it, although there was a professor who fancied himself a bit of a snooker shark and liked to put other players in what he thought were impossible situations. And somehow I could always find my way out and he’d grudgingly say, “Nice shot,” but that’s another story.

Ronnie O’Sullivan, whose birthday is today, is an amazing snooker player, staggering to watch.  Here is twenty years, and in record time, earning him the nickname “The Rocket”. If you’re unfamiliar here’s how it works: the game starts with fifteen red balls, worth one point each, and six balls of other colors—yellow (2 points), green (3 points), brown (4 points), blue (5 points), pink (6 points), and black (7 points)—on the table. A player must pocket a red ball first for one point and then can pocket a ball of any other color for the corresponding points. The red balls stay pocketed but the other balls are replaced until the red balls are gone. Then the player must pocket the other balls in order. If one player accidentally sinks the wrong ball the other player gets the points and the turn.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is the master of the nice shot.

Sophie’s Stuff.

Source: Wikipedia

Comedy is often a way of crossing social boundaries which is why it fascinates me when comedians leave their home countries to do comedy in a completely different environment—and sometimes in a completely different language, which can require facing a steep learning curve. Sophie Hagen, whose birthday is today, left Denmark to do comedy in Britain and in English, and has succeeded brilliantly, challenging social conventions about body image. She co-created the funny and thought provoking podcast The Guilty Feminist and was a co-host for a long time. Before that she created the also funny—and sometimes thought-provoking Comedians Telling Stuff podcast. It’s interesting because the comedians she talks to sometimes share funny stories and sometimes they share personal stories which may be funny or may be a little sad, or a little of both. Hagen herself also did funny introductions to each podcast in which she sometimes talked about recording in her room under a blanket, and also shared some of her own funny, sometimes even embarrassing, stories. For instance there was the time she was making out with a fellow comedian and confessed to him that she was dating another comedian at the time. He asked, “Is he bigger than me?” She reached into his pants and said, “No,” then realized that’s not what he meant.

There’s also a steep learning curve for understanding the culture of comedians.

Smart Guy.

Source: Wikipedia

I have a book called The Best British Stand-Up And Comedy Routines with comedy bits by a dozen or so performers. The title is slightly misleading, I think, because it’s not as comprehensive as it sounds. It’s more of a sampling of some really great stand-up and comedy routines by various performers spanning about three decades. An interesting thing about it is there are two American included, only one of whom is still alive—Greg Proops, whose birthday is today.

If you’re a fan of Whose Line Is It Anyway? you know Greg Proops, especially if, like me, you started with the British version where he and Clive Anderson would trade barbs, like the time Proops explained for American viewers that when he said “naff git” that was British for “Clive Anderson”.

Proops also performs solo, does two podcasts, and his book, The Smartest Book in the World, is full of his sharp, intelligent satire. And he really manages the neat trick of being really, really intelligent without being smug about it and he plays to the intelligence of his audience without blowing smoke up anyone’s skirt, maybe because he’s smart enough to know that real intelligence isn’t gauged by what you know but how well you know that everything you know is only a small facet of all that can be known and that the more you know the less you know because everything you know only makes you know what you don’t know.

You know?

Man Of Intrigue.

Source: Wikipedia

Back in 2013 when Doctor Who was celebrating its 50th anniversary the BBC ran a series of retrospectives with various stars and actors sharing their remembrances about the show. One dapper gentleman kept popping up. He intrigued me and everything he said made me laugh. That was my introduction to Paul F. Thompkins, who was, at the time, already a successful comedian, but I’m always behind the times myself.

It’s his birthday today and he still makes me laugh and still intrigues me with his strangely varied career: he entered the world of stand-up just as the ‘80’s comedy bubble collapsed but managed to find success anyway. He had a small role in the film Magnolia, which was cut, he worked on the VH1 show Best Week Ever, where he met Weird Al Yankovic (whom he thought he already knew), he’s cut several comedy albums, and he talked to fellow comedians and performers in 68 episodes of the long-running YouTube series, Speakeasy. And those are just a few of the things he’s done. The guy seems to be ubiquitous, which is one of the things that makes him so intriguing.

Hip To Be Square.

Source: Goodreads

When I was a kid I read the newspaper comics section every Sunday while eating breakfast. The rest of the week I didn’t have time for it—if it was winter I was getting ready for school, if it was summer I was getting ready for the day’s excursions, and if it was Saturday I was too busy watching cartoons to read anything, and I only bothered with the Sunday comics because that was the only day they came in a special all-color section. I’d read through them and maybe laugh a little and not give them a lot of thought.

That changed with the introduction of a little cartoon called The Far Side, drawn by Gary Larson, whose birthday is today. I’d seen cartoons like it before, but never in the newspaper, and I started looking through newspapers for the comics sections during the week to find it. And I didn’t just start looking for The Far Side. A Far Side cartoon prompted me to look up Olduvai Gorge, and I got a kick out of Larson’s references to science, psychology, his anthropomorphic cows, ducks, and occasional slipping in of darker subjects like cannibalism.

Most newspaper comics were—and still are—aimed at kids and very general audiences. The Far Side was one of the few that took a more highbrow approach, that made it cool to be smart. Nowadays people are proud to let their geek flag fly. Being a nerd isn’t necessarily an insult or something to be ashamed of anymore, and I think The Far Side is partly responsible for that change.

Having said all that I won’t reproduce any Far Side cartoons here. Gary Larson has issued a statement asking that his cartoons not be spread via the web:

So, in a nutshell (probably an unfortunate choice of words for me), I only ask that this respect be returned, and the way for anyone to do that is to please, please refrain from putting The Far Side out on the Internet. These cartoons are my “children,” of sorts, and like a parent, I’m concerned about where they go at night without telling me. And, seeing them at someone’s web site is like getting the call at 2:00 a.m. that goes, “Uh, Dad, you’re not going to like this much, but guess where I am.”

I respect that. I also think about a hilarious bit he shared in The Prehistory Of The Far Side about the time a newspaper printed one of his cartoons next to Dennis The Menace but reversed the captions so in the Far Side a snake is saying, “Lucky thing I learned to make peanut butter sandwiches or we woulda starved to death by now.” And Dennis is saying, “Oh brother!…Not hamsters again!”

This was a huge improvement to Dennis The Menace and only made The Far Side slightly more surreal than usual, but I can see why he’d have concerns about his kids being passed around.