Ted Greenberg's The Complete Performer

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Why TJ & Dave Are a Smart Bet | See them in NYC

Categories: Comedians,Comedy Shows,Latest News
Posted: May 31, 2012
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I’ve written about bromances on this blog. Now, it’s time to recognize not only another great bromance. I’m giving a big shout out to GENIUS — the ability to be at the top of your game. Some people are household names. Martha Stewart. Oprah. Roger Federer. Simon Cowell. Four extraordinary human beings who transcend their fields — tennis, home economics, talk shows,and whatever that black t-shirt wearing judge does,respectively
 
In long form improv, there is one group — a duo actually — that is at the zenith of the discipline. I’m talking about none other than TJ & Dave. Time Out New York encourages us to “drink their Kool-Aid.” And, I have. By the pitcher.
 
TJ & Dave
 
Based in Chicago, TJ & Dave regularly play New York. And, New Yorkers, we’re in luck because the duo is taking over the Barrow Street Theatre in downtown Manhattan June 1st through 4th. Now, I recommend seeing them June 1st, 3rd or 4th (and catching my late night comedy show Ted Greenberg’s The Complete Performer on June 2nd.). Seriously, these guys are not to be missed.
 
For an hour, they create an original play — a spellbinding and hilarious feat — on the spot. Dear friends and frequent collaborators, their chemistry is palpable, electrifying audiences each night. And, I’ve seen them perform multiple times — in fact, I try not to miss them when they’re in town. I can vouch that they are well worth the $20 admission.
 
T.J. Jagodowski and David Pasquesi won the Chicago Improv Festival – Improviser of the Year in 2008 as well as back to back Del Close Awards in 2003 and 2004 for Best Improvised Show. The New York Times has dubbed them “Second City-seasoned masters of long form improv.” If that isn’t enough for you to put down your Benjamin to see them, watch this short trailer about their work.
 

 
Hope to see you at their show this weekend.



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Happy Memorial Day!

Categories: Latest News
Posted: May 28, 2012
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Today, Americans celebrate Memorial Day, a day to honor the men and women who lost their lives while in the US Armed Forces. Although people around the country will host picnics and barbecues and celebrate having a Monday off, Memorial Day is somber in nature. On occasion, though, there is humor found in life, death and war. One such case is Barry Levinson’s film Good Morning, Vietnam.
 
Released in 1987, the film follows Airman Second Class Adrian Cronauer, played by Robin Williams, as he begins working as a DJ for the Armed Forces Radio Service in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Cronauer’s irreverent and sometimes outrageous humor angers his superiors, who want him to adhere to the strict military rules.
 
Cronauer, loosely based on his real-life namesake, also falls for a local woman Trinh, and in an attempt to win her over, begins teaching the English language classes she’s attending. Even there, he has to do it his way: teaching the class slang words and colloquial expresses. Cronauer just cannot do it by the book.
 
Williams was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance, which rumor has it was largely adlibbed. Not a surprise given how quickly his synapses fired in the 1980s. Just watch the trailer to marvel at his rapid-fire impressions.
 

 
Good Morning, Vietnam reminds us that even in the toughest of times, we need laughter. Humor connects in profound ways. My hat’s off to all of our service people today.



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5 Boro Picnyc

Categories: Latest News
Posted: May 24, 2012
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New York is famous for many things: its architecture (Empire State Building), movie locations (Upper West Side thanks to Woody Allen), its comedy (from TV shows Seinfeld and Friends set here to Saturday Night Live, late night TV shows to its comedy spots) and its food (both low brow – hot dogs – and high brow – $55 mac and cheese). And it’s also home to five boroughs — Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. After my weekly Off-Broadway comedy show, I drive a lucky audience group home or to its next destination as long as its within the border of the five boroughs. That’s the only stipulation.
 
Governors Island
 
As a proud New Yorker, I’m excited to visit another enclave of the city this weekend — Governors Island. Just off of Manhattan, the island will host the 5 Boro Picnyc on Saturday the 26th and Sunday the 27th. Normally, I visit Governors Island to bike around during the summer and get away from the city for a moment.
 
This weekend, you can enjoy food from a variety of vendors – Alobar, Jimmy’s No. 43, Vandaag, among others – as well as live music and beer from Sixpoint, one of New York’s most beloved beers. There’s a grilled cheese cook off. And, you’re supporting Slow Food NYC, Earth Matter, Kingsborough Community College, and Teen Battle Chef.
 
Unlike some other recent food festivals, the 5 Boro Picnyc will be a bit easier on your pocketbook and offer fewer choices…but in New York that’s a good thing. Option paralysis can be frustrating. The $25 admission fee includes one drink. Hope to see you on Governors Island to celebrate Memorial Day.
 
There’s nothing better than enjoying some great food and staring back at the beauty of Manhattan. Oh, and don’t forget there’s free ferry service to the island from Brooklyn and Manhattan. Here’s to a great holiday.



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Theatre World Awards

Categories: Latest News,Reviews
Posted: May 21, 2012
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Los Angeles experiences Award Season in January and February while May and June, the end of the theatrical year, is the time in New York. Last week, I wrote about my wishes for Baba Brinkman at the Drama Desk Awards. Today, I take a look at the Theatre World Awards.
 
Since 1945, the Theatre World Awards have been presented “to six actors and six actresses for their significant debut performances in a Broadway or Off-Broadway production.” The actual ceremony — which is invite only — is one of the most joyous and engaging in the world. Why? Because every winner knows that he or she is receiving the award when they show up. There are no losers or artists vying for the same award.
 
Additionally, the awards are hosted by the genial and funny New York theatre critic Peter Filichia. Former Theatre Award winners, though, present the actual award to the winners, and tell very personal and engaging stories about working with or knowing the recipients. For example, two years ago, Vanessa Williams, who took home the trophy for her 1985 performance in Kiss of the Spider Woman, presented the award to her Ugly Betty co-star Michael Urie for his performance in The Temperamentals. Meryl Streep and her two daughters, Mamie Gummer and Grace Gummer, have all received the award as well.
 
At this year’s ceremony, two performers stand out for me: Joaquina Kalukango (Hurt Village) and Hettienne Park (Seminar and The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism & Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures). Kalukango was a standout in the high energy, incisive play about a Memphis housing project and its inhabitants right before its demolition. As a very young teenaged rapper named Cookie, Kalukango was the heart and soul of the play; her insightful observations packed both a comic and heartbreaking punch. She was world weary at 13. It was a beautiful performance, one that has also earned her a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play.
 
Joaquina Kalukango
 
Park was in two very different plays this season. I really enjoyed Seminar, which is Theresa Rebeck’s look at a writers group and its egomaniacal teacher. Alan Rickman starred in the play for most of its run, but I caught the superb Jeff Goldblum as the teacher. Park plays a woman who is willing to use whatever gifts she has to get ahead. Her comic timing was brilliant, and often, surprising.
 
Hettienne Park
 
Congratulations to Joaquina Kalukango and Hettienne Park for their Theatre World Awards. Both are well deserved.



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Werner Herzog in New York City And in Flat Out Funny Documentary

Categories: Latest News
Posted: May 17, 2012
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There are many great things about New York City and its vibrant arts scene. This afternoon, New Yorkers have a chance to hear heralded filmmaker Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man; Aguirre, the Wrath of God; Fitzcarraldo) wax poetic about his piece in this year’s Whitney Biennial. And, there’s nothing funnier or more endearing than hearing the German auteur speak.
 
An avid documentary fan, I will watch just about anything. I will profile some of my other favorite docs in future posts. Right now, I want to focus on Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, the 1980 short film by Les Blank, whose other films have focused on garlic, gap-toothed women and Dizzy Gillespie. For this weird gem, Blank trails Herzog as he prepares to eat his shoe.
 
Now, why exactly would Herzog cook his shoe? A bet, it turns out. Herzog bet aspiring filmmaker Errol Morris that if Morris ever made a film, Herzog would eat his shoe. Upon the release of Gates of Heaven, Morris’s brilliant documentary about pet cemeteries, Herzog kept his word.
 
Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe
 
With the help of famed chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, Herzog tenderizes the shoe, cooking it with duck fat and red hot sauce. Just the act of seriously cooking a shoe is hilarious. Add in Herzog’s deadpan running commentary, and Blank hit comic gold. Here’s a short sample of Herzog’s bon mots: “I’m quite convinced that cooking is the only alternative to filmmaking. Maybe there’s another alternative; that’s walking on foot.” You may watch the 20-minute film in its entirety on YouTube.
 
For tickets and information to see Werner Herzog at the Whitney, which starts at noon, visit the museum’s web site.



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Drama Desk Solo Show Nominations

Categories: Latest News,Off-Broadway Shows
Posted: May 14, 2012
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For four years plus, I have taken the Soho Playhouse stage by storm every Saturday night to perform my mostly one-man comedy show, Ted Greenberg’s The Complete Performer. Being a solo performer has its advantages — the heaps of praise, the thrill of performing for a live audience — and its challenges — what happens on stage is truly on your shoulders. Some people are really up for the challenge, and I’m proud to say that another show that ran for many months in the lovely venue I call home is up for a Drama Desk Award. Baba Brinkman (pictured below), creator and star of The Rap Guide to Evolution, will vie for the Outstanding Solo Performance trophy.
 
Baba Brinkman in The Rap Guide to Evolution
 
Brinkman, a Canadian performer known for his hip hop influenced The Canterbury Tales and The Rap Guide to Evolution, rocked New York for nearly a year with those two shows. The Rap Guide to Evolution first wowed audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before landing in New York and touring around the United States. The show uses Darwin’s theories to explore the evolution of hip hop, all framed by Brinkman’s rapping and Mr. Simmonds’ turntablism. Equally thought-provoking and hilarious, Brinkman turns in a tour de force performance that rouses audiences and wins him many fans, as evidenced by the crowds waiting to meet him post-show. I only wish the show were still running in New York because it was a terrific example of the ingenuity of one-person shows.
 
Of course, the Drama Desk nominations also shine a spotlight on some of the other great solo performances of the 2011 – 2012 season: Suli Holum in Chimera, Jeff Key in The Eyes of Babylon, Cillian Murphy in Misterman, Denis O’Hare in An Iliad and Stephen Spillane in An Iliad. Film star Murphy (28 Days Later, The Dark Night) was terrific and chilling in Misterman while Denis O’Hare, known for his thrilling turn on True Blood, shared the role in An Iliad with Stephen Spillane, alternating performance nights throughout its run at New York Theatre Workshop.
 
Brinkman is in great company amidst the tough competition. But, for a man who has created a show influenced by Charles Darwin, an early proponent of the “survival of the fittest” theory, he wouldn’t have it any other way. When the Drama Desk Awards are presented on June 3, 2012 at The Town Hall in New York, I will be rooting for Baba Brinkman.



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The Funniest Mothers…

Categories: Comedians
Posted: May 10, 2012
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The most important holiday on the calendar is this Sunday — Mother’s Day. Not to offend anyone of a particular religious persuasion — Christmas, Yom Kippur and so many other holidays are important, but we wouldn’t celebrate any of them if we hadn’t been born.
 
And when it comes to comedy, our mothers help us develop our senses of humor and laughter. From the time we are born, we follow our mothers’ cues, listening to their suggestions and watching their verbal and physical tics to understand the world. What is funny. What to eat. What to avoid (hot oven). Moms seriously get us to laugh, play and have fun.
 
Granted some mothers are funnier than others. Anne Meara, mother of Ben Stiller, is one of my favorites. Whether on TV shows Rhoda, The Paul Lynde Show, ALF or even Sex and The City as Steve’s mom, she always brings a heartbreaking sense of comedy — that fine line between sadness and humor. I absolutely loved her in the 1996 film The Daytrippers as the gung ho mom who helps her daughter spy on her supposedly cheating husband. A great film to watch with your mom on the special day.
 
Anne Meara
 
I’d like to also give a shout out to Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg, Emmy winner Melissa McCarthy, and the late, great Lucille Ball for pulling double duty — entertaining the masses and being moms. Whoopi took home the Academy Award for her comic turn in the weepy movie Ghost, which has just opened as a musical on Broadway. She is also known for her comedy specials, hosting The View and for her eponymous TV show. She infuses her roles with verve and spontaneity. Who can forget when her Ghost character — Oda Mae Brown — must part with a very large check that she’s obtained with the help of Patrick Swayze’s dead character — a ghost who has come back to warn his fiancee she’s in danger? Whoopi uses every ounce of aching regret and pouts as she signs the large sum over to a group of nuns.
 
Whoopi Goldberg and Patrick Swayze in Ghost
 
As a former Groundlings member, Melissa first came to my attention as the cook on Gilmore Girls. She was always a breath of fresh air on the the lovely, yet mannered Connecticut-set show. McCarthy, though, really proved her comic muscle in Bridesmaids, which was one of my favorite films of 2011. As the super butch friend, she stole many scenes and the videotape that rolls during the credits further solidifies her comic chops. Her comic foil in the film is her real life husband and father of her two children — Ben Falcome. It’s worth another viewing.
 
Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids
 
It’s hard to imagine where or what sitcoms would be without Lucille Ball. An innovator and honestly comic genius, she created a persona — Lucy — that still reverberates through modern shows. Slightly ditzy, well meaning, yet guileless, Lucy was always utterly watchable and funny. She was able to find joy in the silliest domestic situations. And for that I am grateful. Her kids were often featured in her shows.
 
Lucille Ball
 
Mother’s Day is only a few days away so don’t forget to get your mom a present — card, flowers, candies, tickets to a show — or take her to the movies, to dinner or out dancing. Or better yet, get your Mom laughing. Comedy shows like mine (Ted Greenberg’s The Complete Performer) are a terrific way to lighten the mood and show mom just how much you love her.



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Comedian Rates Eli Manning on Saturday Night Live

Categories: Comedy Shows
Posted: May 7, 2012
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May 5th was a robust day in New York City. Many New Yorkers found ways to celebrate The Kentucky Derby, Cinco de Mayo and New York Giants’ two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning hosting Saturday Night Live. Known for his quiet, reserved Southern charm, Manning, at first blush, doesn’t seem like the idea captain for the long-running late night comedy show. While he didn’t crack my top five all-time SNL hosts, he did receive some favorable feedback.
 
Eli Manning on Saturday Night Live
 
The reviews are in, and most critics give Eli a very good passing grade. The New York Times football blog, The Fifth Down, gave him props for giving it his all. Dan Good of the New York Post praised him for “a clean showing, solid highlights, no major fumbles.” Entertainment Weekly PopWatch Mark Snetiker raved that “the man [Eli] showed he had courage.”
 
Eli is known for his late game heroics — fourth down touchdowns and improbably leading the Giants to victory. It’s happened in both Super Bowls and throughout the 2011 – 2012 season. His SNL appearance was exactly the opposite. He started out stronger – with the monologue ranking the hosting gig as the third best night of his life and a commercial about little brothers.
 
Once he veered into the Scandinavian spoof of Chelsea Lately – ‘Helga Lately’ – the show had turned into a one-note joke. Eli gave it a game try, but asking a man known for his physical, not verbal, prowess to play along and speak ‘gibberish-sounding’ Swedish in his Southern drawl is perhaps asking too much. And for what effect? The skit just didn’t have anything funny to say. Yes, Chelsea Handler, star of Chelsea Lately, loves vodka and is very open about her sex life, particularly in her books. But, there’s not more much to work with other than Fred Armisen playing the Swedish version of Chuy, Chelsea’s small assistant.
 
And, there’s one thing I can live without seeing again: Eli in drag (see why below). Not a pretty sight, and the skit fell flat. While his cue card reading skills are not top notch and occasionally he seemed nervous, Eli, like any self respecting Giants fan would expect, gave it the old college try, and poured his heart into the episode. Unfortunately, it seems like the writers of Saturday Night Live didn’t know quite what to do with him.
 
Eli Manning in drag on Saturday Night Live



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Comedians I Love: Richard Pryor

Categories: Comedians,Comedy Shows
Posted: May 3, 2012
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I’m going to profile my favorite comedians — the men and women who inspired me to start my career as a 15-year-old and continue to influence me — from time to time. I’m starting this series with the one, the only Richard Pryor. Before he passed away in 2005, he created a vast body of work in stand up, on TV, in films and on albums. I’ve already written glowingly about his ‘bromance’ with Gene Wilder, my second favorite in movie history.
 
Seeing Pryor play off his opposite — at least on the outside — in the very pale skinned, wild haired Gene Wilder was comic magic. Through much of his work, he challenged and underscored racial tension, ideals and stereotypes, finding humor where few before him were brave enough to tread.
 
His short-lived The Richard Pryor Show starred Robin Williams, John Witherspoon, Tim Reid and Sandra Bernhardt among others. Lasting only four episodes, it produced the prescient clip below. Playing the first African-American President 31 years before Barack Obama was elected to the White House, Pryor answers political questions with a wound-tight deadpan that unravels with each passing query. Whether championing the merits of sending black people to space or naming Huey P. Newton director of the FBI, Pryor exposes how different the United States might be under African-American leadership.
 
My favorite moment may be when the reporter from the Mississippi Herald identifies himself before posing a question, and Pryor demands, “Sit down.” He has no intention of dealing with someone from a state known for its lynchings and charged racial atmosphere. The joke is so simple and well-timed, you cannot help but laugh. The clip is even more powerful in retrospect. Just imagine Pryor as the 40th President instead of Ronald Reagan. They could not be further apart.
 

 
Richard Pryor was also known for his racy language — as evidenced in the NSFW clip below — but you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who was better at telling a joke. He was a masterful storyteller with a rapid-fire delivery and live-wire body before he was slowed by multiple sclerosis. Look at how much he’s worked up a sweat in this clip. He put everything he had into the bit about boxing — whether lamenting going up against Muhammad Ali or “boxing them dudes who look like they just killed their parents.” Try not to laugh as he hits the microphone against his forehand. It’s impossible.
 

 
Or take this sweet clip about kids lying. It’s reminiscent of Bill Cosby, but there’s something even more cutting in Pryor’s delivery. He’s charming as a small child trying to lie his way out of getting in trouble. The running part is genius — something we’ve all done as kids while trying to skirt the truth.
 

 
In his special, Richard Pryor: Live on the Comic Strip, he recounts going to the Arizona state penitentiary to shoot Stir Crazy. He explains, “It’s strange. It’s about 80% black people. And what’s strange about that is that there are no black people in Arizona.” Watch the NSFW clip and learn about Triple Mike. And how Gene Wilder liked to befriend the men in the pen.
 

 
Richard Pryor left a wonderfully comic legacy. An Emmy and multiple Grammy Award winner, he received the first ever Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for Humor. In addition to the clips, check out his films, particularly Silver Streak, California Suite, Lady Sings the Blues, Stir Crazy and Bustin’ Loose. Or listen to one of his dozen albums. You cannot go wrong.
 
About a year ago, I was honored that Richard Pryor, Jr., son of the legendary comedian, was in the audience at my weekly comedy show — Ted Greenberg’s The Complete Performer. It was an privilege to meet him since my respect for his father’s gifts could not be any bigger.



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