Laughing All The Way To The Bank

Yo Guys, You can stop sending me emails. I am now adding new content. Thanks so much for the nice feedback, and please keep checking out Blue Fringe, Chris Mills, and The Fray.

It is the world’s most scoffed-at art form. It has been denounced as vulgar, irreverent, and irrelevant. It has been decried as filthy, simple and, for lack of a better word—stupid. It is stand-up comedy, and despite the way that the rest of the pop-culture universe looks at it, stand-up is performed in basements, attics, and back rooms of countless Chinese restaurants across the country. And, what’s more, it’s blasting its way past every barrier en route to your sophisticated eyeballs and carefully maintained eardrums. Whether you like it or not.

For a long time, music has distanced itself from comedy, especially stand-up, and rarely does a comedy album reach a prominent spot on the record charts. Large record labels usually do not put out comedy albums, and at the end of 2005, only two of the top 200 albumDane Cook's Retaliations were of the comedy variety. But in 2006, one comedian with a great idea and a few hundred thousand friends flipped the entire world of pop culture on its ass. His name is Dane Cook, and his album, Retaliation, is helping comedy move out of the “Soundtrack” and “Spoken Word” sections, and onto the Billboard charts.

If one had to pinpoint an exact moment where comedy’s Retaliation began, you would have to go back to 1979, at about the time that Barry Crimmins, an aspiring comic, walked into the Ding Ho restaurant in Cambridge, MA and convinced the owner to let him book a few shows. The products of those sessions, which featured chucklemeisters like Steve Sweeney, Lenny Clarke, Denis Leary, Tony V, and Steven Wright, cemented Boston’s place in comedy history, and kickstarted a New England laugh scene that is still going strong today. The Ding Ho shows stopped in 1984, but the torch has essentially been passed to another Cambridge restaurant, Rick Jenkins’ The Comedy Studio, a joint that also features rising stars at decent cover price.

While not as impressive in size as the New York and Los Angeles—you can count all of the city’s comedy clubs on your fingers—Beantown promises instant success to anyone that can get a few laughs, puts a little work in, and distinguishes himself from the crowd. A scene is defined by its devotees, not its fans. Fans may own a Carlin album, catch one show every six years if Seinfeld comes to town on a weekend, and never even think of going to see an unknown comic. Devotees study comedy, they see it once or twice or three times a week. Devotees are often the first to see a rising star, and, much like local music aficionados, know the local ‘scene’ and everyone in it. Boston is filled with these enthusiasts.

But long after the Ding Ho closed, the restaurant’s old patrons caught a glimpse of genius in the explosive, violent style of Dane Cook, and soon, the word was out. Now, five years later, after two albums, hundreds of shows, millions of laughs, the Daneiac is quite possibly the most popular man in the United States. If Cook went on the Ed Sullivan Show today, he’d be a tough act for The Beatles to follow.

But unlike musicians, comedians aren’t signed by top record companies, and don’t receive instant stardom. Fame is not handed over on a silver platter. So how did Dane Cook go from Nick’s Comedy Stop near Chinatown to hosting SNL? By making his fans bosom buddies. By ‘friending’ every MySpacer who asked him. By signing every autograph. By shaking every hand after every show. By pouring his life savings into building an interactive website. By devoting time, energy, and money into connecting individually with fans, Cook has become the hottest name in showbiz.

Forget Johnny Carson. Forget Letterman. Today, comedians are quickly following CooJoe Listk with their own MySpace sites. Future superstars and established comedy veterans like Myq Kaplan, Danny Hirshon, Gary Gulman, Bobby Kelly, Joe List (at left), Sarah Silverman, Jim Norton, and Jay Davis all have profiles, and use cyberspace as a vehicles to build support and fill seats. MySpace is the new town crier, and the operators of the service fully embraced the site’s new role as Chief Chuckle Lighthouse by setting up a MySpace comedy section. But the major beneficiary of this MySpace boom has not been the comedians themselves, but the network that validates them. Comedy Central.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last decade, you know what Comedy Central is. It brought you the shows that you quote the most often. Fine programs like “South Park,” “The Dave Chappelle Show,” “Mind of Mencia,” and “Reno 911!,” the left-right punch combo of Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” and Stephen Colbert’s “The Colbert Report,” both bastions of earnest, balanced reporting; but at the nucleus of Comedy Central is the Comedy, and it is the “Comedy Central Presents…” series is what has made it the Center of Comedy (thus the name). The success of the aforementioned shows has brought a special, well-deserved reputation to the network—as the channel to turn on when you want a laugh. Comedy stars like Jim Gaffigan, Bill Burr, Bob Saget (yes, THAT Bob Saget), Lewis Black, Brian Regan, Greg Giraldo and Stephen Lynch appear regularly, and, as a result, Comedy Central has threatened Fox News’ once secure position as the biggest joke on television.

But on a completely unserious note, armies of comedy fans have overrun record stores in search of a few chuckles. And of course, many of them are passengers on the “Dane Train.” Cook’s sophomore album Retaliation, which debuted at #4 on the Billboard charts, has now become the best-selling comedy album ever. As if to cement Cook’s celebrity status, his new show “Tourgasm,” a behind the scenes look at Cook and three comedy compadres who hit the cross-county road in an awesome tour bus, ripped it up at the (Home) Box Office, and enforced the belief that Stand-Up comedy is dynamite “Dane-o-mite,” and it’s coming to taking over a record store near you.

And that is some serious LOL.

Take that home and chew on it, it’s delicious.

Till later,

Alex E.

Some Boston Comedy Clubs:
The Comedy Connection
The Comedy Studio
Dick Doherty’s Comedy Vault @ Remington’s
Nick’s Comedy Stop

 

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This article is unedited thus far.

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Alex Edelman’s Myspace is www.myspace.com/alexedelmancomedy

Jumping Into The Fray- My First Next Big Thing

Some of you old timers may know it. It’s an odd type of thrill. The idea that you have been privy to a secret that only a select few know. Like being in on the inside joke before it became known to others. It’s seeing a band– before they hit it big.

U-2 at the Paradise Rock Lounge in 1983,

The Rolling Stones open with Mozart in 1562 (I kid)

Dave Matthews in a coffee shop in Charlottesville, VA in 1991.

Jeff Buckley at Sin-é a few years later.

 

Every band has had its modest startings, and, being a teenager, I had never really heard a band before they hit it big.

 

Until I heard the Fray last November.

 

It was a cold night on November 5, 2005– exactly the time and place where one might find musical gold. The Orpheum is an alleyway theatre at the end of Hamilton Place in Boston’s Park Street Gardens, the border between the gleaming neighborhoods that hold the 40,000 seat Boston Garden arena, and How To Save a Lifethe blocks that once held the infamous Chinatown Combat Zone– where there are clubs that can’t fit 40, much less 40,000.

 

The funny thing is, that night; no one is coming to see this unknown band from Denver, CO. They are coming to see Piano Rock living legend/maestro/creative genius Ben Folds, the main act that the Fray is opening for. While the band begins its set, most of the people who were able to get tickets to Folds’ concert are still clambering off the Boston Trolleys (Or “T’s,” as us locals affectionately refer to them). The ages range from teenaged babysitters to middle-aged baby boomers, and they all stumble down the dark street, away from the Boston Common, towards the Orpheum’s grimy exterior, in search of their bi-annual Folds fix.

 

Inside, Isaac Slade (see photo at right), the front man of The Fray, Isaac Sladelaunches into the piano solo that heralds the song that the band has now become known for (“Over My Head”). Slade and his mates have come a long way from their hometown of Denver, Colorado, and they are enjoying the new adulation that comes from a national tour. The theatre is less then half full, but gradually, all private conversations cease, and the members of the Fray have the full attention of the crowd. Many cheer… but others simply see the Fray as the last buffer between them and Ben Folds— they wait for the set to be over.

 

I leave the theatre awed at the musical genius of Ben Folds, but a little nagging thought pushes its way into my head.

 

Who in the hell are The Fray to make me want to hear them again? So I figure on doing what I always do when I hear a band whose songs stick in my head. Listen to their best work over and over, until I get tired of them, and eventually, when they fade further down on my playlist and slip from my mind, I look for a new band.

 

Fast forward to April 26th. The Fray is still on my mind. I find their album How to Save a Life (buy it here) to be the best freshman work I have ever heard, and the title song to be melodic, adrenaline-filled, and touching. When I hear their signature track “Over My Head (Cable Car),” on the radio in Arizona, or on the top 10 list on iTunes, or an article about them in Rolling Stone magazine, I get excited, and I know that, even if I missed U-2 in ’83—I saw the Fray in ’05.

Take this home and chew on it.

It’s delicious.

Alex E.

 

P.S. I will keep writing about these guys. They rule.

A Genius Goes Wall To Wall– Chicago’s Rising Star

Like The Smashing Pumpkins, Alkaline, and Fallout Boy, Chicago has once again given the world of Alternative Rock a gift that may shake its very foundations. But this is a gift you won’t have heard of. At least not yet. Chris Mills is an astonishing mix of simple mathematical equations, raw  talent, and musical genius. In simple mathematics, Chris Mills is like your neighborhood rock player, except he’s a few decibels louder, he’s got a smile that’s a few megawatts brighter, and he’s about a hundred times more talented. Oh, and he’s touring with Ben Folds. So if Chris Mills is a Calculus SAT II test problem, then Garage-Band Billy next door who keeps you up at night is kindergarten arithmetic. But, in essence, it’s still the same subject; at 31 years of age Mills still plays with the same passion and fervor of any 13-year old jamming next to his mom’s Honda with his high school pals. But the Second City native isn’t only playing with his old friends, he’s following in the path of Ben Folds’ Live at Perth, the Ray Charles Masters albums, and Elton John’s Masterworks— he is playing with an orchestra—and that is the Genius of Chris Mills.

In the four years since Mills’ 2002 breakout album, The Silver Line, the rap on him was that his music was no longer unique or exciting, lacked the certain dragon’s breath that made good music great. But in 2005, Mills, who had good connections in the music industry, made a snap decision that defined him. Like Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. before him, Mills decided to go for broke with an album completely beyond the scale of anything he had ever done before. In the North Chicago ‘Wall to Wall’ studio, an 18-piece orchestra braved a Windy City snowstorm to play behind Mills, and, in what may later be remembered as a crucial moment in musical history, a blitzkrieg of creativity, an Chris Mills in Chicagoambitious full-frontal assault on the boundaries of music took place. The instruments encompassed the entire music world, from the glockenspiel to the guitar, violin to vocals, saxophone to baritone, filling up the room, actually, from Wall to Wall. A perfect amalgamation of old school (the album was not dubbed, giving it a 60’s feel), and new (the album features vibes, an instrument virtually unheard of in conventional rock world) gave the album an expansive feel, and in less then 48 hours—The Wall to Wall Sessions came into existance.

The first track, in my opinion, the best two-minutes and forty five seconds of any Indie rock album, is entitled “Chris Mills Is Living The Dream.” And is even better then his hit song from The Silver Line, “Diamond,” a personal favorite that never fails to get played at his live performances.

  Chris Mills explains: “Well, I had just gotten back from being on tour, and I was at home, and working delivering pizzas and stuff. One day, I was folding pizza boxes or something, and my co-worker asked me, ‘what else do you do?’ I told him that I had just returned from Europe on tour, I made records, and all that stuff… he said to me, ‘man, you’re living the dream.’ And I thought, ‘What dream?’ I’m sitting here folding pizza boxes, totally broke… Sometimes the dream is being trapped in an elevator, so what dream am I living in? Maybe a nightmare?’” Wall To Wall Sessions

 

Living The Dream features the album’s best chorus:

 

"Ashes to ashes, trust to dust/I don’t know what it means/To be burned by something that you love so much/I think I must be living the dream."

I could talk more about this album, or you can hear it for yourself by buying it.

Thanks to one of Chris’ friends, Jared Reynolds, Chris Mills really IS living the dream. He is touring with Ben Folds, one of the nation’s most popular artists, and playing to sold out shows in some of the country’s best rock clubs. Folds, much like Mills, has just ripped off an album entitled Songs For Silverman that has marked his musical maturity. Folds’ concert seems to move backwards in chronological order, from the family guy he is now in “Gracie” to a disillusioned youth joining the “Army” to the more “Sentimental Guy” he once was (THAT is a story for another time though.) Though Mills is building a fan base, Folds is much more popular, and as Mills steps to a packed stage at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, RI at 9:00 on April 4, with his drummer Gerald Dowd (who played with him on the Wall Sessions and also with Mills’ old band, City That Works), he realizes that the crowd is not there to hear him play—but they see him simply “as the last thing standing between them and Ben Folds.” To many artists, that may seem an annoyance, but Mills is an easygoing guy with a great attitude, modest manner, and a genuine grin that seams to constantly on his face. After the show, while the opening act tries to sell his new album to exiting fans, Lindsey Jamieson leans up against the bus and drinks a beer out of a red plastic cup, Jared Reynolds lights up a cigarette, the glare illuminating his mossy face—he comments casually:

 

“Chris did a hell of a job tonight.”  

 

Lindsey turns.

 

“No doubt…”

 

They are right, Chris Mills is insanely talented, and, fortunately for me, Providence is lucky enough to be a host to that talent. And though many fans don’t know the words and arent paying attention I sing along with the start of “Living the Dream”

 

"I dreamed I was Richard Pryor/Running on fire down the Sunset Strip/And as the flames burned brighter, my head grew lighter/And I watched the flesh fall from my fingertips.”

 

Chris Mills grins, and it is then that the ten people in the joint that are paying close attention can plainly see that Chris Mills is lying. He may not be having the easiest time making it big, but the smile on his face betrays the lyrics he sings.  Up on that stage, Mills is living the dream, and, though he may fold pizza boxes in a Chicago neighborhood, he is the richest man in the world…

 

 "Ashes to ashes, trust to dust/I don’t know what it means/To be burned by something that you love so much/I think I must be living the dream."

Matisyahu– JDub on the Fringe

In the 1920’s, when Jazz and Big Band music was at it’s apex, a new type of sound started to appear. Invented by church choirs across the south, it was pioneered by Blues luminaries like Thomas A. Dorsey, Sallie Martin, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, Willie Mae Ford Smith. It was originally known as "holy rolling," but would evolve into what became known as Gospel. Gospel, originally a grassroots movement, would influence Ray Charles and James Brown to give us soul, help Elvis Presley swing his hips, and let singers like Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Al Green find their groove.

Today, another grassroots movement is emerging. A stranger genre, more obscure today then Gospel was 90 years ago– Jewish Modern Music.

Like all good grassroots movements, Jewish Music, or JDub to some of it’s fans, has had it’s own  Thomas A. Dorsey– an Alternative music sensation named Matisyahu who has been capturing the interest of orthodox Jewish teens who otherwise might not pay the slightest attention to music. Matisyahu has not only provided Jews a look into the music world, he has provided the music world a look into JDub music, and all that it has to offer. Matisyahu

The Jewish reggae star is, despite his platinum albums, national acclaim, and worldwide tours, still only part of a fringe music type, one that is still growing out of it’s stages of infancy– for now.

 

One new band in particular, a rock group known as Blue Fringe, personifies the grassroots origin of JDub music. Four twenty-something year olds that met at Yeshiva University of New York City in 2001, Blue Fringe began their musical careers touring Jewish summer camps in places like Upstate New York. With a growing young adult fanbase, it was no surprise that Blue Fringe’s first album, entitled My Awakening, sold more then 15,000 copies, and firmly established Blue Fringe as the "best thing to happen to Jewish teens since Oreos were made kosher."

 

Blue Fringe is a major force today in JDub music, and some of it’s counterparts have also risen to prominence in the Jewish underground music scene, including the Jewish Rock bands Moshav, Balkan Beat Box, Beyond Eden, and Slivovitz… Blue Fringe's My Awakening

More news on JDub as it develops. A new gospel? You never know.

Take that one home and chew on it. It’s delicious.

Till Next Week.

Alex E.

A last note- When I first heard Blue Fringe in 2002, at a summer camp in the Poconos, I asked their bassist, Avi Hoffman, if the band was a long term thing. No, he replied, just temporary to earn some cash. Fast forward to fall of 2005, I ran into Avi again. "Still temporary?" I asked.

Avi just smiled…

A-Ha! A fresh view

If you are familiar with the authors on this website, you will notice that alot of the blogs are about the 1980’s. To teenagers today, the eighties was a complicated time– filled with change, baby formula, and first words (mine were all four verses of Elton John’s Rocket Man).

Since most teenagers didn’t experience the eighties, it is viewed by many of the members of Generation Y as a decade filled with Pac-Man, bad hair, and ugly shirts. But thanks to Family Guy, a popular show created by televisionary Seth MacFarlane, teens today are getting a little dose of the eighties once more– this time without the Gerber.

 In 1986, the music video for A-Ha’s single, ‘Take On Me’ was nominated for an MTV Music Video award– and for good reason. The movie version of ‘Take On Me,’ featuring a special type of animation known as "roto-scoping," was a smash hit the US and UK alike, and quickly made A-Ha one of the most popular bands of the 1980’s.

It has been more then twenty years since ‘Take On Me’ was popular, but it only took a fifty-second segment on Family Guy to bring it all back, providing you old-timers with a healthy bit of nostalgia and us youngsters with yet another punchy Family Guy gem.

Take a look

Chris Griffen Meets A-Ha!

Chew on that. It’s delicious.

Until Next Time:

Alex E.

 

Chris Griffin Meets A-Ha!