It’s the Thursday before a three-day holiday weekend and over here at my house we’re sleep-training a four-month-old baby, a wrenching endeavor that requires sitting in a dark room and watching an infant scream at the top of his lungs until he finally decides to go to sleep. Witnessing that level of primal anguish up close for long stretches of time…it changes you. The wailing paired with all the unsolicited parenting advice on Facebook are turning me into a deranged wraith. I’m convinced that I could now play a better Joker than Jared Leto.
Luckily, there’s comedy. This week I’m revisiting a couple subjects from previous columns that still manage to crack me up.
First off, the SoCal Comedy Fest is happening this weekend! Unlike the many other fly-by-night festivals that bait hopeful comics with the allure of industry exposure then soak them for submission fees, SoCal guarantees a festival credit for every single comic who ponies up. The only catch: The festival will never actually happen. I interviewed producer Zach Broussard about it back in July.
I caught up with Broussard today and he informed me that 122 comics “made the cut”—i.e. successfully entered their credit card information—including what may or may not be the real Marc Maron. The festival opens this evening and shows will take place in fictitious venues all over LA, including “Grauman’s Taiwanese Theatre,” “The ‘Y’ in the Hollywood Sign,” “Abandoned Backdraft Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood” and “Haley Joel Osment’s Backyard.”
Local comic Andy Miller is featured in the Fest, showing up notably on the second line of the poster. I asked him how it felt to be an official Headliner in this entirely theoretical festival he said, “It makes me so proud to be among the upper ranks of some very qualified performers.”
Broussard says he’s sold an impressive ten tickets to the nonexistent festival so far.
Last March I interviewed Vic Berger, the comic-genius filmmaker who makes hilarious videos of presidential campaign events that almost succeed in making the whole nightmarish season worthwhile. Since we talked, Berger’s star has risen ever higher. He went on the road with Tim Heidecker to cover both conventions and he continues to plumb the psychic depths of celebrity with deviously manipulated video montages of pet subjects like televangelist/bucket-food salesman Jim Bakker and horndog rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Chubby Checker. (This mesmerizing Chubby Vine is probably the closest the genre will ever get to a Renaissance masterpiece.)
Lately Berger has found a new target on which to rest his unblinking gaze: comedian and Family Feud frontman Steve Harvey. It started with this wonderwork, which repurposes Harvey’s deadpan double takes to create a tragic portrait of a man forced to endure an unending stream of potty-mouthed idiocy:
In his newest video, Berger documents Harvey’s further mental collapse at the hands of his audience:
At the risk of over-intellectualizing something so bizarrely, beautifully funny, Berger’s videos occupy a frontier space beyond cringe comedy. They’re equal parts disturbing and entertaining. They don't rely on gags or tropes or pop-culture references; their humor seems to be driven purely by pathos and inner tension. I can’t quite put a finger on what makes them work or how Berger arrived at his unnerving, instantly recognizable aesthetic, but I like it.
Photo by Angela George.