“Tell Your Friends! The Concert Film!”
by Terri Element
This past Thursday September 22nd, I attended the screening of “Tell Your Friends! The Concert Film!” at the Paley Center for Media, with a panel discussion following the film. The film followed an alternative comedy show entitled “Tell Your Friends” in a basement location in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The film is interspersed with interviews of various comedians about alternative comedy, such as Colin Quinn and Janeane Garofalo, who frequently perform in alternative rooms.
One of the main questions posed to a number of comedians in the film was what the term ‘alternative comedy’ meant. They unanimously rejected the term “alternative” comedy, saying that comedy is all just comedy. However, everyone who was interviewed in the documentary also expressed their viewpoint that they felt a difference in the feel of the types of shows that alternative rooms produce, as well as the audiences who come to see them. So if not the term “alternative”, what do we call it, if anything? There must be some sort of term to describe these types of shows that are clearly different than that of a comedy club. On the other hand, are shows and comedians that perform in (mainstream?) comedy clubs not alternative? Are we saying comedy shows in comedy clubs are for everyone? Does that become a putdown to them? Furthermore, many comedians who perform in comedy clubs also perform in alternative rooms as well, as we see in the film.
The comedians in the film expressed their feelings that the alternative scene is a lot like a laboratory where they get to play, experiment and explore more with their material, where it doesn’t have to be polished. In fact, the unpolished may even become a version of polished in that environment. There is more of a relaxed feeling of freedom to the shows. The acts are not always obviously funny. However, many are at least amusing and unusual. Sometimes you will react with the thought, “What the hell was that?” to certain acts, while the person sitting next to you may think the same thing about another act that you love and get.
The thing that impressed me the most about (this taste of) the alternative scene is that there seems to be something for everyone. Not every act is going to be everyone’s flavor, which seems to be not only acceptable, but almost preferable. You will see a variety of different acts in an alternative show, which is represented in this film. There are great “straight” comedians that you would see at a comedy club in Manhattan any night of the week, such as the M.C. of the show in the film, Liam McEnearey (as well as the moderator of the panel discussion after the film) and Christian Finnegan. There are also acts mixed in that you wouldn’t typically see in a Manhattan comedy club. One such example is the musical act of Rob Paravonian. Another example is sketch, including the adorably lispy Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler reenacting the first phone conversation ever. According to their sketch, this first conversation was between Pocahontas and John Smith, which quickly turns into phone sex. There are even comedians whose acts become a multi-media presentation such as Leo Allen, who used Powerpoint in his act to test how good a sense of humor you have. Then there’s the hypnotic Reggie Watts, whose “musical”/synthesizer/Beatbox act I can’t totally explain in writing. It’s just something you have to see. And just as an aside, I highly recommend seeing him.
The question of what alternative comedy is still remains, and is one of those questions like “What is art?” that we will probably never really be able to definitively answer, but will have fun trying.