Tag: Louis C.K.

FEATURE: After 25 Years on the Road, Leslie Jones Becomes a Comedy Star

“This is gonna be kind of a hot one,” Ali LeRoi said.

“I’ve been waiting to sit her ass down for a minute,” Owen Smith said. “One of the funniest women in the game.”

“Funniest comedian in the game,” Jones interrupted. “Not just woman. I hate that shit.” End of introduction.

Comedians are combatants: they “kill,” they “bomb,” they “destroy.” Such bluster can mask insecurity, and Jones had good reason to feel defensive. She was forty-six, and had been a standup comedian for more than a quarter century; her peers respected her, but that respect rarely translated into high-paying gigs. “I remember some nights where I was, like, ‘All right, this comedy shit just ain’t working out,’ ” she told me recently. “And not just when I was twenty-five. Like, when I was forty-five.” She was a woman in a field dominated by men, and an African-American in an industry that remained disturbingly segregated.

Although she had opened for Katt Williams and Dave Chappelle, acted in movies alongside Ice Cube and Martin Lawrence, recorded a standup special for Showtime, and made several appearances on HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam” and BET’s “ComicView,” she worried that the gatekeepers of mainstream comedy—bookers for the “Tonight Show,” casting directors of big-budget films—had never heard her name. “Every black comedian in the country knew what I could do,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean everyone else is paying attention.” Chris Rock, who met Jones when they were both road comics in the late eighties, told me, “Black women have the hardest gig in show business. You hear Jennifer Lawrence complaining about getting paid less because she’s a woman—if she was black, she’d really have something to complain about.”

Jones spent much of her career performing in what she calls “shitty chitlin-circuit-ass rooms, where you’re just hoping the promoter pays you.” She told me that, around 2010, “I stopped only doing black clubs. I stopped doing what I call ‘nigger nights’—the Chocolate Sundays, the Mo’ Better Mondays. I knew how to relate to that audience, and I was winning where I was, but I wasn’t moving forward.” She lived in Los Angeles at the time, and she began asking for spots at the Comedy Store, where David Letterman and Robin Williams got their starts. A comedian named Erik Marino, who befriended her there, said, “She felt very strongly that she was being pigeonholed as a black comic—a BET comic.”

For a while, Jones performed at the Store at odd hours. Then, she said, “I went to the booker and I threw the race card at him. ‘Why you won’t let me go up at ten on a Friday? ’Cause I’m black?’ ” The booker gave her a prime-time slot. “She destroyed, obviously,” Marino said. “Bookers are the ones who care about black rooms versus white rooms. To us comedians, it’s, like, if you know what you’re doing and you can connect with an audience, they’re gonna laugh.”

Rock saw Jones perform at the Store in 2012. After her set, he told her, “You were always funny, but you’re at a new level now.”

“You’re right,” she responded. “But I’m not gonna really make it unless someone like you puts me on.” Rock took out his iPhone and added her name to a list labelled “Funny people.”

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Dave Chappelle Surprises at Hartford’s 2014 Oddball Comedy Festival, Wins over Formerly Hostile Crowd

Dave Chappelle at 2014 Oddball and Curiosity Comedy Festival
Dave Chappelle at 2014 Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival

HARTFORD — One year after he bombed in one of the most notoriously disastrous stand-up sets in memory, Dave Chappelle made a surprise return here — and no one seemed more surprised than he.

“I didn’t think I’d ever come back to Hartford,” he said on Saturday, closing out a star-studded Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival show that was the biggest blockbuster in stand-up this summer.

After being roundly booed and heckled in 2013, Mr. Chappelle had promised that he would never return to Hartford, “not even for gas.” He also joked that if North Korea were to drop a nuclear bomb on the United States, he hoped it would fall on Hartford. He did not retract his criticism (“It was your fault,” he reminded the crowd), but on the day before his 41st birthday, he struck conciliatory notes. “I was really immature,” he conceded, before apologizing for making T-shirts that cursed the city.

The crowd embraced him without restraint, roaring when he appeared onstage, laughing throughout his set and remaining carefully quiet in between jokes. Mr. Chappelle, dressed in a long black dress shirt and smoking a cigarette, said that doing so poorly was hard on him. Then he confessed that he had not prepared anything for this show. “I figured showing up is funny enough.”

The warm show was in a stark contrast to last year’s Oddball performance, which began boisterous, turned contentious and ended with him running out his allotted time by, among other things, reading a book aloud onstage. Media accounts situated the show as part of a pattern of mercurial behavior, including his quitting his hit show on Comedy Central. Some described the evening as a meltdown, others as a crowd run amok.

As Mr. Chappelle has deftly done before, he turned bad press to his advantage, using it for comedy, starting with his next show in Chicago, where he described the Hartford crowd as “evil.” The jokes must have stung, since they earned a response from the mayor of Hartford, Pedro Segarra, who tweeted, “Dave Chappelle needs to quit whining, do his job and try some yoga.”

Mr. Chappelle’s return capped a dynamite night of stand-up comedy featuring a murderers’ row of comics, including Sarah Silverman, Hannibal Buress, Dave Attell, Amy Schumer, Aziz Ansari and Louis C.K. In a nice bit of suspense-generating stagecraft, Louis C.K., the final act on the bill, finished his set, started walking offstage, only to stop, return to the microphone and dramatically tell everyone to stay, before introducing Mr. Chappelle.

Last year’s Hartford show was so infamous that at several points, jokes by comics evoked the controversy. When after Mr. Ansari made his entrance and thanked the crowd, he made a joke demanding to know whether the audience would finally be quiet and let him speak.

Louis C.K. made an even more pointed jab by opening his set by saying of Hartford, “Nice area,” then making a wry face. The large screens picked up his smile and raised eyebrows when he held onto the moment, extending the pause, and repeating sarcastically, “Really nice.” With a new set dense with jokes, Louis C.K. was in peak form, returning to bread-and-butter subjects like raising two kids and also mining humor through some of the most unpredictable punch lines in comedy. After a setup about trying to answer the question of why babies always cry on planes, he concluded, “They are upset about gay marriage.”

Mr. Chappelle made a callback to this joke in a bit he does about Chaz Bono. While Mr. Chappelle comes off as the absent-minded enigma, he has a showman’s sense of event honed over a lifetime of performing. (He did his first stand-up set in Washington at the age of 14.) But on this night, he also seemed genuinely moved by the response.

“Are you sure this is Hartford?” Mr. Chappelle asked toward the end. Then, not much later, looking pleased and a little mischievous, he pointed to the front rows and said, “There’s someone giving me the middle finger.”

article by Jason Zinoman via nytimes.com