In 2009, foul-mouthed comedian Sarah Silverman and goofy late-night send-up Jimmy Kimmel publicly ended their six-year relationship. Before they split, the two seemed inseparable. They were the First Couple of Comedy, famous for their rolicking game of viral video one-upmanship, which involved singing about fucking Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, respectively. They appeared in Esquire together. Silverman was a frequent fixture on Kimmel’s couch. They even reunited or a short spell. So to see two people who seemed so right for each other fail to work things out was, in a word, heartbreaking.
● Completely unfazed by the tattoos and cigs, Courtney Love thinks all these pictures of her daughter, Frances Bean, are quite nice. “Well yeah she’s beautiful,” she said. “What else did you expect! She’s my kid!” [NYO] ● Beyoncé is perfect, we know, and her habit of buying fans and staff pizza of course doesn’t hurt. [Page Six] ● The Game went on CNN and apologized nicely to the Compton Police Department for tweeting their phone number and jamming their lines, so the police are dropping all charges. [CNN]
● Sarah Silverman’s new show has started the season’s first bidding war, with NBC, ABC, and Fox all vying for the “single-camera comedy loosely based on Silverman’s life.” [Deadline] ● With “Friday Night” at number one this week, Katy Perry joins Michael Jackson as just the second artist ever to have five singles from an album hit the top spot on the Billboard. Try and resist any further comparisons between the two. [THR] ● Martha Stewart must know: Do you think she’s hip? [Martha Stewart/Twitter]
Last January, I almost lost my sense of humor. If you had locked me in a room and played a marathon of funny films, I would have left drowning in tears. It was a daunting period: I went through a numbingly brutal breakup and watched as several publications I had been writing for regularly folded; I struggled with insomnia, sought out an analyst, and started chain smoking. After the subject of an article I wrote for Penthouse, long-time Howard Stern sidekick and stand-up comic Artie Lang, attempted suicide – stabbing himself nine times in the abdomen with a kitchen knife – I spun into a full-fledged breakdown. I had become close to Lange after nearly a year of interviews, and the news was almost too much to bear.
Strangely, after it became clear that Lange would survive, I found myself inspired by the comic’s ability to make people laugh even as he was suffering himself. As the days trickled by outside, I turned to writing comedy sketches of my own in my increasingly disorganized downtown apartment. In early autumn, after four months of hoarding my joke ideas in piles of post-it notes and surveying my friends and colleagues for approval, I arrived at Comedy Cellar for the first time.
The famed comedians’ clubhouse on West Third Street and MacDougal is nestled in the heart of a neighborhood I had always written off as New York University freshman territory, with its hookah bars and hole-in-the-wall falafel joints. Sure enough, when I arrived outside, an eager crowd stretched from the front entrance all the way around the block: older couples who looked a touch too excited to be standing on a line, a bridge and tunnel baccalaureate posse, a few die-hard comedy groupies. I felt out of place, a lost soul seeking alternative therapy for my depression, cloaking my intentions behind a journalistic endeavor. It wasn’t the ideal support group, but I had spent enough time alone in my East Village fortress twisting and turning punch lines, and now I wanted to learn from the best. I also wanted to laugh again.
For decades, Comedy Cellar has served as a sounding board both for aspiring comics and established talents sharpening new material. Its many distinguished alumni include Chris Rock, Ray Romano, Jon Stewart, Gilbert Gottfried, and Dave Chappelle. I watched John Mayer slip by, incognito in a hooded sweatshirt and a backpack suitable for a camping trip. I later learned that he, too, was flirting with the idea of pursuing stand-up.
After waiting for 20 minutes, I made my way past the club’s gatekeeper and descended the steps into the aptly-named basement space. Comedy Cellar holds only 150 seats and isn’t much bigger than a railroad apartment. There’s a classic stand-up club brick wall behind the floor-level stage, putting the comics at an intimate, almost uncomfortable proximity to their audience. Most of the patrons look as though they’ve already exceeded the two-drink minimum. That night, veteran funnymen Dave Attell and Louis C.K. were in the lineup along with several up-and-comers, but at the Cellar, all comedians receive the same amount of time and pay: $25 for an eight-minute set.
“Welcome to the late show!” boomed William Stephenson, the on-again-off-again host at Comedy Cellar for the last 20 years. “Here’s what is going to happen. In a few minutes I will say the name of a very funny comedian who will come to the stage to a thunderous round of applause. They will say words to you. You will laugh at them. They will leave. I will come back and we will do the same shit until it’s time to go.”
My first night at the club I kept a low profile save for when a loudmouth comic, Jessica Kirson, caught a glimpse of my morose expression and announced to the audience, “This girl need to get fucked!” It was humiliating, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel exhilarated by the interaction. The very next night I returned to the Cellar.
Dave Attell performing at Comedy Cellar
After the show, I wandered up to the Olive Tree, the restaurant and favored comic hangout that directly connects to the Cellar through a backstage door and a steep stairway. While it’s open to the public, the back two tables, in the darkest corner of the restaurant, are permanently reserved for comedians. Small colored lamps hang above each table, creating a spotlight effect. The tables themselves are made of slate and come equipped with bowls of chalk—meant for comics to scribble material. Cellar regular and character actor of 30 Rock fame Judah Friedlander—bearded, bespectacled, wearing his trademark trucker hat and “World Champion”-emblazoned jacket—leaned against a jukebox. Dave Attell paced by the bar, sipping coffee from a Styrofoam Dunkin’ Donuts cup, a soon to be smoked cigarette between his tense lips. Saturday Night Live alum and popcorn-flick mainstay Tracy Morgan was being Tracy Morgan. “BITCHEEEZ BE CRAAAAZY!” he announced to nobody in particular. Colin Quinn, former SNL Weekend Update Anchor-turned-Broadway star, swaggered into the room alongside Jerry Seinfeld, who was directing Quinn’s play. They all had a startling cartoonish look about them—too painfully recognizable.
Surrounded by career comedians, I considered the possibility of a future at the Olive Tree’s back tables. I wanted to be funny. I was funny, wasn’t I? My friends thought so, at least. If only I could reduce my problems to one-liners, I thought, maybe everything would instantly feel right again.
“Quite the star-studded night,” Noam Dworman, the owner of the Cellar, said to me as he passed by the table where I sat alone nursing a glass of white wine and doodling on the slate tables. Dworman is a bookish man in his mid-forties with a full head of cherubic salt-and-pepper ringlets, who, despite his success running the club, is seldom seen laughing — a disposition not far out of step with the perpetually sleepy feel that hangs over the club in spite of the incredible comic talent gathered there and the endless variety of caffeinated beverages they consume. Noam’s father, the late Manny Dworman, opened the Cellar in 1960 as Cafe Feenjon, a Middle Eastern nightclub featuring “cross-cultural” music. In the early 1980s, comics started showing up after hours. The impromptu stand-up thrived, and the club was soon re-christened as Comedy Cellar.
“We were the new kids on the block. Catch a Rising Star and the Improv were the leading comedy clubs,” Noam told me later that night about the club’s first days. “My father had a great rapport with the comedians.” At that time, Jerry Seinfeld—then known as Jerome—could be seen doing “food spots.” Dworman explained, “We couldn’t pay them, but we would feed them.” I knew it was hard for a comic to kill right out of the gate, but as I watched a throng of established comedians humbly paying their respect to Jerome across the room, it was surreal to picture the Seinfeld literally working for scraps.
Hoping for some words of encouragement or wisdom that I could apply to my own evolving act, I asked Dworman if he believed a person could learn to be funny. He told me, “If you have it, you can only get better at it, but if you don’t, there’s not much you can do.”
* * * *
The Cellar became my haunt. “You again?” was a phrase I’d grow accustomed to hearing from staffers and comics alike. And while at first they kept me at bay with playful jabs and, on occasion, outright cold shoulders, my determination — my obsession — to infiltrate the comedy world held strong. I was now convinced that comedy was the perfect means to escape my own demons, even to reconstruct some kind of social life. One night in early August, my efforts paid off when I was begrudgingly offered a chair at the comics’ table.
Judah Friedlander performing at Comedy Cellar
Soon I was spending most of my nights at the Olive Tree until last call listening to the comedians vent about the state of their worlds (offstage and on), cursing each other and themselves as they went over bits from their evening’s performances. “Three times is the rule,” explained Julian McCullough, an amiable comic with the face of a homecoming king after the late show one evening. “If I don’t get anything after three times, it’s just my threshold for pain…I never ask people if something is funny. Your friends don’t know better than three audiences.”
Most comics will boil down an hour’s worth of material into a polished routine good enough to take on the road or on a late-night television spot. Almost no one, I was beginning to realize, is privy to the excruciating self-editing process that precedes a show. Furthermore, a comedian doesn’t know which jokes will work—and which will fail miserably—until they’re performing live. “A perfect joke for me is when 40% of the audience likes it. That way I know it is a specific point of a view and I’m not being a crowd pleaser,” said Nick DiPaolo, a quarter-century-toughened stand-up with a bullish demeanor, and one of the few politically conservative comics to have made the Cellar his second home. When I ask about his take on Last Comic Standing, a reality show that aired on NBC from 2003 to 2010, and which paved the way for a spate of greener comics, DiPaolo huffily answered, “It totally misrepresents what stand up is. A guy comes out and does a mediocre spot and gets a standing ovation. Would I let some network jerk-off tell me what’s funny in a room with no audience? The crowd [on Last Comic Standing] never sucks. It’s so false.” He paused, and then lit up, “Even to this day, the Cellar will keep you honest. It separates the men from the boys. If you ask me how clubs have changed, there are a lot of women running them. And they’re pretty good.”
Tellingly, females – the girls and the women – are absent are absent from DiPaolo’s estimation of the Cellar. Women remain pitifully underrepresented in the comic sphere. There are just under a dozen females who regularly perform, but never will you see two comediennes booked in a row. Female comics who do choose to enter this boy’s club must be comfortable with having their membership constantly challenged—and their sexuality used against them. Joan Rivers, a pioneer for female comics, used to tell a joke so true that it rang bittersweet: “My name is Joan Rivers, and I put out.” Susie Essman, made famous as the loud-mouthed wife of Larry David’s agent on Curb Your Enthusiasm, was among the first women to perform at the Cellar, and while she recalls her time there fondly, she still gets heated when asked about the dearth of female performers at the club. “They wouldn’t book more than one woman a night,” she told me of her days performing at the Cellar. “It’s like they think we are going to go on stage and talk about our periods. Who the fuck would do that?”
Among the new generation of women to successfully infiltrate the comedy sphere is Rachel Feinstein. After she performed one night, I sat down with the doe-eyed brunette for drinks. When I expressed interest in her performance, she responded with modesty and humility. We were soon gossiping about men, the abundance of “dick jokes,” and her path to Comedy Cellar. “I guess that I always wanted to be one of those people that could have been a doctor or a scientist and I made this noble decision to leave it all for the arts but I had no other apparent talents,” she said.
Comedy Cellar’s Famous Stage
For me, however, the challenge of getting a foot in the door at the Cellar was daunting enough. I also realized that comedy wasn’t necessarily an entirely male-based cabal conspiring to keep women out of the business – and that the person conferring entry to the club (and the Club) was, in fact, a woman herself. Known as “The Most Feared Woman in Stand-Up Comedy,” Estee Adoran is the Israeli-born matriarch of Comedy Cellar, and she’s held court there since the days of Manny Dworman. Slightly zaftig, she has the pleasant face of an elementary school teacher offset by the razor-sharp tongue of a drill sergeant. Adoram books comics, auditions newer talents, and has little patience for the undeserving (including myself). No one gets to grace the Cellar stage without going through Estee. She booked the first tier of notable comics to graduate from the club: Chris Rock, Dave Attell, Louis C.K. They’ve earned her respect—and she theirs. Even Los Angeles has its own comic matriarch. The world-famous Comedy Store was founded by Mitzi Shore, who ran it with her husband Sammy Shore until 1973, when she took over operations herself.
* * * *
I had spent nearly every night at the Cellar for a month when I finally felt ready to try out a few of my own jokes. On a Wednesday night during the brief interval between the 9 and 11pm shows, I sat down with one of the club’s managers, Steve Fabricant, to test out some of my material. True to life, you can see Fabricant in the opening credits of Louie, Louie CK’s TV show on FX, greeting the comedian as he steps into the Cellar. Just before my audition, I asked Fabricant what he’d learned about aspiring comics over the years, and he told me, “The biggest misconception is that all comedians are a bunch of clowns. Talent plays such a crucial role in what can’t be taught.” Then he adjusted his posture and looked directly at me – this was it. “Okay, let’s hear it.”
I don’t exactly remember the first joke I told. All I recall is monologuing—okay, blathering—about the acid-induced time I lost my virginity and something to do with my Catholic grandmother calling me mid-coitus. Fabricant interrupted me before I could even deliver the punch line: “Who the fuck do you think you are? Sarah Silverman?”
I felt as if the Apollo Theater’s legendary “executioner” would appear at any moment, broom in hand, to whisk me out of the Cellar and back to my dismal reality. Though I was only performing for Fabricant, the weight he carried as a gatekeeper of the club’s stage made his critique devastating. In the glum, awkward silence that followed I tried to drum up a good comeback, but instead found myself dopily telling him about the comics who’d encouraged me as I tore up a cocktail napkin and nervously applied a disturbing amount of lip-gloss. Had I been unfairly interrupted or was that just the nature of the business? I excused myself and walked around the block, my head swimming with frantic thoughts. I glared at a crop of comics and groupies hanging outside the club, laughing. I couldn’t stand it.
“There’s nothing worse than a person who wants to be funny but isn’t. It’s fucking painful.” I heard the voice of Jim Norton, veteran comic and third mic on the Opie and Anthony Show, playing in my head from a conversation we’d had the previous week at his swanky uptown apartment. “But how do you tell them?” I asked. “They should know. It’s humiliating for everyone,” he said.
The jagged-pill truth is, while a few of the Cellar’s comics had initially encouraged me – some even going so far as to tell me I was funny – not one, in crystal-clear hindsight, had ever actually said I’d make a great stand-up. No one had said, “You, Jessica, have the makings of a great comedian!” There was a difference between having a good sense of humor and possessing the ability to be funny in front of a crowd, to know timing, tone, and body language. I was painfully awkward, and not in a way that I could use to my advantage. Was I giving up too easily? Maybe so, but I was coming to terms with the fact that comedy is both a trait and a skill to be honed. And I was beginning to realize my naiveté in thinking that I could waltz into the Cellar and become an overnight sensation. I had too much respect for the comics to make a fool of myself. There was no room for us amateurs, at least not at Comedy Cellar.
Chris Rock Performing at Comedy Cellar
Not all comedians share the perspective that one or even many embarrassing attempts translates to a day-job keeper. The pleasantly levelheaded Colin Quinn offered a different take on failure, one I prefer to subscribe to. Stretching back in a wooden chair by the entrance to the Olive Tree one night after my calamitous audition with Fabricant, smiling while acknowledging a fawning passerby, Quinn recalled his early memories of the Cellar. “The first time I went on stage, I knew it was what I was supposed to be doing, but the MC said to me, ‘You’re a natural! Come back in a year!’ I was the biggest bomber in the business. Only comedians kept me in the business.” Quinn’s long time “BFF,” Nick Di Paolo, compared his own first attempt at stand-up to “childhood rape.”
Comedy is as difficult to master as any other craft, something aptly demonstrated by the botched attempts of Charlie Sheen during his Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option tour, which I had the displeasure of attending (it’s worth noting that, much as I had, Sheen turned to comedy mid-psychological meltdown), and Mike ‘The Situation” Sorrentino during his slot on the Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump. “This is my first time doing comedy,” Sorrentino whined as the crowed booed and eye-rolled. “And your last!” the roast master yelled back.
* * * *
The tortured comic is an old cliché, but it’s hard to deny the truth in it when looking at some of the most legendary comics of the past six decades: Lenny Bruce was found dead, naked on his bathroom floor, a syringe still in his vein; Sam Kinison was killed in a car accident, the autopsy revealing that his body was flooded with narcotics; John Belushi passed away in a suite at the Château Marmont after shooting a “speed ball,” a combination of cocaine and heroin; Mitch Hedburg died when his pre-existing heart condition was exasperated by a drug overdose; Chris Farley was discovered by his brother, dead from an overdose in his apartment. Photos of Farley’s corpse, saliva running from his mouth and rosary beads clutched between his fingers, were leaked by the sex-worker who had been with him at the time of his death.
Comedy is a balancing act between a relentless compulsion to confess everything, harsh self-loathing, and narcissism. Me, Me, Me, says the stand-up, I am absurd and pitiable but not nearly as pathetic as you are! You, who need me to make you laugh–and pay for the privilege. “I don’t think that the depression makes you funny, but I think that being funny comes out of bad places more than good,” Jim Norton once told me. “As a comedian, you feel like if you become content then you are not going to be funny anymore. When you are in love with someone you don’t want to go on stage and talk about it — when you get dumped, then you want to go out and talk about it. Cars don’t slow down to help, you slow down to see a car accident.”
On September 27th of last year, about a month after I first became a regular fixture at the Cellar, I received word that the stand-up world had been dealt another blow. Comedy Cellar staple Greg Giraldo had been admitted to the emergency room in New Brunswick, New Jersey after overdosing on prescription drugs. He would remain comatose for the next four days until his family decided to remove life support. “RIP Greg Giraldo. Belly-laugh hilarious, prolific, good & kind. A thousand oys can’t express,” Sarah Silverman tweeted, a sentiment that echoed widely as many comics voiced their condolences. Parrot-voiced comedian Gilbert Gottfried, a frequent dais companion of Giraldo’s at celebrity roasts, took to Twitter hours after the death: “If Greg Giraldo is cremated, will that be the ‘Greg Giraldo Roast’?” Gottfried was later fired from his gig as the voice of the Aflac duck for tweeting jokes about the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan. Initially, I was stunned by this harsh-feeling form mourning, but I came to accept it as the comic’s own way of paying respect. They were afraid, so they told jokes.
Just a few months ago, on March 6th, yet another Cellar regular passed away: Mike DeStefano, a burly 43-year-old tattooed comic who used comedy as a way to recover from his heroin addiction. “Don’t do drugs, because if you do, you’ll end up with a ‘Comedy Central Presents’ special,” he advised a crowd not long after getting his own half-hour special on the network this past year. DeStefano died suddenly from a heart attack, just a day before I had planned on seeing his latest bit at the club. A Bronx-born native, his life hadn’t been easy: depression, heroin addiction, the death of his wife, living with HIV. DeStefano was never ”on,” off or on-stage — he was just a natural storyteller. I enjoyed the conversations we had during my nocturnal visits to Comedy Cellar. “I didn’t see you laugh tonight,” he once commented after he gave a sedate performance. “You know–I appreciate that, I like honesty.” Another night, he shared with me his philosophy of humor: “Great art comes from great suffering. I know it sounds fucking cliche, but it’s true for me. Comedy for me is a process of expressing–and really healing myself.” Artie Lange Performing at the Comedy Cellar
Laughter was starting to feel overwhelmingly perverse. I was no longer enjoying live comedy. I had anecdotes and bits memorized. If a certain joke worked, it would invariably be repeated in some form at the next show. After my own experience bombing, I had put my own standup on hold, having no desire to revisit those feeling of rejection. Or perhaps I was just sour grapes. I had made friends with some of the comics, infiltrated their table, but I knew I wasn’t one of them.
I tried to drift away, and I did — for 48 hours.
On a bitterly cool and gray Thursday evening in early March, I ventured back to Comedy Cellar. I was restless in my apartment and needed the distraction, or so I told myself. A group of made-up women was hovering around the entrance, rattling off their names to the comics, who were signing cardboard coasters. Dave Attell was smoking outside. He looked fatigued, and I wanted to give him a hug, so I did. “I don’t know why I am here,” I said by way of a greeting, before realizing this might sound offensive to someone who’s spent the better part of the past two decades building their career in the club just downstairs. Attell lowered his tired eyes. “I don’t blame you,” he muttered, his voice trailing off. He then ballooned his cheeks with air and waved goodbye, his exhalation white in the frozen air, as I once again descended into the Cellar. “See you next week,” I shouted over my shoulder.
* * * *
The show begins and I become lost in the comics’ hypnotic patter, the now familiar sights and sounds and several glasses of dry white wine. “Let’s talk about rape,” says Godfrey, a Nigerian comedian whose warm toothy smile oddly juxtaposes his subject matter. “What if you raped a group of people? What if you were that bad a motherfucker, you raped everybody, men and women, and you didn’t give a fuck? You deserve to be raped if you’re in a group and he succeeds.” When I first arrived at the Cellar, material like this would have bothered me, but I found myself repeating the joke to a prospective employer who ran charity for Darfur refugees several days later.
“If people don’t like it, we tell them we’re sorry, we don’t have editorial control–it’s a comedy club,” says Dworman. I ask him what his hopes are for the club’s future, and his answer is gratifyingly warm and reassuring. “I’d really like there to be a whole new crop of all-star comics who in ten years from now can say they made their name here. But we don’t pick them. They pick us.”
● Sarah Silverman’s magic is real: her new book is called The Bedwetter, it comes out on 4/20 and she’s finally done with that bum Jimmy Kimmel. [NY Mag] ● A Lady Gaga fan even more obsessive than the rest landed a job on her crew so he could take a photo of her dressing room and steal her paperwork. [ONTD] ● Psychedelic drugs are having a renaissance in the medical community for treating pain and depression and basically fixing everything always. [NYT]
● Heidi Montag’s new body indicates that she would like to either have sex on camera for money or marry Ice-T. [PopEater] ● Coming soon to a TV near you: The Sarah Palin Network. [Mediaite] ● Mickey Rourke made a video for non-alcoholic beer — both self-aware and a sad confession. [Celebuzz]
Over the last two decades, Maxim has featured a bevy of beauties on its covers, from Hollywood starlets to sexy female sports stars. But like the unfortunate souls found on Playboy’s worst cover-girl list, Maxim does suffer the occasional miscast. Although it may be interesting to see Fergie in a bra, even the mag’s target audience might think twice about incorporating her into one’s genteel nighttime fantasies. But Fergie’s hardly the only gal who maybe didn’t turn in her best work fronting for Maxim.
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1. Lucy Lawless (April 1999) – Stunning during her tenure as Xena: Warrior Princess, and would probably be a strong contender for the upcoming Wonder Woman film were she still in her prime. Suffice to say, it isn’t Lucy’s looks that landed her on this list; rather, it’s the Xena thing. That role was a feminist’s wet dream, reaching new levels of man-hating with each subsequent episode. Even if we were willing to look beyond that (which we’re not), the appearance of Xena in a men’s magazine contradicts her cultivated image as a feminist icon. What it ultimately boils down to is that this spread isn’t arousing unless you like having your nuts crunched.
2. Melissa Joan Hart (October, 1999) – Most children of the 90s remember her from Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It’s that nostalgia factor which makes it impossible to look at Melissa Joan Hart without recalling some of our more awkward pre-pubescent moments. For those of us who were already adults during the early 90s, it’s even harder to look at her without feeling like a dirty old man.
3. Lara Flynn Boyle (December 1999) – On this cover, Lara Flynn Boyle looks like she’s battling (or embracing) an impressive cocaine habit and a severe eating disorder. Who knows what got trimmed off or slimmed down in Photoshop, but still, time for a sammich.
4. Helena Bonham Carter (August 2001) – There are lots of women out there with looks that walk the fine line between strange and hot. Helena Bonham Carter is one of them. Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk characterized Marla Singer, the character Carter played in the film version, as having “big eyes the way they have in Japanese animation.” Not only does Tim Burton’s longtime partner and muse aptly match this description, but her spread in Maxim probably fulfilled every necrophiliac’s fantasy.
5. Christina Aguilera (January 2003) – Despite her superior vocal skills, Christina Aguilera was always eclipsed by her former rival, Britney Spears. In a desperate attempt to surpass her, Aguilera bronzed her skin, sported a skunk tail, and left little else to the imagination. The end result left her looking more like an Orange County douchette than an A-list pop star. While her album, Stripped, was commercially and critically a hit, her Maxim spread was a sad afterthought.
6. Shania Twain (June 2003) – Faith Hill was hot back in the day, but we draw the line there when it comes to country musicians. Shania Twain isn’t at all bad looking, but she doesn’t belong on the cover of Maxim. Besides, she was pushing 40 by the time the magazine came to print — gasp! — and to be honest, she was always more the marrying type than ideal cover skank.
7. Michelle Branch (January 2004) – At the height of her success, Michelle Branch packed more talent than most of her Autotuned counterparts. Yet, while attractive, she was hardly a sex symbol. Her Maxim appearance seemed like a disconnect with her otherwise wholesome image, as she’s no Britney or Paris otherwise.
8. Marge Simpson (April 2004) – Readers flip through Maxim to ogle at ‘shopped flesh and blood, not pen and ink. Though give Maxim props for a novel idea that Playboy ripped off five years later. Still, if we were into cartoon poon, we’d buy stocking up on hentai.
9. Avril Lavigne (October 2004) – Like most commercially successful female artists, she’s a good-looking girl. But her mall-safe version of sk8er punk makes her both a little young and a little twee, even for Maxim.
10. Girls of The Apprentice (December 2004) – Bottom of the barrel time, and that’s saying something. Really, what can be said about highlighting the questionable charms of a reality show that favorably depicts Donald Trump’s business acumen by comparing it with even lesser lights such as these? Even Snooki would be preferable.
11. Nicky Hilton (August 2005) – As if one Hilton sister wasn’t enough. If Nicky was looking to outdo Paris, then she should have done a sex tape, not a photo shoot.
12. Nicolette Sheridan (November 2005) – After multiple plastic surgeries, Nicolette resembles a tightly taxidermized otter. Plus, Maxim readers generally steer clear of Lifetime and Desperate Housewives.
13. Haylie Duff (January 2006) – Much like Nicky Hilton, Haylie Duff is the celebrity sister that nobody knew existed. While Hillary Duff has made a lucrative career as a tween idol, most readers are probably unable to remember any of Haylie’s films besides Napoleon Dynamite (2004). Her appearance in Maxim was yet another attempt to ride the coattails of her sister’s fame.
14. Lacey Chabert (January 2007) – Claudia from Party of Five grew up and really filled out. Unfortunately, most people remember Lacey as the little sister with the annoyingly screechy voice. As scorchingly hot as she grew up to be, looking at her in that way felt like acknowledging a younger cousin’s new boobs.
15. Fergie (April 2007) – Most people’s gut reaction to Fergie is that she’s good looking for her age. Sadly, this compliment crumbles when you find out she’s only 32. That’s what happens when you supposedly have a forehead lift, breast augmentation, nose job, and extreme Botox. The end result comes uncomfortably close to a West Hollywood tranny.
16. Sarah Silverman (June 2007) – While we love Sarah for making us laugh and for being one of the few attractive comedians out there, she could have shown more skin for her Maxim cover. What photographer thought it would be a good idea for her to pose in the remnants of a gorilla suit? No furries.
17. Lindsay Lohan (September 2007) – Oh Lindsay, how far you’ve fallen from your glory days as a Mean Girl. Her appearance in Maxim was clearly nothing more than a desperate attempt to revive her floundering career. To make matters worse, she looked less like the Lindsay we briefly loved and more like Amy Winehouse’s heroin buddy.
18. Heidi Montag (February 2008) – Someday, decades from now, someone will have to explain to the children just who Heidi Montag was — and that no, the pre- and post-surgery Heidis are not two different people. Note near identical similarity to Lara Flynn Boyle’s oh-it’s-ok-that-you’re-looking-at-my-butt pose above.
19. Ashley Greene (November 2009) – You may not care, but Ashley Greene had a role in Twilight. One supposes that enough unfortunate straight males were dragged to the movie by their significant others that they vaguely recognize her on the cover of Maxim, and hence impulse-buy.
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Whether you watched last night’s Emmys on a dusty television set or on a shady internet stream prone to buffering and choppy playback (21st century chic, wave of the future, etc.), you probably noticed that TV’s landmark three hour salute to TV seemed perkier than years past. And while a number of harsh elements threatened to barrel us to boredom — like the dual monotone of Jennifer Love Hewitt and Patricia Arquette (“LOL! We both play mediums!” cried JLoHew as we eyed that Ambien hungrily) and Jeff Probst’s acceptance speech (seriously — over Padma Lakshmi?), the night was easily redeemed by over a dozen people. And one of them didn’t even need to actually be present for her act of valiance.
1. Neil Patrick Harris. The secret to his success was simple. NPH shelved his ego. Apart from his extracurriculars for the evening, NPH basically played sidekick-to-the-stars, finding ways to pack punchlines into terse introductions for presenters that alluded to their most obscure work, but otherwise keeping things going as breezily as possible.
2 and 3. Blake Lively and Leighton Meester. I was on the fence about these two. On one hand, that third season premiere of Gossip Girl left a sour taste. On the other, these two ambassadors into teenybopper TV–a genre that sometimes unfairly gets overlooked — were fresh air among some of the other smug veteran presenters. And despite the former’s lack of proper enunciation, they sparkled.
4. Shohreh Aghdashloo. The night’s most welcome upset came from the one-time Oscar nominee who was one of few excellent things in HBO’s mediocre mini-series about Saddam Hussein’s private life. And one of the night’s best moments came when she delivered her deliciously raspy acceptance speech.
5. Tina Fey. At this point, the Emmys owe their spike in relevance to Fey more than 30 Rock owes them anything for their heavy trophies. Between her many roles as part of 30 Rock‘s cast and crew and as our coping device for the Republican malarky that was Her Highness Sarah Palin, Fey is always a welcome distraction from the dreary Emmy decorum.
6. Kristin Chenowith. As much as Aghdashloo’s acceptance speech made my skin tingle, Chenowith’s was kind of like the spoken-word equivalent to last week’s Susan Boyle staging of “Wild Horses”–it brought tears to our eyes or at least, momentarily softened our stony hearts. Particularly the part about thanking “the Academy for recognizing a show that’s no longer on the air.” There was also the part about wanting to work on Mad Men, The Office, and 24 since she’s unemployed now. (Although she will be joining Glee soon!)
7-10. All the other Supporting Actress in a Comedy nominees except Vanessa Williams. As demonstrated above, how ingenious was the eyewear sight-gag? And how Debbie Downer was Vanessa Williams’ been there-done that attitude?
11. Sarah Silverman. Sure, she really had no spoken parts in last night’s telecast, but a pair of moments said it all. Of course there was the mustache, but there was also some confused shrugging when Jon Cryer turned out to win the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy. Apparently you can win a comedy award without being funny! Huh!
12. Britney Spears. It’s curious. Britney as an overachiever. Her name didn’t even have to be mentioned, but in an Emmy telecast that was pretty shameless in attempts to accept his award, it was hard to tell whether he was channeling Alec Baldwin or 30 Rock alter-ego Jack Donaghy, or if Donaghy is basically Baldwin. But it made his speech and admission of a man-crush on Rob Lowe all the more entertaining.
14 and 15. Amy Poehler & Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It’s obvious that the entire evening belonged to the ladies. Especially when this pair hilariously remarked about the demise of broadcast television.
Every year, Hollywood’s TV elite have a circle jerk and many of us sit down to watch the reach-around because we’re perverts or sad, bored, lonely people. The glitterati congratulate themselves on what a great job they all did and how they’ve revolutionized American culture for generations to come even though no one (apart from me, I suppose) watched The Comeback. And every year, civilians and TV connoisseurs alike are baffled by how increasingly inaccessible the winners are. If nobody’s watching Breaking Bad, does that mean it’s any good? (Well, it is, but that’s not the point.) And also, if no one continues watching it after it wins the gold, then really, what use are the Emmys? Well none, which is why if this year’s a bust, it may be marginalized to cable next year. With this year’s crop of nominees (and slightly bloated short-lists), we could pick a few bones. For example, Entourage again? Two and a Half Men up for any kind of acting award? Why, Universe! Why must you reward crap? But enough despair. A run-down of what the TV gods got right follows.
1. 22 nods for 30 Rock. Say what you will about the meta-comedy. I know I did! But it made an impressive comeback at the tail-end of season three.
2. One of which is a Best Supporting Actor nod for Kenneth the Page.
3. Absolutely everything about the Best Supporting Actress In a Comedy Series category: Kristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies; Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock; Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds; Amy Poehler, Saturday Night Live; Kristin Wiig, Saturday Night Live; Vanessa Williams, Ugly Betty.
4. Sarah Silverman up for a Best Actress in a Comedy Series prize for The Sarah Silverman Program.
5. Padma Lakshmi up for Best Host in a Reality Competition Program for Top Chef. Well, with Tom Colicchio.
6. Toni Collete’s Best Actress In a Comedy nod for United States of Tara (even though it’s a drama!). She’s probably going to lose it to Mary-Louise Parker for Weeds, though.
7. True Blood netting a few nods, including Outstanding Casting For A Drama Series. Even if it was atrociously overlooked for any of the big prizes.
8. Best Actor in a Drama nod for Michael C. Hall. He’s the reason why Dexter, which is otherwise flagging these days, is still a bit excellent.
9. Family Guy running for Best Comedy, thereby allowing for an absurd upset like Robot Chicken competing for Best Animated Program.
10. And finally, Shohreh Aghdashloo for Best Supporting Actress in a Mini-Series. She was pretty much the only reason to watch the otherwise monochromatic biopic of Sadam Hussein’s life.
Few things excite good lefty males — chosen and goyim alike — such as the prospect of a naked Sarah Silverman. Add in a conspicuous Barack Obama tattoo, and one can even get past the fact that it’s an imaginative illustration (rather than a full-color trifold photo spread) from the capable hand of Louisa Bertman. Click the jump for a reasonably full version.
… and click to expand, pervs.
Laugh Legend Caroline Hirsch of the eponymous Caroline’s on bringing the funny, luring tourists, and laughing off a recession.
Point of Origin: I was born in Brooklyn and moved to Manhattan when I was, I think, 24 years old and went to City College and FIT, which is how I ended up in retail. I was working at Gimbels, which was going out of business, so as market reps, we were out, too. Because I was collecting unemployment, I had a little time to look around. Then I kind of fell into this business, the business of comedy — it just happened. Bob Stigley just loved to go to a comedy club called Freddy’s on 49th Street, and before long, he and a couple of other friends wanted to open a cabaret. Bob decided to use a woman’s name for the cabaret we planned to open in Chelsea, and that was the start of Caroline’s.
As a buyer, you had to know what people wanted to buy, and it was the same with talent. We went for the best talent we could afford. Mark Shaman came in and played piano; there were some great stand-ups, and there was a lot of enthusiasm. But it just wasn’t happening with a young, hip crowd — and to be successful in this business, you need the 20- and 30-year-olds who go out a lot, unlike the 50- to 60-year-olds who don’t. It was the time when David Letterman had just gone on to television after Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. He was continually introducing a slew of young comedians, so every time somebody like Jay Leno came to town to do Letterman’s, he’d say he was playing Caroline’s. So by the seat of my pants, we won. I promoted things I liked, and because we didn’t have any money for advertising, we tried marketing and publicity with newspapers and television shows. We had people come in and review our shows. Comedians would get press by talking about the club.
When in 1987 Wall Street was crashing, we opened at the Seaport in April. It was one of Wall Street’s biggest depressions, but even in a recession, people have to laugh. When the CEO of A&E came to me and wanted to do a stand-up comedy show with a New Yorker, I produced the television program, Caroline’s Comedy Hour, starting in 1989. We stayed at the Seaport for five years and then came uptown. This is the best decision I have ever made in my business career. People walk up and down the streets around Times Square, they see a poster outside, and even if they don’t know the name of the comic, they saw that person on TV, and make a reservation to come in. The television show went on until 1995.
Occupations: I miss it and am working on another show now, but, meanwhile I’m producing new artists on DVD.
Not the Web? Actually, right now, Caroline’s is a site where people come to get information about the club, but this will be relaunched as more of a content site, and I’m working with a lot of people — talents before anybody else knows they’re talents — to get the job done. We’re working on a lot of stuff.
Any non-industry projects in the works? We do our fair share of fundraisers here that I support personally. We do a stand-up fundraiser every year in honor of Madeline Kahn with her husband to raise money to fight for ovarian cancer research called “Stand up for Madeline Kahn.” Another is for the Scleroderma Research Foundation, a big fundraiser in conjunction with the New York Comedy Festival, which I also produce. We do other work for charities who find that it costs so much to rent out space in a hotel — it’s cheaper to do an event with comics and me!
Are you funny? I have a great sense of humor, but I’m not funny. But I know what’s funny. You must be funny to be on stage.
Favorite Hangs: To unwind, I go out East to my house at the beach. I look forward to that, and go out for the long weekends in the summer. I don’t go to clubs anymore. We’ve been going for 25 years, where else is there to go? For me, it was a different world before I opened Caroline’s. We went to Studio 54, Limelight, Xenon, every single night. I don’t’ miss it. We had fun then, but I don’t miss the whole scene. Now there are a whole bunch of young clubs, but you have to understand that things have changed. There is no club where, at the stroke of midnight, you have to be! When I had the club on 8th Avenue, we’d go to Limelight afterward. Or we’d go to Mr. Chow’s for dinner, then to one of the clubs.
Industry Icons: All of the icons. I just didn’t want to be any of them. I didn’t want to copy anybody else. I just wanted to do it better. We didn’t have a club like Caroline’s when we started this one. We had showcase clubs where people came to try out material before they went to Vegas or Atlantic City. Jay Leno had an hour and a half of material, so I developed the club with an opening act for him, a lead-in. The people we have here are really professionals. Bill Bellamy is coming in this weekend, and he has a polished hour-and-a-half stand-up; it’s different than the showcase clubs. The caliber of entertainer who works the club is really, really funny, and I laugh at the same joke a hundred times.
Who are some people you’re likely to be seen with? Comics like Joy Behar and Susie Essman are girlfriends of mine, and I still see Carol Leifer, who is an executive producer for CBS right now, and of course, Judy Gold. Those are pretty much my girlfriends, and they all make me laugh.
Projections: The future is a big place. Now we’re partnering with Comedy Central after five years of doing the New York Comedy Festival. It will begin to air next year in a multi-year contract with the network. We have a wonderful line-up in various venues all over New York, from the day after the election, November 5 until November 9. For instance, I met Craig Ferguson many years ago in Montreal. He really took off on The Drew Carey Show and will be performing in the New York Comedy Festival at Town Hall, as will Joel McHale. Frank Caliendo will play Carnegie Hall, as will Kat Williams. Mike Mencia’s mind will implode at Avery Fisher Hall, where Brian Regan will also play. Sarah Silverman will be at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Tracey Morgan will be “Coming Back Home” at the Apollo on November 8 — and panel discussions will be held at the Paley Center with the writers of The Daily Show and Conan O’Brien’s show. And something at the 92nd Street Y to watch will be “We Have A Winner” with Lizz Winstead, who co-created The Daily Show.
What are you doing tomorrow night? I go to restaurants where people know you, usually in the neighborhood. I leave work and go to dinner at Buddakan tonight, and tomorrow I might try to stop by a new place in the neighborhood where L’Impero used to be in Tudor City, Convivio. Although Convivio is now a no-name restaurant today, Michael White is the chef, so it won’t be no-name for long.
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