Comics Come Home XXI – TD Garden (Boston, MA), 11.7.15

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This weekend, I made my way to Boston for the 21st annual Comics Come Home fundraising event for the Cam Neely Cancer Foundation. My friend Laura and I went to the event last year and had so much fun that we decided to make it an annual tradition – a tradition that was immediately threatened when I found myself on crutches. I’d already skipped a few events that I had tickets to due to the difficulty of making the logistics of an arena work, but I was determined that I wasn’t going to miss out on going to Comic Come Home, even though I was really nervous about it. The lure of spending a night with Denis Leary, Jimmy Fallon, Ray Romano, Louis CK and others was just too strong. Since I’d already missed out on planned trips to Vegas and Florida, a film festival, and concerts because of this stupid injury, I was ready to roll the dice and face my fears. And honestly, it would have been poetic if it was the city of Boston was what finally took me down, given my complex relationship with their sports teams.

Thankfully, I was able to enjoy Comics Come Home without incident. In fact, as much as I enjoyed the show last year, I think that this year’s installment was better overall, in part because the quality of the comedians was more consistent and built to the de facto headliner, Louis CK. Last year probably hit more highs – I STILL laugh whenever I think about Robert Kelly’s set – but it also had some comics that didn’t quite connect with the audience. This year, there was consistent laughter for every person on that stage so it made for a better slate of acts.

As is always the case, Denis Leary kicked off the show and served as the emcee. He performed a parody of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotions” about the comics we’d see that night as well as a very Boston-centric song that I’m pretty sure that he performed last year. Fair warning – it uses some language that people might not find appropriate:

 

As expected, that got a pretty enthusiastic response – especially when he mentioned Tom Brady. That guy is a freaking god in Boston. Leary then did some jokes and was his usual entertaining self, ranting about forgetting some of what he was going to talk about ranting about whatever annoys him. I hoped that maybe some of the cast from his FX series Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll would eventually join him on stage, but that wasn’t in the cards. Perhaps next year.

Leary was then ready to turn the stage over the comedians that had donated their time to be a part of the event. First up was Chris Distefano, who stars in the IFC show Benders (which Leary produces). Distefano was probably not as well known to the crowd, but I was familiar with his stand-up. He was good and had some solid material about having a child with a Puerto Rican woman and his interaction with a waiter in Norway (“Reindeers are real??”). He did among the shorter sets of the evening – the comics are on stage longer as the night progresses – but he made the most of his time and made the audience laugh quite a bit. I’m sure that people who didn’t know who he was before the show will seek him out now.

Next up was Steven Wright, who I was looking forward to seeing. He has a very distinctive delivery and he doesn’t so much tell jokes but throw off funny one-liners and non sequiturs. His jokes construction is all over the place in regards to topics; there is no clear connection between one statement and the next, other than the fact that they are oddly funny. I wasn’t really sure how this dry, deadpan and chaotic method of delivery would play in person, but it was quite delightful. He’s kind of an odd duck, but all of his observations were funny and sometimes you had to chuckle just at the randomness of it all.

Photo by Scott Eisen for the Boston Globe

Photo by Scott Eisen for the Boston Globe

The only woman on the bill this year was Christine Hurley; I had no idea who she was, so I was a little surprised to hear the ovation that the crowd gave when her name was mentioned, as I like to think I’m pretty up on who’s who in the world of stand-up. Turns out that she’s a local favorite and plays a lot of shows in the Boston area, which is why everyone else seemed to know who she was. She’s only recently started her comedy career and she definitely has a lot of material to mine from her own life, as she is the mother of five and married to her high school sweetheart who is now a firefighter. She was a pleasant surprise and did a really great job – but don’t let the mom of five thing fool you. She’s not afraid to get a little raunchy and she used the C-word a lot on her act, much to the delight of Leary. In fact, he had all 13,000 people at the Garden yell out that word in unison after Hurley’s set:

 

Leary’s old Rescue Me running buddy Lenny Clark was up next and relayed some stories about some of his past health issues and trips to the hospital. It was honestly a little convoluted – he started telling two stories at once, so it was a little hard to follow – but it was funny enough that you laughed despite that. He’s always the most interesting dresser of the group and he didn’t disappoint this time either. Clark’s a lovable guy so he’s just fun to see on stage; I thought his set was a little stronger last year, but he’s such an amusing storyteller that even when he goes a little haywire, you just enjoy going along with him for the ride.

Ray Romano followed Clark and he was probably the comedian that I was most interested in seeing, mostly because I’d never seen him do stand-up before. I mean, I obviously knew that he was a comic before he landed Everybody Loves Raymond but I wasn’t really sure what he’s be like. I enjoyed Everybody Loves Raymond in syndication, though more as background noise than a show that I was really all that invested in. I’ve enjoyed Romano much more when he’s doing more dramatic work – he was fantastic on TNT’s Men of a Certain Age, which was funny in a way very different than a network sitcom and I was glad to see him turn up on NBC’s Parenthood. I was hoping that his stand-up would be a little smarter than the stuff you see on a sitcom, but I was prepared to be disappointed. When I saw Kevin James do stand-up, I walked away thinking that he was pretty vanilla and I wouldn’t have been shocked to have the same thoughts after seeing Ray. Romano was actually great; he did a lot of material about his family as well as getting older. Neither of these topics are particularly innovative or edgy, but he had jokes that offered a new perspective and that were, more importantly, very funny. Plus I got to hear Romano curse and talk about masturbation, which is not something you expect from the guy who played Ray Barone. I remembered a lot more of Romano’s jokes than some of the other comics, which is proof of a job well done.

Photo by Scott Eisen for the Boston Globe

Photo by Scott Eisen for the Boston Globe

Jimmy Fallon took the stage next and got perhaps the biggest ovation from the crowd. Everybody loves Jimmy, apparently – sorry Ray. This marked the 7th time that Fallon and I have been in the same room and yet it is always fun to see him in person. Fallon got things going by joking around about his recent string of accidents; he mentioned that when he was in Boston two weeks ago that he stayed at a lovely hotel – Mass General. He then did very similar shtick as he did last year – he handed out superlatives to members of the Boston Bruins and then Leary joined him to hand out some superlatives to the Rangers. Since I don’t know hockey players as well, this was slightly less amusing than last year when they did baseball players. Leary also gave Fallon some superlatives of his own: “Most likely to leave a hockey game with more injuries than the players” and “Most likely to trip and say ‘help I’m Fallon and I can’t get up!’

Jimmy and Denis then did a slightly rewritten rendition of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping”

 

Jimmy appearance this year was shorter than it was last year and I think overall I enjoyed him more at Comics Come Home 20. Perhaps because they stuck so closely to the formula that they used last year, it didn’t feel as exciting. But seeing Jimmy is always a good thing and the audience ate him up.

Photo by Scott Eisen for the Boston Globe

Photo by Scott Eisen for the Boston Globe

Steve Sweeney was kind of the sorbet of the evening, allowing the audience to cleanse their palate before Louis CK took the stage. I wasn’t familiar with Sweeney and one has to assume that his placement later on the bill was due to being a Boston favorite and because he was Leary’s old roommate when they were starting out. He was fine, though probably the weakest link in the lineup. He did a lot of ethnic humor which I didn’t think was all that insightful or hilarious, but he may have gotten a few chuckles out of me. I may have also been less attentive than I could have been, as I was already getting psyched up to see Louis CK again. He’s always the best.

This was my third time seeing Louis CK perform and for the third time he absolutely KILLED it. Watching Louis CK on stage is watching someone who is at the absolute top of their game and has mastered their craft. It’s always something of a revelation and I have no idea how he continuously pumps out such great material. It’s like you almost take for granted how good he is. Louis CK covered all sorts of topics, though perhaps the most memorable was when he talked about seeing his dad’s penis for the first time in the bathroom of Fenway Park. That legitimately brought the house down. I could have stayed and listened to him forever; if you get the chance to see Louis CK live, I cannot recommend it highly enough. He alone was worth the ticket price to Comics Come Home. He’s just brilliant.

Photo by Scott Eisen for the Boston Globe

Photo by Scott Eisen for the Boston Globe

As tradition dictates, Denis Leary returned to the stage one last time to perform his song “Asshole,” which people seem to still love after all these years. I’ll admit that I was only half paying attention to his performance of it this year as my thoughts had already moved on to the challenge of getting up the stairs from our seats and out into the crowded corridor of the Garden. We made it work, however, and I managed to get myself to the safety of the car without falling on my face and with only minimal assistance. People were generally pretty cool about getting out of my way while I was on crutches and the staff of the TD Garden were absolutely wonderful, so what could have been a very stressful evening wound up being not so bad after all.

We’re already looking forward to Comics Come Home 22, which hopefully I will not be injured for. It is a wonderful cause to support and the fact that we get a night’s worth of great comedy on top of it is really just gravy. Leary may refer to himself as an asshole, but his charity work for firefighters and the Cam Neely Foundation indicates otherwise.

Some thoughts on FX’s Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll

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One of the few benefits of taking the time to recover from my sprained ankle (which my recent trip to NYC put a toll on) is that I’ve been able to clear out the old DVR. Since I was traveling so much, it was hovering around the 75% full mark, which was giving me anxiety. I don’t like it to get that full, especially with the fall TV season right around the corner. Believe me, I need as much space on there as I can get. So while I spent most of my weeknights laying on the couch with my leg elevated, I was able to get around to watching some of the stuff that I’ve been saving for later – whenever later actually happened.

Mixed in among the comedy specials and film noir were all the episodes of the new FX show Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll starring Denis Leary. I’d been putting off watching the show as the reviews had generally been mixed and I was still suffering some Leary fatigue after his previous show Rescue Me. I like Leary just fine – I am looking forward to attending his Comics Come Home event again in Boston this fall – but Rescue Me got so ridiculous at the end that I wasn’t sure that I was ready for another series with him in the lead. One of the beefs that I had about Rescue Me was that in the end the stories became more and more about a bunch of beautiful women fighting over Leary and less about the comradery of the fire fighters. Leary was a writer and producer on Rescue Me (as he is on Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll), so he can make whatever kind of show that he wants, but toward the end of Rescue Me it began to feel more like wish fulfillment and less about a cohesive and believable narrative. I wanted banter between the guys, not women acting like lunatics to get with Leary’s character, who was no freaking prize to begin with. My fear was that if he indulged these impulses in a show about firefighters, it would likely be more of the same (or worse) in a show where he portrayed the lead singer of a rock band. I mean, the word sex is right in the title of the show. But after burning myself out on shows on Investigation Discovery, I needed to change things up while I was sequestered on the sofa as well as free up the space that the show was taking on the DVR. So I finally decided to give Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll a try.

And while I don’t think this is necessarily groundbreaking television, I actually enjoyed Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll quite a bit. It’s a fun ensemble cast and though it is early in the show’s run, Leary is far more self-deprecating in this show than he has been in other shows. More often than not, his character Johnny is the butt of the joke. As a failed rock star that has blown up every band that’s his been in, Johnny Rock is more a cautionary tale of what could have been rather than a rock God. The show focuses on Johnny reconnecting with his daughter Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies), who has come to NYC for her estranged father to help her break into the music business. This also forces Johnny to reconnect with his former bandmates Flash (John Corbett), Bam Bam (Robert Kelly) and Rehab (John Ales). Johnny is also in a somewhat stable relationship with Ava (Elaine Hendrix), which minimizes the opportunity for carousing. It’s ironic that Leary’s character on Rescue Me was far more of a “rock star” than the character that he plays who is an actual rocker.

The cast works really well together and they have good on-screen chemistry. They are a dysfunctional little family of misfits, but they are still something of a family and it is fun to watch these characters interact. There is a lot of baggage for these people to deal with and while the central narrative is Johnny and Gigi trying to navigate the father/daughter relationship that has up to this point been nonexistent, there are also some interesting dynamics with the other members of the band. Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll captures what I liked best about Rescue Me – the conversations that the guys had at the firehouse when they were just hanging out. Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is a straight up comedy, rather than a dramedy, and I think that plays to the strengths of everyone involved. Surprisingly, the music is actually pretty good as well; Elizabeth Gillies has a great voice.

I also like that the show is 30 minutes; not only did it make it easy for me to catch up on the season, but that feels like just the right amount of time to spend with these people week to week. Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is fun and funny, but I don’t know that it could sustain itself in a longer format. The show is kind of silly and ridiculous, but it also makes me laugh more often than not. These are characters that it is fun to spend time with; while Johnny, Gigi, Flash and Ava may get the most screen time, they have done a fairly good job of also developing Bam Bam and Rehab as characters as well. I’m a big fan of Robert Kelly, so I’m always happy when he gets a particularly funny joke or story line. It’s also amusing to see John Corbett play such a vain guy; he typically plays such a nice guy in his other roles that it’s a nice change of pace for him to play a slight variation on that formula.

Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll is a nice little diversion for the summer; it’s a solid comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously and has fun with the idea of a failed rock star. It’s still early, so the show could give into the same tendencies that Rescue Me ultimately did, but so far I’m enjoying the ride and look forward to new episodes. Seeing Leary in a role where he is a failed rock star that may self-sabotage and who must learn to connect with his daughter is a nice departure from some of his previous filmography. It’s been entertaining to watch all these comically flawed characters interact, and there is an inherent sweetness hiding underneath all the rock and roll. I did not expect to enjoy the show as much as I did and it’s been a nice addition to my summer viewing schedule.

Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll airs Thursdays at 10 pm (ET) on FX.

Comics Come Home – TD Garden (Boston, MA), 11/8/14

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Using stand-up comedy to raise money for charity has a long and proud tradition. While the Comic Relief events are perhaps the most famous on the national level, comedians make a habit of donating their time to fundraisers of all sizes all across the country. While stand-ups are often generalized to be damaged and unhappy people, it seems to me that they have the biggest hearts and freely give of their talents to help others. As a fan of comedy, it’s always nice when I can laugh for a good cause. Somehow, Comics Come Home had flown under my radar up until this year; I may have vaguely heard about it over the years after it happened, but now that I have started going to more events in Boston regularly, I am more keyed into what’s going on in Beantown. And once I heard Jimmy Fallon was involved, it was a no-brainer that I’d have to check the event out; I think I am contractually obligated to attend anything that Fallon is a part of.

Comics Come Home, celebrating its twentieth year, is a fundraiser for the Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care that is organized by actor/comic Denis Leary. Neely is a retired hockey player who played for the Boston Bruins and now serves as the team’s President; he has also apparently appeared in Dumb and Dumber according to my guy friends, who are horrified that I have never seen that movie. Many, but not all, of the comedians that participate in Comics Come Home have a connection to the Boston area; they either grew up there or started their careers there. Some of the comics on the bill have a personal connection to the foundation; others just think it is a worthy cause. Over the years, many great comedians have donated their time to the fundraiser and this year was no different – in addition to Leary and Fallon, the 2014 lineup included Bill Burr, Marc Maron, Jim Gaffigan, Lenny Clarke and others. While I’ve seen many of the gentlemen perform before, I was particularly excited to finally get the chance to see Gaffigan, who I’ve been looking forward to seeing but always seem to miss when he’s out on tour. As cancer has recently affected me in a personal way, I was more than happy to help this worthwhile cause while selfishly getting a great night of comedy out of it. I was a little skeptical of the location of the event, as I generally think that comedy is better in a more intimate setting, but if hosting it in the TD Garden meant more money was raised, it would be worth it.

The night kicked off with numerous video messages from comics that were not able to participate this year but that wanted to send their well-wishes. Conan O’Brien wondered why, as a guy that grew up in Boston, they only asked him to send a video every year instead of inviting him to perform. Larry David, in typical Larry David fashion, commended the altruism of the participants and said that he probably wouldn’t participate next year either because “nice thoughts occur to be but I generally don’t act on them.” Craig Ferguson, Jon Stewart and David Letterman all sent video messages as well.

Denis Leary served as the master of ceremonies and host for the event and he got the live show going with a Boston-centric parody of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” I can’t say that I got all the references, but the crowd loved it; my “outside” status as a New Yorker would be reinforced a few times during the evening. Leary then warmed the crowd up with some rants about how at his age he just doesn’t care anymore (that’s a cleaned up version) and how he hates anyone under 30. Leary would pop in and out for the duration of the show to do a little stand-up and then introduce the next comic.

 

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Denis Leary

Comedians Tony V and Joe Yannetty got things going and while they may have been among the lesser well known comics on the bill, they both brought their A game to their sets. Yannetty’s set was perhaps the most appropriate to the theme of the night as he had just received a clean bill of health after his battle with cancer. You wouldn’t think cancer in and of itself is funny, but Yannetty was able to mine his experiences for comedy gold. On being dismayed at the number of people who shared sad stories with him of people who had cancer after his diagnosis, he joked that he only wanted to hear triumphant stories from here on out. “Tell me about a woman who had ovarian cancer that is now f*cking her way across Europe!” That punchline got a huge laugh and particularly tickled Leary, who kept coming back to it the rest of the night. Both Tony V and Joe Yannetty were solid and the night was already off to a strong start.

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Marc Maron

Marc Maron then came out to do a set about his anger issues, kale and the Ebola scare. I always enjoy Maron – I watch his IFC show and listen to his podcast – and appreciate his point of view. I thought his bit about the Ebola scare being a boon time for self-involved people was particularly funny, as well as his observation that kale seemingly came out of nowhere to suddenly be the most important food ever. Maron isn’t necessarily a guy where there are big punchlines or belly laughs in his delivery – he’s more a conversational story-teller than a joke machine – but he was consistently funny throughout his set.

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Lenny Bruce

 

 

He was followed by Lenny Clarke, who is probably best known from his role on Leary’s FX show Rescue Me. A sizeable portion of his set was about the Hilltop Steakhouse, a former Boston institution. Despite the fact that I had no reference point for his jokes, he was still very funny – while his early observations were about the Hilltop specifically, his later jokes were more relatable to even a Yankee like me. And his Boston-specific humor went over very big with the audience.

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Jimmy Fallon

Next, it was finally time for my pal and yours, Jimmy Fallon, to finally take the stage. I was curious what exactly he was going to do; Jimmy may do monologues on his show, but even before he was on Saturday Night Live I don’t know that he was really known for his stand-up. So I wasn’t sure how he was going to entertain the masses. Leary made a point of introducing Fallon as a Yankee and Knicks fan, which earned jeers from the audience – though I bravely cheered – and Fallon rebutted by kicking off his set by pointing out that Leary hadn’t lived in Boston for nearly 25 years and that while Fallon starred in a film about the Red Sox, Leary started in a TV show set in New York City. Fallon then did a bit that he does on the Tonight Show where he awards superlatives to athletes, with the focus on Boston area players. Leary came out to do equal time with New York area athletes; my favorite was the one about Derek Jeter:

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It’s funny because it’s true.

 

Fallon and Leary then did a rendition of “Dirty Water” and Fallon came out into the audience to do his best James Brown impression. His set was capped with an audience sing-a-long of “Sweet Caroline,” which was especially delightful to me since that was my sorority song in college. So the song has special significance to me and the chance to sing it with Fallon and one of my sorority sisters was icing on the cake. The crowd loved Fallon and he gave the event a nice jolt of energy.

Bobby Kelly followed that spectacle and joked that he was in a tough position of being “the fat, bald, nobody comic.” Kelly looked very familiar to me but I couldn’t place where I knew him from; after the fact I realized that he’s appeared on Louie numerous times. When he came out, I turned to my friend Laura and said “hey – it’s THAT guy!” Well, “That guy” wound up stealing the whole entire show from his better known counterparts. Kelly had the audience laughing so hard that I could hear the people around me gasping for a breath. He came out of the gates fast and furious with some hilarious observations about how men in the past could open jars and men of today have “Facebook fingers” that are only adept at using a smart phone. It was then non-stop laughs as he discussed become a father for the first time and the creation and birth of his child. I can’t even begin to do his jokes justice, but his quip that seeing his wife give birth was like seeing someone sneaking a peek out of speakeasy pretty much brought the entire Garden down. He was no longer “That guy” – he was now “Bobby Kelly – the best comic at Comics Come Home.” He was fantastic and I’m still laughing at his set two days later. He was a most pleasant surprise and I’d see him again in a heartbeat.

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Bobby Kelly

Jim Gaffigan and Bill Burr took the stage last and Gaffigan was as fun as I hoped he would be. He did some funny material on bringing doughnuts through airport security and Jesus’ ability to create bread being key to his ability to recruit followers. He was affable and made me chuckle quite a bit. I’ll definitely want to see him perform his full set and I may get around to finally reading his books while I’m traveling the next few weekends. Burr is a much angrier comedian and he seemed even crankier after following Gaffigan. His more misogynist jokes didn’t work for everyone – the women behind me certainly weren’t fans – and he was probably my least favorite of the comedians. He was still pretty funny, but something about his vibe and material just didn’t connect with me this time around; I saw him a few months ago and enjoyed him more then.

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Jim Gaffigan

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Bill Burr

None of the comedians were on stage more than 15-20 minutes and all of them left us wanting more. Leary came out again to close out the evening with a rendition of his song “Asshole,” which was unfortunately hard to hear over the band. The big finale was all the comedians coming out on stage and being joined by the Boston Bruins. I unfortunately don’t follow hockey, so I was less impressed by this than most people in attendance. Regardless, my friend Laura and I had a great time and have decided to make this an annual tradition; we may have missed the first 19 years of Comics Come Home, but we’re on board for the next 19. It was a great evening with great comics for a great cause. It doesn’t get much better than that.

All the comics joined by the Boston Bruins

All the comics joined by the Boston Bruins