Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Aw hell, Chewbacca": 10 genuinely funny stand-up routines or monologues about movies (UPDATED)

Hey, that's Jena Malone chilling behind Patton's couch.
Patton Oswalt, one of the few stand-ups who publicly swore off Twitter when the site's popularity exploded ("I like having radio silence. I think radio silence is an important part of any public figure's day."), did the unthinkable in 2010 when he succumbed to the Twittersphere and started an account. As one can see from his stand-up act, his stint as a guest programmer at L.A.'s New Bev Cinema and his recollections of his most frustrating showbiz experiences during a recent must-listen edition of The Nerdist Podcast, movies are a topic the Hollywood script doctor and Zombie Spaceship Wasteland author is passionate about, and they've led to some of my favorite Oswalt routines. Maybe we'll get a taste of some more Oswalt material about movies on his Twitter page, where he's demonstrating why stand-ups and comedy writers are the best kind of celebrity to follow on Twitter (unlike most other celebs, their tweets are rarely boring or shallow). From last May, here are eight standout routines about cinema, and this time, they're joined by two equally funny monologues that popped up online after I first posted the list. Four of these bits are Oswalt's.

10. Richard Pryor rewrites The Exorcist
The horror genre has always fascinated the late Pryor's former writing partner Paul Mooney, who's done brilliant jokes about the Frankenstein monster, white filmgoers' fears of the shark from Jaws and movies that skeevily put women in romantic situations with sci-fi monsters. He must have had a hand in writing Pryor's material about The Exorcist, which he and Pryor actually saw together at its Hollywood premiere. When Pryor guest-hosted SNL and brought along Mooney as a sketch writer, they did an amusing Exorcist sketch in which a pair of black priests (Pryor and Thalmus Rasulala) lose their patience with the possessed kid (Laraine Newman), who taunts Rasulala's priest with the cleaned-up-for-TV "Your mama sews socks that smell."

9. Scott Thompson sinks Titanic during an interview on Late Night with Conan O'Brien
"I don't think that to be a leading man, you have to be Harrison Ford, but I do think that you should be able to do at least one push-up. When little Leo finally kisses big Kate, I thought it was a lesbian scene."

8. Oswalt wonders what Star Wars would have been like if Nick Nolte won the role he actually auditioned for: Han Solo
"Fuckin' droids, beep, beep..."

7. Robert Klein reenacts every single Our Gang short you've seen
I actually like this routine from the 1973 album Child of the 50's more than "I Can't Stop My Leg." Klein's recreation of the Our Gang score music ("Hal Roach had four tunes that he played over and over again") is priceless.

6. Oswalt recalls one of the reasons why he left his hometown of Sterling, Virginia
The Blast of Silence-loving film geek gets worked up over the aggravating opinions of an NBC affiliate's out-of-touch film critic ("Yeah, so there's this new movie from Australia... called The Road Warrior. Now let me get this straight. It's the future, there's no gasoline, but everyone's driving around in cars. I don't get it. No stars!"). It's an oddly affecting routine that anyone who's aching to leave the hometown they despise--including right now, yours truly--can identify with.

5. Greg Proops gives a rundown of the 2011 Oscar nominees during the "Apples" episode of his Smartest Man in the World podcast (click here for the full episode)
Proops--a movie buff who admits that his taste in flamboyantly acted and written studio-era movies that frequently air on TCM is kind of gay ("I'm not gay, and I make no case for it")--would be the perfect guest programmer on that channel. I'd watch Proops' TCM block just to see the segments where he'd be discussing with TCM weekday host Robert Osborne the oddest or most over-the-top elements of his favorite old movies, much like what he wittily does in front of a live audience at Bar Lubitsch in West Hollywood for his podcast The Smartest Man in the World, whether he's riffing on the miscasting of the glum and dour Richard Burton as the not-exactly-glum-and-dour Antony in 1963's Cleopatra or the differences between '40s and '50s starlets and present-day female movie stars ("Honestly, Jane Russell--that's a fuckin' girl that you take home and have kicked the shit out of you. Jennifer Aniston is a girl you take to Taco Bell and she's like, 'I'm full.'").

He's also had a few funny things to say about much more recent movies on his Proopcast, like when he picked his favorites to win 2011 Oscar acting trophies a few weeks before the Oscar telecast. He rooted for Natalie Portman in Black Swan, mainly because of how much he enjoyed her director Darren Aronofsky's commitment to the material, like how "he doesn't give a fuck--he's gonna put a camera behind the protagonist's head and they are gonna walk fast through a series of shit until you're disconcerted, and music is gonna play so loud while you watch something gross like someone pulling their fingernails off for a year."

But the high point of Proops' Oscar segment had to be when he bashed The Social Network because of its endless deposition scenes and depictions of "Asian girls who are the most cardboard-cutout, two-dimensional Asian girls ever presented in a movie, short of going, 'Me give you blowjob, big man!'" Proops' criticism of both The Social Network and Sofia Coppola's similar portrayal of the Japanese in Lost in Translation, which he calls "a racist piece of shit," is a reason why I've always liked Proops (and he was raised in the Bay Area like I was!). No other white stand-up would point out the racist aspects of The Social Network like Proops has done.

Come to think of it, no Asian American stand-up has done the same thing onstage either, and that's a reason why a lot of APA stand-ups are such huge letdowns to me. Are they not speaking up about The Social Network because they're hoping to get acting work from Aaron Sorkin someday? Did they not notice he's depicted Asian women as nothing but batshit-crazy whores in not just The Social Network but also Studio 60? I've got seven words for those stand-ups: Sorkin doesn't give a shit about you.

4. Oswalt wishes he could go back in time and kill George Lucas with a shovel
A lapsed Star Wars fan, Oswalt delivers a terrific argument against prequels. Yet that didn't stop Oswalt from joining the cast of one of them--Caprica.

3. Paul Mooney rips apart white Hollywood
During the long-out-of-print 1993 album Race, Mooney makes you never look at Disney's Beauty and the Beast the same way again ("Don't take your kids to see that shit. Four or five years from now, your kid'll be in the kitchen fucking the dog, singing 'Beauty and the Beast!'") and disses sci-fi and horror filmmakers for both their misogyny and weird fetishes for "exotic" interspecies romances (I wonder what Mooney has to say about Twilight and True Blood). But the best part of Mooney's amazing rant is when he explains why he detests Driving Miss Daisy ("I don't like that coonin' happy slave bullshit").

The movies that Mooney jokes about on the 1993 CD may be old now, but unfortunately, the stereotypes they reinforced still remain. Now if only there were an Asian American stand-up who isn't so subservient to the Man and will go onstage and rant about the Asian American version of all this.

2. Monologuist Prince Gomolvilas bitchslaps both 21 and The Last Airbender
Actually, an Asian American performer has ranted to audiences about how Hollywood screws over Asian Americans, although Gomolvilas is a monologuist/playwright and not a stand-up.

Gomolvilas was so disappointed about star/producer Kevin Spacey and Columbia Pictures making a whitewashed film version of one of his favorite books, Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, that he vented about Spacey and Columbia's mangling of the book in a delightfully scathing monologue for his stage show Jukebox Stories.

His name is Prince, and he is funky... and apparently the Last Son of Krypton too.
(Photo source: SFGate)
21 had the potential to be a juicy showcase for young Asian American actors because the real-life M.I.T. gamblers in Bringing Down the House were Asian American (the book was written by Ben Mezrich, whose other book, the concisely titled The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, was made into the similarly problematic Social Network). Instead, the makers of 21 dropped the ball and vitiligoed most of the gambler characters.

"People say that I should be happy because the producers, out of an apparent act of charity, did cast two Asian Americans in smaller roles: the Korean dude from Disturbia and some random token hot Asian chick," says Gomolvilas during "21 Reasons Why This Movie Sucks." "But I ask you: Why the hell should I be happy? That's like somebody jerking you off halfway and then leaving."

Gomolvilas also takes the opportunity to weigh in on M. Night Shyamalan's equally whitewashed live-action adaptation of the not-so-Aryan animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, where "the movie's three lead actors are so white they make Justin Bieber look Cambodian." He thanks Shyamalan for what he accomplished in The Last Airbender by spoiling all the twist endings in Shyamalan's movies.

1. Oswalt channels movie producer Robert Evans
I love how Oswalt often picks the most obscure pop culture-related topics for his act (Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is such an example from a few years ago). An audience favorite at past Oswalt performances was his parody of the little-remembered ESPN radio ads that the Godfather and Rosemary's Baby producer recorded to promote the channel's programming. We see why Oswalt is frequently employed as a punch-up scriptwriter when he lets his imagination run wild with colorful, almost poetic-sounding descriptions of wild escapades with '70s celebrities ("Tom Wopat loved the three F's: food, fun and fisting. We took Gil Gerard out on my cigarette boat Memorial Day Weekend 1978, and I swear to you, over those sweet, savage 72 hours, he turned that poor man into his personal finger puppet.").

These next two routines, which were part of the list when I first posted it last year, are still funny to me, but the Proops and Gomolvilas monologues pushed them off the list.

Steve Byrne imagines how Bruce Lee had sex
I don't agree with many of this half-Korean, half-white comic's opinions about race. He recently said to WTF podcast host Marc Maron that he thinks African Americans should stop blaming white people for slavery and that they need to get over it (for real, Byrne?), and he thinks it's okay for all races to be made fun of onstage, but it's not okay for comedians of color to ridicule white people because whites have been victimized way too much (WTF?). Then Uncle Ruckus told a puzzled Maron that "I feel like white people just take a severe pounding in comedy" (huh?--Byrne didn't seem so ashamed about giving white folks a pounding when he made fun of white dance moves during his Comedy Central special The Byrne Identity).

Last time I checked, comedy is about mocking the overprivileged, the powerful and the racist, not giving them a tongue bath.

But one thing about Byrne that we can all agree on is that his most popular bit remains hilarious, even though Byrne must have gotten so sick of performing it that he retired it a few years ago (and even though Byrne's WTF episode has kind of tainted my enjoyment of it). The Bruce Lee routine must be watched, not listened to. Why Byrne included it as a track on his 2005 CD Little by Little boggles the mind because 90 percent of it relies on visual gags. Without the visuals, it's like listening to a Marcel Marceau record album.

Mario Cantone does an impression of that annoying classroom song from The Birds
If you watched a lot of Comedy Central during the late '90s like I did, you might have fond memories of Cantone's Birds routine. The channel frequently reran it, yet it never got old. I always dug how instead of the Psycho shower scene or the North by Northwest crop-duster attack, Cantone chose a lesser-known Hitchcock movie moment to mock (and add some profane new lyrics to). And yes, when you watch The Birds, that song really does work your last nerve and make you want to go peck a defenseless hobo's eyes out like he's Suzanne Pleshette.

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