Beth Lapides Presents: Say the Word: The New America (Skirball Center)
Let me be upfront about this: I am no girl racer. I’m used to people asking if I got lost on the way over. Friends refuse to take road trips with me unless they drive – the whole way. I cruise through this great semi-tropolis to the tinkling soundtrack of honking horns. But driving down Sepulveda to the Skirball on a rainy Los Angeles evening was a hazard taken in the line of comedy duty which I prayed didn’t deliver a cream-pie medal in the ER later. Scattered raindrops smeared my dust-encrusted windscreen, as I battled through the mysterious, ever-transforming roadworks, and displayed my yellow belly to every entitled Westside driver who sailed by in their entirely redundant off-road leisure vehicle, while, ever the multi-tasker, I cursed comedy down to the last fiber of my public-transport-loving being. As the Skirball finally appeared on my left, a suburban mall fever-dream of a high art fortress, I slunk into the underground parking spot near the elevators with that chill cascade of relief you got as a kid when your sister cracked an imaginary egg on your head. Maybe that’s how 007 felt, as he entered Dr. No’s secret lair. Because I, too, was on a mission: to observe some of the best minds in TV and film comedy, live and face to face.
Beth Lapides’ Uncabaret has long established itself on the LA scene as a haven for comedy hipsters in the know. In the Cotsen Auditorium, designed with a deco-burlesque-palace-meets-Star-Wars-intergalactic-mothership-with-a-cousin-in-corporate-events theme, the mostly over-30 crowd forsook the bar, shuffling back to their faux-candle lit tables with good strong coffee and chunky low-fat sandwiches in time to the 80s pre-show music. Ms. Lapides, ever the good host as a self-identified “silver lining girl”, squeezed her multi-layered, evocative story of personal despair in the shadow of “Hollywood double-speak” and “DWC’s” (Driving While Crying’s), into the “New America” theme, discounting that fantasy of a perfect life where we “only choose rainbows” in favor of one in which we view happiness, and the experience of life, as a continuous spectrum. Watching her, one is reminded that good writing is gender blind.
Kevin Rooney, veteran of Politically Incorrect, My Wife and Kids, and Til Death, to name a few, makes it look so effortless. As he masterfully guided us through his potted whistle-stop tour of American history, his dazzling ability to conjure startling, crystalline images prevailed. His coolly sardonic demeanor belies the fury of the talent beneath: his images of Republican “heads so full of holes” they whistle “Onward Christian Soldiers” when accelerating; or the image of a fat kid “like a pond in a pair of sweatpants” inventing the internet, are observations which will shift your perception forever, and force your frontal cortex to work a little while you smile. Moshe Kasher was a welcome revelation to me, but not to the multitude who have seen him on Conan, Chelsea Lately, Jimmy Fallon,or, in short, own a TV screen. His surreal story about a white “Aunt Tom”, an Occupy Oakland protester known as the “Camp Creeper”, with Malcolm X tracts caught in her dreadlocked hair, culminated in a sweetly salacious finale, which critiqued the American pursuit of self-invention succinctly, and not without a little venom beneath the boyish grin. Unmissable. Cindy Chupack’s (Modern Family) straight-from-the-uterus story about re-defining motherhood offered us a poignant picture of true relatedness, while giving us some uncanny impersonations of too-old-to-party eggs and sperm (“You kids go on”) and their Hollywood agents.
Crowd favorite Taylor Negron(Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Last Boyscout, Call Me Claus), recent New York transplant and self-proclaimed “Che Guevara of vegetables”, fresh from the hurricane-torn East Coast, didn’t disappoint with his election year story about generational identity politics, in which he fantasizes about “slave angels who park and sometimes even vote” for him. His charisma and personal connection with the audience are as matchless, as his advice: “If America’s going to survive, America must make a sex tape. If America does not make a sex tape, the terrorists have won!”. Brian Finklestein, (UCB, The Ellen Degeneres Show, The Moth) served up arguably the most ambitious piece of writing of the evening, a dual-world comparison of his life as a “revolting” young man juxtaposed with that of a Tiananmen Square revolutionary. Somehow or other we end up in Tijuana watching donkey sex. How? We don’t know, and we don’t care. We’re just enjoying the ride. Compelling, thought-provoking, and twisted. What more could you ask for?
So, listen up, young comedy hipsters. Those over-30s may be on to something – after all, only smart people survive long enough to achieve oldster status. Don’t let them keep this venue their personal secret. Go to the UnCabaret at the Skirball in February for their next star-studded line-up. You’ll get great cheap coffee, a nice healthy sandwich, and you will definitely learn something about unparalleled comedic writing in all its styles and manifestations. Just get your granny to drive. And check uncabaret.com weekly for show schedule at Uncab’s regular weekly downtown venue.
I give Uncab at The Skirball 8 out of 8 menorahs!
The Pentagon just announced it’s lifting the ban on woman going to the front lines and engaging in hand-to-hand combat. I know this is something that’s supposedly good for women, and something that women in the military want, but it’s something I have such mixed feeling about. Oddly, one of those feelings is gratitude. Because it reminds me why, after 25 years, I’m still so committed to hosting and producing UnCabaret.
The news sent me back to when, years ago, the issue of allowing women on the front lines first came up. I was just beginning comedy career and was performing in what, at the time, was a fashion-forward choice: men’s suits. Partly, I loved the suits for the pockets. Partly, I loved them for the power they bestowed. Partly, I enjoyed the focus on my work which the ease of a uniform provided — much like combat gear.
And then, the issue of women being allowed to fight on the front lines came up. And I started to wonder: Is this where the women’s movement has gotten us? Fighting for the right to fight? I felt like yes, women should be allowed to do everything men do, and I was living proof that, to some degree, things had changed for the better in that department. But I also felt, and still feel, that the women’s movement should have moved us away from war, not towards women being allowed to fight like men. And I saw myself wearing the men’s suits, practicing an art form defined by men, and I thought maybe it’s time to don a dress. That was the actual odd phrase I had in my mind: don a dress.
Then things didn’t happen the way they would in the movie. There was no frenzied montage over the Pet Shop Boys “Shopping.” Instead, I mulled the idea of wearing dresses, flipped through magazines, agonized. Then one night, I followed Andrew Dice Clay at The Comedy Store. I was waiting to go on, watching his women-hating act, hating him, hating the audience for laughing at him, hating myself for hating and thinking, there has to be another way. A better way. I wanted to create a venue where I felt challenged as a comedian but not scared as a human. Where my friends could be as funny as they were on the phone with me. Where I wasn’t lulled to sleep by the rat-a-tat-tat of the gun fire comedy rhythm, where when you did do well, you didn’t kill. When you did less well, you didn’t die. I longed for a venue where instead of a “tight ten,” a locked-in, combat ready set, you could actually play, explore, communicate, experiment, discover, refine. All the things that I knew went into the practice of any art form. All the things I knew were part of the roots of the great stand-ups I so loved.
And so I created UnCabaret. A show where skirted, dressed and even midriff-baring, tight jeans wearing comedians of the female variety were more than welcome to do it slightly differently. Where they weren’t just tolerated, they were celebrated. UnCabaret was very essentially about women. We always loved our boys too. Gay ones, and even straight ones. But UnCabaret is not UnCabaret without women comedians. The show is not the show without the loopier rhythms, the more story based structure, the particular stories, the personal revelation and the fine balance between brashness and vulnerability that every successful woman practicing the art of stand up has mastered. Or should I say mistressed. UnCabaret is not UnCabaret without the particular parade of lovely liveliness that is women in stand-up.Learn More
by Jim Bessman
UnCabaret, the legendary story-based, stream-of-conscious comedy show that debuted over 20 years ago at the historic Women’s Building in downtown Los Angeles, is back—and Amazon’s got it.
The weekly Sunday night show, which has been characterized as “idiosyncratic conversational comedy,” had been on hiatus since 2008 (it originated then at M-Bar in Hollywood), and started up again a year ago at the First and Hope restaurant in Downtown L.A.
Now four taped UnCabaret episodes have been made available via Amazon.com’s Amazon Instant Video online streaming and digital download service. It had previously been produced as a Comedy Central Special, a daily radio show on Comedy World Radio, a podcast on Audible.com and three CDs.
Actress/writer/media personality Beth Lapides, UnCabaret’s creator and host, is back in those roles and executive-producing together with new musical director Mitch Kaplan. Filmmaker Adam Salky (Dare) directed the pilot of the Amazon series episodes.Learn More