Look, Owl! It's My First Post!

So for a while now I've been wanting to do a couple of different semi-regular features (one for documentaries and one for stand-up comedy) for Backtalk similar to Ruusu's Midnight Movies or Chrono's Vintage Game Night. I had the first one for a documentary series all ready to go, and one for stand-up comedy almost complete when I discovered that this long gestating project by Bonnie McFarlane had finally found distribution and been released. So I actually combined the two and reframed the original stand-up piece.

If you are interested, then normally I'd like to share with you a single comedian, performance, bit, or even just joke. I find stand-up endlessly fascinating for many reasons, but I don't really want to write in depth analysis like I'm sitting with other comedy nerds. I'd just like to show you some things you might not normally encounter, but would hopefully enjoy.. especially at the end of a particularly shitty day. Since Bonnie's film tackles a big topic I'd like to give you a bit more this time.. a few examples illustrating her point. Everything but the documentary featured below is free and legal, but I provide links and would encourage you to support the comedian if you enjoy her work.

Women Aren't Funny

If you Google the phrase "women aren't funny" you get page after page of "think pieces" by journalists and bloggers, several from right here in Gawker media-land. They're all pretty insufferable.

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This is not one of those. I'm not much for pontificating, and you really shouldn't care what my opinion is or if I even have one. This is just me directing your attention to something special that deserves it.

Veteran comedian Bonnie McFarlane wanted to make a film, and decided to address this odd controversy that had, at the time of the project's inception had arisen again as a result of an article by Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair titled "Why Women Aren't Funny. " She made a film that in its final form is part investigative journalism satire, part stand-up special, and part documentary.... cockumentary" (her word). It's Bonnie and her husband, fellow veteran comic Rich Vos, dealing with their life as parents to their daughter, working stand-up comedians, and new filmmakers who may bitten off a little more than they anticipated.

It's insightful (the answers are definitely not always as cut and dry as you might think, touching, and most importantly, very funny. If you want a full review check out this one from fourthmic. It's available as a rental or for purchase from Amazon, and Google Play. And here's the trailer:

Tig Notaro

Tig's performance at Largo upon learning she had breast cancer is now legendary. From a technical standpoint it's nothing short of amazing that she could put together a set like that in the time she had. Most comics spend months or even years developing a solid half hour to hour of material. But the true genius of it is the brutal honesty... cancer isn't even the worst thing she's had to confront in a short period as she describes. She even has to comfort the audience who between laughs are having a rough go of it. I'll defer to Louis CK who was there that night and is responsible in a big way for the world getting to hear this.

Well, Tig is a friend of mine and she is very funny. I love her voice on stage. One night I was performing at a club in LA called Largo. Tig was there. She was about to go on stage. I hadn't seen Tig in about a year and I said how are you? She replied "well I found out today that I have cancer in both breasts and that it has likely spread to my lymph nodes. My doctor says it looks real bad. ". She wasn't kidding. I said "uh. Jesus. Tig. Well. Do you... Have your family... Helping?". She said "well my mom was with me but a few weeks ago she fell down, hit her head and she died". She still wasn't kidding.

Now, I'm pretty stupid to begin with, and I sure didn't know what to say now. I opened my mouth and this came out. "jeez, Tig. I. Really value you. Highly.". She said "I value you highly too, Louie.". Then she held up a wad of note-paper in her hand and said "I'm gonna talk about all of it on stage now. It's probably going to be a mess". I said "wow". And with that, she went on stage.

I stood in the wings behind a leg of curtain, about 8 feet from her, and watched her tell a stunned audience "hi. I have cancer. Just found out today. I'm going to die soon". What followed was one of the greatest standup performances I ever saw. I can't really describe it but I was crying and laughing and listening like never in my life. Here was this small woman standing alone against death and simply reporting where her mind had been and what had happened and employing her gorgeously acute standup voice to her own death.

The show was an amazing example of what comedy can be. A way to visit your worst fears and laugh at them. Tig took us to a scary place and made us laugh there. Not by distracting us from the terror but by looking right at it and just turning to us and saying "wow. Right?". She proved that everything is funny. And has to be. And she could only do this by giving us her own death as an example. So generous.

After her set, I asked Mark Flanagan, the owner of Largo (great club, by the way) if he recorded the set. Largo is set up for excellent recordings. He said that he did.

A few days later, I wrote Tig and asked her if I could release this set on my site. I wanted people to hear what I saw. What we all saw that night. She agreed. The show is on sale for the same 5 dollars I charge for my stuff. I'm only keeping 1. She gets the other 4. Tig has decided to give some of that to cancer research.

Tig, by the way, has since undergone a double mastectomy. She is doing well. Her doctors say her chances of survival are excellent. So she went there and came back. Her report from the frontlines of life and death are here for you to... Enjoy.

It's available to stream for free from Spotify, but you can purchase it plus a separate performance for storytelling site The Moth here.

Cameron Esposito

I happened to be watching an episode of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson for a Jay Leno interview when perpetual denim wearer and possessor of a magnificent side-mullet Cameron made her network debut last year. She had good material, but it's memorable for a different reason. You can see that here.

She also writes about it here.

She's a VERY talented writer who I think lucked into a sweet gig by having the right name when the AV CLUB launched a column called "Who in the World is Cameron Esposito?" She's written about everything from topless hugs with the female Terminator on a South African penguin beach to what it's like to just walk down the street while being female, and most recently about dealing with body issues starting at age eleven. Relevant to Bonnie's film topic she's written about being a female comic and the "are women funny" topic. She has an album on Spotify, and you can order her brand new show Same Sex Symbol here.

Maria Bamford

If you don't know who Maria is, and a surprising number of people don't, then you are a horrible person. Your nerd cred is suspect as well. She's done a vast amount of voice work on shows like Adventure Time, CatDog, and The Legend of Korra. She's appeared on Arrested Development, Louie, and The Sarah Silverman Program. But at heart she's a ridiculously talented stand-up comedian.

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You can hear her at the top of game on her most recent special Ask Me About My New God. It is quite simply one of the best specials ever recorded. It's still new-ish, but will go down as one of the top ten ever at some point. Maria's mental health struggles have never been a secret, and prior to this special she had a breakdown that required hospitalisation. In a way similar to Tig she mines that for devastatingly funny material. It's fascinating to listen to her take what could easily be dark material on suicide and depression and shape it into something else... not light... just different. She doesn't present a bleak story, but it isn't some sappy inspirational tale either. It's just a BRILLIANTLY funny woman describing the conditions of her existence.

And to see something truly unique, you can order Maria Bamford: The Special Special Special from Amazon here. It's some of the same material as Ask Me About My New God, but in comedy concert form. Concert in this case meaning a show in her living room... where the entire audience consists of her parents... and she takes breaks to take cookies out of the oven... and feed her pugs. It's magnificent. (Full disclosure: I felt a little weird when during Bonnie's documentary.. she's interviewing Maria and my first thought upon recognising the location was "Hey! They're in her living room.")

Sarah Silverman

If patronuses were real then Sarah would be mine. That older woman in your life... your "cool" aunt... your badass grandma/Nana/meemaw? The one you wonder what she was like when she was younger? This is her. Sarah doesn't require a lot of explanation. And I would like to do a proper solo piece on her at some point so I won't even attempt a lot of detail now. She's a performer who in "Stephen Colbert" fashion sometimes plays a character named "Sarah Silverman" that embodies the knowledgeable sweetness of Abby Scuito crossed with the deceptive cluelessness of Dalia Royce. On her Emmy nominated show "The Sarah Silverman Program" she was always in character, but in concert she slips in and out of it so quickly it can be hard to tell for some people which one they're hearing.

I will direct you to her special We Are Miracles on Spotify. But since we both know that you have your friend's HBO Go password (and HBO is okay with it) then you should REALLY watch it instead of listen... or even better... order the video. Not quite as intimate as Maria's special for her parents, but it's still only for 39 people. It's beautiful. It's brilliant. It won an Emmy for a reason. It's probably the best thing she's done, but I'm pretty partial to this.

Autobiographies by comedians are ALWAYS BEST if you're listening them read it. It's probably slower than you read, but it's delivered not only by the author, but by someone who knows best how to deliver a line. Sarah's stories about growing up, being a bedwetter into her teens, her early days in comedy... Things like hearing that her new therapist for her depression at thirteen has hung himself... her forward to her own book.. and the midward... and the afterward by God. Hell..here's her blurb for Amazon to help you decide.

From the outrageously filthy and oddly innocent comedienne Sarah Silverman comes a memoir-her first book-that is at once shockingly personal, surprisingly poignant, and still pee-in-your-pants funny. If you like Sarah's television show The Sarah Silverman Program, or memoirs such as Chelsea Handler's Are You There Vodka? It's Me Chelsea and Artie Lange's Too Fat to Fish, you'll love The Bedwetter.

Warning from publisher to listeners:

At HarperCollins, we are committed to customer satisfaction. Before proceeding with your purchase, please take the following questionnaire:

1. Which of the following do you appreciate?

A Women with somewhat horse-ish facial features.

B Women who, while not super Jew-y, are more identifiably Jewish than, say, Natalie Portman.

C Frequent discussion of unwanted body hair.

2. Are you offended by the following behavior?

A Instructing one's grandmother to place baked goods in her rectal cavity.

B Stripping naked in public eleven times in a row.

C Stabbing one's boss in the head with a writing implement.

3. The best way to treat an emotionally fragile young girl is:

A Murder the main course of her Thanksgiving dinner before her very eyes.

B Tell her that her older sister is prettier than she, and then immediately die.

C Prevent her suicide by recommending she stay away from open windows.

If you read the above questions without getting nauseous or forming a hate Web site, you are ready to buy this audiobook! Please proceed to the shopping cart.

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee is available from audible for a free trial.

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I hope you find something you like in here. Actually, I hope you like all of them. And please remember to tip your server support your comedian.

ETA: So the new episode of the Too Long; Didn't Listen podcast went up earlier, and Bonnie and Marina Franklin are featured discussing the myth ahead of their panel tomorrow at the New York Comedy Festival.