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Fall's Cornucopia of Comedy

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New York may have been famously known as "a summer festival," but that quote might have to change after looking at this year's exciting fall comedy calendar. To catch you up on the comedy festival circuit, October featured the second annual NYC Underground Comedy Festival. Featuring 10 venues, 25 events, and 10 industry seminars, it was hard to pick what to spotlight. I admire how they chose to bring shows to all five boroughs, featured comedy in theatre venues (as well as comedy clubs), and provided free shows in the public libraries. A highlight, too, was their choice to include the landmark venue The Bitter End, once associated with hip '60s comedy but now known primarily for music. Did you know Woody Allen and Richard Pryor did many of their early sets at this West Village staple?

Another festival highlight was a celebration show at the Arthur Seelen Theatre at the Drama Book Shop introducing comic and author Jim Mendrinos' new book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Comedy Writing." When reporting about writing, the first question I'm asked is "How did so and so get that gig?" So I asked Mendrinos, and he tells me that after the project was delayed, the publisher suddenly needed a writer who could write swiftly. Since Mendrinos feels that he has built a rep for himself as someone who can deliver just that, and since he also had experience in most of the areas they wanted covered in the book, he submitted an outline and a sample chapter. Three days later, he had the contract. (And so my question to all of you is "What comedy rep are you developing?")

I also asked Mendrinos how his writing projects differed from stand-up and show hosting. He believes—and I agree—"There is a universal undercurrent to all comedy writing. Stand-up, sitcom, even funny fiction and cartoons need to have an emotional connection between the presenter and the audience." The book breaks down the basic components of humor, exploring the differences in formatting and rhythm for each genre. Mendrinos feels that stand-up has to be much more aggressive then other comedy styles. Why? "It's performed in a club, which means alcohol and a distracted audience. You have to 'get to the funny' much quicker in this discipline." I heartily concur. Of course, you may also develop yourself as a long-form storyteller (a popular comedy trend this season), but with so many auditions and appearances requiring you to shine in five minutes or less, "quick" is a very important weapon in your arsenal.

The Big Red Comedy Festival returned to NYC in October for its second year of celebrating comedians past and present from Cornell University. Performances included two standouts from this year's Back Stage top 10 list (André du Bouchet and sketch group Elephant Larry), plus many more. It's not surprising that The Onion supported this comedy collection. The festival also offered an interesting panel, "Careers in Comedy," for those considering a job in comedy. The two panelists, Mark Katz and Jason Reich, have done it all, including writing for TV's acclaimed "The Daily Show" and for President Clinton. What a great free offering. For future festival information, visit www.bigredcomedy.com.

Are you familiar with humorist and comic Eugene Mirman? Catch his work if you want to know who's hot in comedy, as well as enjoy exciting talent. You can visit www.eugenemirman.com to learn more, plus now enjoy his first CD, "The Absurd Nightclub Comedy of Eugene Mirman," available at www.suicidesqueeze.net. Mirman recently had a CD celebration show at NYC's Bowery Ballroom complete with a '50s-'60s dance party and great guests, including Todd Barry, Demetri Martin, and Jessi Klein, hosted by past Back Stage top tenners and SNL writers Slovin and Allen.

It was Leo Allen who first introduced me to Mirman's unique brand of mirth. As I've often written here, I get some of my best information on new performers from the comics whose work I already admire. Want to be an insider, too? Go to your favorite comic's website or blog (online searches are easy and many comics use their names as websites) and sign up for his or her email list. Comics share what they're doing (live shows, TV appearances, CDs) and tell whose work they admire—so you, too, will be a comedy insider before the New Year!

Of course, comedy insiders and audiences can't wait for the first New York Comedy Festival, Nov. 9-13, presented by Carolines on Broadway, Alliance, Comedy Central, WABC-TV, and NYC & Company. Shows include Steven Wright, Drew Carey, and comedy divas Monique and Roseanne Barr. I can't wait to review Denis Leary and Back Stage Bistro Award winner and NBC's "Last Comic Standing" finalist Rich Vos (featured in the festival's "The Passion of Opie and Anthony"). The highlight for me will be the first Andy Kaufman Award, presented at Carolines on Nov. 11. Comics have been sending in tapes throughout October to be considered the individual who most reflects the originality, humor, and courage of Kaufman. Judges include Stanley Kaufman (Andy's dad) and "Taxi" star Tony Danza. They'll both be sharing observations with me that night on whom they've picked and I'll have the full scoop in my next column. In the meantime, visit www.nycomedyfestival.com.

And there are more not-to-be-missed shows. Back Stage Bistro Award winner, "Sex and the City" darling, and self-described "Laugh Whore" Mario Cantone is now on Broadway at the Cort Theatre through Jan. 2 (www.laughwhore.com). I used to be the musical-comedy opener for Cantone at his Duplex variety shows and thought my ribs would actually bruise from laughing so hard. If you can afford only one headliner show this year, make it this one.

You may know Patton Oswalt as neighbor Spence Olchin on CBS's "The King of Queens" or from "Late Night With Conan O'Brien." Or maybe, like me, you've been enjoying his fun observational comedy at Ars Nova, "Eating It," and many other venues. Since Comedy Central knows I'm an Oswalt fan, they've just told me that his new one-hour stand-up special, "No Reason to Complain," will premiere Sun., Dec. 5, at 10 pm. Circle your calendars.

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