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Comedy Death-Ray comic book update

Mar 4, 2015

Bringing the Funny & Famous to Comics in Comedy Death Ray

Comic book fans are always looking for that one name that will impress their non-reading friends and magically make comic books cool in the eyes of the uninitiated.

"See? So-and-so reads comics and he's a famous person!"

Lately, it hasn't been that hard to do. But Jeff Katz, founder of the new comics and film production company American Original, is making it easier with his San Diego Comic-Con announcement of the talent for his new Comedy Death Ray comic book.

The list of people involved in the four-issue anthology reads like a who's who in the world of comedy. Scheduled to debut this winter, Comedy Death Ray will feature stories by actress Janeane Garofalo, comedian Sarah Silverman, Fred Armisen from Saturday Night Live, B.J. Novak from The Office, Mr. Show writers and stars David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, comedian Paul F. Tompkins, comedian Paul Scheer, writer Rob Schrab, and comedian Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover). Add to this a couple of names already familiar to comics readers -- Brian Posehn and Patton Oswalt -- and Katz is hoping the name recognition alone will be enough to make even the most ignorant comics detractor bolt into the comics shop.

Pulling together all this talent -- and even more he hasn't announced yet -- is comedian/writer Scott Aukerman, who will edit the book. (Aukerman, who founded the Comedy Death-Ray stage show and is well-known to fans of Mr. Show, recently wrote the MTV Movie Awards, so he's the mind behind that now-classic moment where Bruno fell on Eminem.)

A faithful every-Wednesday comics reader himself, Aukerman talked to Newsarama about why he thinks Comedy Death Ray can bring the funny back to comics.

Newsarama: Scott, I was talking to Jeff Katz about you recently, and he told me a story that you guys met when you were judges for something comics related?

Scott Aukerman: Yeah, we met at the UCB theater in Los Angeles -- the Upright Citizens Brigade theater -- and it was a comic book themed show where people were coming out and saying who would win in a fight. Like, they were representing Iron Man or they were representing Wonder Woman. And we were judges for who made the best case for who would win. Everyone dressed up as their character.

The judges were Paul Scheer and myself and Jeff. And then I believe it was Marc Andreyko. I had just read his last issue of Booster Gold, and I told him I loved that 12th issue. So we just kind of struck up a friendship from that.

Nrama: At what point did it turn into an offer to work on a comic?

Aukerman: He called me into his office, and he had said he wanted to talk to me about something. I had assumed, because he had done Booster Gold, that it was something to do with DC. But then he laid that bombshell on me that he had just quit Fox and was leaving to start his own company. And he asked if I'd like to do something with him. So automatically, I jumped at the chance, because I've always wanted to write a comic.

Down the road, I just came up with this idea based on some of the comics I love, like Dan Clowes' Eightball or Peter Bagge's Hate, of just doing a humor anthology with all the comedians I regularly work with.

Nrama: Are most of these people comic book fans?

Aukerman: All of us, I think, have been really into comics. Ever since I've known all these comedians, they've all been into comics. So it's cool that we're going to write some now. Bob Odenkirk and David Cross and I have been to the comics convention together. Sarah Silverman obviously works with Rob Schrab every day, who did Scud: The Disposable Assassin. And Janeane Garofalo is an old comics fan.

Nrama: Yeah, wasn't she on television talking about Y: The Last Man once?

Aukerman: Oh, yeah! I actually gave her the 10th trade of Y when it came out because she'd only read trades 1 through 9 and was wondering where the 10th one was. And I was like, 'Oh, it hasn't come out yet.' And so the day it came out on Wednesday, I saw it in the shop and figured I'd get it for her. So I gave her the 10th one.

So yeah, everyone's a comics fan and more than that, we all like doing stuff together. The Comedy Death Ray aesthetic is a group of friends just working together and doing stuff together. We've all known each other for over a decade. So I think it's just a really good opportunity for people who are interested in the form to not feel like they have to write a continuous series or be responsible for the whole thing.

Nrama: Yeah, 'cause it's not like you guys don't do anything else.

Aukerman: Yeah. This is another one of my many hobbies that I won't make any money on.

Nrama: How are you finding artists for the anthology?

Aukerman: We're getting people to draw them. Already, just since the announcement, we've had a few major artists contact us. And actually, three super-huge TV comedians have contacted me and said they wanted to be involved. So I think there is going to be another announcement about people who will be involved in this past just those I could get together for Comic-Con.

Nrama: How often do you think it will be coming out?

Aukerman: I know it's a four-issue series that will be collected to do a trade. Past that, we'll just have to see how well it does and how much work it is.

Nrama: Are you editing these? Or acting more as a controller of what goes in which issue?

Aukerman: It really is depending on what everyone wants to do. Most people really want to write it. Obviously, Patton and Brian are already published comic book authors. But I'm basically going to everyone and saying, hey, what do you want to do with this? If you don't have the time to just sit there by yourself, we could write it together. If you want to come up with an idea, then we could beat it out together and I'll come up with the script. It's really just what everyone's level of time involvement is.

Sarah Silverman and Rob Schrab are going to write it together, then he's going to draw it. So it's kind of the same thing I do with the live show or our CD that we put out on Comedy Central records, or the podcast I do every week. I'm in charge of putting people together, suggesting things, and making sure the result comes out well.

Nrama: Are some of the stories going to be continuing from one issue to another? Or are they going to be short little gags?

Aukerman: I know Zach Galifianakis is probably going to be doing something that's a longer story. So some people are going to be in every issue as a continuing thing, almost like Ghost World and Eightball were. And then some people will be doing just self-contained things. And then some people will be doing one-page kind of strips or jokes. I really want a lot of variety in there, which is what I used to love about Eightball in the early seven or eight issues.

Nrama: As a comics fan, you go in the shop every once in awhile...

Aukerman: Oh, I'm in there weekly. My shop opens at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays and I'm there!

Nrama: Well, Jeff talked about comedy being underrepresented in the marketplace. And there is this feeling among the comic book community right now that the word "fun" means death to a comic book, because it's got to be dramatic and hard-hitting. Why do you think comedy hasn't succeeded as much in comic books? And how do you think Comedy Death Ray will be different enough to find success?

Aukerman: I think it has to do with comics being a serialized art form. So it's dependent upon plot moving forward and dramatic revelations and shocks and twists and turns. A lot of the stuff I read is that way. And the reason why comics are so addictive and why you have to go into the shop on Wednesday and get them right away is that you want to see what happens next. And maybe the knock on humor and anthology books is that there isn't that hook of plot and that dramatic twist where you're wondering what's going to happen next.

But I think the talent involved in our book will get people to take a look at it who normally wouldn't look at a comic, I think. It's the kind of thing that will even stand out in a bookstore, let alone a comic book store. We're going to promote it in the sense that, if you're a Sarah Silverman fan, we want you out there on the shop on Wednesday to pick it up. But some of it will find success in the trade market as well. We really wanted there to be a level of talent there that makes people at least want to check it out.

This is not something that we're doing in order to springboard into other mediums that we'd rather work in. We're all creating these stories just for the comic. That's what our eye is on, making the comic book really, really funny. And everyone's creating new things just for it. This isn't like people taking old movie scripts that they haven't been able to sell and then trying to turn them into a comic to sell a movie. We're all creating things especially for this medium.

Nrama: You sound like you know what long-time comics readers think of Hollywood coming into comics.

Aukerman: Yeah, of course I do. We're not doing this because we want to diversify or hit a target market or something like that.

But this isn't about us trying to get our movie made. I mean, the one thing it is allowing us to do is people who have been interested in doing a comic book for awhile can now do it. And we're pulling it together into something we think could sell.

Nrama: Do you know yet how big these four issues will be?

Aukerman: It's going to be in treasury form, just like Muhammad Ali vs. Superman. And most of them will star Muhammad Ali and/or Superman. We have the right to neither, but we're going to go for it.

No, I don't have any idea as far as page count. Right now I'm in the process of getting scripts in and figuring out the combination of people in each issue and what's going to work best as far as variety and types of stories. And then once all the material is in, we'll see if they're extra-long, 64-page spectaculars, or whether they're the regular 22-page comics.

Nrama: And what are you going to be writing?

Aukerman: My partner that I created Comedy Death Ray with, B.J. Porter and I, are going to be writing something together. I may team up with some of the people we've talked about. And I may team up with some of the people we haven't even announced yet.

Nrama: Okay then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell people about Comedy Death Ray?

Aukerman: Yeah, give us a chance. We all love comics. And we are all doing this because it sounds like fun and we want to write great stories that everyone can enjoy. We all just love comics and we want to make them.
LA General

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UCBT performers featured in LA Weekly's comedy issue

Mar 4, 2015

When Bad Things Happen to Funny People

L.A. is filled with un-sitcomed standup comics. Many are extremely talented and will make you laugh till you hurt yourself. These are the professionals. As a service to our readers, who could use a break from their worries, we've asked a sampling of the best comics (some you've heard of, some you will hear of) to share their best Hollywood horror stories -- auditions, day jobs, head shots, meetings gone very, very wrong. Go ahead, feel their pain.

Unattractive Man

I don't have a problem with how I look. Like most people, I did when I was younger, but not so much anymore. In college I had a goatee, then later a beard. I grew them partly to look less like an adolescent boy but mostly to cover my weak chin. When I was a teenager people said I looked like a thinner John Candy. Lately I've been told I look Will Ferrell-ish. In my act I've described myself as being 'built like a long baby.' Anyway, all things considered, I'm not an ugly man. At least, I don't think so. I'm a comedian, after all. Not being conventionally stunning helps. No one likes having the wacky foibles of life pointed out by a model.

Years ago, I walked into the casting office of 200 South ready to hit it out of the park. Even if it was an ad for kitty litter, or whatever. Back then all I went out for were commercials, but it was always exciting. Into the room I'd bound full of vigor and enthusiasm pretty much every time. Being a comedian, you get used to rejection and humiliation on a lot of levels. So when I started auditioning for things in L.A., I thought I could take whatever. In this particular instance I had no clue what role I was there for, but I didn't care. Head shot in hand, with a smile on my face, I walked up to the pretty girl holding the sign-in sheet.

Me: 'Hi, how are you? I'm here for the audition.' Sign-in girl: 'Hi. Name?'

Me: 'Matt Braunger. Um, my agent didn't tell me what role I'm auditioning for.'

girl: 'Matt Bron ... ?'

Me: 'Braunger. B as in boy, R, A, U ... '

Sign-in girl: 'Oh, here you are, Matt. Yep. You're going in for the role of ... UNATTRACTIVE MAN.'

Jesus Christ.

She walked away, leaving me stunned. Honestly? A noise came out of my face, unbidden. It was kind of a sad grunt. It felt like a physical blow. This is why I came in? This came over the breakdowns and someone -- who represents me -- said, 'Unattractive? Let's send in Braunger! He's perfect for that!'

You're here for the role of Unattractive Man. You are. By name.

When I was in sixth grade, I went to my very first school dance. While there, a friend said a girl wanted to meet me. Oh, I felt like a king! I walked over to where she was, but as I got closer she began to frown. 'No, never mind,' she said to my friend. Clearly. Loud enough for me to hear. I turned and went back to the part of the wall I had been holding up a minute before.

This felt like that.

Gathering my ego, I walked over and learned that it was just a wide-ranging description. It should have been called 'Creepy Man.' He was a guy who kept hitting on a woman who didn't like him. That's all. He wasn't a shirtless Joseph Merrick. Relieved, I sat down and watched the other guys arrive to be told they were hideous, too. It was awesome.

Head Shots Gone Wrong 

Some years back, I moved to Hollywood from Texas. I arrived with high hopes, as I'd gotten some attention from starring in the MTV series Austin Stories, which landed me a manager at one of the biggest management companies in town. My co-star and writing partner, Chip Pope, moved out on the same day and was signed by the same guy.

The guy -- we'll call him Manager -- was extremely excited to have us onboard, and he was adamant that the rest of the town would be banging on his door to get a piece of us. We'd often get phone messages from him in which his high-pitched voice would squeal proclamations like, "I just sent Michael Eisner a cup of your urine and a note that says, 'Taste the future!'"

He'd often end sentences with an incredibly enthusiastic, "Yay!" as in, "You guys are gonna be rich and famous. Yay!" or, "All the girls at the networks are dying to sleep with you. Yay!"

His first order of business was to get us new head shots. He made us an appointment with a photographer, sent us to get haircuts and told us to show up at the shoot with a few solid-colored shirts. It was nice to have so many of the details handled by a real show-biz pro.

We followed his instructions, and met one afternoon in an upscale alley on Melrose, near Robertson. I went first, posing for my head shots -- about two rolls. It was pretty painless. I then waited while Chip did the same. As he was finishing and I began collecting my things to leave, suddenly an SUV pulls up and Manager jumps out and starts to, well, manage.

"What's up, guys? Wasn't it great?"

"Yeah, it went well," I replied.

"Before you go, why don't you take one together?" "Together?"

"Yeah, take a head shot together. You guys are comedy partners. Take one together. I think it'll be great!"

It seemed like a strange suggestion, but we figured, "What the hell, what's one more picture? It's not like we were ever gonna use this." So we stood together and faced the camera. He told us to get closer to each other; it felt awkward. He kept urging us to move closer until our solid-colored shirts were touching shoulder to shoulder. The photographer snapped a few shots, and that was it.

Six months later I got a call from a friend. "Hey, Howard, I was working with a casting agent today, and she was going through a pile of head shots and was, like, "What the hell is this?" And I'm, like, "What?" and then she shows me this head shot, and I'm, like, "I know that guy! That's Howard Kremer." The casting agent was, like, "Who's the other guy, his husband?"

The whole office cracked up at us.

So apparently, Manager had that double head shot printed up and sent it out without our consent.

"Can you destroy it for me?" I asked my friend.

"No way, dude. It's too good. You look like conjoined twins. We tacked it up on the wall -- it's never coming down." Oh, great.


Paris Hilton is a Bad Friend 

I was told once at a commercial audition, "Can you do that again but 75 percent less?" I thought, exactly 75 percent? After all that rigorous conservatory training in New York, I figured it was time to take an acting class, L.A. style. When I walked into Lesly Kahn's "Comedy Intensive" in 2002 I was hoping she'd just hand me a stack of US Weeklys and a bloody mary and we'd be done with it. But on the first day, as we sat in the teacher's living room, this familiar-looking girl raised her hand and asked if she might pass around a portfolio of pictures of herself. The girl proceeded to pass around the book, explaining: "Here's one from my birthday party in Tokyo!" "Oh, this one is when I was Madonna for Halloween!" "Look, that's the lingerie my boyfriend bought me on Valentine's Day; I'm modeling it in the limo we rented that night." A girl next to me whispered, "Who the hell is this chick?" She wasn't that famous yet, but I recognized her from the society pages I read so religiously. "Her name's Paris Hilton," I said. "Her dad owns all the Hilton hotels." After Paris finally put her "portfolio" away, the teacher explained we would all take turns describing our first impressions of each other to help us learn to cast ourselves. A girl named Sandy got up in front of the class. We all started yelling out our impressions of Sandy. "I bet Sandy drives fast cars!" "Sandy looks like a rebel!" "I bet Sandy drinks regular Coke instead of diet!" "Sandy seems more like a dog person than a cat person." Paris raised her hand but then blurted out, "Sandy likes to sell seashells by the seashore." At this point one thing was clear -- this chick was gonna be huge!

As the days passed and Paris sat there with her bedazzled cell phone, drawing pictures of kittens and hearts on her audition pages, I tried desperately to become her friend. When it was her turn to act, she spoke every line like it was right out of a porno (did I mention this was a "Comedy Intensive"?). It also appeared that the only work she put into the scenes was applying bronzer under the table while she waited for her turn. One time she arrived to class an hour and a half late, explaining that she had been pulled over for speeding and now had a date with the police officer for that weekend, but she was going to Berlin so she wasn't sure what she was going to do.

Another time we had to write how we want people to see us. Paris wrote: "A stunning Cameron Diaz sprinkled with the infamous beauty of Heather Locklear." I guess she underestimated herself.

One day I got a call from someone announcing themself as Paris Hilton's secretary. "Paris has invited you to her birthday party in Las Vegas." I knew we were bound to be friends! During the five-hour drive, I just kept imagining myself finally posing with her, and appearing on Page Six. When I arrived at the overcrowded Vegas nightclub, I was forced to wait in the back of a very long line. "I got a personal call from Paris' secretary!" I announced to the doorman, who rolled his eyes and told me to get to the back of the line.

When I finally made it in, I looked for Paris' private party, but to no avail. I was finally directed to a corner of the club, where a blockade of bodyguards wearing Sean John jump suits held firm. Through the human blockade people were screaming and waving their arms. "Paris, over here!" "Look over here -- you invited me!" "PARIS, over here!" Paris, with a pink bow in her hair, sat with her sister, sipping a drink and waving at her "fans." Dejected, I unwrapped the beret I'd brought her as a gift, put it on and drove back to L.A.

B.Y.O. Jackie 

Like most people, I got into show business for the parties. My plan was to quickly amass enough fame and wealth to join the glitterati and turn my life into one big orgy of booze, drugs and orgies. But this goal proved strangely elusive. After years of entertaining small groups of comedy nerds in tiny theaters, I found myself approaching 30, living in the home of an elderly couple in Brooklyn and using a cardboard box for a coffee table. And no one ever had coke.

But all that changed when I was hired to join the cast of MADtv. The moment the offer came in, visions of young Hollywood self-destruction were dancing in my head again. I packed my belongings into my coffee table and moved to Silver Lake, which I chose for its hipness. This was it! I was (marginally) rich! I was (minimally) famous! It was time to take my rightful place as ringleader to the most epic bacchanals of our time!

In my first week of mad television, I got the ball rolling by putting a sign where everyone at the show's offices could see it. "Party at my place! Bring anyone! 8:30 to question mark. Exclamation point!" It would prove to be a poorly worded sign.

On the big night, my first guest was a demure-looking stranger in her 60s. She arrived at 8:30 on the dot and introduced herself as June. She said, "I'm a friend of Jackie's." "Jackie..." "She works with you at MAD," said June.

Oops. I'm not great with names. I knew Jackie could have been someone I spoke to every day, so I pretended to know who she was and I got June her Sprite.

Then two of my friends showed up. We chatted with June for a while and learned that she was an aspiring screenwriter. And then two more strangers arrived. They were in their late 40s and they were odd. They looked like bow-and-arrow hunters or people who made their own soap. I greeted them and was told, "We're friends of Jackie's." "Ooo," I thought. "Jackie invited three people to join her here, and they all showed up before she did. That's awkward." Next some old friends were followed through the door by a short, fat guy with silly-looking curly hair. I didn't know him. When I introduced myself, he said his name was Howard. Without being asked, he offered up that he was a game-show writer between jobs and then, as if in a horror movie, he said, "I'm a friend of Jackie's." Now I was concerned. Who was Jackie, and how many people had she invited?

I was right to be worried, because, by 10 p.m., there were 25 of my friends, 50 friends of Jackie's and no Jackie. And Jackie's friends were poorly cast for a young-Hollywood blowout. They ranged in age from their early 40s to their middle 60s. They were men with ponytails and women with fanny packs. Their clothes were unfashionable, their haircuts unfortunate. This was not the party I'd had in mind. Eventually, the mystery began to unravel.

I learned that Jackie and all of her friends were enrolled in something called the Flashforward Institute, which is one of the many organizations in L.A. that exists to help aspiring artists spend some of the money they've made in their unsatisfying day jobs. They had taken classes in goal-setting, confidence-building and self-promotion, and now they were learning how to network. For homework, each had been required to throw a party and attend a party. Apparently Jackie, who held an administrative position at MADtv, had seen the sign for my party and figured she could help her classmates satisfy half of their homework in one swoop. So she passed along my invitation -- to all 100 of them.

My friends and I were surrounded by a rapidly growing crowd of the kinds of oddballs who need to take a class to find out that if you meet more people, more people will know you. The air was heavy with social ineptitude. And the only thing I could think to do was to get blind-drunk.

Around 11, I was mixing up a vodka and vodka when a woman thrust her big, smiling face in front of me and yelled, "Hi, I'm Jackie! I'm the one who invited a hundred people to your party!" She then handed me a wooden end table and told me, "Everyone brings something with them to a party, but nobody ever brings anything to put those things on!"  Jackie was what psychologists call a 'crazy person.' With a lot of friends.

As they filed out at the end of the night, I gave Jackie and each of her friends a drunken class evaluation. For one reason or another, everyone got an F in networking, except for June, who got credit for being punctual.
LA General

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The 11th Annual Del Close Improv Marathon in Metro

Mar 3, 2015

'Insert title here'

The Del Close Marathon, hosted by the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, is three nights of nonstop, onstage improv madness. The performances on four different stages promise to range from the absurd and insane to thought-provoking and genuinely touching.

When the founders of the UCB Theatre - Amy Pohler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh - moved to New York 15 years ago to try to get a comedy show, they had no idea what they would create. "We wanted to have an improv show, so we got a theater and just did a free show," Walsh remembers. "No one had really seen long-form improvisation in New York. We were sort of a small success right away." 

This is the 11th year hosting the Del Close Marathon, which is named after one of the primary influences of modern improvised theater. "We had a special bond with him through classes and such," says Walsh. "When he passed away, we wanted to remember him." The first year of the marathon helped pay tribute to Del Close, but it has developed into something all of its own. "What it's become is a tremendous party," says Walsh.

Among the performances is a group called Scheer-McBrayer, not surprisingly made up of comedians Paul Scheer and Jack McBrayer. "I met Jack when he first moved out to New York from Chicago," explains Scheer. McBrayer now stars on NBC's 30 Rock and Scheer is best known for his work on the MTV show Human Giant. "We normally perform together like once or twice a year," says Scheer.

Also performing, straight off their film's debut at Comic-Con, is DERRICK. The five members of DERRICK are best known for their online sketch videos, which have been viewed more than 100 million times. And this saturday marks a special performance of the SWARM, one of UCB's premiere groups since the theater's founding.

"We were the first real house team at UCB," says member Michael Delaney. They've been selling out shows since their founding, which member Andy Secunda credits to "an artistic joining of like minds." 

Although the improvisors have since developed separate careers, "we're all still members, we're just split up on different coasts," says Delaney.

Both Secunda and Delaney are part of the Stepfathers, which is also performing at the Marathon.
The 11th Annual Del Close Marathon
Friday, 4:30 p.m. through Sunday, 8 p.m.
UCB Theatre
Hudson Guild Theatre
Urban Stages
FIT Kate Murphy

NY Shows

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