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ROB LATHAN is Time Out New York Approved!

Mar 13, 2015

The Comedian Stars In His own Theater of the Absurd
This is the third in a series profiling comics who'll appear Nov 9 in the New York Comedy Festival showcase Time Out New York Approved.

The humor in Rob Lathan's bits-bits, because they aren't really characters or sketches-can be garnered from their titles: "Angry guy brushes teeth to Rage Against the Machine," "Half-assed suicide-cult member," "John Kerryoke." His work is top-heavy, based on instantly funny concepts that are then executed with brazen simplicity.

Lathan, who performs Monday 5 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, his home base, recalls a conversation he had with frequent collaborator Will Hines. "I told him I had an idea to do the Electric Slide on stilts. He goes, 'Anything else?' And I was like, 'Nope, that's it.'" 

While witnessing this dance performance-perhaps when he appeared on America's Got Talent to the utter bewilderment of Regis Philbin-there's a moment when you yourself realize, Nope, that's it: He's really just going to do the Electric Slide on stilts. That's when his work transcends awkward into the realm of brilliant.

"When you watch him," says UCBT artistic director Anthony King, "you're thinking, This is the stupidest thing I've ever seen. And also, This guy's a genius!" His most requested bit is "Speed Eater," which Lathan, 31, has performed on Best Week Ever, during VH1's election coverage and on MTV's Human Giant marathon. He brings out a table loaded with food (jugs of milk, buckets of chicken, multiple bags of chips and cookies, etc.), announces that he'll eat it all in one minute and then earnestly tries to. After failing, he says, with despondent sincerity, "I guess I couldn't do it." Then, after a long pause, he adds, as if he'd just thought of it, "I wish I had more time."

"My whole life I've been perceived as dim-witted or out of it," says Lathan. "So playing that character comes naturally." Indeed, he speaks slowly, has an awkward stage presence and displays the kind of unswerving optimism typical of the slightly insane. It all works to his advantage, allowing him to manipulate the crowd's preconceptions. "Rob somehow makes himself simultaneously smarter and dumber than his audience," King says.

It's hard to tell when Lathan's in character: The line between the person and the performer is blurry at best. This can confuse his friends; Lathan thrives on the bewilderment surrounding his persona. He doesn't correct people who mispronounce or write his name as "Latham," and has even taken to signing e-mails and flyers with the misnomer, leaving many in the comedy scene unsure what his name really is.

Once, at Fenway Park, he left his seat for the concession stand and accidentally reentered the wrong corridor. When his friends noticed him looking for them in the wrong section, they screamed his name. Lathan pretended he couldn't hear them, exited and reentered through a different hallway. They screamed again; he played dumb again. The pattern repeated until his friends finally got wise.

After hearing about the prank, local scene-makers Improv Everywhere staged it as a large-scale stunt in Yankee Stadium. This resulted in entire sections of the stands screaming "Rob!" in an effort to lead him home. Some groups even started a chant: "Where is Rob? Rob's retarded!" After a recent performance, one of his friends remarked that everyone thought Lathan was funny in college. "He was just weird and goofy," she says, "but now I'm wondering if that was all part of a joke." Rob Lathan performs Mon 5 in Crash Test and Nov 9 in Time Out New York Approved (stay tuned for details).
NY General

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Mar 13, 2015

Kaplan, Gertner and Saltzberg to Be Part of Upright Citizens Brigade's Improv Evening
Broadway performers will share the stage with improvisers from 'The Daily Show,' 'Late Night with Conan O'Brien' and 'The Colbert Report' Nov. 26 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.

The long-running monthly series, entitled Gravid Water, will feature Broadway actors Jonathan Kaplan (Falsettos), Jared Gertner and Sarah Saltzberg (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) and Joel Karie (The Lion King).

Also participating in the evening of improv will be Dan Bakkedahl (The Daily Show), Peter Gwinn (The Colbert Report), Christina Gausas (Late Night with Conan O'Brien), Tara Copeland (Don't Quit Your Night Job), Anthony King (co-author of Gutenberg! The Musical) and Kate Hess (Upright Citizens Brigade). Show time is 8 PM.

Stephen Ruddy, the director and creator of Gravid Water, told that 'the actors memorize and rehearse their scenes much as they would for a regular play. The scenes are drawn from established plays, and the actors will not stray from the letter of the script. The improvisers have no prior knowledge of the scenes - they will be seeing them for the first time, along with the audience.

'The scenes generally come from contemporary drama - though we occasionally do something ancient, or a musical - and we do five scenes a show. The improvisers make strong choices - they might be the same choices the author made, and they might not. Either way, the actor's job is to deliver his lines in a way appropriate to the new situation. The improvisers and actors each justify the others' choices.'

The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre is located in Manhattan at 307 West 26th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.
NY Shows

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Mar 13, 2015

Strike or No Strike, for a Select Few, Saturday Night Was Live

Thirty minutes before showtime just about all the cast members of Saturday Night Live were gathered in a green room, going over their bits. "Fred, remember on the cold open, you wait for Darrell," Seth Meyers, one of the show's head writers, instructed Fred Armisen. Kenan Thompson ran his lines and brushed his teeth; Rachel Dratch adjusted her Debbie Downer wig; Kristen Wiig gathered her props. Norah Jones, a surprise guest, arrived and greeted the guest host, Michael Cera, the deadpan boy-hero of Superbad. "Nice suit," Mr. Cera told Mr. Armisen, who moments later doffed his pants and was standing spread-eagle, having clumps of fake hair applied to his buttocks. Mr. Cera read his cue cards a few feet away. Every few minutes Gena Rositano, a headsetted stage manager, called out the time. And then, at 11:37 p.m.:

"Live from New York, it's Saturday night!" Mr. Armisen announced from the stage. Then came the usual mix of topical and ludicrous sketches, videos and music. Yo La Tengo sang.

But this NBC show was not live from Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center. Nor were there any television cameras. The continuing writers' strike meant there could be no new broadcasts. Instead the cast, writers and a few key production staff members had gathered in a subterranean comedy theater in Chelsea to perform the show live on stage for an audience of less than 200, including a Who's Who of downtown comedy. The TV audience got a rerun of a Nov. 3 show, but at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater there was a rare event born of hammy necessity, unexpected availability and good vibes.

"We're like cranky trained monkeys if we don't get to perform," said Amy Poehler, who is also founder of the theater. "We all thought about what we're going to do during the strike, and because we have no other skills, we just scraped this together." She added: "We're treating this as an optimistic night. We're celebrating all the hard-working people who have been laid off." About a week in the making and less than a day in rehearsal, the show was a mix of the writers' favorite old sketches and never-before-seen but already written bits that had been rejected, for raunchiness, humor or time. The cast members did their own makeup and, with the Upright Citizens Brigade staff, found their own minimal props and costumes. Writers held the cue cards. Ms. Rositano's headset, it turned out, was a visual joke: It wasn't even plugged in.

"It gives you a new appreciation for the tech staff, because this is going to be pretty raw," Andrew Steele, a longtime head writer for the show, said beforehand.

Via text message Ms. Poehler had invited Mr. Cera, who had starred with her husband, Will Arnett, on the Fox series Arrested Development, less than a week before. He had never been on the show, so his opening bit blended the monologues of past hosts: Donald Trump ("There's nobody bigger than me!"), Paris Hilton ("That's hot"), Snoop Dogg ("I see the word shizzle," Mr. Cera said). Except for Maya Rudolph, a new mother, the entire cast performed, joined by ex-members like Horatio Sanz and Ms. Dratch. Darrell Hammond pulled names out of a bowl and ran with them (Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan ordering pizza; Bill Clinton and Sean Connery getting arrested).

At 1 a.m. Mr. Thompson appeared onstage and introduced "Showtime at the Apollo," the program that normally follows Saturday Night Live. Ms. Poehler interrupted: "We're just running a little long, could we have some more time?" With the extra sketches, some of which may eventually reach the small screen, the live SNL felt much like an amped-up TV SNL. Though not everything hit, and there was some scattered yawning in the audience, the final scene, with Will Forte as an unexpectedly forthright gold lama-clad street performer, killed. It dated from his time in the Groundlings the Los Angeles. comedy troupe. Though he had performed it for his SNL audition, it was way too dirty for television - a theme of the evening. Even the weeks-old "Weekend Update" jokes were racy.

Proceeds from the tickets were to go to SNL's production staff, most of whom had had been recently laid off; some were in the audience. But the performance was less about money than community. (A sold-out live version of 30 Rock, the Tina Fey comedy, is scheduled for 8 p.m. Monday at the theater.)

"Most comedy writers are jaded, but tonight we really pulled it together," Mr. Meyers said. "I've been here seven years, and I've never seen anything as awesome as this." His colleague Paula Pell, a 13-year veteran and another head writer, added: "It was uplifting. So much of what the strike is about is valuing the creative brain." Like the other writers Ms. Pell had been on the picket line; she and Ms. Dratch improvised some strike-oriented material for Debbie Downer, Ms. Dratch's sad-sack character. Strike talks are to resume on Nov. 26.

One sticking point is residual payments for online content, particularly relevant for this show, which has spawned several Internet triumphs. After flashing a card that read, "An SNL Digital Short," Andy Samberg and Mr. Armisen performed one, a gay-oriented rap by Mr. Samberg starring Mr. Armisen as the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Ms. Jones and the hairy rear cameoed.)

Lorne Michaels, the show's producer, watched and occasionally laughed from the audience, but Ms. Poehler noted that he was not involved, and he left immediately after. (It was his birthday.) Tickets for the show were going for as much as $300 each on Craigslist (officially the price was $20), but many in the standing-room crowd were comedy cognoscenti: writers from other late-night shows and actors like John Krasinski of The Office. "This is the show I would've been crushed if I'd heard about it the day after," said Samm Levine, an actor (Freaks and Geeks) from Los Angeles who performs at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater when he's in New York.

After the closing theme played, there was the usual raucous after-party. In the green room Mr. Sanz pulled out a cigar. Ms. Dratch and Mr. Krasinski hit the dance floor with dozens of others.

The camaraderie-for-a-cause mentality gave all the actors an unexpected earnestness. "Everybody's in that weird performance ecstasy where they're like hugging and rubbing each other's hair," Ms. Poehler said in the green room as Mr. Arnett looked on.

At 4 a.m. Mr. Samberg was onstage, in the middle of a circle, doing a complicated and not altogether legitimate dance move. If the strike did not conclude, what would he do next Saturday night?

"Probably just watch a video of this," he said, "and call everyone and be like: 'Remember last Saturday? We so did not get paid for that.'"
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