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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Just For Laughs and the Eerie Truths of Comedy

Posted By on 06.15.10 at 12:30 PM

My autographed Maria Bamford headshot
  • My autographed Maria Bamford headshot
The five-day Just For Laughs festival kicks off tomorrow tonight. I have some picks here, but three of the best comedians (caveat: I'm partial to stand-up) have tapped so far into my subconscious mind that it's actually a bit terrifying.

* My favorite Aziz Ansari bit involves him buying a plain vanilla cone at Cold Stone Creamery. One of the real gifts of comedy is how it demonstrates you're not alone, and my experience was virtually identical. I almost always get plain vanilla because 1) it's the best kind of ice cream if it's done right and 2) it's a good test of an ice-cream parlor. I didn't realize, because I was young and naive, that the point of Cold Stone was buying a sweet caulky substance as a vehicle for toppings of various degrees of absurdity. My companions were shocked by how much I misunderstood the concept.

* Well, of course, that's Cold Stone. But even more eerie: Chicago native John Mulaney, who's about two years younger than me, describes in an interview that he listened to tapes of radio comedy greats of the 30s and 40s at night, like Jack Benny (a Waukegan native) and Burns & Allen, because he was scared of people breaking into his house. Not only was The Jack Benny Program one of my favorite things growing up, that's exactly why I listened to it. That's just weird.

* Maria Bamford (basically my favorite comedian; she's on a bill with Mulaney and Patton Oswalt) has an ongoing theme about what she calls Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome ("the fear of doing something awful"), which isn't in the DSM but is a recognized form/offshoot/cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It's weird and unpleasant and sort of gives people the creeps when you talk about it, so it's downright therapeutic when you find that someone's made a brilliant comedy CD named after it. The flip side of finding the crazy in the familiar (say, Jerry Seinfeld, who's guesting on Cedric the Entertainer's bill) is finding the familiar in the crazy, and Bamford, whose history of psychological issues puts mine to shame, is a master at it. "Drink more caffeine and just stay on your meds" is the best advice I've ever heard.

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Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Sense and Sensibility Chicago Shakespeare Theater
May 01
Music
The Dø Schubas
June 02

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