Archive for August, 2012

Brooklyn Unicycle Day!

Posted in Acrobats and Daredevils, BROOKLYN, Circus, Coney Island, Jugglers with tags , , , on August 31, 2012 by travsd

Today — by order of an official proclamation by Borough President Marty Markowitz — is Brooklyn Unicycle Day:

Festivities begin with a mass ride over the Brooklyn Bridge (3pm) to Grand Army Plaza (4pm) and then to Coney Island (6pm). Expect to witness amazing unicycle displays near Deno’s Wonder Wheel, along the Boardwalk, and around the MCU Stadium. This long-distance unicycle ride is being organized by the Unicycle NYC Bridge Tour ( Look for me somewhere I’ll be spectatin’ and trying to get some pix for this blog.

Brooklyn Unicycle Day is part of the New York City Uncycle Festival produced by Bindlestiff Family Variety Arts, Inc. The rest of the festival, tomorrow on Sunday will take place on Governor’s Island: go here for more details.



Funny, The Book: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Comedy

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, Comedy, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS with tags , on August 31, 2012 by travsd

It takes a spoonful of dopamine to make the medicine go down. Such is the case anyway with comedy writer and professor David Misch’s new tome Funny, The Book: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About ComedyAs much a work of humor itself as it is a non-fiction explication of the comedian’s art, the book alternates jokes and factual tidbits side by side, more often than not within a single sentence.

A former writer for such television shows as Mork and Mindy, Police Squad, SNL and Duck Man, Misch knows his way around a joke. The cover art employs good psychological strategy I think in terms of expectations in that regard. The author doesn’t have to be as funny as Groucho we think as we look at it, just as funny as a pair of Groucho Glasses. Misch hits that bar early and often! The tone throughout is light, despite the inclusion of erudite references and scholarly research. Some of it seems almost calculated to please me, such as mentions of my favorite modern philosopher Herbert Spencer (see my article on that unjustly obscure man here), and the oft-cited Henri Bergson, who was among many other distinctions a theorist on comedy and laughter. References this obscure are rare, however, and I would say for the most part the target audience for this book should be the newbie, someone not already steeped in show biz, pop culture and theatre lore — for most of the contents here will be old hat. Young people, for example, tabula rasae for whom the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen and Richard Pryor are uncharted territory would be an ideal target readership.

Organizationally, it’s a bit of a succotash, giving us a bit of history, a bit of science, a bit of lit crit, and a lot of anecdote all laid out on the principle of the ipod shuffle, neither chronologically nor thematically structured, just pure stream of consciousness. For this reason, it’s difficult to sit and read from begging to end. Grazing a chapter at a time is best, in no particular order, or at least none required. This bead-like structure of self-contained modular units leads me to think that he may have developed the book out of a course syllabus from his work as a teacher. Read a chapter a day as opposed to several at once and the effect will not be as disorienting.

It will be worth the effort. Buried inside, like raisins in a fruitcake, are all sorts of cool factoids. Did you know that John Byner was originally cast as Mork on Mork and Mindy? He apparently worked on the role for a couple of a days, then  walked off the set in a huff, declaring the part too stupid. (A shame, I think he would have been great). Here’s another one: in 1960, Billy Wilder was cooking up A Day at the United Nations for the Marx Brothers. Unfortunately, Chico died the following year. A pity, because this would have been a particularly good setting for his comedy, with his phony Italian accent. here’s ANOTHER: Joseph Heller wrote a couple of episodes of McHale’s Navy!!!! There’s a lot more like this, but I won’t give them all away….

Here’s how to get your hands on the rest….CLICK HERE

Stars of the AVT #146: A.J. Silver

Posted in Contemporary Variety, Lariat Artists/ Wild West Shows, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , on August 29, 2012 by travsd

This post resumes my series profiling the hundreds of performers I’ve presented through my American Vaudeville Theatre 

Angelo Iodice, ak.k.a “A.J. Silver” was born and raised in The Bronx, where he learned his riding and roping skills.

Even as a child, Angelo knew he belonged in the exciting world of show business. When he accompanied his older brother to the Bronx’s Pelham Bay Park Stables his destiny became clear; he took to horses and riding like a natural. Then he saw his first rodeo at Madison Square Garden. The skill, speed and danger of the trick riding exhibition blew his mind, and at eleven years old he found his calling: He would be a trick rider!

As fate would have it he met the professional rodeo couple Nick and Helen Panzella, also Bronx natives. Helen, one of the nation’s top trick riders, was so impressed with Angelo’s determination to learn that she agreed to mentor him. Nick, a blacksmith and rodeo competitor, taught Angelo trick roping and prepared him for life on the rodeo trail. He was soon hired by the Longhorn Rodeo Company – the world’s largest producer of indoor rodeos. He traveled across the USA getting much attention for his outstanding skills and signature showmanship.

Within one year he was honored as the Act of the Year by the International Rodeo Association at The Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma and was accepted as a member into the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association. He achieved a lifelong goal when he was featured trick riding in Madison Square Garden the place where his dream was born.

Angelo then decided to take a break from trick riding and horses and turned his career focus on the circus and variety Stage. He toured Europe to visit the world’s greatest circuses and “variete” theaters. The visit opened his eyes to new approaches to performing; upon returning he created a unique act combining trick roping, bullwhip artistry and boleadoras. The act he’s famous for now.

I was thrilled to be able to present Angelo in our show Travesties of 2012 in the New York Musical Theatre Festival last month.

For more info on Angelo, go here.

To learn more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


In Which I Direct Angie Pontani’s Amazing New Show Burlesque-A-Pades!

Posted in Burlesk, Comedy, Indie Theatre, ME, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2012 by travsd

Well, this has just been the slam-bangingest year. Having just come off a big play work-shop, the completion of my new book, and a big vaudeville production a few weeks ago I found myself in “H’m, what do I do now?” mode. “That is, when I wake up from a 172 hour nap?” And out of a clear blue sky the perfect new thing came along….the chance to direct Angie Pontani’s amazing new burlesque revue Burlesque-A-Pades at the Soho Playhouse.

Pourquoi moi?

Well, I do have my own burlesque bona fides….

* I first presented Miss Bonnie Dunn at the American Vaudeville Theatre as long ago as 1997….

*My 1999 Nada show was a collaboration with Miss Trixie (one of the original Glamazons) and her chorus girls…

* In 2001, I co-produced Orgy of the Dead starring World Famous BOB and others…

* I also produced a show at Coney Island USA’s Burlesque at the Beach in 2001…

* Was profiled in an Adam Gopnick New Yorker piece  about New Burlesque that same year (see here: TravSDNew Yorker article0001)…

* Produced and hosted the monthly series  Surf Burlesque at Surf Reality in 2001;

* In 2002 produced Sea of Love in Soho Think Tank’s Ice Factory featuring choreography by Julie Atlas Muz, and featuring Kate Valentine Bambi the Mermaid, et al as dancers…

* In 2004 hosted and booked Floating Vaudeville at Galapagos, featuring the likes of Miss Saturn and Harvest Moon

* Presented a special burlesque show at the Brick Theater starring Dottie Lux et al in 2005.

The next few years were mostly spent flogging my book No Applause (and thus an emphasis on vaudeville) but in recent years, I’ve picked up the burlesque thread again somewhat:

* Produced a special burlesque benefit show hosted by Cyndi Freeman (Cherry Pitts) at Theater for the New City in 2009…

Jack the Ripper’s Holiday Spectacular at Bowery Poetry Club in 2010, featuring Foxxx Trot and the Bleedin’ Tarts

WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT THE NEW SHOW THOUGH is that in addition to all the pulchritudinous ecdysiasts  on view, oh the likes of which are:

* The World Famous Pontani Sisters (in various configurations)

* The Maine Attraction (with her amazing Josephine Baker tribute)

* Tassel twirling Gal Friday

* and hula hooping artiste Pinkie Special

I say, OVER AND ABOVE all that, there will be:


Lots of vintage, classic and original burlesque sketches and bits (a little of the hubba hubba hubba and the wocka wocka wocka, complete with rim-shots), featuring co-hosts Albert Cadabra and the fabulous Tigger, as well as the star of the show Angie Pontani.

Could you plotz? I certainly hope not! But short of that, I’m very excited!

It’s going to be running Fridays at 10pm starting October 12. For more information, go here. 

This One Goes Out to Rags Ragland

Posted in Burlesk, Comedy, Contemporary Variety, Hollywood (History), PLUGS with tags , , , on August 23, 2012 by travsd

Today is the birthday of the great burlesque comic Rags Ragland (full article here) — the perfect time to announce that I’ll be directing Angie Pontani’s big new show Burlesque-A-Pades, opening at the Soho Playhouse in October! Look for MUCH classic burlesque comedy schtick and great live music in addition to the requisite hoochy-cooch — a rare chance to see the real thing in action. The show also has an awesome all star cast – – many more details to follow anon, but suffice it to say we hope to do Rags right proud with this one.

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.


Phyllis Diller’s Greatest Film Role

Posted in Comediennes, Comedy, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), OBITS, Women with tags , , , , on August 21, 2012 by travsd


Ever since Mr. Pinnock and I discovered a copy in the 99 cent bin about five years ago The Fat Spy has been my favorite movie. It possesses all the avant-garde technique of Jean-Luc Godard, mixed with none of the intentionality. A sort of home movie with nationally known third tier stars, directed by Phoebe Cates’ father, with music by the Wild Ones, it stars Borscht Belt comedian Jack E. Leonard in dual roles as “Herman” and “Irving”, the incomparable Jayne Mansfield as a girl named “Junior”, B-movie villain Brian Dunlevyminor pop sensations Johnny Tillotson and Lauree Berger (a bit behind the curve stylewise in 1966), and  Phyllis Dillerin her best film role ever (because she is not playing second fiddle to Bob Hope): the Cruella Devillesque “Camille Salamander”, who schemes to get the secret of the Fountain of Youth away from Herman…or is it Irving? The film is so dubious that, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be set on a desert island, throughout the movie we see Miami a short distance away, across a harbor dotted with boats. I screened it at the Brick Theater a few years ago, and Hope Cartelli, who is the very definition of life itself, fell asleep. THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS HOW GOOD IT IS.

Anyway, who doesn’t admire Phyllis Diller? I thought she was as funny as hell, and she kept right on being a pistol right to the very end. We salute her today as she heads off to that great comedy club in the sky.

“Chaplin the Musical” Previews Start Today

Posted in Broadway, Comedy, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, PLUGS, Silent Film with tags , on August 21, 2012 by travsd

To say that I am skeptical about the new Chaplin musical is to give it too much credit. Musicals are almost never good; and biographical dramatizations are good even more rarely than that.  The combination is almost guaranteed to be wretched.  Add to this, the thankless and impossible task of some poor schlub being forced to impersonate the greatest comic genius of the modern age (I cringe to think of Robert Downey’s performance in Richard Attenborough’s abysmal Chaplin bio-pic) and you have a recipe for a terrible time, at any rate a terrible time for me. (I really don’t care what you do).

Nevertheless, it is of passing interest that this show goes into previews today. If it helps more people appreciate the life and work of Charlie Chaplin, I’m forced to concede that it will be a net gain. For tickets and so forth go here. 

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.


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