Welcome to Spit Take Saturday, courtesy of Brown Paper Tickets’ Comedy Doer Julie Seabaugh and her professional comedy criticism site The Spit Take. Julie’s goal with the site is to “elevate the public perception of stand-up comedy to that of a legitimate art form, and to enable comedy criticism be taken as seriously as that of theater, film, music, food, even video games. No a**-kissing. No bias. No mercy. Just honest, unfiltered, long-form reviews written by professional, knowledgeable comedy critics.”
Every week Julie will select an entry from the site to be included on our blog and hand-pick some related events happening that week that she feels all you comedy lovers out there will appreciate.
So, without further ado, let us introduce you to this week’s Spit Take Saturday!
Over the past 30 years, self-described “schnooky” comedian and character actor Fred Stoller has racked up more than 60 appearances on a number of hit TV series including “The Drew Carey Show,” “Murphy Brown,” “Friends” and even “Seinfeld,” where he also spent a year in the show’s notoriously competitive writers’ pool. He’s also appeared on flops barely anyone remembers, such as the “Married…with Children” spinoff “Vinnie & Bobby” (alongside a pre-fame Matt LeBlanc) and the extremely short-lived NBC sitcom “Singer & Sons,” which lasted only four episodes.
He may not be a recognizable name to anyone who didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time in comedy clubs during the Eighties or hasn’t scrolled through closing credits with a magnifying glass. However, he has an interesting story to tell about his attempts to find an identity in a business that loves to pigeonhole its performers.
Stoller’s memoir “Maybe We’ll Have You Back: The Life of a Perennial TV Guest Star” focuses mostly on his comedy and acting work, from his first stand-up gig at the New York Improv at age 17 to the acting and voiceover work that introduced him to almost every sound stage in Television City, hoping for “those five words I hope to hear after every guest spot I do.” The book jumps mostly from show to show, spilling the high and low moments of working with some of the series’ regular cast members as well as the challenges faced and opportunities opened from being the resident “schnook.”
Stoller may have the mind of a comic, but “Maybe” doesn’t present itself as a flat-out funny read. The tone can be quite dry at times and the stories a bit monotonous, detailing Stoller’s attempts to impress producers or show runners in an effort to clinch another guest spot or even the recurring part that never seems to materialize. While he provides a fun, interesting recap of his short time as a “Seinfeld” writer, the bulk of the memoir serves as a first-person primer for any aspiring character actor who is thinking of making that big move to Tinseltown, complete with accounts of dealing with uninspiring agents, overzealous acting coaches and making a mark with the smallest of roles (“The smaller the part, the more difficult it is to nail”).
His more personal moments serve as the book’s bigger payoffs. Stoller’s most engaging scenes are with his mother, whose chronic cynicism and constant criticism reads like a perfect caricature of any parent with showbiz ambitions for their child. He has an unusual one-night stand with Kathy Griffin. He becomes an emotional punching bag for Norm Macdonald during his time on “The Norm Show,” a relationship that eventually, much like Macdonald’s comedy, “struck an uncomfortable truth.”
Ultimately Stoller’s story is about seeking acceptance and how he learned to view himself as a success, even if his name didn’t always make it into the TV Guide listing. That facet alone makes “Maybe,” and its author, stand out from the crowd.
Check out more upcoming events featuring comedian-authors:
Saturday, April 13 I “Richard Belzer’s Rock and Roll Comedy Extravaganza” – New York, New York The original audience killer, acerbic author and “Law and Order: SVU” star, Richard Belzer, brings his brand of musical comedy and commentary to Stage 72.
Saturday, April 27 I “Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling @ Brick 46″ – Rockaway, New Jersey The longtime fixture of radio’s “Howard Stern Show: has released five dirty joke CD’s, three videos, five joke books, and is currently doing his own radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio 101, “Jackie’s Joke Hunt.
Saturday, May 18 I “Comedic Storytelling and The Stage Created Memoir with Margot Leitman” – San Francisco, California Margot Leitman’s television performances include appearances on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” VH1, ESPN, AMC, The Style Network, E! and Comedy Central. Her own storytelling show, “Stripped Stories,” has sold out venues coast to coast. She can currently be seen on VH1‘s “Stevie TV” and her comedic memoir “Gawky” will be released in Spring 2013, published by Seal Press.