Six episodes of Showtime's "The Green Room" took up my entire afternoon today. Three hours, back-to-back.
I didn't plan this, it was just one of those lucky happenstances that occurs rarely when your job is to watch a proffered screener from a network, then put pen to paper and advise if you should tune in.
Host, producer and comic Paul Provenza is such a natural, raucous, witty, naughty boy. He has immediate chemistry with an array of comic geniuses (Jonathan Winters, Robert Klein, Martin Mull, Tommy Smothers) and infamous types (Andy Dick, Roseanne Barr) who are certainly polarizing to many.
The brilliance of this series is that Provenza took the insider knowledge of how comics really are with each other one-on-one, and invited you into this ribald, ego-maniacal and at times touching salon of fierce, ballsy wits to see how the big boys really get on with each other.
The anecdotes are priceless for those who truly love comedy, comics and stand up as an art form.
Comedy is a dysfunctional, anger-fueled masculine endeavor, and the few females, Sandra Bernhard, Rain Pryor and Roseanne Barr, do their bit to represent the funny women, but wind up cleverly editorializing more than delivering brisk za-zing, and don't come anywhere near the "at bats" that Bobby Slayton, Paul Mooney, Eddie Izzard, Jonathan Winters, Dana Gould, Brendon Burns, Penn Jillette, Jim Jeffries, Patrice O'Neal, Andy Kindler and Larry Miller dish out with impunity.
The talented though more subdued undercard in this testosterone stew trading of barbs includes Rick Overton, Tommy Smothers, Robert Klein, Reginald Hunter and Drew Carey. The odd man out for me was Bob Saget, who seemed to be sitting at the grown-up's table and should have been in the audience, and funny "failed comedian" David Feldman, who Provenza quips has his "own green room filled with cheese cubes and resentment" pulled from the shadows to take his place.
Tears have not rolled down my cheeks from laughter in years.
Each episode is prefaced either by Jonathan Winters (in characters), Rick Overton and Penn Jillette, who tell the viewer to bugger off, "this is for comics only," and then Provenza comes around the corner and leads us into the belly of the beast for a private show, only if we're "cool."
Not for the easily offended, these are uncensored, hard-core comics flexing their "I don't give a sh*t" muscle saying anything and everything, so keep Nana, the religious and the kiddies out of the room.
For a half-hour episode, the cameras roll at the Vanguard in Hollywood as Provenza and four other comedians spitball great stories, muse their career ups and downs, relive past histories with other great comics and argue over everything under the sun including politics, race, sex and who-and what-is really funny to them.
The audience is filled with comedy insiders and friends, including Ron Jeremy for a few shows, and George Carlin's daughter Kelly Carlin, who gifted her late father's Jester pin to Provenza. He shares this sweet tale with great emotion before the saccharine crystallizes and requisite cock jocks and Andy Kindler ruins it (in good fun).
Mooney shares a story about Rain Pryor as a baby, when Richard Pryor warred with her mother and he sheltered baby Rain for three days. Winters also talks about his World War II service and his mother who couldn't wait to ship him out, and Jillette shares a great story about Dick Smothers pulling him aside to fill him in on how to handle Tommy on stage for optimal comic timing.
Best story for me was Robert Klein's remembrance of his late friend Rodney Dangerfield, who despite warnings from Cape Cod boat yard workers, go off together (at Rodney's insistence) during a squall (35 Knot winds) on Buzzards Bay in a flimsy catamaran.
Klein described Rodney "like a Cocker Spaniel with his head out the window of a speeding car" positioned at the front of the vessel, while three-foot seas buffeted the boat. "Two Jews in a boat?" joked Klein. "We are not a sailing people."
Martin Mull's Fred Willard tales are golden; Paul Mooney and Bobby Slayton play the cobra and the mongoose game at its finest; Dana Gould and Andy Kindler bounce off each other to perfection and Jim Jeffries is just so wrong he's right.
Each episode is like a treasure trove of zingers that hit you off guard and genuinely entertain. Mull! Winters! Klein! Smothers! Come on!
Even "The Green Room's" stage manager is named Syd Barrett. This augers well for crazy creativity unleashed.
Bravo, Paul Provenza.
Airdate: 10:30-11 p.m. Thursday, June 10 (Showtime)
April MacIntyre is Monsters and Critics' smallscreen and people/celebrity editor. You can follow her on Twitter.