I recently had the opportunity to experience a performance by an 11 member sketch troupe with the unlikely name “Onassis.” When I asked how they chose the name this is the answer I got : “It’s a handsome name on its own and has a regal connotation, but also conjures up subtly horrific images and the idea of a dark past.” Just what I would have guessed!
Most of the time I’m afraid to see sketch troupes, especially if I know someone in the troupe, because I find it very hard to tell them it was a great show, if I didn’t enjoy it, and unless it’s Monty-Pythonesque in style, which is the only way I can describe the fantasy-type sketches I enjoy, I usually come away feeling disappointed. Not so with Onassis!
(L-R) Jocelyn Deboer, Jason Saenz, Benjamin Apple, Ben Rameaka, Dawn Luebbe, Lauren Conlin Adams, Eric Cunningham, Emily Altman, Rob Michael Hugel, Seth Reiss, Mike Scollins, Frank Hejl!
Sketches are easy to get into but very hard to get out of, comedically speaking that is! There’s lots of funny premises, but the endings mostly fall flat as far as I’m concerned, … and no one really knows how far that is! LOL Again, not so with Onassis. I actually asked them afterwards if they minded being compared favoritively to the Pythons and they said they were flattered. Who wouldn’t be? LOL
Onassis is the house sketch team for The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and they premiered a film as part of the Friars Club Comedy Film Festival, at the Clearview Cinema in Chelsea. One of my assistants, Corinne Fisher turned me on to Onassis, as she is connected to the troupe through one of the members Frank Hejl.
Debuting in January 2011 Onassis has gone on to win acclaim as one of the best sketch teams in New York City and was awarded the FrISC Sketch Comedy title at the Friars Club Improv + Sketch Competition in June 2011. Along with the award came a prize of $5,000 to commission a short film for the annual Friars Club Comedy Film Festival, which is the film I got to see!
The resulting work, “Onassis”, features one man’s wild journey to convince a small town to rename New York City’s Central Park. Directed by The Onion head writer, Seth Reiss, written by and starring Onassis, the project was filmed August – September 2011.
The film is serving as a pilot episode of an upcoming Onassis sketch TV series. I would definitely watch this!
Click here to see the Onassis interview with Jeffrey Gurian of Comedy Matters TV! It was one against eleven, but I think it worked out okay! (LOL)
And make sure to go and see their next live show this coming Monday, 11/14/11 at 9:30 P.M. at the UCB Theatre in Chelsea.
You can find out more about Onassis online at:
Phil Rosenthal created and Exec. Produced one of the most successful sit-coms of all time, “Everybody Loves Raymond” starring Ray Romano, which ran on CBS from Sept. 13, 1996 until May 16, 2005.
Producer/Director Phil Rosenthal and Jeffrey Gurian on the "step and repeat" for "Exporting Raymond"!
It was a comedic masterpiece often based on true stories from both Ray and Phil’s own lives. Then Phil got the call from Sony that Russia would be interested in doing it’s own version of “Raymond”, and wanted him to go over to Russia to make that happen. Most people plan to bring a camera with them when they travel. Phil had the presence of mind to bring a camera crew with him, and if nothing else it lead to this hysterically funny documentary called “Exporting Raymond” which opens in theatres nationally on April 29th, 2011.
It’s the story of Phil’s trials and tribulations in adapting “Raymond” for a Russian audience, and how he barely escaped with his sanity intact. Not knowing what to expect in preparing for his trip, he was a little disturbed when someone suggested he take out K&R insurance, especially when he found out that “K & R” stands for Kidnapping and Ransom. He was assigned a bodyguard named Eldar, who became a friend, and it was only at the end of his stay that Eldar admitted to him that Sony didn’t go for “the gun package.” In other words, Eldar was depending upon his hand-to-hand skills to keep Phil out of harm’s way.
At the screening, I asked Phil, how much could the gun package have cost that Sony decided to pass on it? He himself was stymied by that question, and I am stymied as to why I used the word “stymied.” It’s such a weird, almost frightening word!
Phil and I discussed whether they may have looked into the knife package or maybe the brass knuckle package, or did they just decide that Phil wasn’t worth any package at all??? Phil said after meeting his Russian counterparts, the fear of being kidnapped was replaced by the fear of what they might do to his show! One woman, the costume designer was intent on turning it into a fashion show with the actors wearing evening clothes you’d wear for a night out on the town, as if anyone, especially a blue-collar family, would lounge around the house dressed like that.
They also tried to convince Phil that men were more manly over in Russia, and wouldn’t be so concerned about pleasing their wives, like Ray Barone was in the USA version of the show. The Russians also felt that Russian men would not relate to the way Ray was treated by both his wife and his mother and that it made him look like a weakling. Phil didn’t go for it because he said that he doesn’t believe that men are the boss in their homes anywhere in the world.
Despite the Russian’s best efforts, Phil’s adaptation was successful, and he was able to help cast it and make it funny. So not only did he escape from Russia with his sanity, he wound up with a funny, entertaining and fascinating film, which just happens to be his film directing debut. I’m sure it will be the first of many.
However he did have the sense to turn down the “opportunity” to bring “Raymond” to Poland and Egypt! (LOL)
Here in New York it will be opening at the Angelika and at the Loew’s Lincoln Square theatre on Broadway and 68th Street. This is a movie you have to see.
Charlie Prince is the force behind the Friars Club Film Festival, and once a month, he brings great films to be viewed at special Friars Club screenings. Recently he brought the very funny “Peep World” starring Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson and Ben Schwartz, that I wrote about in a previous blog. Both Sarah and Ben showed up at The Friars to do a Q&A.
Ben Schwartz and Sarah Silverman at the Q&A for Peep World at The Friars Club.
This time, for “Exporting Raymond” there was such a big crowd that the club had to show it across the street in the beautiful screening room of The Core Club, another very exclusive club with which The Friars has an arrangement. I wound up walking in with the General Manager of The Friars Club Michael Caputo, who is always on hand to make sure everything goes smoothly.
(L-R) Charlie Prince, John Woldenberg, and Phil Rosenthal at the Friars Club screening of Exporting Raymond!
As I mentioned, Phil Rosenthal was there of course, along with his Executive Producer John F. Woldenberg, a really nice guy, who was very accommodating in the writing of this story.
When Phil was introduced after the film ended, I was sitting in the front row with an old friend, legendary film animator Bill Plympton, who has an animated film coming out called “Idiots and Angels”, a black comedy that he did with Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame.
Phil who happens to be very funny, (which helps if you’re creating and producing comedies), didn’t notice me sitting there, until someone asked him if he ever did stand-up. He said he tried it years ago, and then asked if there were any stand-ups in the audience. When I raised my hand and he saw me he was surprised he hadn’t noticed me, and gave me a gracious hello.
The last time I had seen him was last summer in Montreal when he was showing “Exporting Raymond” at the Just For Laughs Festival, and I was showing the trailer for “Eat, Drink. Laugh” the documentary Richie Tienken and I were working on about the 35 year history of his comedy club “The Comic Strip,” Exec. Produced by Chris Rock.
The film poster for Exporting Raymond that was in the street in Montreal, where it was shown in the Just For Laughs Festival in 2010!
It was a chance meeting in the street when Phil was on his way to his showing, with John Woldenberg, and I was on my way to mine. I had also happened to have the photo with me of Ray Romano, myself and Michael Bolton from when I brought Michael to the set of “Everybody Loves Raymond” several years back, maybe 1998, courtesy of the other Exec. Producer of Raymond and Ray Romano’s manager, Rory Rosegarten.
When I interviewed Ray for the book and the film we’re doing, I brought that old photo to remind him and we took another photo of us holding it.
Ray Romano and Jeffrey Gurian at The Comic Strip holding the photo of Ray, Jeffrey and Michael Botlon taken when Jeffrey brought Michael Bolton to the set of Everybody Loves Raymond to meet Ray Romano!.
Screenshot from "Eat, Drink, Laugh" of Jeffrey Gurian and Richie Tienken interviewing Ray Romano at The Comic Strip!
Phil was kind enough to sit with me for a while to do this great little interview for my readers of Comedy Matters. Check it out right here! And go see the film on April 29th! I would tell you to go even before April 29th, but you wouldn’t get to see anything, so wait till April 29th and run out and see it immediately!
The film poster for Peep World, an IFC film opening March 25th.
So I went to The Friars Club to see the new film “Peep World” starring Sarah Silverman, Michael C. Hall, Rainn Wilson, Taraji P. Henson, Leslie Ann Warren, Ron Rivkin, and Ben Schwartz. It was presented as part of the new film program created by Charlie Prince who also produces the very successful Friars Club Film Festival. Assistant Executive Director of The Friars, Michael Caputo made sure things ran smoothly as he always does.
Sarah Silverman and Ben Schwartz at the Q&A at The Friars Club for Peep World
Sarah attended with Ben Schwartz to do the Q&A and was accompanied by her close friend comic Todd Barry, one of the few who makes me laugh out loud! I don’t even make ME laugh out loud, but he does!
Todd Barry and Jeffrey Gurian at Comix, BEFORE it went out of business!
I went with singer/composer Rosa Gudmundsdottir, who’s a big star in Iceland. That sounds like a strange credit unless you know that she’s actually from Iceland, because if you were from America and were only a star in Iceland, that could be a problem. Agents might look at that as a red flag of some kind! (LOL)
Rosa may be from Iceland… but she’s a very warm person! Iceland sounds like such a strange place to be from! I want to know things like, ” Is it ever warm in Iceland?” Is it dark there like 24 hours a day in Iceland? Can you only get cold drinks in Iceland?”
Rosa Gudmundsdottir and Jeffrey Raymondsson( my Icelandic name!) on the "step and repeat" at The Friars Club
Rosa is a very talented performer, as you can see if you go to her site http://rosagudmundsdottir.com/ She’s an exotic mix of Icelandic and Thai, and if the word gets out that that mix works, expect to see lots more of them! (LOLOL)
Knowing her makes me want to say, ” Meet me in Reykjavik honey, we have some serious partying to do!” Has that phrase ever been used by anyone in the world??? Even in Iceland???
Ron Rivkin as patriarch Meyerowitz and Alicia Witt playing his girlfriend Amy
Anyway, the movie was very funny. It’s actually a family comedy that stars the great Ron Rivkin as the head of the highly dysfunctional Meyerowitz family. Sarah plays Cheri, the only sister to three brothers, pursued for 8 years by a funny Orthodox Jewish character played by Stephen Tobolofsky.
Stephen Tobolofsky and Sarah Silverman onscreen in Peep World
Ben Schwartz plays Nathan the youngest brother who destroyed the family by writing a tell-all about their lives. Cheri is suing Nathan for ruining her life. They all get together once a year for their father’s birthday and they all seem to hate each other.
Rainn Wilson looks totally different with a beard, and plays a total loser who’s being hounded by loan sharks for money he owes them. He’s dating Taraji P. Henson, who’s totally hot and looks nothing like the old woman she played in Benjamin Button. I really thought she was an old woman! Shows you how much I know!!!
Siblings played by Sarah Silverman, Michael C. Hall, Ben Schwartz, and Rainn Wilson
Alicia Witt who I had met in New York some years ago, plays Amy, Ron Rivkin’s young girlfriend who defends him to his family. She was so striking and so dedicated to her craft that I always knew she’d be successful, so I’m never surprised when I see her in something big.
One funny scene is when for some unknown reason, on his way to a book signing, Ben stops off for a Viagra-type injection and winds up with an erection that won’t go away. He has to show up and try to face an audience while hiding it as best he can, but he’s in agony, and his portrayal is hysterical. Fortunately in a fantasty-like solution, his ultra-hot P.R. assistant played by Kate Mara offers to help him get rid of it the “old-fashioned” way, … and it works!
She even offers to attend the father’s birthday party with him, as long as he doesn’t introduce her as his girlfriend. Very empowering to women! She helped him out, strictly out of the kindness of her heart!
The film screened at the Toronto and Austin film fests last fall, and IFC Films will release it March 25. So Ben and Sarah showed up at The Friars to do a Q&A after the film. Sarah’s so above all that. She never seems comfortable with that kind of stuff.
Sarah Silverman holding the i-Phone with which she proceeded to take my picture!
But while they were in front of the room answering questions, and people were snapping photos of her, she took out her camera and said, ” I’m gonna take a picture of Jeffrey Gurian”, and snapped a photo of me sitting up front. It was very unexpected, and very funny. I hope somebody was shooting video so I can get a copy! Michael Caputo, I’m calling you about this!!! (LOL)
Then I decided to ask my own question for the Q&A, so I asked Ben how he prepared for the erection scene, and he said he was very proud of his erection work, and tried to stay hard for a few weeks in order to prepare.
It was a fun evening and I look forward to attending the next film that Charlie has coming up.