- Underground comic Rick Shapiro could be heading for more than 15 minutes of fame–courtesy of an HBO sitcom debuting in June and a book that acclaimed author Adrian Nicole LeBlanc is planning to write. Publishers began bidding last week on Ms. LeBlanc’s proposal for Give It Up, which would focus on… Crain’s New York Business
- Sounds like equal parts Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Lou Reed. Shapiro is currently New York City’s most lurid funnyman – A real star. NYPress
- “…Poised for the big leagues…searingly honest, the most transgressive comedian in America today….He’s the toast of New York’s Lower East Side underground scene” – Penthouse Magazine Larry “Ratso” Sloman
- “Downtown New York provocateur Rick Shapiro debuts with an CD of hard-edged, uncompromising stand-up comedy. As far from the mainstream as it is, “Unconditional Love” still manages to speak universal truths and expose many of our follies.” – Billboard
- “…an explosive comedic talent, a sort of punk-rock, white Richard Pryor with a literary bent, part Iggy Pop, part Philip Roth.”- New York Observer, Ryan Blitstein
- “Rick Shapiro is a top comedian.” – Howard Stern
- “Rick Shapiro is bound for glory. He delivers an onslaught of ideas at breakneck pace that will leave your synapses spinning” - The Toronto Star
- “A surly quick-witted monologist – Aggressive, Manic, Brilliant!” – Icon Magazine
- “A frenzied, fanatically hilarious stage rant that borders on miraculous”- Now Magazine
- “The funniest, scariest, most verbally gifted human I have ever seen.” - The Daily Glyph
- “NY’s greatest underground comic.”- Bowery Poetry Club
- “Best Manhattan Comic, Shapiro’s approach to comedy sounds like equal parts Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Lou Reed. Shapiro is currently New York City’s most lurid funnyman – A real star” – NY Press
- “Poised for the big leagues…searingly honest, the most transgressive comedian in America today. He’s hilarious” – Penthouse Magazine
- “Downtown New York provocateur Rick Shapiro debuts with an album of hard-edged, uncompromising stand-up comedy. “Unconditional Love” speaks universal truths and exposes many of our follies.” – Billboard
- “Rick Shapiro is bound for glory. He delivers an onslaught of ideas at breakneck pace that will leave your synapses spinning” – The Toronto Star
- “His pointed observations on pop culture are pure brilliance” - Time Out New York
- “Dubbed the “James Joyce of Stand-up” because of his brilliant stream-of-consciousness comedy, Rick Shapiro is a walking, talking op-ed page, spewing forth wit, grit, and the real shit. If you like comics who take risks, you’re gonna love this guy”- Paper Magazine
- “The CD, tightly produced by downtown performance scene guru Lach, assaults like a twisted-humor tornado.” - Citysearch.com
- “The funniest man in America” - Cups Magazine
- “Rick Shapiro’s brilliantly funny original style had them in like sardines. Who cares when you are laughing that much? You MUST check him out in the upcoming Chris Rock movie, find him in the East ViIlage and by his hilarious premier CD!”- The Comic Bible
|DATE||SEPTEMBER 2, 2007|
I Think I Was The Only One to See The Ad…
…it was in such an odd place. Page 25 of The New York Daily News,
a tab I usually don’t read on Saturday. But there it was, “Just Back From Edinburgh” underground comedy legend Rick Shapiro dong a one hour show at a place on W.24th St. called The Cutting Room. “Just back from Edinburgh”? Apparently the angriest comic in the world had been a hit at the famous “Fringe Festival” there. Anyway I rounded up a couple of friends and we had the most amazing time. I mean when people hear “angry comic’ they usually think of the white-bread frat boy rants of Lewis Black on The Daily Show. Please. Rick Shapiro is a vicious, venemous, obscene, not politically incorrect but politically indefensible satanic god of anger. who makes Lewis Black look like Little Lord Fauntleroy. He makes The Aristocrats seem dainty. The slogan on his card: “more than wht you think you can handle”.
Shapiro has been a kind of underground legend for a decade; I first saw him back in 2002 I think on the Loser East Side and I thought, oh thank god there’s someone who hasn’t caved to the Seinfeld-vanilla humor wave. The guy was out there, and so over the top in his venomous hatred of himself and everyone else in the universe that it was awesome. It helps that he seems to have spent some time as a male prostitute to pay for his heroin habit. But you get to see another side of the world from that perspective. Hearing him riff on his disgust is, you know, educational.
Well he’s stayed true to his hateful truthfulness which is why he hasn’t made it to national visibility with the dream—and the declaration of surrender—of just about all stand-up comics: the sit com. Just no way Rick Shairo’s EXTREME obscenity, offensiveness, is going to make a tv series, although somebody should do a live unedited version of his show. Which left us all exhausted from laughter, horrified by the content, wrung out by the rage.
A few years ago the writer, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc was a guest at an NYU journalism school seminar I was teaching, and talked about how for years she wanted to do a book about this guy, Rick Shapiro. She wasn’t sure what the source of her fascination was. I suggested to her that comics like Shapiro and his circle, in pushing the edge of the envelope are exploring the nature of human nature. They’re analagous to the philosphers asking basic questions about human beings in the Athenian agora two and a half milennia ago. I hope she writes the book whatever take she has on it.
Google Rick Shapiro (he’s on Myspace!) and find out when he’s next coming to a venue near you. Warning: he’s not only Not Safe For Work, he’s not safe for Life, I think. He’s not for everyone. I’m not endorsinghis worldview or how he expresses it. But you’ve got to admire the purity of his viciousness.
|DATE||SEPTEMBER 2, 2007|
|REFERENCE||EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2008|
One look at Rick Shapiro and you can tell that he isn’t lying when he talks about being an ex-rent boy and drug addict. His lived-in face exudes machismo, and his angry American comic schtick isn’t a persona – Shapiro means business. His set is mixture of political insight, observations on his fellow Americans and utter filth under the guise of relationship advice. What sets Shapiro apart from his fellow angry comedians is his vulnerability; behind all the huffing and puffing is a poetic figure. Spend an evening in his company and you will experience the full gamut of emotions – from sadness to happiness to disgust – with massive belly laughs thrown in. Each show feels brand new and unique.
|ARTICLE TITLE||Rick Shapiro’s Edinburgh Day Out|
|DATE||AUGUST 5, 2008|
|REFERENCE||EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2008|
Rick Shapiro eschews much of the traditional stand-up territory: there are no punch lines, no orthodox observational gags. References to his past as a heroin user and male prostitute are just as infrequent. While no doubt informing his comedy, it is never the focus, or the context. The main thread of his material is a shabby sexuality and a ubiquitous baying contempt for 21st century bourgeois society. As such, some of the tension in the room tonight is no doubt due to a cultural, even generational, gap.
The set itself is furious and varied. It pitches and sways between stream-of-consciousness delivery and Shapiro’s eclectic cast of characters and costumes. Accompanied by an overhead projection of anarchic slogans and contrapuntal music, Avoidance Man ducks yet another crime-busting opportunity and, as he drapes a scarlet pashmina over one shoulder, declares: “Look at me; I’m…err…a girl.” Anarchic stuff.
Baffling and uncompromising, Rick Shapiro’s spitfire routine is probably aimed at the wrong crowd tonight. A barely half-full room struggles to generate any meaningful chemistry with the comic as he stalks the front row, deep-throating his microphone to the sound of machine-gun fire and coaxing intimate personal details from female members of the GRV’s sparse crowd.
The man is a joy to watch, though. Indeed, as the show climaxes with a double-fisting montage set to a power-ballad soundtrack, it becomes clear that this is probably the only show at this year’s fringe that will get worse as it becomes more polished.
|ARTICLE TITLE||NOT PRETTY BUT VERY PUNCHY|
|PUBLISHING ENTITY||THE LIST, Issue 609: http://www.list.co.uk/article/11112-rick-shapiro/#comments|
|DATE||AUGUST 57 2008|
|REFERENCE||EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2008|
Rick Shapiro is introduced as a man ‘fighting himself’, but for tonight’s performance it’s the theatre tech who is taking most of the comedian’s acerbic blows. Trying to sync up highly designed video graphics with Shapiro’s meandering mind is an impossible task and throughout the performance a bewildered audience is distracted by a bikini clad woman with a machine gun and a penguin. Whilst unexpected and bizarre, the relevance to his talk of fisting, blowjobs and the occasional political statement is never explained.
Shapiro isn’t afraid to lay into his own shambolic approach when something takes a lead balloon dive, and to his credit, revealing the mechanics of the show works on an absurdist level. The comic’s brutal honesty coupled with his wiry-framed physicality keeps the audience frightened but attentive. Walking into a Rick Shapiro show is like stepping into the New Jersey stand-up’s stream-of-consciousness: it’s not a pretty place but the manic energy will sweep you along.
|ARTICLE TITLE||RICK SHAPIRO: WILD CARD|
|DATE||AUGUST 11, 2008|
|REFERENCE||EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2008|
Rick Shapiro: Wild Card, The GRV, Edinburgh Festival
As it was last year, Rick Shapiro’s gig is a breath of fresh air, some randomness to balance the slickness of many other Fringe shows. The American comic is actually much more together than he has been in the past, though he maintains that rough-around-the-edges shtick.
He doesn’t impress everyone: some women have previously expressed misgivings at his perceived misogyny. Tonight, the salaciousness is there in full measure. Shapiro loves women – he’s just got a funny way (in both senses of the phrase) of showing it. His ideal woman could spout Nietzsche while wearing fishnet stockings. He doesn’t like the word “whore”; he thinks prostitutes are goddesses for what they do, and describes the vagina as “full of rainbows and hope”, comparing it to America’s heartland as they are both places where “dreams are built and destroyed”.
Shapiro constantly returns to this theme, his relationship with women; it leaves him with no real time to honour his prior assurance that the show “gets political”. It doesn’t matter: the few departures from the theme are merely punctuation marks, some of which include great, self-deprecating and highly illustrative lines such as: “Every night that punchline changes. I like the original but I can’t remember it.”
|ARTICLE TITLE||RICK SHAPIRO|
|PUBLISHING ENTITY||THE TIMES|
|AUTHOR||Dominic Maxwell at The Green Room|
|DATE||AUGUST 15, 2007|
|REFERENCE||EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2007|
Rick Shapiro has divided the room. This haggard New York comic must do that a lot. He rants, obscenely, not always coherently. He’s frustratingly awkward and inspiringly direct. “It’s another language I’m speaking,” he rasps as some unhappy punters drift out from this attic sauna, “and it’s called ‘I don’t care’.”
Meanwhile, a pair of dazzled Americans clap Shapiro’s every utterance as he pits his irate id against the mimsiness of modern life. “I hate talking and I can’t shut up,” he shouts, baseball cap on head, shirt hanging open, like some parody of a shabby comic genius. Shapiro goes from line to line with zero regard for dignity.
And he’s kind of magnificent. He talks directly about sex and disparagingly about the niceties a straight man has to go through to get it. He screams at endemic softness — “I like to go into bookshops and shout: Self Help! Self Help!” — and moans at the way life asks you to dress yourself up in a bow. “Why can’t I just be a guy?” he pleads.
He blurs the line between cutting the crap and crying for help. He is too self-knowing for this to descend into machismo. Shapiro knows the seedy underbelly of New York life from his years as a heroin addict and occasional male prostitute. Scary as he first appears, part of our discomfort is at the way he projects such vulnerability alongside such disdain.
As with Jerry Sadowitz, there is no distance between Shapiro and his material. Patience is required, though. He’s strong on attitude, wilfully weak on focus. If you’re a woman, get ready for some questions about your sex life. Yet, patchy and perverse though he is, his gnarly delivery is enthused with its own desperation. I didn’t laugh a whole lot, yet I want to go back and see him again, soon.
Marking him out of five feels wrong — like marking my own blackened, twitching heart out of five. If he got his act together he would be the most complete comic on the Fringe. But he’s been doing this stuff for years. I’m not sure that getting his act together will ever be part of Rick Shapiro’s act.
|ARTICLE TITLE||RICK SHAPIRO: An impressive shock-jock comic|
|DATE||AUGUST 14, 2007|
|REFERENCE||EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2007|
Inventive: Rick Shapiro has the power to shock
New York comedian Rick Shapiro takes a while to warm up. But, my God, once he’s in his stream-of consciousness stride, it’s impressive.
Shapiro produces some of the most inventive filth you’ve ever heard. He makes the spiky likes of Doug Stanhope look like an Andrex puppy. Being a shock-jock comic is arguably trickier in Britain than in America. There, the word c*** is enough to elicit O-shaped mouths, whereas here, the response is relatively hard to provoke. It’s a credit to Shapiro, then, that he has the power to shock us and be hilarious with it.
Yet it’s his political invective that’s his best material. Republicans and Democrats could easily be Tories and Labourites and he’s savvy about how it works here. The man has a brain and he uses crudeness to underline points well worth making. A 50-minute slot clips his wings but this is the only chance you’ve got to see him in Britain. And you really should.
|ARTICLE TITLE||Shambolic yet inspirational stand-up|
|PUBLISHING ENTITY||The List (Issue 583)|
|DATE||AUGUST 16, 2007|
|REFERENCE||EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2007|
Rick Shapiro is a five star comedian in a two star show. If you want structure, well thought-out lines, or even the assurance of sanity then look elsewhere. If, however, you’re prepared to sit through ten minutes of shambolic mutterings as our hero decides what to be angry about next, then your patience will be rewarded. There are moments when Shapiro spews out a description of such brilliance, with the most beautifully evocative language that even a skit about fisting becomes an inspiring piece of comedy.
This is a man who’ll do exactly what he wants; he’ll tell you heartbreaking stories about his tumultuous life, then veer into a rant about girlfriends, Harry Potter or anything that crashes into his mind. If you’re easily offended then, for the love of God, stay away. But if you like your comedy unreliable, but with moments that will make you grateful for having ears, then Rick Shapiro will take you by the scruff of the neck and entertain the socks off you. (Siân Bevan)
|ARTICLE TITLE||He’s got a lust for life|
|DATE||AUGUST 10, 2007|
|REFERENCE||EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2007|
Rick Shapiro isn’t a comic; he’s a performance artist. It’s a wanky thing to say and Shapiro’s delivery is distinctly tongue-in-cheek, his face breaking into an enormous grin, his raspy New York drawl taking on a certain campness. It’s true, though. The name might not ring bells in the UK, but in the States, Shapiro’s hard-hitting, contentious, uproarious diatribes leave fellow stand-ups in awe, while his stint on HBO’s adult sitcom Lucky Louie has finally made him a recognisable mainstream face, 20 years after he started out.
Talking to the man hailed as the godfather of America’s underground comedy scene, whose Fringe dates are his first UK shows, leaves you in no doubt that what he’s doing is an art form. Whether Shapiro is performing or simply being himself is a different matter. ‘I don’t know if it’s me onstage or not,’ he muses. ‘I’ve got different facets and I want to use them all, so it is me. Now it’s really become me. Although people say I’ve got a tender side, I don’t really show it. So in the middle of yelling about stuff like the Harry Potter shit and all that shit, I throw in that I pet cats. You can’t just write that; you actually have to pet the cats.
‘I’m not into this whole manners thing when people are onstage,’ continues the 48-year-old. ‘Everyone tells stories like there’s a way to tell a story. I don’t know what a storyteller is. I don’t understand the way they talk. Why are they speaking like we’re having dinner somewhere with a linen tablecloth? I don’t come from manners. I come from a slappy-ass family; they slap each other around. My family needs psychiatry but it’s only me and my twin brother who go.’
And then he pauses for breath. Punctuation isn’t Shapiro’s bag when he’s off on one; this stream-of-consciousness delivery has resulted in him being tagged the James Joyce of comedy. It’s indicative of the way his brain works: out loud. There are no sacred cows he won’t make into fillet steak, and he’s equally open about his own life.
‘I used to be a prostitute,’ he says out of nowhere. ‘I never got screwed or screwed them, but I would let them blow me because I’m really bad at giving blow jobs – because I’m straight. I had a drug problem and a money problem. I was going out with rich girls. I just moved to New York [from New Jersey] and, man, all those rich girls, I thought I better keep up. I better keep hustling.’
Though there’s still an element of the hustler in Shapiro, the drink and drugs are a thing of the past and these days the only pimping himself out he does is onstage. Walk into a room with Shapiro, however, and he still looks wasted when, in reality, he’s been clean for 20 years, and is working hard to be well.
‘I’m on more drugs than when I was on drugs,’ he deadpans. ‘But they’re doing good. I’m up and I’m doing shit. I was a big coke addict and even though I’m not on it now, I need to feel alive in my life; it’s my roller coaster ride. You go to AA and they’re like: “I’m OK today, I’m OK.” OK? I want to give myself a ride in my life and so if you can jump on it, if you can get on my roller coaster, we can have a blast.’
That’s where comedy comes in. It was a saviour for Shapiro. ‘I gave up drugs and discovered I was a comic,’ he explains. ‘I would imitate everybody outside of AA and my sponsor told me I was a comedian. And comedy felt warm. People liking me felt warm.’
Shapiro carried on chasing the warmth, which led to some very long gigs. A 50-minute show is nothing for him; he’s used to performing three-and-a-half hour slots at New York’s Sidewalk Café, something he did every week for nine years. The thing is he needs a three-hour set. Shapiro’s a formidable character with stuff to say. Passionately. Sit on the front row and you’re likely to be covered in Shapiro spit or wind up eye to eye with the fella’s manhood. He’s uncompromising and might well ask if you’ve been ‘incested’. Don’t be too scared, though; he pets cats, too.
|ARTICLE TITLE||A rant to remember|
|PUBLISHING ENTITY||The Independent|
|DATE||AUGUST 8, 2007|
|REFERENCE||EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2007|
The Green Room must feel like a home from home to many of the American comics who are appearing there, resembling as it does some kind of underground New York art gallery. Coincidentally, it was at a benefit gig in CBGBs Gallery on the Bowery where I last saw Rick Shapiro in 2004. His ranty antics baffled the room so much so that Robert Newman, who was also on the bill, asked for a break so he could bring the energy back into the room before he went on.
Tonight Shapiro is as baffled as his audience was then, admitting “I’m not even here yet”, but the erratic nature that made fellow American Doug Stanhope veer from genius to ludicrous last year is all part of the Shapiro shtick. Raddled and wiry, wearing a vest, a cap (initially) and a the close-shaven outline of a walrus-like moustache Shapiro looks like a cross between Easy Rider and Smokey and The Bandit.
“Leafy green veg, leafy green veg, mmm, leafy green veg, God I miss syphilis,” begins Shapiro seemingly of nowhere, a stream of consciousness overflow that later leads into routines about food fads (“Upscale deli? It’s just a deli. Upscale deli sounds like you are inviting the pig to be in your sandwich”) and sex (“ever cheat on your girlfriend and it felt bad after about the 17th time?”).
His other preoccupation is Republicans. “Sometimes you have to have 14 Vietnams in a row,” he imagines one telling him to justify the Iraq war. Not that he holds out much hope that a change in administration will help, accusing both of the Democratic front-runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama of being “both white men”.
Some audience members would probably have been surprised to learn that this grizzled, uncompromising character has already been reigned in by television, appearing in the Chris Rock collaborator Louis CK’s HBO sitcom Lucky Louie, though it was cancelled after one season.
All the more reason, perhaps, for the extra bile he has for the entertainment industry, especially film, as he launches into a trailer announcer tirade: “Mark Wahlberg tries to act… Bruce Willis as Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis, Robin Williams will always be a self-parody.” Unsurprisingly Harry Potter fans are not left unscathed either.
Despite his take-no-prisoners attitude, being locked in a small room with Shaprio is not quite as terrifying as one might imagine. He is reasonably lascivious towards female members of the audience but, like Jerry Sadowitz, gives the self-defence that he is really not that bad. After all, he pets cats. “Look, this is a petting movement,” he says while moving his cupped hand from side to side, “that’s real, you can’t fake that.”
Shapiro’s first gig at Glasgow’s Stand comedy club last week went down a storm, with one person left bent double, crying with laughter. There were no casualties tonight but Shapiro left an impression all the same.
|ARTICLE TITLE||RICK SHAPIRO is unwell.|
|PUBLISHING ENTITY||FEST MAGAZINE|
|DATE||AUGUST 8, 2007|
|REFERENCE||EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2007|
There are no safe routines about airline food here: old Rick is made of darker meat
Somewhere between the demented spiel of a backstreet bum and the shirtless antics of a Funhouse-era Iggy Pop, Rick Sharpiro’s lunatic ramblings dwell at the point in which comedy and horror collide. As he paces the tiny attic where he currently resides, locked away like the mutant twin of some cleaner, nicer stand-up, the audience visibly recoils. Throughout this evening’s set, Shapiro will have only the most passing relationship with the stage. He prowls the aisle, hangs from the rafters (“I feel like Sarah Silverman’s clitoris”), and flaps about like a man possessed, all the while scarcely pausing for breath. There are no safe routines about airline food here: old Rick is made of darker meat.
How to describe the experience without descending into sub-NME hyperbole? The man is without peer. He enters the stage in a flurry of papers and slurred quips. As his hour’s end approaches, the audience have been dragged through a personal hell of psych-wards and treatments, bad drugs and worse, sex and treated to a musical finale as oddly moving as it is censor-batingly hilarious. Impossibly, we have been driven to tears of sinful laughter throughout, a boiling point of release that never lets up. Venues as small as these can be acutely claustrophobic, especially when the pace drops; nothing feels more awful than a shared silence. Yet, on those few moments when Shapiro pauses to refuel his reserves of dirty thoughts, we pause.
|ARTICLE TITLE||Raw, honest, uncompromising…|
|PUBLISHING ENTITY||CHORTEL: UK COMEDY GUIDE|
|DATE||AUGUST 10, 2007|
|REFERENCE||EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2007|
Raw, honest, uncompromising – those are the qualities the very best exponents of stand-up tend to display.
But even the most edgy of cult heroes usually bring at least some technique to their art; adapting the abrasive , antisocial elements of their personality into a form fit for public consumption, working on how best to phrase their angry thoughts into jokes.
Rick Shapiro has no such filter.
What you get is the real him, with messy, sprawling ideas, ill-directed fury and no editor on he says. He is spitting out his internal monologue, thinking on his feet but not necessarily thinking it through. He’s probably the closest thing we have to Lenny Bruce – for good and for bad. There’s an absolute integrity and candour to the set, but it’s also all over the shop: sometimes pointless and waffly, sometimes revelatory.
It could be a car crash, and the thrill that he will finally topple adds to the uncomfortable excitement. We’re slightly scared of this ranting lunatic with attention deficit disorder, stripped down to the waist and pacing through the room – some laughs are nervous, but plenty are genuine, too, as there’s a savage, dark wit at the heart of his tirades.
His back story is that he was once a heroin junkie who turned to male prostitution to feed his habit and pay the $9-a-night cost of staying in hostel. In other hands, this could make for an archetypal redemption show, tightly directed, full of drama and pathos. In his, it’s just another reason to be angry, a payoff to many a routine, barked out as a matter of fact to explain his rough edges, rather than seeking any sympathy.
If Iggy Pop did stand-up, he would be Rick Shapiro. He’s surely the world’s most feral comedian, and his electric, untamed energy should appeal to any hardcore stand-up fan seeking an extreme hit. Just don’t expect a tight one-liner.
|ARTICLE TITLE||A Tale of Two Comics|
|PUBLISHING ENTITY||the spectator (ONLINE)|
|DATE||NOVEMBER 2, 2007|
Meet the anti-Seinfeld, Jerry’s brilliant, twisted, evil twin.
You remember the two look-alike protagonists in A Tale of Two Cities, right? There’s Sydney Carton, the misanthropic, dissipated, cynical drunk and nihilist who eventually transmutes his world-hating self-destructiveness into a final fatal act of nobility by substituting himself on the guillotine for his healthy hail-fellow look-alike with those unforgettable words, “It’s a far, far better thing that I do. …”
But who was that other guy, the superbland fellow whose place Sydney Carton takes on the chopping block? Quick, remember his name?
It took me six hours or so to remember. I asked several friends, and they also came up blank. In part it’s because, shamefully, soi-disant literary sophisticates rarely read the quite amazing Tale of Two Cities anymore, probably having had it ruined for them by high-school teachers, or, having seen it first through immature high-school eyes, look down on it, thereby leaving a terrible gap in their literary experience.
In any case, his name, the name of the fellow forgotten in favor of Sydney Carton, is Charles Darnay. Described by Dickens as someone who prospered due to “great perseverance and untiring industry.” What a bore!
No wonder we prefer the literary company—and remember the name—of doomed Sydney Carton, the depressive, despondent, romantic road-to-ruin guy who asks the boring Darnay what he thinks of “this terrestrial scheme” and then explains that “the greatest desire I have is to forget that I belong to it.” The whole “terrestrial scheme”!
I was thinking about the two Dickens characters as I was preparing to see Jerry Seinfeld’s massively hyped new animated film, Bee Movie, and comparing my loathing for everything Seinfeldian—Seinfeld the show, Seinfeld the world’s worst stand-up comic, Seinfeldian “observational humor” in general, the Seinfeldian blanding-out of American comedy and culture, even the ridiculous Seinfeld Porsche collection—with the experience of seeing a far, far better comedian a few weeks ago.
A far, far lesser-known comic, the corruscatingly obscene, vicious, bitter, self-loathing, world-hating Rick Shapiro. While Seinfeld spends his billions buying up Porsches and producing insipid children’s movies that are childish rather than childlike (more on Bee Movie anon), Rick Shapiro was killing (as they say) in a half-filled comedy club called the Cutting Room in Manhattan before heading off to a prestigious series of gigs in, yes, Alaska. Frozen out of the big-money, big-time, big-name recognition game.
Shapiro’s an underground legend among comedy aficionados, a man who’s never—except as a minor character in a failed HBO sitcom (Lucky Louie)—made it onto national TV. And probably never will. He’s just far, far too obscene and extreme.
Well, you say, there’s a lot of obscene stuff on HBO and the like these days. True, and I’m someone who isn’t easily shocked by that kind of thing, but when I first saw Shapiro back in 2001 or 2002 in a club on the Lower East Side, he had me reeling with shock, awe, and convulsive laughter.
I thought, Oh my God, this guy has reinvented obscenity. He’d taken it to new heights (or depths), broken through to a new dimension of filthiness, where it was suddenly, searingly, snarlingly fresh again. I can’t hope to reproduce it verbatim. So, I suggest you go now to his MySpace page and sample some of the clips.
Are you back? Are you OK? Do you see what I mean? Part of what gives Shapiro his obscene authenticity is that it’s not just coming out of his head, it’s coming out of his hide. It’s coming out of his uniquely obscene background, the years he put in as a junkie who traded sex for heroin on the streets of the pre-yuppified Manhattan’s hooker ‘hoods.
(Jerry Seinfeld grew up on the mean streets of suburban Massapequa, Long Island, and—I say this as a Long Islander myself—it shows. Even his fake Upper West Side was second-rate suburbia. Shapiro started out in suburbia, too, but he left the hive, you might say, in a way Seinfeld never did. And wherever you start from, if you end up “sucking cocks for smack,” as Shapiro likes to put it, you really can’t go home again.)
Although Shapiro has occasionally seemed on the verge of breaking out of the comedy club ghetto, something always went wrong in a Sydney Cartonish way. He’s become a cult figure on YouTube, but it’s unlikely he’ll get the grail of most comics, the sitcom—and if he did, he wouldn’t be Rick Shapiro anymore. Though being Rick Shapiro seems like a tough gig. The guy is angry at everything. Really, really angry. Contemptuous, disgusted, with all of us, in a Swiftian scatological way. (Maybe it’s the ex-junkie moralist in him.)
So, maybe I should issue a disclaimer about those MySpace clips: I’m not endorsing or identifying with the politically, sexually, morally incorrect, and offensive sentiments you might find there. I’m angry, at times, yeah. But not that angry.
Shapiro’s riffs are not only NSFW, they’re NSFL—Not Safe For Life. They’re unhealthy and often deeply disturbing. They’re not about Seinfeld’s quotidian “nothing,” they’re about a profound, nihilistic Nothingness. Hilarious, yes, exhilarating to hear someone say such uncompromisingly ugly truths, but it’s a bitter brew: He makes the legendary Lenny Bruce sound as bland as Seinfeld the billionaire bore.
If Shapiro is the Sydney Carton to Seinfeld’s Charles Darnay, does that mean he’ll also prove more memorable? Seinfeld may never be forgotten, alas, although he certainly is forgettable. But I’d argue that Rick Shapiro will be remembered, if he stays alive at least a little longer, as more important. The Lenny Bruce of our time.
I’m not the only one who thinks this way. A couple of years after I first saw Shapiro, I invited talented writer Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of the justly celebrated Random Family (about the culture of poverty in the Bronx), to speak to a writing class I was teaching at NYU. She’s legendary for her obsessive pursuit of her subjects. And to my astonishment, she told the class she had spent about three years following none other than Rick Shapiro around, thinking there had to be some kind of book to write about him and his world.
I was excited about the pairing of author and subject, but some of my students were puzzled, and—at the time—I think Adrian herself was a little puzzled by her fascination, and so I threw my two cents in: In some deeply disturbed but provocative way, you could compare Shapiro and his circle of extreme comics to the circle of philosophers—Socrates and his crew—who talked trash about the meaning of life on the Athenian agora more than two millennia ago.
Because both groups were exploring a kind of terra incognita, the nature of human nature, just how deep (or, in Shapiro’s case, how dirty) one could get in analyzing (or, in Shapiro’s case, anal-yzing) the human mind. Asking fundamental questions (or, in Shapiro’s case, fundament questions) about the relationship between mind and body, self and soul.
I recently contacted Adrian, and she told me that after five years of following Shapiro around, she was completing a book about him for Random House. No Samuel Johnson could have a better Boswell.
I asked her why this snarling, foul-mouthed, misogynist, misanthropic, venomously sleazy, Ratso Rizzo-type engaged her interest. Here’s what she wrote back:
His work implicates you. I doubt you can leave his show unaffected. His rendering of his dynamic and intricate experience of the world will make you laugh, but it requires you, blessedly, to think deeply and feel. As to my idea of a book about standup comedy—contemporary American masculinity—he’s grappling dearly with all it means and can mean.
I think the key thing here is “he implicates you.” Because for some—not me, of course—he touches a nerve by suggesting there’s some of him in you. That horrifying recognition is why you laugh and why it’s scary. Adrian’s words suggest that it’s possible to see Rick Shapiro’s stage persona as a character he’s playing, knowingly trying to implicate us by acting out our rage against the Seinfeldian hive. That, for instance, he’s not misogynist, but about misogyny. He raises some of the questions that Sarah Silverman and Sacha Baron Cohen do in their work, but without any of the knowing winks that in one way or another let them off the hook. He plays on that knife edge of uncertainty: Is this him, can any human go so low, so entertainingly, or is he putting some of it on?
Anyway, when the publicity-industrial complex began gearing up to force-feed us Jerry Seinfeld’s sickeningly sweet Bee Movie, I was thinking that Shapiro is the antidote—the quintessential anti-Seinfeld.
I have some history with Seinfeld. I used to ridicule him and his insipid show repeatedly in print, so much so that when NBC’s Today Show did a special on the final episode, they had me on as the lone Voice of Dissent. And I heard from people who interviewed Seinfeld co-creator Larry David that he’d get apoplectic denouncing me. (Too bad, since I think David, freed from the simpering Seinfeld in Curb Your Enthusiasm, has become genuinely interesting.)
When the hype began for Bee Movie, I wondered if Seinfeld’s trivializing inanity could do any more damage to the American psyche than it’d already done. And it occurred to me that rather than merely denounce Seinfeld, I should suggest an alternative, his evil twin, the Sydney Carton to his Charles Darnay, Rick Shapiro. That’s me, always thinking positive.
When I say damage to the American psyche, am I exaggerating? Well, I don’t know if you read Steve Martin’s lovely recent memoir in The New Yorker. It was about how he became a comic before the comedy club revolution and how he participated in the birth of a new, original kind of American comedy that he and few others were exploring in the ’60s and ’70s. It was at once incredibly funny and incredibly silly, but also genuinely and provocatively philosophical.
But suddenly almost all that died, and I blame Seinfeld and the so-called “sweater comics” he inspired for killing it off with their smirking frat-boy blandness. Their idiot “observational humor” made a religion out of self-congratulation. Most of the Seinfeld show’s humor was about making fun of anyone who was in any way “different”—immigrants, people with any kind of accent, any kind of idiosyncrasy, any kind of deviation from the Charles Darnay mold.
You could argue that a nation’s character is defined at least in part by its sense of humor, and Jerry gave us the sense of humor of self-satisfaction. Anything that didn’t fit the suburban Massapequa mindset was something to be held up for piddling laughs. He was so deeply in love, so deeply satisfied by his own trivial quirks that those who didn’t share them were alien subjects of ridicule.
The promotional booklet really says it all. I’m not going to waste my time or yours reviewing this saccharine little animated fable which is NSFD (not safe for diabetics). Instead I invite you to stare at a drawing of Jerry’s bee “Barry B. Benson,” and tell me that you don’t eventually see
Sitting through the movie and watching Seinfeld as that witless Seinfeldian bee is almost too painful an experience to remember. It’s going to take me years to get over the PTSD (post-traumatic Seinfeld disorder). But I would like to briefly review the promotional booklet.
Now, I’ve been a movie columnist in the past, and so I’ve seen all kinds of film promotional booklets. But this is pretty astonishing. Sixty-four slick pages devoted to the film and the filmmakers, roughly 40 devoted to kissing Jerry’s ass from every angle possible. Making him out to be the great genius of all time. On just one page, co-workers ooh and ah: “… he’s so adept …”; “he always knows …”; “… always pitch perfect”; “It was incredible …”; “I’ve never seen people so excited to get into a room [with him].” The word amazing appears on just about every page.
But there was one rather revealing passage in the promo booklet that brings us back to Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay
it’s when Seinfeld’s Bee Moviecrew gets really deep and talks about the “philosophy” of the film in a section called “Thinking Bee.” The film celebrates not bees who think, but a bee who learns the danger of thinking for himself, abandons his individuality, and becomes part of the hive mind, a cog in the honey-making machine.
Seriously, that childishly totalitarian sentiment is the “redemptive message” of the movie. Not bee yourself, but bee like everyone else. Very Massapequa. But that’s our Jerry.
(By the way, the booklet goes into rhapsodies about how carefully they calibrated the color of the honey. But I have a feeling that if Rick Shapiro ever saw the honey in this movie, I’m sure he’d say that you can’t watch it without thinking they’ve made it the exact same color as urine. And once you get into that mode the whole movie become incredibly funny, if not on its own shallow terms.)
In any case, here’s Jerry getting all deep and serious in his shallow way about “Thinking Bee”:
One of the things that you have to know about in the movie is that we talk about the fact that all bees, once they sting, that’s it for them. You sting, your life is over. So it’s a big step. You really have to control your temper. You don’t just sting somebody because you get upset. You have to control yourself. Makes you really think about anger management doesn’t it?
Well, that’s one thing it makes you think about. But notice that he’s all about control, control, control.
That’s the great thing about Rick Shapiro. He’ll never be a billionaire, he’ll always be Sydney Carton, whose fame is only posthumous. But he’s not afraid to get out of control, to sting us, and himself, to death. He don’t need no stinking anger management. Anger management needs him.
It’s a far, far better thing he does, than Seinfeld’s puny comic mind could ever imagine.
|ARTICLE TITLE||Feature: Rick Shapiro – Of Xbox and Ass|
|PUBLISHING ENTITY||FEST MAGAZINE|
|DATE||AUGUST 17, 2007|
|REFERENCE||EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL|
A frail figure who is, by his own admission, fighting an addiction to prescription downers so powerful they have him walking into walls
Within minutes of the tape rolling, it becomes apparent that this will be no ordinary interview; Rick Shapiro does not do sound bites. Wonderfully, miraculously, he is blessed with a brain that travels at a constant tangent, switching path as often as some fairytale traveler lost in a wild wood. Talk of psychic vibrations making his legs ache and ruminations on Hamlet (“Why is that ok? Cos it’s a story with a moral? Well, I’m a walking story and I don’t have a moral”) and the relative merits of patricide all make for a conversation never less than 80% sidetracked – but what a wonderful track to follow.
Judging by the hype he seems to be generating here, Shapiro is a comic on the rise. A 20 year veteran of the US stand-up scene, his onstage candor and liking for extended set-pieces (for years he played sets upwards of 3 hours) have seen him compared to everyone from Richard Pryor to James Joyce. Like Richard Pryor, Shapiro draws on painful experiences to fuel comedy of the most personal kind: a former addict, prostitute and victim of childhood abuse, his set is peppered with anecdotes that tread the line between hilarity and pitch black pathos with a mesmerizing deftness. As a matter of fact, he takes exception to a review I published of his show, describing him as being made of ‘darker meat’ than most of the comics on show:
“I’m not aware of being ‘dark’. It’s just what I know. Recently I met this girl who was acting really nice, and she would call me up saying, ‘I just feel like I can talk to you’…I said ‘what’s your real problem?’ She said ‘nothing, I just feel comfortable around you and I know that you were a prostitute but I want you to know it’s all over and it’s ok’. I thought…something’s wrong here. She calls me up once a week and then finally she goes ‘I used to be a call-girl and I’m ashamed.’ I said, why are you ashamed of it? And she goes…’well, because it’s wrong’. I said why’s it wrong? It’s not something that’s right or wrong, it’s something that you didn’t want to do. I could easily agree, it is wrong, but what does wrong have to do with it when that’s where your life went? Sure, there is a choice, but a lot of people who grew up as victims of abuse don’t grow up with choice.”
Though by his own admission a loner at heart, he has nonetheless won friends in high places. Chris Rock has been a vocal fan and Doug Stanhope has been known to pull stunts just to get him stage time – allotting him slots booked in his own name. His most vocal admirers highlight the feckless sincerity with which he performs. As well as this honesty, Shapiro is also noted for the level of literacy he brings to his shows. On the evening I saw him perform, he name-checked Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With A Thousand Faces, alongside such counter-cultural icons as Abbie Hoffman and Anais Niin. I ask him if these are figures with which he identifies:
“Am I counter culture? If you’re talking about Nicole Ritchie and Paris Hilton, yeah sure, I’m against that. Who wouldn’t be? There’s so much more going on that we could deal with right now. What I am about is saying: ‘why sit at home playing X-box when you could be eating ass? Why read Harry Potter when it’s so obviously a franchise, sold to you in big franchise bookstores?’ A bunch of kids sitting around a table saying ‘Harry, you’re so weird’ – why can people not see how lacking that is in imagination?”
Big words, especially in the city that birthed the boy wizard, yet they seem utterly without bravado. A frail figure who is, by his own admission, fighting an addiction to prescription downers so powerful they have him walking into walls, Shapiro is inherently likeable. Very much the little boy lost. In the brief time I spend in his company a number of new friends wander over, visibly thrilled to see him. One even declares him her ‘festival baby’. Most exciting of all is the lack of separation in his persona on and off the stage. I had dreaded that his act – so winningly genuine – would prove to be just that. With so many comics trading on a stage presence that in no way reflects their real selves, I dearly hoped that Shapiro’s mix of befuddlement and rage would prove to be a genuine reflection of his own self. Was his apparent candour, I asked him, a career move?
“I can understand the arguments about people saying it’s a career move, but you know what? I’m sorry. Let it be a career move – have a career that’s such a huge dream, career move isn’t a bad word.”
Does he worry, then, that this kind of outsider stance is going to alienate him from potential audiences?
“If people would just say it, the stigmas and judgments of conversation would be gone. …‘Oh, she’s weird’…I know a girl who was in 6 foster homes: growing up, they threw meat over the fence to feed her. She has a performance room in L.A. They all say ‘she’s crazy’, but now her room got picked up because she took so many risks…risk is in now…now they’re all her friends but, when they hear about her history they all say ‘she’s a freak’ Why? Because she happened to be born to a mother who gave her away? That makes her what? And, the guy who holds down a telemarketing job, all ‘canIhelpyoucanIhelpyoucanIhelpyou’…he’s not the freak?…What’s what?”
Notoriously, sarcasm seldom registers on paper. Nor do silly voices – and Shapiro has a whole squirming inventory on show. The tyranny of print means that the humor at the heart of his comments might be lost but if you squint it’s there, nonetheless, just a little angry, just a little sad, burning with a sense of indignation at the core.
|ARTICLE TITLE||Lenny Bruce’s Mild-Mannered Heirs|
|DATE||NOVEMBER 14, 2007|
|REFERENCE||LENNY BRUCE TRIBUTE|
Let’s start this week with a pop culture quiz. Lenny Bruce was:
(a) A very funny guy
(b) A fearless champion of First Amendment rights
To many of his devotees, the answer is “all of the above.” You have to wonder, though, just how many of those who attended the second annual “Homage to Lenny Bruce & Free Speech” event at Gotham Comedy Club during the fourth annual Oyhoo Festival last month even knew who Bruce was — or how he became a symbol of constitutional freedoms.
Bruce’s early bits were outrageously funny but hardly political. “Give up, Dutch, and we’ll meet any reasonable demands you men want,” the warden in his prison riot routine says, “except the vibrators.” Yet as he was arrested over and over again on obscenity and drug-related charges in California, Illinois and New York, his performances became looser, angrier and more autobiographical. A compulsive provocateur, Bruce delighted in infuriating the very people who kept dragging him into court, thereby ensuring that they would never stop trying to shut him up.
By the end of his brief life — “One last four-letter word for Lenny: Dead. At forty. That’s obscene,” sportswriter Dick Schaap wrote in eulogy — Bruce had become a martyr to the cause of free speech. He had also set the stage for such younger comedians as Richard Pryor and George Carlin, who showed a similar propensity to mine their lives for material, a disinclination to censor themselves and a gift for disguising social criticism as entertainment.
“He was really a force for exposing hypocrisy,” Carlin said in a recent radio interview. (When Bruce was busted at the Gate of Horn in Chicago, Carlin, who was later arrested in Milwaukee for performing his own “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” was picked up for refusing to show ID.)
By that token, there wasn’t much genuine homage going on at Gotham Comedy Club on October 24. There was, to be sure, plenty of obscenity, but much of it was swearing-as-crutch rather than swearing-to-upend-social-mores. That, of course, has become much harder since Bruce’s day; when Bruce would swear onstage, his curse words had the force of genuine shock and rebellion. Thanks to him, they no longer do. One can hardly fault the organizers of the Oyhoo festival for tossing some comedy into their weeklong celebration of Jewish music and culture. And Bruce is certainly worthy of tribute: Few performers better embodied the easy wit and critical function of the Jewish comedic tradition. Yet, most of the comedians on the Oyhoo bill seemed lamentably tame by Bruce’s standards — the result, perhaps, of a lack of boundaries left to push. (Having long ago become a standard comedic trope, Judaism itself seems to have lost its edginess. Bruce’s Jewishness was a central theme in his comedy, a way of establishing himself as an outsider; for most of the Jewish comics who performed at Gotham, it was an afterthought.)
As Rob Tannenbaum, one half of the comedic pop duo Good for the Jews, pointed out, Bruce “went to jail nine times so that Bill Maher could say [one word; rhymes with "clock shucker"] on basic cable.” Unfortunately, what Tannenbaum did not say — but what he probably knew, given the chill in the room — was that the word in question would never be as funny again, now that he could use it in purely ironic fashion.
There also were plenty of forays into such touchy subjects as religion, sex and race, occasionally bundled together in nods to Bruce’s Jewish heritage. (“I am sexually attracted to Hasidic men,” emcee Laurie Kilmartin said. “They look like superheroes to me.”) But there was little in the way of genuine social satire of the kind that Bruce and Mort Sahl, his predecessor at San Francisco’s hungry i, honed to such a fine point. After three or four comics in a row made eerily similar jokes about homosexuality, racial stereotypes and the n-word, it was hard not to suspect that they were less interested in skewering social conventions than in scoring easy laughs.
The closest thing to a Lenny Bruce moment occurred when Rick Shapiro took the stage. A former drug addict and prostitute who was once tapped to re-enact Bruce’s 1961 Carnegie Hall show off-Broadway, Shapiro is capable of torrential stream-of-consciousness outpourings that evoke Bruce’s own late-period rants. In 15 astonishing minutes, Shapiro recalled his troubled past, spanked both Republicans and Democrats for their hypocrisy, and performed a brilliantly debauched impersonation of oral sex using nothing but a microphone and his fecund imagination.
Shapiro was by far the most charismatic, the most gifted and the most transgressive performer onstage that night, and the only one who generated uncontrollable laughter while requiring his audience to think. Compared with him, the rest seemed like schoolchildren. And it was tempting to dwell on the vexed relationship between comic genius and personal suffering that Bruce himself helped fix in the public imagination — especially when so many of the other comics on the bill seemed intent on ramming home the point. “I’d read from my trial,” Eugene Mirman said before launching into a mild bit about a speeding ticket, “but I’ve never been arrested.”
Alexander Gelfand is a writer living in New York City.