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    Review: ‘The Alchemist,’ a Play in Search of Comedy Gold

    Red Bull Theater brings on the cons and their marks in this adaptation of the 17th-century Ben Jonson work.Let’s face it: Some people don’t just ask to be conned, they practically beg for it. Their greed, be it for money, sex or power, makes them vulnerable to the most extraordinary fabrications: the more outlandish the promises, the harder they fall for them. Conveniently, their hubris and self-confidence shelter them from the fact that they are gullible idiots.Such perfect marks are matched with perfect swindlers — shrewd, resourceful, prone to fart jokes — in the Ben Jonson comedy “The Alchemist,” now being revived by the Red Bull company. Naturally, shenanigans and slapstick ensue, spiced with an abundance of saucy double, and sometimes single entendres.For the occasion, Red Bull has reunited the team behind its 2017 hit adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s “The Government Inspector”: the playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, who translated Jonson’s dense Jacobean text into a vernacular that is easier on 21st-century New York ears, and the director Jesse Berger, who seems to have never met a door that could not be slammed in a hurry. The pairing is felicitous, though the result is not as consistently funny as their earlier show, especially in the slack second act. Admittedly, very little is.After his master leaves plague-infested London for his home in the country, “for he could well afford to,” the butler, Face (Manoel Felciano), and his accomplices Subtle (Reg Rogers) and Dol Common (Jennifer Sánchez) use the now-empty city house to entertain a series of visitors ripe for the fleecing.There is, for example, Dapper, who wants a good-luck charm to improve his gambling odds and is made to believe a simple flea, conveniently near-invisible, will do the trick. The expert comic actor Carson Elrod fleshes out Dapper with a veritable arsenal of mimicry and affectations that make his every appearance a delight.Other targets are more satirically pointed, like the pious Ananias (Stephen DeRosa), who is from “a Protestant sect banished to Holland for the crime of being perfect,” or the excellently named Sir Epicure Mammon (Jacob Ming-Trent, in fine form), who covets the philosopher’s stone that could turn any metal into gold — Jonson’s approach is here very similar to that of Molière.From left, Jacob Ming-Trent and Manoel Felciano in “The Alchemist.”Carol RoseggSir Mammon’s appetites are boundless, and he is bewitched by the suggestion that a single mystery word can trigger the comely Dol into a carnal frenzy. “He that makes the stone must be virtuous, he that buys it, not really,” he says. “Tis the genius of Capitalism.”Hatcher dispenses such anachronisms judiciously — a joke referring to the James Bond universe is milked for all it’s worth, especially visually — but mostly he avoids the trap of over-relying on them for easy laughs. (The modern model of a classic play being jolted into the present remains David Ives’s “The School for Lies,” a dizzying rewriting of Molière’s “The Misanthrope.”)The dialogue often zings, and Berger orchestrates the farcical comings and goings on Alexis Distler’s bi-level set at the requisite madcap pace — at the performance I attended, the excellent Rogers (who played the director of the musical-within-the-musical in “Tootsie”) ad-libbed a line about all the stairs he had to climb.But the show is better at setting up the plot than at resolving it when we return from intermission — it is, after all, easier to throw a bunch of pins up in the air than it is to juggle them.Luckily, the cast members continue to exert themselves relentlessly in the service of laughter, from mere exaggerated inflections to all-out clowning. If acting is a form of conning, theatergoers, too, are willing victims.The AlchemistThrough Dec. 19 at the Red Bull Theater, Manhattan; redbulltheater.com. Running time: 2 hours. More

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    How to Do a Voice-Over

    Don’t be afraid to improvise. Avoid saying one line at a time.“It’s not like you’re rolling film — when you’re recording voice, you can fail all you want,” says Eugene Mirman, a comedian and voice actor who plays Gene Belcher, the 11-year-old middle child on the animated television series “Bob’s Burgers,” which debuted in 2011. “That allows for more risk and taking chances and trying different jokes.” Be prepared to say a line dozens of times in a dozen different ways. “You could say lines in an angry, happy, questioning or fun way,” Mirman says. While voicing the character of Gene, Mirman emphasizes a youthful exuberance and optimism and cadence that’s slightly more upbeat than his everyday adult voice.To prepare, try yawning, relaxing your jaw, raising your arms, hitting yourself in the chest, smiling while saying a happy line. Keep a glass of water or tea nearby. Mirman records on his feet; a music stand holds his script. “I stand so I can do the physical actions described,” says Mirman, who works out of a soundproof booth in his home. “If you have to make running noises, you probably wiggle your body in a slight running way mimicking the actions.”Develop relationships with your fellow performers. When you get together, whether in person or online, it helps to chitchat and catch up with one another. Mirman has known his castmates for years (they were hired partly, he says, “because we already knew each other”), and that has fostered the “familial” comfort level needed to go off on ad-libbing tangents. Comedy productions in particular require improvisational freedom. “In the second episode of ‘Bob’s,’ there’s a whole part where Bob is trapped in the wall of their home,” Mirman says. “And Gene starts talking to him about ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ and how he’s sure Salman Rushdie wrote it. It was just this random thing we improvised, and it actually got used.”Even when following the script or the director’s guidance — whether recording solo or with the cast — try not to just say one line at a time. Make it feel as if you’re responding inside the scene. “You want it to sound like you’re discovering it as you’re saying that thought,” Mirman says. More

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    Joe Pera and the Surprising Pleasures of Gentle Humor

    Don’t expect twists in these bits. The standup, who will be at the New York Comedy Festival, has devised a calming aesthetic with rewards of its own.To bore an audience is one of the worst things a performer can do. It’s among the trustiest truisms of show business. But what if our anxious culture has become so crowded with fast-talking agitators, hyperventilators and disrupters that something soothing and subdued becomes refreshing? Is it possible that the most exciting move is to embrace dullness?The stand-up comic Joe Pera tests this theory. With a rigid back hunching at the neck, he has the appearance of a large turtle, only slower. His fashion is basic suburban dad — Asics, glasses, comfortable khakis — and his dry, gently absurdist material focuses on cold-button subjects like what to have for breakfast. Of the hundreds of performers in the New York Comedy Festival this week, Pera is surely the only one who will say that he doesn’t mind if you fall asleep listening to him.After a year off because of the pandemic, the festival returns with a talent-rich lineup of seasoned veterans (Bill Maher, Colin Quinn, Brian Regan and Marc Maron); midcareer stars (Vir Das, Ronny Chieng, Michelle Buteau and Michelle Wolf); and rising newcomers (Megan Stalter). Since New York has a festival’s worth of comedy every week, the shows I most look forward to are those by Los Angeles comics we don’t see here as often (Nick Kroll) or stand-ups in their prime taking on a bigger stage (Gary Gulman playing Carnegie Hall). But there is also a wealth of small, quirky evenings like “Dan and Joe DVD Show” at the Bell House on Tuesday, standup from Pera and his more animated partner, Dan Licata.Over the past decade, Pera, a Buffalo native, carved out a niche in the New York scene by playing at his own pace, interjecting a soft-spoken, flamboyantly clean presence in the middle of shows full of quick wits and profane punch lines. This month, he has a new book out before the holidays, “A Bathroom Book for People Not Pooping or Peeing But Using the Bathroom as an Escape,” and premieres the third season of his television series whose title, “Joe Pera Talks With You,” is factual and straightforward, like his comedy.Pera plays a choir teacher from small-town Michigan who makes Ted Lasso look like Dexter. The 11 minute-or-so episodes are patiently, gracefully shot without a single swirling camera, goofy font or burst of color. It stands out on the Adult Swim schedule the way a sex tape would on Disney+. There are bits of plot, including a budding romance with a survivalist (played by Jo Firestone, whose consistent likability makes her the Tom Hanks of comedy) or the death of a grandmother, but much of this show hinges on creating a very peculiar tranquil mood.Pera with Jo Firestone in his Adult Swim show “Joe Pera Talks With You.”Adult SwimAt various points, Pera recites facts about lighthouses or beans, before sharing maxims like: “Waiting for someone is just a nice thing to do.” The first episode this season lingers on the pleasure of sitting. It finds Joe helping his friend Gene pick out a chair in a furniture store.Occasionally a political issue will come up, but only briefly, almost as a counterpoint to emphasize that this is not what the show is about. And while the subject of grief became prominent in the second season, the series doesn’t investigate sadness so much as offer tools to ward it off for a few minutes. How about a shot of some amazing fireworks? Or the comforting distraction of a musical put on by kids? Maybe Joe in some funny wigs?Early on this season, Joe Pera looked directly at the camera and asked viewers if they were sitting right now, before assuring us that he was not about to give bad news. Then he asked, if we were sitting on a chair, what kind was it? Not since Mr. Rogers has someone with as much conviction asked the television camera a question and then paused as if he might hear an answer. It’s not the only time Pera evokes that legend of children’s television.He displays the earnest manner and sense of wonder that most people lose by their teenage years. It’s tempting to conclude that his persona is a stunt, a piece of performance art in the Andy Kaufman tradition. Some fans probably enjoy his work as a kind of ironic prank on comedy itself. And he surely understands this, which might be why he often doubles down on the incongruous 1950s wholesomeness, singing the praises of a warm apple pie in the fall or apologizing for swearing. But watch him long enough and what becomes clear is that Joe Pera isn’t after glib laughs. Wait for the wink or the twist, and it never comes.His goal is not to take audiences out of the action by laughing at it, but to envelop them in a muted version of reality, to invite them to surrender to the small pleasures of calm.For years, I refused. I don’t tend to go to art for that, and when I do, I find it in unlikely places, like slasher films or Stephen A. Smith (yes, he makes N.B.A. punditry into an art). But those are my eccentric tastes. And while his aesthetic seems like ingratiating wholesome Americana, there’s an avant-garde obscureness underneath it. You have to work a bit to get it. Adventurous types should try.By slowing down and reducing everything to simple comforts, Pera can tap into a child’s view of the world, back when we dealt with boredom most creatively by creating races between rain drops on windshields or finding shapes in clouds.Many of his shows linger so reverentially on everyday things — the supermarket, a song by the Who — that they seem almost spiritual. Other times he appears to push the concept of banal normal life so far as to find the comic weirdness within. At one point in the first episode, an old stranger drives by him, stops and asks for Pera’s phone. The man takes a photo of himself and hands the phone back to Pera. It’s an odd moment that in a different show could make for cringe comedy, but here, this random gesture comes off as vaguely generous and inexplicable. I chuckled. You might not. But it’s best not to think about it too much.Early in the pandemic, Pera released a special called “Relaxing Old Footage With Joe Pera,” which featured stock video of waterfalls and coffee pots along with comments like this statement about watching trees: “I can’t be the only one who wants to watch Old Chico, a 9,000-year-old spruce, after reading the news.” More

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    ‘Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord’ Review: Our Sewing Superhero

    The first post-shutdown live performance at New York Theater Workshop is almost a debriefing after the crisis we have endured.Before the lights go down at New York Theater Workshop, Kristina Wong gets up from her Hello Kitty sewing machine, where she’s been making a face mask, to deliver some trigger warnings about the solo performance she’s about to give.Her tone is tongue in cheek — she is, after all, a comedian — but her heads-up to the audience is for real, because she’s wading straight into one of the great divides in live theater right now: between people hungry for drama that examines the last 20 months and people desperate for psychic escape from all that.“This show takes place in the pandemic,” Wong says. “I know. I know! Now you get to find out if watching live theater about the pandemic, during a pandemic, is your thing. And because it’s set in the pandemic, there are mentions of death, illness, poverty, mental health stressors, racism, trauma.” A pause, and then she adds one more possible trigger: “The last U.S. president.”Truth be told, I have not been clamoring for theater about dire recent events. And I confess that, en route to Wong’s show, I was feeling particularly ground down by all the barefaced people I’d seen, once again, on the subway.Yet “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” turns out to be a spiky comic tonic for just such gloom. Directed by Chay Yew, it’s the first post-shutdown live performance at New York Theater Workshop, and it’s ideally suited as such: almost a debriefing after the crisis we have endured, even though we haven’t reached its end.Wong’s outfit includes a bandoleer with bright spools of thread, which she slings across her chest, and, strapped to her back, a giant pair of scissors.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesDon’t be fooled by the bluster in the show’s title. The tale that Wong tells isn’t truly self-aggrandizing. It’s about the Auntie Sewing Squad, a far-flung group of volunteers she assembled from her home in Los Angeles in March 2020 to make face masks, which were desperately needed then and perilously hard to come by. Selflessness and human connection are dominant themes of this narrative.“Sweatshop Overlord” is also about mothers and daughters and heritage — sewing skills passed down from one generation of Asian American women to the next — and how at a time of horrific anti-Asian bigotry and violence in this country, some of those women harnessed perennially undervalued skills for an urgent common good. Amid corrosive cultural discord, as President Trump and others loudly blamed Asians for the coronavirus, they acted with a kind of ferocious grace.Wong, whose Zoom version of the show was part of New York Theater Workshop’s online programming last May, didn’t mean the Auntie Sewing Squad to last more than a few weeks.“There is a rumor that the U.S. post office will be delivering five masks to every address in America,” she tells the audience, one month into the project, “and that will make us obsolete very soon.”Remember that rumor? “Sweatshop Overlord” is full of little memory jolts like that. Those deliveries never happened, of course, and Wong’s group grew to include hundreds of people — including her own mother — who sewed more than 350,000 face masks for vulnerable communities before disbanding in August 2021.“Is America a banana republic disguised as a democracy?” Wong asks more than once, aghast at what she sees as the government’s failure to protect its citizens from the pandemic threat.Alternating dark humor and wry social commentary with anger, sorrow and fear, she tells the story of the Aunties inside the chronology we all lived through. These were ordinary Americans — many Asian, mostly female — enlisting in a fight for the health and well-being of their country. Sort of like a patriotic war movie in which the hostilities involve a lethal virus and belligerent resistance to mask wearing, and where people under fire volley back with the copious fruits of traditional “women’s work.”To immerse herself in this battle, Wong dons a wonderfully playful action-hero costume by the Tony Award winner Linda Cho. The bandoleer that Wong slings across her chest holds bright spools of thread, not bullets; a jumbo pair of scissors is strapped to her back.Junghyun Georgia Lee’s set has an upstage wall made of surgical masks, which becomes an ideal screen for Caite Hevner’s many projections.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesAs vital as her humor is to the tone of the performance, the production design is just as important. The set, by Junghyun Georgia Lee, has an upstage wall made of about 1,400 surgical masks — an ideal screen for Caite Hevner’s many projections — but the real eye-catcher is the candy-colored sewing room laid out before it.The objects there are built on an Alice in Wonderland scale: tomato-shaped pincushions as big as chairs, a gargantuan seam ripper in royal blue, bobbins a giant could use. It feels heightened and hallucinatory, like the first year of the pandemic, but also safe, like a child’s playroom. Amith Chandrashaker’s saturated lighting aids the shift between those moods.“Sweatshop Overlord” sags a bit in its last third, and one moment meant to be solemn is puzzling instead. But Wong is good company and an accomplished storyteller, and she and Yew have made a show that is both heartening and cathartic. Tripping our collective memories of a strange, scary, isolated time, it asks us to recall them together. Which helps, actually.Back out on the street afterward, we’re lighter — and, thanks to the Aunties, imbued with hope.Kristina Wong, Sweatshop OverlordThrough Nov. 21 at New York Theater Workshop, Manhattan; nytw.org. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. More

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    Camille Saviola, ‘Deep Space Nine’ and Stage Actor, Dies at 71

    She was known for her comic work in cabarets, for her performance in the musical “Nine” on Broadway and for her role in a “Star Trek” spinoff.Camille Saviola, an actress and singer who made an impression in the musical “Nine” on Broadway, in assorted cabaret spoofs and on television in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and other series, died on Oct. 28 in a hospital in North Bergen, N.J. She was 71.Alyssa Romeo, a great-niece, said the cause was heart failure.Ms. Saviola frequently drew comparisons to Ethel Merman for her big voice, which she liked to use to comic effect. One character she played in more than one cabaret show received the Ten Commandments of Soul from James Brown, earning her something of a nickname: “the Italian Godmother of Soul.”Onstage, she was best known for originating the role of Mama Maddelena, a spa manager, in the original production of “Nine,” the Arthur Kopit-Maury Yeston musical about a film director having a midlife crisis, which opened on Broadway in May 1982 and ran for almost two years. She was featured in a comic number, “The Germans at the Spa.”But she wasn’t limited to comedy. In 2005, for instance, she starred in a production of “Mother Courage and Her Children,” Bertolt Brecht’s famed antiwar play, in Pasadena, Calif.“As Mother Courage, Camille Saviola is wily, indomitable and eminently practical,” Daryl H. Miller wrote in reviewing that performance in The Los Angeles Times.She endeared herself to a different group of fans when she was cast in “Deep Space Nine” as Kai Opaka, a spiritual leader on the planet Bajor. Though she appeared in only four episodes, from 1993 to 1996, Ms. Saviola was well known to followers of the franchise, many of whom posted about her death on social media.In a 1995 interview with a “Deep Space Nine” fan magazine that is quoted on the website Memory Alpha, Ms. Saviola talked about how she got the part.“I went in — every character actress was there — and did a little reading, the real thing,” she said, referring not to a script reading but to a tarot card reading. “My grandmother read cards and tea leaves down in Greenwich Village — she never charged people money — and I have a little bit of that gift.”Camille Saviola was born on July 16, 1950, in the Bronx to Michael and Mary (D’Esopo) Saviola. The performing bug bit early.“I wanted to be Elvis Presley, and at 6 I was already lip-syncing to his records and putting on magic shows,” she told The New York Times in 1985. “By the time I was 7, I knew a thousand jokes. Around puberty, I discovered Judy Garland.”Ms. Saviola in 2003. She was seen on Broadway, in cabarets and in more than 40 film and television roles. Bruce Glikas/FilmMagicShe graduated from the High School of Music and Art in New York and, her great-niece said, studied voice for a time at City College, but she left to work Off Off Broadway and in summer stock. She also sang with an all-female rock group for a time.In 1980 she was in the original Off Off Broadway cast of “Starmites,” a science fiction musical, billed only as Camille and belting out a number called “Hard to Be Diva.” (The show made Broadway briefly in 1989, though without her.) She was also in a touring production of the rock opera “Tommy,” playing the characters the Mother and the Acid Queen.In March 1985, at the Ballroom Theater in Manhattan, she was the central figure in a cabaret musical called “Hollywood Opera” that parodied eight classic films.“At the center of this nonsense stands the commandingly funny singer-actress Camille Saviola, who delivers two showstopping bits,” Stephen Holden wrote in a review in The New York Times. “The first is a heaving caricature of Anna Magnani retelling the story of ‘The Rose Tattoo’ in a pattery tarantella called ‘Della Rose’s Turn.’ Later, with Perry Arthur taking the Paul Henreid role, Miss Saviola, impersonating Bette Davis with Groucho Marx eyebrows, demolishes once and for all our fond memories of the two-cigarettes-in-the-dark love scene from ‘Now Voyager.’”Later that year she incorporated some of those bits into her own cabaret show, “Secrets of the Lava Lamp,” which found her alternately singing and telling stories.Ms. Saviola had small parts in two Woody Allen movies, “Broadway Danny Rose” (1984) and “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985), the first of her more than 40 film and television roles. She had recurring roles on the 1990s TV series “The Heights” and “Civil Wars” and, more recently, on “First Monday,” “Judging Amy” and “Entourage.” In 2018 and 2019 she had a recurring role on the TV Land series “Younger.”Ms. Saviola, who at her death lived in West New York, N.J., is survived by a sister, Mary Ann Horman. More

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    Four Stand-Up Specials That Showcase Hard-Working Comics

    Theo Von, Roy Wood Jr., Ricky Velez and Jo Firestone each turn in solid hours filled with smart, funny observations.The stand-up specials that get the most attention tend to be made by celebrities, but as dedicated comedy fans know, the funniest ones are much more likely to emerge from midcareer workhorses, like the artists who recently put out these new hours.Theo Von“Regular People” (Netflix)A couple times a year, some city slicker with impeccable elite-media credentials whispers to me: What do you think of Theo Von? What this translates to is: I didn’t think I was going to like this guy, but he’s hilarious. And it’s true. One of the most magnetic storytellers in comedy today, he plays with hot-button cultural issues, but not for cheap shock. The title refers to the people from his Louisiana hometown. He’s less charitable about those in Los Angeles, where he currently lives. About them, he quips: “I don’t blame the, um, fires.”There’s not only sincerity to his act, but an eccentricity that takes you by surprise. He opens by mocking his appearance — “I look like somebody who might have matches on them” — before a series of yarns about kids he grew up with, like one with no arms named Gert or a boy named Tot, who had “a lick of autism, a pretty good lick of it.” There’s affection and even innocence in these tales, which sound like a white-guy/red-state version of the “Fat Albert” gang.His sentences often begin and end with “bro,” but in between are musical bursts of slang that, like the jokes of Norm Macdonald, find elaborate ways to say simple things. “A chair” becomes “seatery,” and “You feel the squirrels run, baby” is his way of describing getting horny. Von first burst on the scene via the MTV reality show “Road Rules,” so it’s tempting to make him out to be a creature of showbiz — a Larry the Cable Guy for a new generation. But spend enough time with him, particularly on his podcast, whose clips often go viral, and you see an earned vulnerability. He frequently goes over some of the same territory (family, his roots) there as in his special, but with melancholy and soulful gratitude. Seeing this new hour gives you more respect for how he turns this into silly jokes. At one point, Von says you can’t find jewelry in his hometown, before dramatically sticking his hand up to count the things you can. No. 1: turpentine. He pauses, before naming the second: “Some ideas.” You can go a long way with that.Roy Wood Jr.This special preaches forgiveness but understands that revenge has its benefits.Sean Gallagher/Comedy Central“Imperfect Messenger” (Comedy Central)Roy Wood Jr. hopes you are OK but won’t ask. “You ask somebody how they’re doing now, you better be careful, because they might tell you,” he says, enunciating consonants like a boxer following through on uppercuts. A correspondent for “The Daily Show,” Wood is one of the best political comics today, and this special, a tight hour of provocative jokes told with a deep well of empathy, feels perfectly pitched to the moment when the pandemic is not over so much as it’s gone on long enough that we want to change the subject. He pulls off the feat of finding fresh takes on well-worn subjects like the relationship between Black people and the police, but his overarching theme here is the hard work needed to find any scrap of happiness in a cruel world. He is clear about outrages but also admirably willing to explore nuance, even if it makes him look bad. This is the rare comedy that preaches forgiveness but understands revenge has its benefits. His great metaphor, which he keeps returning to, is that finding contentment is like digging for food in a crab leg: You take whatever you can claw out..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-1kpebx{margin:0 auto;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1kpebx{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1gtxqqv{margin-bottom:0;}.css-1g3vlj0{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1g3vlj0{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-1g3vlj0 strong{font-weight:600;}.css-1g3vlj0 em{font-style:italic;}.css-1g3vlj0{margin-bottom:0;margin-top:0.25rem;}.css-19zsuqr{display:block;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}.css-m80ywj header{margin-bottom:5px;}.css-m80ywj header h4{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:500;font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.5625rem;margin-bottom:0;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-m80ywj header h4{font-size:1.5625rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}Ricky VelezBits mocking the very old and the very young are among the funniest of this hour.Mark Schafer/HBO“Here’s Everything” (HBO Max)One of the funniest sets I ever saw was by the Queens-born comic Ricky Velez — and the strangest part was that he was an opening act. It was many years ago and I recall little outside of a strong belief that this live-wire joke slinger would one day produce a dynamite comedy special. I wish I could say this debut was it, but instead it’s just a solid introduction to his spiky, propulsive comedy. It starts with a close-up of him looking intense, teary-eyed perhaps, the sound of the subway rumbling in the distance. “I’m coming to terms with the idea that my brain does not work good,” is his first line. This sets expectations of another brooding special about mental health. That fits the fashion in comedy today better than the comic.At his best, Velez has the swagger of a con man on a hot streak. He’s nervy, side-eyeing everyone. Velez talks about anxiety and insecurities rooted in a hardscrabble childhood, but he doesn’t wallow in this. If anything, unlike so many of the wealthy boldface-name stand-ups, he speaks of being poor with a refreshing urgency and irreverence. There’s not enough of this in prominent stand-up specials. His bits on the difference between rich and poor are some of his smartest, but the mockery of the old and very young is his funniest. He’s sick of people lying about babies on social media. They’re not all cute. A new dad, he establishes his cred: “I’m in the parks. Kids are ugly out there.” Then he draws a line with defiance: He won’t like a baby photo on Instagram. Sure, he might leave a comment: “Better luck next time.”Jo FirestoneTequila Minsky, left, Jo Firestone, Bibi Elvers and Helen Yalof in the comic’s new special.NBC“Good Timing With Jo Firestone” (Peacock)My favorite moment in this comic documentary about a group of senior citizens taking a comedy class is when we are dropped in the middle of a rambling digression from an older lady in a scarf saying she wished religion and gender were banned, then segues into the horror of the Holocaust and a story about coal mines before the camera shifts to the comic Jo Firestone sitting across from her. Gently interrupting, Firestone asks: “I think the question is: Is comedy a gift?”A beloved staple of New York comedy, Firestone has always exuded warmth and good cheer in a scene awash in bitterness and cynicism. As anyone who has seen her co-host the weekly Brooklyn show “Butter Boy” can tell you, she’s also an excellent foil. Teaching the workshop in the special, she gooses jokes out of her students by digging into their lives. The most surprising moments, which also happen to be the funniest, are not the jokes, but hearing her students talk about them — how punch lines helped them fall in love, cheer up, make sense of things. Firestone is the professional here, but she is comfortable in the background, grasping that the best way to show the gift of comedy is to let amateurs talk about their hopes to get into it. More

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    Kristina Wong’s Pandemic Story: Sewing With Her Aunties

    The performance artist ran a mask-making operation during the pandemic. That inspired her new comedy at New York Theater Workshop.Kristina Wong is an in-your-face performer who, until this month, hadn’t performed for an in-person audience since March 2020. The thought of looking into dozens of eyes, not just the little green light on her laptop, made her feel, well, weird.So her stage manager, Katie Ailinger, came up with a plan to ease her back into the rhythms of live performance: She taped stock photos of people’s faces around the rehearsal room at New York Theater Workshop, where in September Wong began to prepare “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord,” a one-woman show about running a sewing group during the pandemic.“Just turning my head and having a range of motion is a whole thing — and having eye contact again is huge!” Wong, 43, a comedian, performance artist and community activist, said recently during a phone interview from her dressing room. She was about to run through an afternoon technical rehearsal of the 90-minute production, a hybrid of stand-up, lecture and performance art that is scheduled to open Nov. 4.“I feel like I got more done for the world by running a mutual aid group than as an elected official,” Wong said, who is also a member of the Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council.Calla Kessler for The New York TimesWhile Wong was stuck at home in Los Angeles, she stayed busy leading the Auntie Sewing Squad, a volunteer group of mostly Asian American women she founded in March 2020 to make face masks for health care workers, farm workers, incarcerated people and others. She recruited 6-year-old children, her 73-year-old mother and others for the operation, which ballooned to more than 800 “Aunties,” a cross-cultural term of respect and affection for women, as well as “Uncles” and nonbinary volunteers in 33 states. Together, they distributed more than 350,000 masks.“I feel like I got more done for the world by running a mutual aid group than as an elected official,” said Wong, a third-generation Chinese American from San Francisco. (She’s served as an unpaid elected representative of the Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council in Los Angeles since 2019, an unusual electoral journey that is the subject of her one-woman show “Kristina Wong for Public Office,” whose national tour was interrupted by the pandemic.)After disbanding the sewing squad (she hosted a retirement party for the Aunties in Los Angeles in September), Wong shifted her focus to bringing the tale of her 504 days leading the group to the stage in a production directed by Chay Yew. And a streaming version of the show ran at New York Theater Workshop in May.In a conversation a few days before previews began, Wong discussed her journey from an out-of-work artist to the leader of hundreds of volunteers, her mother’s changed opinion of her performing arts career and how she hoped the show would reshape people’s perceptions of Asian Americans. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.In March 2020 your tour for “Kristina Wong for Public Office” was postponed. What made you want to start a mask-making group?I was home without income feeling sorry for myself, and I stumbled across some articles that said there was a need for homemade masks. It started with me taking my Hello Kitty sewing machine and fabric and making a naïve offer to the internet: “If you need masks and don’t have access to them, I will help you!” But my ego wrote a check my body couldn’t cash, and within four days I was inundated with requests, so I started a Facebook group of people whom I knew could sew. We had Aunties cutting the elastic off their fitted sheets, the straps off their bras. It was a Robinson Crusoe situation.Why did you call yourself a “sweatshop overlord”?My first volunteers were all Asian women, and I was like, “Oh, my God, this is the sickest moment, we are a modern-day sweatshop.” Our mothers and grandmothers did garment work — my grandmother and grandfather did laundry work as part of their rite of passage to America — and now we find ourselves doing this work again, for free, because the government hasn’t prepared us for this moment. So it was this gallows humor joke that I was the sweatshop overlord — also humor about child labor because I was ordering children around.At what point did you realize this was a show?Within the first 40 days, one of the Aunties — my first mentor, Leilani Chan of TeAda Productions [a Los Angeles-based theater company] — was like, “We’re going to try to figure out how to make work online.” So I’d get a booking from a college or a theater and then would just create new sections up to that point in the pandemic.The shows, which were all [streamed] live, became an event for the Aunties. I would post in our Facebook group “I’m doing a performance about us now,” and they would all change their name to “Auntie So and So” in Zoom. They’d openly chat with audience members during the performance and be there for the Q. and A. afterward, usually at their sewing machines. So it was me half-entertaining them, but also trying to bring our story into existence.“With this show,” Wong said, “I wanted to find a way to tell the story that’s more than us just being beat up, beat up, beat up, but also about how we survived.”Calla Kessler for The New York TimesWhat changes did you make for the in-person production?Doing the show from my home on Zoom — and the fact that we were all in a pandemic — was a great shorthand for the audience, but now I’m moving into a neutral space that is a representation of my home. So I realized I’d have to spend more time laying out context that we might’ve forgotten, and also trying to think about the bigger meaning of all this, rather than just putting moments to memory.You use comedy as a way of talking through micro- and macro-aggressions against Asian Americans. How did anti-Asian sentiment affect you personally?The great irony is that I didn’t even wear a mask for the first few weeks I was sewing them, because I felt like the mask I permanently wear on my face was already a sign to the world: “I’m a foreigner. I’m an immigrant. I brought the virus here. Come get me.” With this show, I wanted to find a way to tell the story that’s more than us just being beat up, beat up, beat up, but also about how we survived.Were you concerned that people wouldn’t want to relive the pandemic?We need to figure out how to visibly see Asian Americans and culture. During the pandemic, I saw Asian American women not as quiet, subservient virus passers but as warriors behind sewing machines doing the work of protecting Americans. If there’s a museum one day about this moment in history, please let there just be a little footnote that remembers our work. And I’ve learned that, especially as an artist of color, I can’t wait for someone else to write that footnote, so this show is really me screaming at people to know how to respect our labor.As recently as 2015, your mother was still sending you newspaper articles with the average pay for careers like doctors and government officials to try to dissuade you from pursuing a performing arts career. Is she more supportive now?My mom called me when I first started this and told me, “You’ve got to stop making those masks; stay inside!” I got really mad at her, but then she completely surprised me — she was like, “OK, mail me some fabric, get me the patterns.” Then she recruited all her friends and got really into it. I think she feels really proud.Is she coming to see the show?She was really scared to come to New York because of hate crimes and the Delta variant, but she and my dad are coming to watch the show. I’m really happy she gets to see it, and I think she’ll be surprised because she doesn’t know how much she’s in it. My shows have been my way to have honest conversations with my parents from a distance — they learn more about me from watching my shows than us sitting at the dining room table, where I’m mostly just lying to them and hiding stuff. And I think they know this!How much of the show is just you, Kristina Wong, on that stage, and how much is you playing a character?This is my great dilemma! I play a character named Kristina Wong who’s mostly me, but highly dramatized. Did I really crawl on my belly to go to the post office? No, but it did feel like life or death a lot of the time. More

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    ‘Joy Ride’ Review: Still Standing

    Bobcat Goldthwait and Dana Gould share the stand-up stage in “Joy Ride,” trading war stories, family nightmares and twisted anecdotes.You can think of “Joy Ride” as similar to “The Trip” but with stand-up comedy where the food would be. The recipe is part meat-and-potatoes joke-telling — the comics Bobcat Goldthwait and Dana Gould doing joint sets at clubs — and part driving around trading war stories and family nightmares.The jumping-off point for the documentary is a car crash that landed this pair of friends in the hospital but didn’t halt their touring. The accident and their dazed persistence lead well into their routines, which are a mix of gallows humor and twisted, twisty anecdotes. Some of the material feels fairly standard, as they share misfit upbringings and showbiz gossip, but each veteran comedian lends an unpredictable element through self-deprecating candor.Gould recalls the longtime trauma of growing up with a father he describes as terrifying, in between hit-or-miss political satire. Goldthwait dwells on the slings and arrows of fame for his yowling stage persona in the 1980s and ’90s, when he could resemble the Tasmanian devil at a dinner party. Both comics display the deliciously mischievous timing of old-school club veterans, reeling out outlandish yarns before yanking you back for the kicker.Goldthwait adds this modest documentary to his overlooked career as a director of comedy specials and wickedly taboo-tweaking films like “World’s Greatest Dad,” starring Robin Williams (remembered here as a misunderstood pal with a penchant for video games). But he and Gould feel more invested in life’s macabre absurdity than shock value, essentially delivering one from the heart.Joy RideNot rated. Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators. More