Monday, July 21, 2014

Your Unofficial Guide to Enjoying the Funny or Die Oddball Comedy Festival

Funny or Die has announced and put tickets on sale for their second annual summer Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival!

You can visit the official Funny or Die website here.

My wife and I have attended the festival the last two years at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA and we had a fantastic time. However, before we attended, I went on the Facebook page and the official site for a little information because there were some confusing aspects to the event.  It was very hard trying to find the answers to these questions.  

After the event, I was posting on social media about what a fantastic time we had, and I noticed that there were people posting negative things about the event.   I can honestly say that a good portion of these negative posts were the result of people not understanding the event at all before they came.

So, I thought I would post this little guide in case people are curious about or confused about the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival.

A few things I need to make clear:

This article is based on my experience at the 2013 and 2014 Funny or Die Oddball Curiosity and Comedy Festival, which I attended at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA.  I am not related to, nor do I have any inside track on how the festival is coordinated.  There have been changes from year to year and may be in the future.

I am writing about the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA, which is a large outdoor concert amphitheater venue.  Every venue has its own characterstics, rules, layout and logistics. However, perusing the schedule I see that most of the venues on the tour are indeed, very similar outdoor amphitheater stages. They even look very similar when you pull up pictures of them on the web.

So, with those things in mind, here is an article to help you have a great time at the Funny or Die Oddball Festival!

1. Not All the Comedians Listed on the Main Website Are Performing At Every Show

Beside each venue listed on the main website, there is a little button that says "details."  Click that button and it will give you the lineup for your city.  Many, many people seem to purchase tickets thinking that they will see all of those comedians listed on that big slate.

Also, keep in mind that changes will happen during the tour.  A comedian may have to bow out of your show, but another comedian will take their place. As you can see from the lineups, the Funny or Die folks are committed to bringing the best comics to the festival. If somebody has to drop out, they most likely will get a real solid replacement.

2. This Is A Festival Event, Not a Comedy Club Show or a Theatrical Show.

These are massive venues that usually host music festivals and large outdoor summer concerts.  This is not a small, intimate evening of comedy, where waitstaff come to your tables and bring you drinks.  When you want your beer or nachos, you are heading out to the concession stand just as if you were at a ballgame. And other people will be doing the same thing, so yes, people will be walking around, getting out of their seats and heading to the bathroom during a comic's set.  Planes will sometimes fly over and you will hear fire trucks in the distance.

For some reason, this aspect seems to throw many, many people for a loop. Many comedy fans understandably are not used to seeing comics in this setting, but it really is a unique and wonderful way to see these great comics perform.  There is nothing like communal laughter, and laughing heartily with thousands of people is an experience that is like none other!

3. Do Not Even Think About Using Your Phone or Camera During the Show

There will be warning signs placed all around the venue: At the entrance, on the doors to the bathroom stalls on the large screens inside the venue. Everywhere. These signs are really hard to miss. And if you have missed them, they announce it constantly between acts and before the show. These signs and audio announcements will tell you they have a zero tolerance policy for cell phone use and recording during the show.

Please take these warnings seriously.  And I mean that.  Do not even pull out your phone to check the time while a comedian is on stage.  You will be ejected.  They have staff constantly roaming the aisles and they will remove you immediately.   I've seen this happen to people during the show.  And guess what, nobody will feel sorry for you, because they have told you 500 times to not do it. In fact, the other audience members will be annoyed at you because you are now causing a disruption while you are removed.

This policy is good news though.  You are enjoying the comedy without seeing thousands of glowing screens in front of you.

4. What Time Does It Start?  My Tickets Say 5:00PM, But I See Other Places Indicate 7:00PM.   Are There Two Shows? Do I need to buy a separate ticket to the see the 7PM show?

This aspect seems to cause the most confusion for people attending the festival, but it's really pretty simple.

As I said above, you have to look at this as a festival, not a movie or a theatrical performance.

Your one ticket gets you into everything: the oddities shows, the second stage show and the Mainstage show.

So, here is how you interpret the different times you are seeing.

First, you need to understand the layout and logistics of the festival and venues.  I'll use the example of the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA.

There are Main Gates to the venue. This is where you will have your ticket scanned and you will be searched for anything you are not allowed to bring in to the venue.

Once you are inside of the Main Gates, think of the venue as being divided into two sections.

A. The Mainstage. This is the main theater area, an outdoor amphitheater where your ticketed seating and the stage is located.

B. The Concourse. Outside of Mainstage is a large outdoor area with concession and beer stands along with restrooms and souveiner shops. If you want to compare this to a traditional theater, think of this as the lobby, only much larger and outdoors.

5:00PM is the time the Main Gates to the venue will open. 

Once you enter the main gates you will be in the Concourse area and there will lots of side show performers and oddities to see, along with different food carts and things.  Think of this kind of like attending a fair or carnival, but without rides.

The Second Stage will also be located somewhere on the Concourse.  A slate of local comedians will start performing on this stage at about 5:20PM, hosted by Brody Stevens the past two years.  This stage is outdoors and there is no seating for this stage. This Second Stage show runs until almost 6:50PM.

Note:  The Mainstage area, where your ticketed seat is, will usually not be open right at 5:00PM.  The doors to the Mainstage area will open closer to 7PM (In our case around 6:30PM.)

7:00PM is the start of the Mainstage show.  These are the big name comedians listed on the website.

In talking to patrons last year, all these details seemed to result in much confusion. I talked to people who arrived at 5PM and got pissed that they had to wait two hours in the Concourse area until 7PM until the Mainstage show started. And then I talked to just as many people who were pissed that they had come for a 7PM start and had completely missed the oddities and the Second Stage show.

5. Find the Second Stage! 

To get the most for your comedy dollars, find where the Second Stage is located as soon as you  enter the Main Gates. At the Xfinity Center in Mansfield it was tucked off into a picnic area off to the side of the main concourse. Many patrons I talked to later in the night were a little upset that they hadn't taken it in because they didn't even know it was there.

There are really funny local comics performing on this stage. In fact,   I saw two of them open for much larger acts later in the year.

6. Even If You Are Only Interested in the Mainstage Acts, Get There Early.

I've already pointed out that these venues are massive outdoor concert halls, which means a lot of patrons, which means a lot of traffic.

If you think you are going to roll up to the venue at 6:45 and stroll in for the 7:00PM start, you are sorely, sorely mistaken.  What you will run into is literally thousands of cars trying to do the same thing you are.   And you will most likely be parking in a lot a long way from the venue.  You will have to walk to the venue and then stand in a physical line with all of the other people trying to do the same thing you are, and you will then maybe take your seat around 8:15 PM (if you're lucky), having missed a bunch of the comics already.

I talked to several patrons last year you had this happen to them.

7.  It's a Festival! Avoid the Traffic, Get There Early, Park and Chill Out With Other Comedy Fans.

Your venue's website or Facebook page should let you know when the parking lot officially opens.  Usually this will be a couple of hours ahead of the Main Gates opening time. For the Oddball Festival, the gates open at 5:00PM, so shoot to arrive at the parking lot around 4PM, bring some lawn chairs, some soda, some tunes and some sandwiches.  Treat it like a concert and hang out with the other fans who will be there early as well.

Notice that I haven't used the word tailgating, even though that seems to be exactly what I am describing. This is because different events, venues, counties and cities each have specific rules about tailgating and/or the consumption of alcohol on their lots.

I doubt many of these venues are against people chilling out with lawn chairs frisbees and snacks, but they might not want grills and beer. So please check with the venue on what is allowed.

Fill up on food and hydrate before you enter the park because.....

8.  Concession Prices are Apocalyptic and the Lines Are Long

You are going to be paying about $5.00 for a small bottle of water and about $9-$11 for a beer.  Food is expensive as well and it is typical ballpark/carnival food.

You may think this is a "no duh" type of warning, but understand that this is a long evening. You are going to be there for many hours. Bring some extra cash in case you want a soda or a hot dog.

I've been to many outdoor concert venues around the country and I can never understand this, but I've just accepted that the lines are interminable, even to just get a hot dog.

There are a couple of intermissions during the Mainstage show, don't for a second think that you will be able to procure your pizza and beer during the intermission.  If you really want something, leave to get it while an act is onstage.  You'll still wait, but it will be much more civilized.

9. Know Your Venue's Cooler and Water Policy

Outdoor concert venues know that part of the fun is treating it like an outdoor event and most will allow you to bring in a small, soft cooler. Once again, SMALL and SOFT. The venue will have very specific guidelines on this, look them up. These are great to put a few sandwiches, some fruit and snacks into.

The Xfinity Center in Mansfield allowed this in 2013.  The only food item I purchased during the festival was a large soft drink.  (And yes, I waited in a long line for it.) However, in 2014 NO FOOD OR BEVERAGE INCLUDING WATER was allowed in.

Some venues will also allow you to bring in one regular-sized bottle of water that is unopened. Check with your venue to see what the policy is on this.  Don't assume. If the rules don't allow it, they'll make you toss the bottles at the Main Gate.

10. You Really Get Your Money's Worth - But It's A Late Night

This is especially important for anybody who is arranging for a babysitter. Last year, our show ended at just about 11:00PM.  That is when Dave Chapelle finished his set.

When I read other people posting reviews and talking about the event online, I saw that this was pretty consistent through all of the dates.

So, if you are hiring a babysitter or having a relative take care of the tykes, don't have the expectation that you are going to be home at 10 or 11. You most likely will get home well after midnight, since you will have to get out of the parking lot with the thousands of other people leaving at the same time.

11. How Does the Mainstage Line-Up Work, When Are Certain Comedians Performing and for How Long?

This seems to be the number one question on the Oddball Facebook page, (aside from people asking why a certain comedian is not on the slate for their particular city.)

The actual order of performers will be up to the festival. I will tell you how the lineup worked for us in Mansfield, MA the last two years:


Dave Chapelle and Flight of the Conchords were the headline acts.  Then there were four other well-known comedians like Al Madrigal, Hannibal Burris and Kristen Schall.

7:15PM  Comedian Jeff Ross took the stage and did a little introduction and some comedy. He was the host for the evening.  He introduced each of the comedians and they would come out and do about 20 minutes each. This portion of the show lasted until about 8:30PM.


8:50PM-9:50PM  Headliner #1 Flight of the Conchords took to the stage.   They performed for about an hour or so.


10:00PM - 11:00PM  Headliner #2  Dave Chapelle performed.  He performed for just about one whole hour.  I think I remember he ended the set at almost exactly 10:59PM.


7:00PM Brody Stevens took the stage and hosted the following comedians:
7:05PM Brent Morin
7:20PM Jerrod Carmichael
7:35PM Chris D'Elias
7:50PM Hannibal Burress

8:15-8:45PM Intermission
8:45PM Sarah Silverman
9:10PM Dave Attell
9:30PM Amy Shumer
9:55PM Louis C.K.

Louis C.K. finished at about 10:40PM and then the night is over.

As you can see, the flow of the evening is very different from year to year.  This year it was very fast and furious.  You are seeing a lot of big names, but not for long sets.

12.  The Cheaper Your Seats, the Farther Away You Will Be, And I Mean Really Far

I know this seems like common sense, but, as I have said, these are large venues.  If you opt for lawn seating, or the cheap seats, the comedians will look really small on the stage.

But don't worry, these venues are equipped with very large jumobtron video screens and excellent amplification. You'll see and hear your favorite comedians from every angle. Bring a small pair of binoculars if you want to get an up-close glimpse of them.

13.  Lawn Seating is General Admission and Full of Different Types of Characters

We sat on the lawn one year and had a great time. But we prepared beforehand.  Here are some things to know if your venue has lawn seating.

a. Lawn seating is the cheapest, but it is really far from the actual stage.

b. Most venues DO NOT allow you to bring chairs for the lawn seating. So bring a blanket to spread out on.

c. Lawn seating is almost always general admission, so you don't own any particular real estate. If you have a good spot, just realize that as the show fills up, people will start to really crowd the area you have staked out for yourself. Just chill out and accept it.

d. Scope out your neighbors while you are waiting for the show to begin. If they are assholes and annoying before the show starts, they are not going to quit once the show does start. Move away from these jerks or you will regret it. Don't wait until after it gets dark to try and find another place to settle down.

14. Prepare for The Elements

Three things to remember about the Oddball Comedy Festival:

1.) The venue is outdoors.
2.) The event is performed rain or shine.
3.) It takes place over many hours.

I've already explained how the gates open at 5PM and the last comedian finishes at 11PM, right?

Well, think about that for a second.  That is six hours! Not only that, but it is six hours going from daylight into dusk, then into evening, and then full on into night.  The temperature can change quite a bit during that time, so I would consult the weather report and bring some layers accordingly.

One year, we were slathering on sunscreen at 5PM and then throwing on our light fleeces and cuddling up under a blanket at 9PM.   There were definitely some other audience members who were under-dressed for the evening temperatures and they were shivering quite a bit by the end.

At these venues there is an overhang that will protect most of the higher-priced ticket buyers from rain, but if you are on the lawn, or in uncovered seating, you really need to bring some rain gear if there is any significant chance of precipitation.  My suggestion is to purchase a really good poncho rather than just a raincoat. A quality poncho will keep you really dry, but you won't feel like you are getting rained on.

Remember, even if your seat is technically under the overhang, yet close to the edge, if there is wind and rain blowing in a certain direction you may find yourself getting just as wet as the uncovered audience members.

DON'T BOTHER WITH AN UMBRELLA.  They will take it away at the Main Gate, and even if you somehow do get it in, and you try to use in the Main theater area they will confiscate it, but not before the audience members behind you start yelling at you because they can't see.

Be strategic packing your clothing and gear.  Venues have specific bag and cooler policies.  Some don't allow backpacks, so you might be carrying your fleece or rain poncho in hand.  A good solution is cargo shorts with big side pockets that you can slide a folded poncho into.  If your venue allows a soft cooler, these usually have an extra pocket or two you can make use of.

15. Understand The Parking Situation

This is not like going to a movie theater, or a local comedy club or even a regional theater to see a Broadway touring show.

This is more like attending an arena concert or a professional sporting event.  For instance, the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA is 12,000 capacity.  To give you a comparison: a large theater that would have a comedian like Louis CK usually has a capacity of somewhere around 1,000.

Lots of people means lots and lots of cars. There are usually acres of parking lots at these venues. You will not choose where you park, you will be directed by parking lot attendants.

Here are some things to remember:

a.)The later you arrive, the further away you will be parked from the venue.
b.) Like anything in life, the closer you get to the start time, the more traffic there will be.
c.) You will arrive during daylight, but return to your car at night. Make note of where you are parked.
d.) Everybody will be leaving at the same time. There will be a lot of traffic leaving the lots and a long wait to get out. If it is imperative that you be home early, then leave the show early. That is all there is to it.
e.) Make sure you have a full tank of gas, because it could take like an hour or more to get out of the parking lot. I'm serious. It could possibly take that long.

16.  Get the Premiere Parking. For the Love of God, Get the Premiere Parking!

Some venues offer some type of preferred, VIP, or Premiere parking option.  This is usually purchased in addition to your ticket.  For example, at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA it is called Premiere Parking and it is an extra $40.00. You can purchase Premiere Parking no matter where your tickets in the venue are. These premium parking offers usually allow you a dedicated lane entering the venue parking lots along with a lot closer to the venue.

Most importantly, Premiere Parking offers you a dedicated exit lane when you are leaving at the end of the night.  This is worth the $40.00 alone.

Note: There are still a lot of people leaving the Premiere lot, so you will still have a short wait, but it will be nothing compared to the hellish snarl of traffic leaving the regular lots.

Contact your venue to find out if there is premiere parking available for purchase and get it today!

17.  Have Fun!

The Oddball Fest really is a great time, and it is unique in that you get to see a ton of comedy with a lot of fellow comedy lovers.

I hope this answers some people's questions about the event.

Once again:  This is based on my and other's experiences at the 2013 and 2014 Oddball Festivals, along with my experiences going to outdoor concerts and festivals.

Lineups may change and shuffle around.  I would highly recommend liking the Oddball Festival's official Facebook page, as they tend to keep you updated somewhat on last minutes replacements or schedule changes.

Always check with your venue for their specific regulations, rules and policies. 

Friday, February 07, 2014

Come and Knock on Our Door! - But Slide the Summons Underneath

Joyce DeWitt, John Ritter and Suzanne Somers
 in Three's Company
Playwright David Adjmi is in a tough spot.

He spent a lot of time writing a play, a dark satire of a well-known sitcom of the 1970's. The play even received a New York production off-Broadway at the Rattlestick Theatre.   The reviews were mixed, but enough on the positive side to secure at least a few well-placed regional productions, right?


As the curtain was coming down on that initial production, the playwright received a cease and desist letter from DLT Entertainment, the original rights holders of Three's Company, which is the aforementioned 70's sitcom that was skewered in 3C, Adjmi's play.

Now, months later, the writer of 3C is petitioning the courts to allow at least the publication of 3C in an anthology of his work.

The New York Times reports:

In a 20-page complaint, which was accompanied by supportive comments from acclaimed theater artists like Jon Robin Baitz, Tony Kushner and Stephen Sondheim, Mr. Adjmi asked the Southern District Court of New York to declare that “3C” does not infringe on the copyright of “Three’s Company,” which ran from 1977 to 1984 and remains in syndication. Mr. Adjmi’s lawyers, citing the First Amendment and the legal doctrine of fair use, argue that “3C” is an original parody that only borrows some elements from the sitcom to examine its premise, character types, and homophobia and sexism in that era.

You can read the complaint here.  

I haven't seen or read Mr. Adjmi's play, but images from the production are striking in how closely they resemble the actual show it is supposedly parodying.  Of course, that doesn't mean that 3C isn't fair use.

Jake Silbermann, Anna Chlumsky, and Hannah Cabell
3C, D at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre 

However, it is actually very difficult to predict the outcome of these cases based on precedent. When reading through many famous parody/fair use decisions, it becomes obvious that judges really take it on a case by case basis.

The court applies many different tests and takes many avenues of inquiry into the parody defense. Questions that come into play:

1. Is it parody or satire?
2. Is the target of the parody the original work, or is it a broader commentary on society?
3. Is the new work transformative?
4. In the case of trademark infringement, would there be confusion in the mind of consumers?

It's tough to say what a judge might think, especially if DLT Entertainment can prove that they themselves are on the verge of launching a live theatrical show of Three's Company, sort of in the mode of the long-running Real Live Brady Bunch from the 1990's.

Wellesley Sleepwalking Through the World - Christina's World.

My own little meme.

To understand, you can read all about the controversy over this sleepwalking man here.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Critical Defense Posture

There is a lot of hyperventilating over the state of theater criticism lately.

Just a few weeks ago, we had one of the old lions, retired New Yorker Critic John Lahr, assailing the younger generation of print critics.  His hyperventilating turned out to be extraordinarily wheezy though.

This week, Howlround,( the online journal for the Theater Commons at Emerson,) has solicited some pieces from several critics and artists about criticism and journalism in the theater.

Rob Weinert-Kendt starts off with an essay about the parallel circumstances of the critic and the theater artist:

I refer also to the grittier, less exalted ways in which theater critics are as much like theater artists as to be indistinguishable as a class: the meager pay, the struggle for recognition, the dwindling audiences and disproportionate power of a few make-or-break gatekeepers, the sense in which one is stuck with a habit as hard to shake as it is difficult to explain to outsiders, who tend to imagine what you do as either glamorous fun or corrupt, frivolous nonsense, but never honest work.
There’s a deeper affinity, and it’s rooted in the fact that critics and theater artists literally share the same workplace for the most important part of their jobs. Glance again at that hypothetical list above—of miserable, ecstatic, and mediocre theater experiences, and of various ways to respond—and consider that the true critic feels called, duty bound, and, if they’re lucky, contractually expected to respond publicly, and in more detail than most of us ever will, even with shrinking word counts, to all three kinds of shows, and many more varieties besides. If that sounds hard—on the soul, on the brain, on the ass—it is. And if it is not nearly as brave or as arduous as making or performing theater—jobs with as much grind and obligation to them as inspiration and gratification—it is hard work when done well, and it is no more a job for just anyone than are acting or playwriting. We all may have felt the critical impulse, but no, not everyone is a critic.

Wendy Rosenfield dispels the persistent myth that a critic couldn't possibly want to be a critic.  And she proudly states that theater knows it needs critics:

Without that critical assessment, without critics going on record to champion a playwright, performer, or movement—or conversely, without critics opening up a can of whoop-ass on a show they despise and occasionally receiving a bigger one in return—would theater retain even its peripheral position in our culture? No way. Not even if it’s a review of your city’s 10,000th touring performance of Nunsense. It’s a critic’s job to compare and contrast, to examine the spaces in between those performances, to see where they intersect with our lives and where they diverge, and to keep this ephemeral living art form among us a little longer by recording what happened onstage, while challenging audience passivity in the bargain.

And yet criticism, which by now should have evolved from a one-sided conversation (and we critics all know colleagues who are so accustomed to spouting opinions unchallenged that every “conversation” becomes a monologue) to a full-fledged back-and-forth between audience and critic, still drags its knuckles. 

Dominic Taylor, Associate Artistic Director of America-in-Play, points out that poor critics might not be able to accurately assess a work's primary goals:

The dangerous thing about critics examining any work, then, is not the authority that they have over a work, but their individual and collective potential to conflate an audience. This conflation is most problematic when they assume that the primary function, and the primary audience, of all artists is the same. There are ways in which the aesthetics of this understanding can be made clear—even within the one work of one playwright, these factors can shift. I might go so far as to say that the primary audience for August Wilson’s Jitney is different than the primary audience for his Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and that difference might be a reason why one of the plays has landed on Broadway twice, while the other play never has. 
John Moore, the former Denver Post theater critic, assures us all that if you didn't like the old way of doing things, just wait until you get a load of the new way.  He exposes a strange new network in Colorado in which arts organizations actually pay reviewers to review their plays.  Then he goes on to point out the reality of the life of an online critic:
Two things the new generation of self-starting blogger critics have in common: Almost none of them are paid anything close to gas money to write about theater. And, perhaps coincidentally—perhaps not—what they write is almost always insufferably, uselessly positive. Some do it for love. Some just want to cheerlead for the community, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Some hope it leads to bigger and better-paid writing gigs. But where are those gigs, exactly? Who is paying anyone a living wage to write about theater anywhere? No one, in part because there is no demand from consumers that “The Man” do so.
Speaking of, who is “The Man” anymore, anyway? The ExaminerThe Huffington Post? Those are newfangled networks of web sites that publish articles by citizen journalists who are paid next to nothing. 

On Thursday, April 4th, Howlround will be initiating a Twitter discussion on this subject using the hashtag #newplay.  Details here.