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An LA Comic Squeezes the Big Apple: The 2009 Andy Kaufman Award Shows and 'Big Terrific'

By: Robert Buscemi

Photo: Ben Shichman

I was nervous.

I knew my 2009 Andy Kaufman Award semifinal showcase Monday at Caroline's would be strange. For one thing, I'd have to pass through that Devil's Rectum they call Times Square to get there, which always rattles me and depletes my life points. Then I'd have to descend Caroline's creepy neon stairs into that unnervingly purgatorial Harlequin-checkered subterranean dungeon they call a comedy club. And THEN I'd have to lay down 6 dubious minutes of a 25-act lulu-bird parade of a comedy show that would take God knows what shape, last God knows how long, and have God knows what effect on my frayed, just-in-from-LA nerves.

Furthermore, Andy Kaufman was and remains the Original Master of messing with your head, and I'd already been spooked back at LAX when the speakers played--I kid you not--REM's "Man on the Moon" as I prepared to board my plane. And sure enough, Kaufman's spirit loomed palpably at both nights of the Caroline's proceedings ... like a moose head with its eye holes cut out.

So I had my concerns.

* * *

But I needn't have worried. Michael Kaufman (Andy's brother) and Al Parinello (Andy's best college buddy) greeted us warmly, going out of their way to let us know how much they'd enjoyed our video submissions and how much they liked us as performers. Kristen Schaal, the 2005 Andy-Kaufman-Award Winner, was adorable and sweet as could be, complimenting us performers and doling out hugs as well. We all swooned.

My performance of Angelina, my hapless, wordsmith poet, went swimmingly, and I was proud to be among such esteemed performers, including fellow Chicagoans (past and present) Sasha and The Noob (Steve Gadlin and Paul Luikart), Shawn Cole, Michael Lehrer, Sarah King, and Ken Barnard. 
After all 25 of us had gone, they announced the 6 finalists: Mike Amato, Sasha and The Noob, Blaine Kneece, Robby Roadsteamer, Harrison Greenbaum, and Eric Davis (a.k.a. "Red Bastard").

Robert Buscemi at Don't Spit the Water | Photo: Elizabeth McQuern

Though I was partial to my old pals Sasha and the Noob, since I've performed many times in their hit Chicago stage show “Don’t Spit the Water," I had also loved watching Eric Davis as "Red Bastard" shove huge rubber balls into his red one-piece Union Jack and bounce maniacally, bedeviling the crowd. Picture a little fiend with a bloated butt staring at you until you want to scream.

One of the highlights of the second night was the host, Tony Clifton, one of Kaufman’s alter egos, played perhaps (no one's ever sure) by Andy's old man-at-arms Bob Zmuda. Clifton was truly unctuous: racist, sexist, and offensive. In other words, he did not disappoint, eventually being escorted off the stage by security, but not before Eric Davis threw a drink in his face.

Blaine Kneece was crowned the winner for an avant-garde live performance mixed with video showing himself running around the city and getting sloshed around in time. It was fully realized, sophisticated, film-auteur hijinks of a high order. Kneece won the trophy, a check for $2,500, and a place in the now formidable pantheon of the award's winners.

* * *

On my way out of town, I performed stand-up at "Big Terrific." DUDE. This show is amazing. It felt a hell of a lot like the old "Invite 'em Up" at Rififi, which I'd seen a handful of times. I drank two Brooklyn Lagers with my drink tickets AND had half-price SHRIMP CHOWDER with my food ticket, soaked up some top-tier performances, and farmed as many laughs as I could during my set. The triumvirate running it (Max Silvestri, Gabe Liedman, and Jenny Slate) were so friendly I hated to leave. So I didn't. I hung out with Chicago legend and recent NYC transplant Nick Vatterott, one of the funniest comedians I've ever known.

It was like the city kissed my forehead and swatted me on the ass before I left.

Thanks, NYC, you fresh, ribald gooser! See you again soon.

--Robert Buscemi was named "Chicago's Best Stand-Up" this year in The Chicago Reader. He's also a veteran of the Washington DC, Chicago Improv, and Rooftop Aspen comedy festivals. Rooftop Comedy Productions is about to release his debut CD, "Palpable."

Reader Comments (1)

Hey, Rob - great, hilarious, precisely descriptive, an art and comedy act in itself which was the only appropriate format for commenting on these experiences. Way to go, bood!

November 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbill b, aka the dad

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