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Lessons Learned Behind the Scenes of the 2009 New York Comedy Festival - Part 2 | By: Michael Grinspan

Hi. Michael Grinspan again. I'm a comedian, a producer, and I have one of the best gigs in New York - working in the publicity department at Carolines on Broadway. Now, Carolines produces the New York Comedy Festival, which took over NYC November 4th - 8th, and as the editor of Carolines new blog, it was my job to go to every show and record anything and everything for internet posterity. Over the course of five days, I saw a lot and, more importantly, learned a lot--lessons which the Apiary has been kind enough to let me share with you.

Lesson #4 - The Bootleg Industry Is Recession-Proof

While Mike Epps' certainly did bring it at the Beacon Theatre on 11/7, the real show seemed to be outside the venue, where it was a veritable bootleg extravaganza! In addition to the regular pre-show scalpers, a few enterprising entrepreneurs reminded us all that while the American economy may be down, it will never be out. The bootlegs seemed to be divided between electronics (CDs and DVDs) and clothing.

Apparently, the hottest commodity in bootleg electronics right now is Michael Jackson's This Is It. There were at least three different guys hocking copies outside, a funny phenomenon I mentioned to Mike Epps when I saw him inside. One of Epps’ entourage chimed in that Mike should be getting a cut of the bootlegs. As a journalist, I decided it was my duty to go outside and broker a deal. "What if I told you that Mike wants 30% of all your sales tonight?" I asked one middle-aged guy selling DVDs.  His response? "Sure Mike can have 30%... I ain't sold shit!"

As for bootleg clothing, a patriotic American was selling Obama Sneakers out the back of his busted GMC. These Obama Sneakers (pictured) were actually just regular old K Swisses with glow-in-the-dark engravings of what looks like Barack Obama (but might also be Lou Rawls or Sherman Hemsley). Either way, people were totally buying them. Like, sold-out-in-under-30-minutes buying them.

Lesson #5 – Burqas Are Like Snuggies

Bill Maher closed out the festival on Sunday night with a performance at Avery Fisher Hall on the Upper West Side and I've never seen a crowd so totally in agreement with a performer. Maher wasn't so much "preaching to the choir" as he was "giving the choir 100,000 megaphones and leading them in a 12-hour rendition of Battle Hymn of the Republic. While Maher dropped some killer routines (my favorite was on Obama's stimulus plan: "Thank God we have a recovery plan that doesn't involve Jesus coming back."), I think the bit the audience liked the most was the Burqa fashion show.

Originally a sketch from Real Time with Bill Maher, the Burqa fashion show has become the highlight of Bill's live act.  In the bit, model after model struts out on stage wearing identical black burqas and Bill proceeds to treat these Fallujah fashions as very different, haute couture pieces. Normally two random local actresses walk down the runway, but this time, the producers' girlfriends played the part of the models.

I followed the girls around as they learned their lines...

Bill starts the bit, calling it "Saudi Arabia's Next Top Model."

The girls strutted their stuff on the catwalk, dressed for a night on the town--if that town is Mazar-e-Sharif--and the audience absolutely died.

Right after they got off stage, I asked the ladies, “What was it like? How’s the burqa?” I was expecting "horrifying" or "objectifying." One revealed, "This burqa is great. It feels like my Snuggie!"


While there were many more life lessons I learned over the course of this year's New York Comedy Festival, these five stand out as my favorite. They weren’t all easy to learn and they definitely taught me a lot.  And just think, only 50 more weeks 'til I learn all new ones at the 2010 New York Comedy Festival.

Until then, check out for more backstage and in front of the mic stories.


Lessons Learned Behind the Scenes of the 2009 New York Comedy Festival - Part 1 | By: Michael Grinspan

Hi. My name is Michael Grinspan; I'm a comedian, a producer, and I am lucky enough to have one of the best gigs in New York - working in the publicity department at Carolines on Broadway (America's Premier Comedy Nightclub). Now, Carolines produces the New York Comedy Festival, which took over NYC November 4th - 8th, and as the editor of Caroline's new blog it was my job to go to every show and record anything and everything for internet posterity. Over the course of five days, I saw and met Stephen Colbert, Lisa Lampanelli, Ricky Gervais, and Tracy Morgan just to name a few. I saw a lot and, more importantly, learned a lot, lessons which the Apiary has been kind enough to let me share with you today and tomorrow.

Lesson #1 - Don't mess with Cindy Adams

The only thing that gets between Cindy Adams and her scoops: Puppies! | Photo: Patrick McMullanThe 2009 New York Comedy Festival kicked off with the Bob Woodruff Foundation’s Stand Up for Heroes, a tux-and-gown fundraiser headlined by Bruce Springsteen, Stephen Colbert, Lisa Lampanelli, and Louis CK. Now Stand Up for Heroes featured your typical red carpet – typical press and typical celebrities - only it wasn't anything typical for me, because this was to be my first red carpet.

In need of some journalistic advice, I spotted Cindy Adams, the New York Post's legendary gossip columnist, sitting at the end of the carpet wrapped in a fluorescent maroon fuzzy lamb vest. Getting my schmooze on, and with the whole press line watching, I asked, "Hey Cindy! With all your experience, do you have any advice for a guy reporting on his first red carpet?" Cindy looked me up and down and up again and replied, "Sure, I have some advice for you, sweetie... STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM ME AND MY STORY!!!"

Snap! Did I just get burned... by a woman wearing a thneed? What kind of comeback can cancel out a Maude-esque gem like that? Nothing! Cindy Adams cut me down like a god damn Truffula tree and I just had to take it lest she skin me the way she apparently skinned Grimace for her outfit. To be fair, I actually talked to Cindy later and she admitted she was just having some fun at my expense, but the lesson was clear--don't mess with Cindy Adams.

Lesson #2 - Poorly Placed Bathrooms Lead to Comic Gold

Any high school drama nerd can attest to how easily things can get messy backstage. An incident at Stand Up for Heroes really underlined how something as simple as the placement of a bathroom backstage can lead to some hilarious and unintended consequences. With too many performers and too few dressing rooms, Town Hall (the venue for Stand Up for Heroes.) hosted its VIPs downstairs, jam-packing people like Bob Woodruff, Stephen Colbert, and, well, me into the same 12' x 60' basement corridor. We're talking Nobu catering across from exposed copper wiring and a Jameson bar across from a "Facts on Asbestos Poisoning" poster. The best part was the VIP bathrooms; two unfortunately located stalls situated directly on the corridor. The perfect recipe for a messy backstage moment.

About an hour into the show, Bruce Springsteen wrapped up his set and ran through the corridor to his dressing room. Bob Woodruff, who was being followed by a camera crew all night, managed to work Springsteen into a corner and ask him some questions. Not five seconds into the interview a loud toilet flush interrupted the shoot and elicited shocked groans from everyone watching. What jackass just interrupted Bob Woodruff ? I thought. And that’s when Stephen Colbert exited the stall. The room burst into laughter as Stephen glanced around and mooned “Oh shit!” Without missing a beat, Stephen then proceeded to ham it up and just totally ruin the interview. Check out the video of Stephen really sealing the deal.

Anyone else leaving that stall would've been fired. But Stephen Colbert? He knows what do with a poorly placed and poorly timed bathroom exit.

Lesson #3 – Don’t Fall Face First Down a Flight of Stairs 

I know this lesson seems both obvious and unrelated, but let me explain. After hanging with Dane Cook at the Garden and partying with New York’s funniest stand ups the night before, I was pretty much on top of the world Thursday night. “I’m damn near invincible,”  I thought to myself as I ran to catch the 1 train. BIG MISTAKE. As my ‘invincible’ ass ran for the 1, my feet came out from under me and, as the title indicates, I FELL FACE FIRST DOWN A FLIGHT OF STAIRS.

I didn’t pass out, but I was bleeding profusely.  Rather than be that-guy-with-the-gushing-head-wound on the subway (you know the one) I decided to catch a cab. As empty cabs flew by, some guy from across Broadway actually shouted “You need to get yo’self to a mothafucking hospital!” Pride in shambles, all I could think to say back was “You don’t know me. All I do is fall down the stairs!” (I don’t). Finally a cab stopped and took me home. I cleaned my head off, taped a bag of ice to my wound and debated between going to sleep and going to the hospital. "Don't go to sleep!" you shout at your screen, "You could have a concussion! Go to the hospital! Don't go to sleep!" I went to sleep.

I woke up the next day at around 7 a.m. and thought “Why does my mouth taste like blood? Oh. That’s right.” So I got up and went to Cornell Medical Center.  I got my head sewn up and donned the only baseball hat I own – my bright red Phillies hat. “Lucky” for me, Friday was the day of the Yankees parade and everyone in NY was wearing Yankees gear; the first day I actually need to wear my Phillies hat and it’s literally the worst time and place ever to do so. But I had work to do, so I rushed from the hospital to Carolines. My boss – who hadn't heard what happened to me – took one look at my bandages and my Phillies hat and demanded, “Who did this to you?! Who attacked you?!"

I worked the rest of the festival wearing a bruised and battered face and a brand new NYPD hat. Although my head required over a dozen stitches, I think the largest injury I suffered that day was to my pride...

More life lessons from behind the scenes of the NYCF tomorrow!.