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Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Vilanch’

Bruce Vilanch and Natalie Venetia Belcon Will Have a Ball in Upcoming Reading of Vintage Musical Comedy

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Playbill
Bruce Vilanch and Natalie Venetia Belcon Will Have a Ball in Upcoming Reading of Vintage Musical Comedy
By Andrew Gans
08 Jul 2014

4-27-2013 3-53-52 AM

UnsungMusicalsCo. (UMC) will continue its 2014 developmental reading series July 24 at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center with a presentation of I Had a Ball in the Bruno Walter Auditorium.

The 2:30 PM reading will star Emmy Award winner Bruce Vilanch (Hairspray, “Hollywood Squares”) — in the role originated by comedian Buddy Hackett — and Natalie Venetia Belcon (Matilda, Avenue Q). Ben West directs. Additional casting will be announced at a later time.

I Had a Ball, the 1964 Coney Island musical comedy, has a book by Tony Award winner Jerome Chodorov and a score by Stan Freeman and Jack Lawrence. The score has been newly arranged by musical director Fran Minarik.

I Had a Ball is described as “a vibrant, colorful confection following the delightfully eccentric denizens of Coney Island and the feisty fortune-teller who singlehandedly sets off a series of raucous romantic entanglements. Sparks fly, love blossoms, and hilarious hijinks ensue in this bright and brassy entertainment!”

The Bruno Walter Auditorium of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is located at 111 Amsterdam Avenue, between 64th and 65th Streets. Admission is free, and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information visit www.UnsungMusicals.org.

Bruce Vilanch to Star in Reading of I Had a Ball

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Theatermania
Bruce Vilanch to Star in Reading of I Had a Ball
UnsungMusicalsCo. will revive the comedic musical from the Golden Age of Broadway.
By Hayley Levitt • Jul 7, 2014

Photo by David Gordon

UnsungMusicalsCo. will offer a special presentation of the 1964 Coney Island musical I Had a Ball as part of its 2014 developmental reading series at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. The show features a book by Tony Award winner Jerome Chodorov (Wonderful Town) and a score by Stan Freeman and Jack Lawrence. Directed by Ben West, the performance will be held at 2:30pm on Thursday, July 24, in the Bruno Walter Auditorium. Admission is free and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Set on the Coney Island boardwalk, I Had a Ball centers on a matchmaking fortune teller who sets off a series of raucous romantic entanglements. The reading will star Emmy Award winner Bruce Vilanch (Hairspray) in the role originated by Buddy Hackett. The cast will also include Natalie Venetia Belcon (Matilda The Musical), with additional casting to be announced shortly. Musical director Fran Minarik will lend new arrangements to the score.

UnsungMusicalsCo. is a New York-based not-for-profit production company dedicated to the preservation of musical theater through the revitalization and presentation of obscure but artistically sound works. The company primarily focuses on works from 1931-71.

How to Write Jokes for the Academy Awards

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Vulture
6/23/2014 at 10:30 AM 3 Comments
How to Write Jokes for the Academy Awards
By Mike Sacks

4-27-2013 3-51-51 AM

Have you ever wondered how the Academy Awards gets written every year? Bruce Vilanch is the man to ask. Starting as a writer on the broadcast 25 years ago, Vilanch has been the annual show’s head writer since 2000. What he specifically writes varies from host to host, but ultimately, everything you see on the telecast goes through him. Below, in an interview with Vanity Fair writer Mike Sacks, Vilanch dishes on trying to make celebrities seem funny, the “cock joke” that Steve Martin refused to tell, and why exactly James Franco, Ellen DeGeneres, and David Letterman each bombed as hosts of the Oscars. The conversation is an excerpt from Poking a Dead Frog, Sacks’s new book of interviews with notable comedy writers such as Amy Poehler, Mel Brooks, and Adam McKay,which he put together as a follow-up to his similar 2009 collection, And Here’s the Kicker. You can buy the book in bookstores starting June 24, or preorder it here.

What’s the joke-writing preparation for a televised awards show such as the Oscars? How much time and effort are we talking about?

A tremendous amount. People have no idea. Billy Crystal came up with the idea of creating a huge playbook, almost like a football team would for a big game. The script itself is three hundred pages. It’s a big hefty tome, and it’s kept offstage, generally offstage left. The host will leaf through it during commercial breaks. It’s most based on what might happen during the broadcast. “Suppose this happens. What if that happens?” You know, just in case. So, you end up creating a lot of material: “Oh, if that happens, we’re covered.” You study who’s nominated to win all the awards, the movies these people are associated with, everything that’s necessary to come up with jokes. A ton of research.”

How many of these jokes, on average, end up being used during the performance?

Out of the hundreds that we write — really, hundreds — if one or two are used, it’s a big deal. We’ll start the actual writing process about two months before the ceremony—usually in December for a February or March broadcast.
It must be frustrating to come up with some many jokes each year, only to have about 2 percent used.

Have there been any jokes you wished had been used but weren’t?

There’ve been a few. We had one joke [in 2003] that involved Steve Martin coming out after the monologue, and he was going to say, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that my fly was open throughout the monologue. The good news is the camera puts on ten pounds.” But Steve wouldn’t say the joke; he said it was a “cock joke.” He just didn’t feel comfortable doing a cock joke on the Academy Awards. I said, “But it’s not a cock joke! It’s a camera joke.” Everybody loved the joke. Even the network censor thought it was hilarious. We could have gotten away with it because it didn’t cross any kind of line, but the fact that the network censor thought it was hysterical meant we had done something right.

It might very well have become a classic if he did say it.

I know, but Steve felt it was just a little too anatomically correct. You can see the visual a bit too easily. I can understand why he would come to that conclusion. The host has to decide, “Do I want to take the audience to that place?”

The Academy Awards is a strange show to work on as a comedy writer. You’re writing jokes for over one billion people, of all ages, countries, backgrounds. How do you determine what is and what is not appropriate, without sapping out all the humor?

You have to be careful not to cross that weird line. There are celebrities you just can’t make jokes about, whether because it’s cruel or because they’ll be in the audience, or just because it’s too embarrassing a situation. Keep in mind that whatever a host says is going to live with them for the rest of their career. The choice you have to make is, Do I, as a comedian, want to be remembered for this joke or not? You can’t un-ring that bell.

Can you tell me about the backstage writing process during an Oscars broadcast? How do the writers work? Together or separately? Writing down jokes? Pitching them out loud?

It’s frantic. It’s chaos. It makes the fall of Saigon look tame. It’s all happening so, so quickly. My favorite example is from 2003, when Steve was hosting. Now, this goes back to something happening just before the commercial break that you can work off of. Michael Moore had won for Best Documentary Feature for Bowling for Columbine and he made a speech against the second Iraq War. Some in the audience booed, but we also noticed that some of the stagehands started booing him, too. When we returned from commercial break, Steve came out and said, “It’s so sweet backstage, you should have seen it. The Teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo.” That was a joke that we came up with in the wings.

Who are you writing for? The live audience in the auditorium? Or the audience at home?

You’re playing to the auditorium because they’re the ones who are giving the immediate reaction that the home audience will hear. You’re always playing to both of them, really, but I think what you want most is a reaction from the live audience, clearly.

The problem is that the vibe in the room changes as the night progresses. As the night gets longer, there are more and more audience members who have not won an award. Their high hopes have disappeared. For every winner, there are at least four or five who won’t win. It gets chilly. The audience is not really paying attention. At this point, you’re getting down to the big awards; its been a long day. The audience would like to get out of there and start drinking—those who aren’t already potted, that is. So, by the end, the audience is not really paying close attention. Also, there are a hefty amount of seat fillers, because have children, have to relieve the babysitters, they get bored, they just leave. Say, for an example, there are ten supporting actor nominees and those categories are given early. Those ten faces will be gone, generally, by the middle to the end of the show. And they’ll be replaced by secretaries from Paramount who might not be too keen to laugh.

Were you responsible for some of the jokes that bombed the night Letterman hosted, such as the Uma/Oprah joke?

No. The Uma/Oprah joke was written by Rob Burnett [executive producer, Late Show With David Letterman], who lethally takes credit for it. Just lethal. I told Rob not to do it. I thought it was a bad idea to have David Letterman from New York TV making fun of these huge stars from Hollywood. Hosts are vital to the show’s tone. It’s a very specific role that the host plays. You have to bring your personality, but you have to do it in a clever way so it doesn’t feel like a retread of what you do at your other job. I think that’s what happened with Letterman. The comedy didn’t translate well. It takes a very specific type of performer to do well at the Oscars. Ellen DeGeneres [in 2007] had a different approach, and I don’t think it worked. She was very daytime. There wasn’t a sense of occasion. She was scared, I think, and wasn’t willing to go the extra mile. James Franco [in 2010] didn’t work out well at all. He was really out of his comfort zone. He’s not a live stage performer. It’s better if the hosts are comedians. They have to have a bit of an attitude. It’s easier for us writers to find words that suit a comedian’s attitude. Actors tend to act. It’s tough for them to play themselves, to have a persona. You’ll never see Johnny Depp performing An Evening With Johnny Depp.

What’s it like to write for celebrities presenting awards, many of whom are not used to performing comedy before a live audience?

It’s tough. It’s constantly a negotiation of some sort. Each of these celebrities has a flotilla of assistants who are advising them or what to say and not to say. A lot show up with their own writers, depending on who they are. And it’s hard for me to bitch about that. That kind of goes with the territory. So that doesn’t surprise me. What does surprise me is when you get people who don’t do this kind of performing for a living and they go into a major panic and every single word has to be edited by everybody. By their hairdressers, their yoga instructor, their publicist, their pet psychiatrist. Everybody’s got an opinion. And all of those people who are supposedly helping are really enemies of comedy, because they don’t want anybody to get into trouble. You can’t be funny by saying, “I’m not going to get anybody into trouble.” You know, that’s the risk you run. Read Freud on jokes and tell me that you’re not ever going to get anybody into trouble.

From Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers, by Mike Sacks. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Michael Sacks.

New Musical By Bruce Vilanch, Jeff Bowen, Drew Gasparini, Joshua Salzman, Phoebe Kreutz Plays NYC

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Playbill

New Musical By Jeff Bowen, Drew Gasparini, Joshua Salzman, Phoebe Kreutz, Bruce Vilanch Plays NYC
By Andrew Gans
26 Jun 2014 


4-27-2013 3-51-51 AM

UnsungMusicalsCo. presents a workshop production of the new musical revue The Passing Show June 26–29 at MTC Creative Center.

Conceived and directed by Ben West,The Passing Show features choreography, tango and music hall dances by J. Austin EyerShannon Lewis, Mark Stuart and Ryan VanDenBoom. Fran Minarik serves as musical director and dance arranger.

The revue was penned by Obie Award winner Jeff Bowen, Sam Carner and Derek Gregor, Drew Gasparini, Rick Hip-Flores, Phoebe Kreutz, Sam Salmond, Drama Desk nominees Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham and Emmy Award winner Bruce Vilanch. The work also features a newly adapted comedy sketch by Arnold B. Horwitt, an unpublished melody by Tony winnerAlbert Hague and three trunk songs by the Academy Award-winning team of Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn.

The cast comprises Holly Ann Butler, Nick Gaswirth, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Andrew Hodge, Stephanie Martignetti, Ruth Pferdehirt and Clifton Samuels.

“Hard-boiled Broadway agents, tap-happy temps, and deliriously lustful in-laws raise a racket in this outrageous fun-fest filled with an exciting nod to the British music hall, a pair of celebrity-crazed theatre producers, and all-new material! Borrowing its name from what is considered the first American revue, The Passing Show puts a contemporary spin on the classic form,” according to press notes.

Tickets, priced $15, are available at www.SmartTix.com or by calling (212) 868-4444. MTC Creative Center is located at 311 West 43rd Street in New York City.

For more information visit UnsungMusicals.org.

Bruce Vilanch: How To Write For The Oscars

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Vulture
How to Write Jokes for the Academy Awards
By Mike Sacks

4-27-2013 3-50-43 AM

Have you ever wondered how the Academy Awards gets written every year? Bruce Vilanch is the man to ask. Starting as a writer on the broadcast 25 years ago, Vilanch has been the annual show’s head writer since 2000. What he specifically writes varies from host to host, but ultimately, everything you see on the telecast goes through him. Below, in an interview withVanity Fair writer Mike Sacks, Vilanch dishes on trying to make celebrities seem funny, the “cock joke” that Steve Martin refused to tell, and why exactly James Franco, Ellen DeGeneres, and David Letterman each bombed as hosts of the Oscars. The conversation is an excerpt from Poking a Dead Frog, Sacks’s new book of interviews with notable comedy writers such as Amy Poehler, Mel Brooks, and Adam McKay,which he put together as a follow-up to his similar 2009 collection, And Here’s the Kicker. You can buy the book in bookstores starting June 24, or preorder it here.

What’s the joke-writing preparation for a televised awards show such as the Oscars? How much time and effort are we talking about?
A tremendous amount. People have no idea. Billy Crystal came up with the idea of creating a huge playbook, almost like a football team would for a big game. The script itself is three hundred pages. It’s a big hefty tome, and it’s kept offstage, generally offstage left. The host will leaf through it during commercial breaks. It’s most based on what might happen during the broadcast. “Supposethis happens. What if that happens?” You know, just in case. So, you end up creating a lot of material: “Oh, if that happens, we’re covered.” You study who’s nominated to win all the awards, the movies these people are associated with, everything that’s necessary to come up with jokes. A ton of research.”


How many of these jokes, on average, end up being used during the performance?
Out of the hundreds that we write — really, hundreds — if one or two are used, it’s a big deal. We’ll start the actual writing process about two months before the ceremony—usually in December for a February or March broadcast.


It must be frustrating to come up with some many jokes each year, only to have about 2 percent used. Have there been any jokes you wished had been used but weren’t?
There’ve been a few. We had one joke [in 2003] that involved Steve Martin coming out after the monologue, and he was going to say, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that my fly was open throughout the monologue. The good news is the camera puts on ten pounds.” But Steve wouldn’t say the joke; he said it was a “cock joke.” He just didn’t feel comfortable doing a cock joke on the Academy Awards. I said, “But it’s not a cock joke! It’s a camera joke.” Everybody loved the joke. Even the network censor thought it was hilarious. We could have gotten away with it because it didn’t cross any kind of line, but the fact that the network censor thought it was hysterical meant we had done something right.


It might very well have become a classic if he did say it.
I know, but Steve felt it was just a little too anatomically correct. You can see the visual a bit too easily. I can understand why he would come to that conclusion. The host has to decide, “Do I want to take the audience to that place?”


The Academy Awards is a strange show to work on as a comedy writer. You’re writing jokes for over one billion people, of all ages, countries, backgrounds. How do you determine what is and what is not appropriate, without sapping out all the humor?
You have to be careful not to cross that weird line. There are celebrities you just can’t make jokes about, whether because it’s cruel or because they’ll be in the audience, or just because it’s too embarrassing a situation. Keep in mind that whatever a host says is going to live with them for the rest of their career. The choice you have to make is, Do I, as a comedian, want to be remembered for this joke or not? You can’t un-ring that bell.


Can you tell me about the backstage writing process during an Oscars broadcast? How do the writers work? Together or separately? Writing down jokes? Pitching them out loud?
It’s frantic. It’s chaos. It makes the fall of Saigon look tame. It’s all happening so, so quickly. My favorite example is from 2003, when Steve was hosting. Now, this goes back to something happening just before the commercial break that you can work off of. Michael Moore had won for Best Documentary Feature for Bowling for Columbine and he made a speech against the second Iraq War. Some in the audience booed, but we also noticed that some of the stagehands started booing him, too. When we returned from commercial break, Steve came out and said, “It’s so sweet backstage, you should have seen it. The Teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo.” That was a joke that we came up with in the wings.


Who are you writing for? The live audience in the auditorium? Or the audience at home?
You’re playing to the auditorium because they’re the ones who are giving the immediate reaction that the home audience will hear. You’re always playing to both of them, really, but I think what you want most is a reaction from the live audience, clearly.


The problem is that the vibe in the room changes as the night progresses. As the night gets longer, there are more and more audience members who have not won an award. Their high hopes have disappeared. For every winner, there are at least four or five who won’t win. It gets chilly. The audience is not really paying attention. At this point, you’re getting down to the big awards; its been a long day. The audience would like to get out of there and start drinking—those who aren’t already potted, that is. So, by the end, the audience is not really paying close attention. Also, there are a hefty amount of seat fillers, because have children, have to relieve the babysitters, they get bored, they just leave. Say, for an example, there are ten supporting actor nominees and those categories are given early. Those ten faces will be gone, generally, by the middle to the end of the show. And they’ll be replaced by secretaries from Paramount who might not be too keen to laugh.


Were you responsible for some of the jokes that bombed the night Letterman hosted, such as the Uma/Oprah joke?
No. The Uma/Oprah joke was written by Rob Burnett [executive producer,Late Show With David Letterman], who lethally takes credit for it. Just lethal. I told Rob not to do it. I thought it was a bad idea to have David Letterman from New York TV making fun of these huge stars from Hollywood. Hosts are vital to the show’s tone. It’s a very specific role that the host plays. You have to bring your personality, but you have to do it in a clever way so it doesn’t feel like a retread of what you do at your other job. I think that’s what happened with Letterman. The comedy didn’t translate well. It takes a very specific type of performer to do well at the Oscars. Ellen DeGeneres [in 2007] had a different approach, and I don’t think it worked. She was very daytime. There wasn’t a sense of occasion. She was scared, I think, and wasn’t willing to go the extra mile. James Franco [in 2010] didn’t work out well at all. He was really out of his comfort zone. He’s not a live stage performer. It’s better if the hosts are comedians. They have to have a bit of an attitude. It’s easier for us writers to find words that suit a comedian’s attitude. Actors tend to act. It’s tough for them to play themselves, to have a persona. You’ll never see Johnny Depp performing An Evening With Johnny Depp.


What’s it like to write for celebrities presenting awards, many of whom are not used to performing comedy before a live audience?
It’s tough. It’s constantly a negotiation of some sort. Each of these celebrities has a flotilla of assistants who are advising them or what to say and not to say. A lot show up with their own writers, depending on who they are. And it’s hard for me to bitch about that. That kind of goes with the territory. So that doesn’t surprise me. What does surprise me is when you get people who don’t do this kind of performing for a living and they go into a major panic and every single word has to be edited by everybody. By their hairdressers, their yoga instructor, their publicist, their pet psychiatrist. Everybody’s got an opinion. And all of those people who are supposedly helping are really enemies of comedy, because they don’t want anybody to get into trouble. You can’t be funny by saying, “I’m not going to get anybody into trouble.” You know, that’s the risk you run. Read Freud on jokes and tell me that you’re not ever going to get anybody into trouble.


From Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers,by Mike Sacks. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Michael Sacks.

Bruce Vilanch, Jeff Bowen, Drew Gasparini, Joshua Salzman, Phoebe Kreutz, and More at Work on New Musical

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Playbill
Jeff Bowen, Drew Gasparini, Joshua Salzman, Phoebe Kreutz, Bruce Vilanch and More at Work on New Musical
By Andrew Gans
17 Jun 2014

4-27-2013 3-49-54 AM

UnsungMusicalsCo. will present a workshop production of the new musical revue The Passing Show June 26–29 at MTC Creative Center.

Conceived and directed by Ben West, The Passing Show features choreography, tango and music hall dances by J. Austin Eyer, Shannon Lewis, Mark Stuart and Ryan VanDenBoom. Fran Minarik serves as musical director and dance arranger.

The revue is being written by a team that includes Obie Award winner Jeff Bowen, Sam Carner and Derek Gregor, Drew Gasparini, Rick Hip-Flores, Phoebe Kreutz, Sam Salmond, Drama Desk nominees Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham and Emmy Award winner Bruce Vilanch. The work also features a newly adapted comedy sketch by Arnold B. Horwitt, an unpublished melody by Tony winner Albert Hague and three trunk songs by the Academy Award-winning team of Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn.

The cast will comprise Holly Ann Butler, Nick Gaswirth, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Andrew Hodge, Stephanie Martignetti, Ruth Pferdehirt and Clifton Samuels.

“Hard-boiled Broadway agents, tap-happy temps, and deliriously lustful in-laws raise a racket in this outrageous fun-fest filled with an exciting nod to the British music hall, a pair of celebrity-crazed theatre producers, and all-new material! Borrowing its name from what is considered the first American revue, The Passing Show puts a contemporary spin on the classic form,” according to press notes.

Tickets, priced $15, are available at www.SmartTix.com or by calling (212) 868-4444. MTC Creative Center is located at 311 West 43rd Street in New York City.

For more information visit www.UnsungMusicals.org.