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» 14 ) UnCabaret, though rebellious, was at the same time very Hollywood. Our am- bitious performers were all navigating the choppy waters of fame culture. So, along with stories of romance, friendship, family and sex, there were uncensored stories, as they were unfolding, from the belly of the beast. In this way it was a uniquely L.A. show. Bob Goldthwait on tour with Kurt Cobain. Greg Behrendt on a set with Tom Cruise. Mike McDonald on the phone as Faye Dunaway’s comedy coach. Julia Sweeney at the SNL reunion. Kathy Griffin trying to find a manager. Margaret Cho in post–All American Girl recovery.
Judy Toll used to say UnCab was “the comedyoflove.”Meaningnotonlythatwe were free to talk about things we loved but also, importantly, the essential setup was unconfrontational — we were free to love the audience. Our audience is the unsung hero of UnCabaret. More than fans, they were co-conspirators. The room was filled with L.A. intelligentsia, leaning heavily to- ward writers from shows like The Simpsons, Letterman, Murphy Brown, Will & Grace, The Ben Stiller Show, Sex and the City and Politically Incorrect. Also directors, pro- ducers, actors, musicians and even artists.
intro. Someone from the show would do something funny each night. Memorably Odenkirk used to do a “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday...” thing that always made me laugh. Anyway, whoever was onstage had said something a little confusing. It happens with new material. I could feel the audience had a question. Unanswered questions pre- vent people from laughing. So I grabbed the “back mic” and asked the question.
Whoever it was onstage answered. It felt natural. Conversational. One of my other inspirations for UnCab had been that I always thought my friends were funnier on the phone than onstage. How could we make a show more like our phone calls, I’d wondered.Somecomedianslovedtheback mic and begged me to do it more. Some, not so much. I tried to use it judiciously. To help whoever was onstage get to their best material, or to get them into the moment. Sometimes, I admit, I used it to get a laugh.
So we were still in our first year, trying to keep the room full. One morning, on my way out for a walk in the Los Feliz hills, I picked up the L.A. Times. And there we were. Above the fold of the Calendar section. On a Friday. When everyone still read the pa- per. “A New Breed of Comedians.” I’m ever
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the fact that people kept coming back
gave rise to the infamous uncab rule:
do new material.
– beth lapides
Quentin Tarantino once told me we had ruined regular stand-up for him because now he could see it was just tricks. Matt Groening compared us to the Blue Note in the ’60s. The Beastie Boys came in cos- tume. John C. Reilly, Sarah Jessica Parker, Johnny Galecki, Brooke Shields, Maynard James Keenan, Roger Corman, Dave Foley, Robin Williams, Emo Phillips — they were all there.
And the fact that people kept coming back gave rise to the infamous UnCab Rule: Do new material. It’s actually beautifully ironic. We were aiming for liberation but were known for the rule. Well, boundaries create freedom, right?
The new-material rule also gave rise to one of our other defining features, the some- what controversial “back mic.” It happened like this. I was in the back of the room, at the booth with Greg, who had thankfully jumped in to help. Greg’s unique combina- tion of journalistic, editorial and produc- ing skills, his enthusiasm for cutting-edge work and his love of performers, made him a perfect producing partner for UnCabaret. I really couldn’t have done it without him.
So Greg was in the booth. He was running the board and recording the show, and there was a mic, which we’d set up for the show
grateful to Chuck Crisafulli for his cham- pioning us in that piece. And to the editors and writers who made noise about a cultural revolution happening in what was believed to be a cultural wasteland.
We exploded. Lines around the block. Second shows. Over-packed houses, a fire marshal situation. It felt like there wasn’t a single breath between struggling to fill the room and struggling to fit everyone in. I had somehow, and not completely gracefully, evolved into a gatekeeper.
UnCabaret became the rhythm of my life. Sunday after Sunday. While we did the Comedy Central show and my daily radio shows. While my MTV show was greenlit and then canceled, while I was writing, while we were moving, during earthquakes and family crises. Every Sunday. Like church.
After seven years, LunaPark closed and we closed UnCabaret, too. For maybe a minute. I’ve closed UnCab so many times, but I keep reopening it. Or I should say, it keeps re- opening. Because UnCabaret often tells me what it wants to do. It’s conversational.
And along the way the stakes somehow kept getting higher. We were running at the HBO Workspace during 9/11. Everyone kept saying it was “too soon for comedy.” But
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