This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001


Dick Gregory will talk comedy and politics at the Black Spectrum Theatre on October 22

Dick Gregory will talk comedy and politics at the Black Spectrum Theatre on October 22

Who: Dick Gregory, Onaje Allan Gumbs
What: Comedy, music, political discussion
Where: Black Spectrum Theatre, Roy Wilkins Recreation Center, 177 St. & Baisley Blvd., Queens, 718-723-1800
When: Saturday, October 22, $35 in advance, $45 at the door, 8:00
Why: This past summer, Joe Morton played comedian and activist Dick Gregory in the excellent show Turn Me Loose. Now you can see the real thing, as Gregory, who just turned eighty-four on October 12, will be at the Black Spectrum Theatre in Queens on October 22, sharing his sociopolitical musings and conspiracy rants about the state of the world; he should be in extra-fine form with the election approaching. (You can get a taste of his thoughts on Donald Trump here.) The evening will also feature a performance by Harlem-born, Queens-raised pianist, composer, and bandleader Onaje Allan Gumbs, who has released such albums as That Special Part of Me, Remember Their Innocence, Sack Full of Dreams, and Just Like Yesterday.


Bill Maher is likely to have his hands full with political jokes at New York Comedy Festival gig a few days before Election Day

Bill Maher is likely to have his hands full with political jokes at New York Comedy Festival gig a few days before Election Day

Who: Bill Maher, Patton Oswalt, Tig Notaro, Marc Maron, Bridgett Everett, Trevor Noah, Tracy Morgan, Chris D’Elia, Tim Minchin, Eric Andre, Cameron Esposito, Dane Cook, Hari Kondabolu, T. J. Miller
What: The thirteenth annual New York Comedy Festival
Where: The Theater at Madison Square Garden, Beacon Theatre, Carnegie Hall, the Town Hall, Carolines on Broadway, NYU Skirball Center
When: November 1-6
Why: You won’t be laughing if you don’t score tickets to some of the hottest shows at this year’s New York Comedy Festival, taking place at multiple venues the first week of November. Below are five of our suggestions for can’t-miss hilarity.

Patton Oswalt, Beacon Theatre, Thursday, November 3, $50-$85, 7:00
Marc Maron, Carnegie Hall, Friday, November 4, $36-$62, 8:00
Tig Notaro, Carnegie Hall, Saturday, November 5, $35-$59, 7:00
Trevor Noah, Beacon Theatre, Saturday, November 5, $40-$75, 7:00
Bill Maher, the Theater at Madison Square Garden, Saturday, November 5, $31-$146, 8:00


Brooklyn Museum’s First Saturday program includes screening of Todd Kessler’s new film, BAZODEE, followed by a Q&A

Brooklyn Museum’s First Saturday program includes screening of Todd Kessler’s new film, BAZODEE, followed by a Q&A

Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, August 6, free, 5:00 - 11:00

The Brooklyn Museum is getting ready for Labor Day weekend’s West Indian American Day Carnival with an August First Saturday presentation filled with Caribbean energy and culture. The free events, some of which require advance tickets that night, will feature the live performance “Ganggang: Creative Misunderstanding Series” by disguise artist Alejandro Guzman, with Abigail Deville, Christopher Manzione, Clifford Owens, Elan Jurado, Geraldo Mercado, Jessica Gallucci, Marcus Willis, Sam Vernon, Tré Chandler, and William Villalongo; children’s storytelling with Linda Humes; a performance and reading by ethnomusicologist Danielle Brown from her memoir, East of Flatbush, North of Love: An Ethnography of Home; screenings of Bazodee (Todd Kessler, 2016), followed by a Q&A with actor and soca star Machel Montano, writer Claire Ince, and producers Susanne Bohnet and Ancil McKain, as well as the classic reggae flick Rockers (Theodoros Bafaloukos, 1978); Rusty Zimmerman discussing his “Free Portrait Project: Crown Heights”; a hands-on workshop in which participants can make their own Caribbean-inspired instruments; pop-up gallery talks in the excellent “Disguise: Masks and Global African Art” exhibition; a Backyard Bashment dancehall workshop and party with choreographer Blacka Di Danca, actor-comedian Majah Hype, and DJ MeLo-X; and the interactive mobile art center caribBEING House, featuring Ruddy Rove’s “Fine Art of Daggering” photos, a participatory wall map, and the opportunity to share your own Caribbean tale. In addition, you can check out such exhibitions as “Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present,” “Tom Sachs: Boombox Retrospective, 1999–2016,” “Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (to a Seagull),” and “Agitprop!”


Dick Gregory (Joe Morton) has been pointing his finger at Americas ailments for more than fifty years (photo by Monique Carboni)

Dick Gregory (Joe Morton) has been pointing his finger at America’s ailments for more than fifty years (photo by Monique Carboni)

Westside Theatre
407 West 43rd St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Tuesday – Sunday through July 17, $79-$89

“Now, I know that many of you folks out there do read the paper. But I wish you would read all the papers. You just read some of the papers — where they callin’ me the Negro Lenny Bruce. You gotta’ read those Congo papers where they callin’ Lenny Bruce — the white Dick Gregory!” Dick Gregory (Joe Morton) declares near the beginning of Turn Me Loose, Gretchen Law’s smart, essential play about the life and career of the comedian, activist, and self-described wellness guru born Richard Claxton Gregory in St. Louis in 1932. The Emmy-winning, Tony-nominated Morton is riveting as Gregory, going back and forth between club gigs and interviews from the 1960s to the present day, when he addresses the audience directly as an old man, looking back at his failures and accomplishments. (Fortunately, the play avoids his numerous forays into conspiracy theories.) Gregory talks about his life with his wife and children, his goals for financial success and social change, and his friendships with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Medgar Evers. In fact, the title is taken from Evers’s final words: “Turn me loose.” As Morton ambles across Chris Barreca’s stripped-down set, consisting of a microphone, table, stool and phone, the play gets to the heart of what Gregory was and is about. “I’m out to find the truth. Expose the tricks,” he says. Discussing the ongoing battles between black and white, Muslims and Christians, Jews and Palestinians, and liberals and conservatives, he admonishes, “When you accept injustice, you become injustice. When you coexist with filth? You become filth. It’s all of those myths you’re buyin’ into.” Other gems include “Bein’ white ain’t got nothin’ to do with color,” “My tongue . . . was my switchblade. My humor was my sword,” “I believe that information is salvation,” and “When I grew up in St. Louis, I thought that poverty was the worst disease on the earth. I soon learned that racism is the worst disease on the face of the earth.”

(photo by Monique Carboni)

Joe Morton is riveting as comedian, activist, and wellness guru Dick Gregory (photo by Monique Carboni)

Law (The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of Her God, Al Sharpton for President) and director John Gould Rubin (Hedda Gabler, Playing with Fire) zero in on the key moments of Gregory’s career: being invited by Hugh Hefner to perform at the Playboy Club in Chicago in 1961, where he faced a harsh crowd of white southerners, and demanding that if Jack Paar wanted him to do stand-up on the Tonight show, he had to be allowed to sit on the couch and speak with Paar afterward, something no black entertainer had done before. He also makes brilliant use of the word “n-gger.” He celebrates the way Mark Twain employed it (“Mark Twain was so brilliant! He gave a n-gger a name! ‘N-gger Jim.’ And then white folks had to read about a black man with a name. A person.”) and confronts the audience with it. After being heckled at the Playboy Club, he turns to the Westside Theatre audience and says, “How about you all out there? Anyone out there care to stand up and call me a n-gger? Come on now. Don’t miss out on a great opportunity. Stand up! Come on. Stand up! Go ahead. Get on up. Get on up and call me — a n-gger! It’s only a word.” Of course, at that moment you could hear a pin drop, aside from some nervous laughter. (The night I went, the crowd was about half white and half black.) Morton, who has starred in such films as The Brother from Another Planet and Lone Star, such television series as Scandal and Eureka, and the Broadway plays Hair, Art, and Raisin, does not go into full impersonation mode but effectively captures Gregory’s unique spirit in his every movement. However, Turn Me Loose is not quite a one-man show; John Carlin, who is white, also appears in bit parts as various hecklers and a comic. In addition, coproducer John Legend contributes an original song. At one point, Gregory declares, “Nobody makes it out alive when they make a real change that has to do with race. Nobody!” As he often has done over the course of his life, Gregory defies convention yet again.



The inimitable Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) imagines quite a career for himself in THE KING OF COMEDY

THE KING OF COMEDY (Martin Scorsese, 1982)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
June 24-30

Jerry Lewis is back in the news right now with the surprise online appearance of clips from his notorious unreleased 1972 film The Day the Clown Cried, a Holocaust picture believed to be so disastrous that he has vowed it will never see the light of day. But from June 24 to 30 at Film Forum, you can revisit one of the former MDA telethon host’s best performances, in Martin Scorsese’s vastly underrated and underappreciated 1982 masterpiece, The King of Comedy. Lewis stars as Jerry Langford, the host of a massively popular late-night television show. (The part was initially offered to Johnny Carson, who turned it down.) Lewis is one cool, calm customer as the smooth, elegant Langford, a far cry from his familiar caricatures in such films as The Bellboy, The Patsy, and The Nutty Professor. The most fascinating role in the film, however, is his stalker, wannabe-comedian Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), who is desperate to get on Jerry’s show and become part of his inner circle, as well as Masha (Sandra Bernhard), who is in love with Jerry and thinks they are destined to be together. When not hanging around Jerry’s office, harassing Langford’s right-hand associate, Cathy Long (Shelley Hack), and the receptionist (Margo Winkler), Pupkin is in the basement of his home, pretending to be a guest on the show, yakking it up with cardboard cutouts of Langford and Liza Minnelli while his mother (voiced by Scorsese’s real mom, Catherine) yells at him to do something with his life. Pupkin is also trying to impress a former high school classmate, Rita (Diahnne Abbott, who was married to De Niro at the time), a bartender who barely remembers him. When things don’t go quite as planned, Rupert and Masha try to pull off a crazy scheme to get what they feel is their destiny.


Jerry Lewis gives his most mature performance ever opposite Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s THE KING OF COMEDY

Written by film critic, activist, and author Paul D. Zimmerman, The King of Comedy has held up remarkably well over the years, displaying a thrilling prescience about the state of celebrity obsession and the need to be on television well before the internet and reality shows changed the dynamic between star and fan. De Niro fully embodies the creepy, awkward, splendidly dressed Pupkin, who is essentially the illegitimate love child of Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta as seen through the lens of Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. And Bernhard, in her first major film role, is a revelation as Masha, exhibiting an expert physicality worthy of the best cinematic comedians, with just the right amount of dark madness. Just as Pupkin goes back and forth between fantasy and reality, Scorsese keeps viewers on edge, not always differentiating between fiction and nonfiction; he has numerous familiar faces play versions of themselves, including radio and television announcer Ed Herlihy and bandleader Les Brown, Tony Randall as a guest host, longtime Carson producer Fred de Cordova as Bert Thomas, producer of The Jerry Langford Show, Dr. Joyce Brothers as one of Randall’s guests, and Emmy-winning producer Edgar Scherick as a network executive. Cinematographer Fred Schuler beautifully captures the hustle of early 1980s New York City, echoing what’s going on inside Pupkin’s deranged mind, while music adviser Robbie Robertson, a friend of Scorsese’s who was in the great Band documentary The Last Waltz, puts together a fab soundtrack that ranges from Ray Charles’s “Come Rain or Come Shine” and the Pretenders’ “Back on the Chain Gang” to Robertson’s own “Between Trains” and Van Morrison’s gorgeous closing credits song, “Wonderful Remark.” Scorsese fills the film with plenty of little treats and sweet touches. Look for the Clash’s Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, and Paul Simonon as the street punks, along with Ellen Foley, Don Letts, Kosmo Vinyl, and Pearl Harbour. In the scene in which Pupkin takes Rita to dinner, a man in the back of the restaurant is curiously mimicking Pupkin’s gesticulations. And Scorsese makes an inside-joke cameo when Randall, preparing to host The Jerry Langford Show, questions something, shrugs, and says to Scorsese, “You’re the director.” The 2013 digital restoration of The King of Comedy is playing at Film Forum June 24-30; the 7:30 show on June 24 will be introduced by Gilbert Gottfried and Frank Santopadre, on June 25 by Aparna Nancherla, and on June 29 by Mario Cantone.


Mel Brooks will take viewers behind the scenes of BLAZING SADDLES at special screening at Radio City Music Hall

Mel Brooks will take viewers behind the scenes of BLAZING SADDLES at special screening at Radio City Music Hall

Who: Mel Brooks
What: A Hilarious LIVE Conversation with Mel Brooks and Screening of Blazing Saddles
Where: Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Ave. at 50th St., 212-465-6741
When: Tickets go on sale Friday, May 20, at 10:00 am for show Thursday, September 1, $60-$130, 7:30
Why: Eighty-nine-year-old Melvin James Kaminsky, aka Mel Brooks, is one of the funniest people to have ever stepped foot on the planet Earth. And his 1974 comedy classic, Blazing Saddles, is one of the funniest movies to have ever been shown on the big screen. The riotously lewd film leaves no one and nothing unscathed, having fun with and skewering Westerns, Hollywood musicals, racism, religion, pies, beans, horses, alcoholism, sex, guns, politics, anti-Semitism, and, of course, friendship and heroism. The all-star cast includes Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens, Dom DeLuise, John Hillerman, David Huddleston, Alex Karras, Rodney Allen Rippy, and Brooks himself in two roles. On September 1, Brooks will be at Radio City Music Hall for a screening of Blazing Saddles, followed by an inside look at the making of the picture and an audience Q&A with the comedy legend, who also wrote and directed such fab flicks as The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, and History of the World, Part 1. And don’t forget to harrumph.


Mike Birbiglia

Mike Birbiglia delves into the art of the joke in latest one-man show (photo © Joan Marcus)

Culture Project, Lynn Redgrave Theater
49 Bleecker St. near Lafayette St.
Wednesday - Sunday through May 29, $56.50-$96.50

“At some point this week you told someone where you were going tonight and that person said, ‘Who?’ and you said something I’d been in and they said, ‘What’s that?’ and you said, ‘Go back to bed, Grandma,’” Mike Birbiglia explains near the beginning of his latest one-man show, Thank God for Jokes. “But I’m a niche thing.” The thirty-seven-year-old actor, comedian, writer, and director has appeared in such films as Trainwreck and Hot Pursuit and such cable series as Orange Is the New Black and Girls and is a regular contributor to This American Life on radio. In 2012, he wrote, directed, and starred in the award-winning Sleepwalk with Me, a film based on his one-man show and book about his battle with rapid eye movement (REM) behavior disorder. The success of the indie movie led to his gig hosting the 2012 Gotham Awards, which plays a central role in Thank God for Jokes. Over the course of eighty-five minutes, Birbiglia also discusses spam filters, nut allergies, cursing in front of the Muppets, riffing on Jesus at a Christian college, cats, and his fear of cops. The latter leads to an improvised conversation with an audience member that can be both funny and a little scary depending on the person’s past. He also has a blast with latecomers — the Lynn Redgrave Theater makes it clear that there will be no late seating, but when a few stragglers do indeed arrive after the show has begun, Birbiglia lets them have it. “What late people don’t understand about us on-time people is that we hate you,” he says. “And the reason we hate you is that it’s so easy to be on time. You just have to be early and early lasts for hours and on time just lasts a second and then you’re late. Forever.”

(photo © Joan Marcus)

Mike Birbiglia riffs on lateness, Jesus, fear of cops, the Muppets, and more in THANK GOD FOR JOKES (photo © Joan Marcus)

But mostly, Birbiglia delves into the art of the joke. “I say this about jokes, having thought about them a lot. Jokes are a volatile type of speech. Sometimes when you tell a joke someone will punch you in the face. And the people standing around you will go, [nodding] ‘Yeah.’” Referring to the Charlie Hebdo incident, in which twelve magazine employees were killed for publishing cartoons depicting Muhammad, Birbiglia points out, “A few of my friends said, ‘Can’t people just write jokes that aren’t offensive?’ And I’m not sure that’s possible. I think all jokes are offensive . . . to someone. . . .” Directed by Seth Barrish (All the Rage, The Tricky Part) and designed by Beowulf Boritt (Act One, The Scottsboro Boys), both of whom did the same on Birbiglia’s first two one-man shows, Sleepwalk with Me and My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, Thank God for Jokes features the relatively soft-spoken and self-effacing Birbiglia walking around a small stage, the audience seated around him on three sides. On the wall behind him are religious-tinged stained-glass windows and a handwritten scrawl about Jesus. But don’t let Birbiglia’s gentle, thoughtful demeanor fool you, as he can pack quite a punch, in his storytelling and his delivery, hitting you with hilarious surprises just when you’ve settled in comfortably. He’s a friendly, engaging guy — as long as the joke’s not on you. The show continues through May 29; you can catch more of Birbiglia this July, when his second film as writer, director, and star, Don’t Think Twice, opens in theaters.