A "Wonderful Russ" sighting: Really great article on the Valley's comedy scene ("Jokers Wild," Jimmy Magahern, September 8)! When I saw the cover of New Times, I just had to read this, having personally done standup comedy a decade ago.
Dan Mer still knows better than everyone else what qualifies as good comedy. Yet, unfortunately, based on the rules Dan applies, a comedian like Sam Kinison never could have gotten his start at the Improv -- nor could one like Eddie Murphy. Comedians like that could only play Dan's Improv once they are bigger than the Improv.
Mark Cordes is still one of the nicest people in the business. When I was just starting to do real standup, there was no other established comedian I met who gave me more meaningful encouragement than Mark. It's so nice to see how he has made his niche into such a success.
Thanks to writer Jimmy Magahern for such a well-researched and well-written article, and to New Times for putting it on the cover.
Russell Shaw, Phoenix
Setting the record straight: I was surprised by the number of inaccuracies from those quoted in your "Jokers Wild" article. On the one hand, you had Dan Mer telling you what sounded like total fabrications regarding Tony Vicich, and on the other, you had Sean Dillingham telling you there's no comedy in Phoenix and nobody here is funny.
It might help to set the record straight on a few things:
First, I happen to know that Tony Vicich had a school in California before he had one here, so that's a clear falsehood put forth by Mer. Second, having been in Tony's class and in other classes, I was stunned to hear it said that his comics are "as obscene, as racist and misogynistic" as they want to be. What's funny about that statement is how Mer would "stoop" to putting on a local comic as an opener who'd get ripped apart for saying "damn," and then would have a name like Artie Lange, Sarah Silverman or Joe Rogan be his headliner -- all of whom use X-rated material.
Can you say double standard?
I do have to wonder why you set up in one part of your article how horrid Tony's classes are and how he's a "snake-oil salesman," and in another, you talk about some of the most successful comics in the Valley -- Colleen Purtle, Josh McDermitt, Ken Kaz -- all of whom have taken classes with Tony.
The real question is, why does Dan Mer have the illusion of power in this Valley? Because of the Tempe Improv? Frankly, if I want to laugh in this town, the Tempe Improv is the last place I'd go. It's old, it's tired, there's no new comics there.
Where do I go? Well, several of the people who were at the Great Southwest Comedy Convention are now off to Los Angeles to be at such places as the Comedy Store. So I go where these people are coming from -- to Haus Murphy's, to Mardi Gras Bar & Grill, to wherever Jeffrey Meikos (a.k.a. "Cap'n Tripp") is running a show. And, increasingly, to a little place called Entertainment Alley in Scottsdale.
It's unfortunate that the Tempe Improv has degraded to where the only way Dan Mer feels safe in his minor percentage ownership is to try to destroy the huge, energetic and hysterical comedy scene in the Valley.
Steve Christopher, Scottsdale
A humorless place: Sensational story by Jimmy Magahern on the local comedy scene. What I came away with is that it's too bad that some of the best comics in modern history would have been pretty much sent packing if they'd tried to start out in the PHX.
Imagine a world with no Lenny Bruce, no George Carlin, no Sam Kinison, no Wayans brothers, no (back in the day) David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld or Jay Leno. It would be a pretty fucking humorless place. (Oops, sorry, I shouldn't have used the F-word!)
Clean comedy? It's a concept, I guess, but one that definitely will not bring many people out to the comedy clubs. Give me sex jokes, religion jokes, pope jokes, God jokes, even defecation jokes! You know why? Because what's funny is funny -- the more drawn breaths at the audacity of the humor, the better.
Jeffrey Jenkins, Phoenix
He's got class: I'm from the Originals improv comedy troupe. I am a pretty loyal guy, and I just wanted to throw in my two cents for Tony Vicich regarding the statements made by Dan Mer.
They were false. Malicious and false. I've attended Tony's classes, and no one -- no one -- is led astray the way Mr. Mer described.
I know, very well, half a dozen of Tony's students and many more as acquaintances. Every single one of them is loyal and grateful to him. Is he a good businessman? Yep. Is he a damn good teacher? Yep. Is he the con man portrayed by Mr. Mer? Absolutely not.
As to Mr. Mer's comments about the Valley comedy scene, to each his own. But I'll say this: From where does this gentleman think comedy scenes come? His brand of arrogant, hateful, and discouraging bile? Or from a bunch of local people working their butts off to get better and make something happen?
Matt Rosin, Tempe
Will it play in Cleveland?: I'm an amateur comedian in Cleveland, Ohio. A friend and fellow comedian passed along a link to your story. Wow! Fantastic article. Very interesting and revealing.
It's absolutely scary how there are numerous parallels between the comedy scenes in Phoenix and Cleveland. Improv owners who don't care about local talent, cliques of comedians, MCs on power trips, some really funny people and lots of unfunny people. You could almost just go through your article and do simple word substitutions and run it here unchanged. That's pretty funny, actually.
I hope the comedians there appreciate your article. I thought you might like to know that you're reaching people all the way up here.
Joe Hannum, Cleveland, Ohio
A tough racket: When I read your piece on the Phoenix New Times Web site after a friend recommended it, my conclusion was: It's the same everywhere.
Here in New York, unless you're a big name, it's the same. Maybe it's got something to do with the Bush administration and its enforced religiosity. I dunno, is the country swinging to the clean and unfunny because this humorless dolt is in the White House?
Standup comedy has always been a tough racket, but when we're all but victims of censorship, things have gotten down in the dumper. I could tell you stories about several Dan Mers in this big city.
Quint Minelli, New York City
An arrogant fool: Dan Mer is an arrogant fool. He has stifled so many careers. If Jimmy Magahern's entertaining piece of reporting did nothing else, it exposed Mer for what he is.
Eula Zimmerman, Los Angeles, formerly Tempe
The Play's the Thing
Mediocrity -- the spark of inspiration: Congrats on a truly poignant and insightful perspective on the theater scene in Phoenix ("Production Numbers," Stage Frights, Robrt L. Pela, September 8). Mediocrity, seasoned with safe choices and the same names and faces, does seem to be the spark of inspiration for so many local theaters.
I consider your article a battle cry for a more demanding and dynamic aesthetic in local theater.
Unfortunately, it will probably just lead to a new round of grumbling, as local thespians dash off to rehearsal for another "engaging" production of Annie, Joseph or some other tried and true (and bound to be repeated through eternity) musical.
Richard Schultz, Phoenix
Whose mama?: Why is Robrt L. Pela such an insipid curmudgeon?
Doesn't he like anything or anybody? I doubt it. His piece headlined "Production Numbers" takes the cake. What a bitter fool he must be. And, frankly, I don't know why we theater lovers continue to tolerate him. I thought we gay men were supposed to have taste. What happened to his?
It's time for a good old-fashioned tarring and feathering, if you ask me.
Robrt (get an E, for Christ's sake!), go back to where you came from, which must be either the West or East coasts. In Phoenix, we don't allow outsiders to talk about our mama.
Tino Savalas, Phoenix
Editor's note: Robrt L. Pela moved to Phoenix when he was 14 months old, so he can talk about his mama with the best of 'em.
A bit lacking: How long has Stephen Lemons been a food critic? No, wait, how long has he been a writer? And I use that term loosely.
His article about Vu, the food it serves and the brilliant [the letter-writer's word] chef could not have been further from the truth ("The View From Vu," Cafe, September 8). It's almost as if he didn't eat there. He must have just looked at the menu and walked through the restaurant.
Lemons constantly contradicted himself throughout the article on such things as portion size, pricing, flavors. And that comment about the wallpaper! Where did that come from?
He's not funny, he's not smart, and I hope he never walks through the threshold of my restaurant. Which will remain nameless for fear that some young couple looking for a place to dine might read the poor excuse of journalism that comes from his severely lacking point of view.
Jamie Bender, via the Internet
The truth about restaurants: Thank God somebody writes the truth about restaurants in this town! If I had to rely on the Arizona Republic (no, wait a minute, I have relied on the Republic and gone to places that sent me away retching and practically penniless), I would probably kill myself.
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Stephen Lemons is a godsend. His review of Vu was spot-on, as was his recent review of Christopher's ("Reality Check," June 30).
I remember when he came to town, and at long last New Times bashed the wretched Pete's Fish & Chips chain ("Bottom Feeding," February 12, 2004). The places may be fast-food enterprises, and thereby not even pretending to be real restaurants, but even fast food should be food!
I love it when Lemons recommends a place, because I know that he definitely would not give it a nod if he didn't like it. He is somebody those of us who eat out regularly can rely on. I think I have been to every place he's recommended and come away satisfied.
Seldom does the Republic hate any place. It's as if its critic isn't allowed to pan a restaurant for fear the paper will lose advertising. Obviously, New Times must not care about that. Whatever . . . nobody in the restaurant business respects the Republic in the morning after the boning it's apparently taking from advertisers.
R.E. Liebowitz, via the Internet