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.