December 10, 2018

God Loves a Chancer – Danny Lobell’s Broke as a Joke: Edinburgh Preview

Hollywood Fringe to Edinburgh Fringe: Here’s…….DANNY..!!

In Danny Lobell’s new one-man show, we learn pretty quick that stand-up comedian and Modern Day Philosophers podcast host, Danny, is a “chancer”.  And, proud of it.

“chancer”. noun. The definition of a chancer is a British term for someone who takes advantage of situations and manipulates them to his own benefit. An example of a chancer is someone who swoops in and buys a painting from a little old lady when he knows it is a Picasso and she doesn’t.  chancer defined – YourDictionary

Danny’s father wanted him to be a doctor; Danny took that as a cue to do what the stereotypical phony doctor does: Rip people off.  Via American Express.  With a simple “Dr. Danny Lobell” Amex card, Dr. Lobell runs up the card like a mouse up a dress until they cut him off like a mohel up his pants. But it doesn’t end there; oh no no no.  This is where the “Danny Lobell Shakespeare Company” takes over.  Whether we’re comfortable or not, Danny tells the tale of how he carried on the con on the poor unsuspecting American Express collections gal, by pretending to be some British guy who was the receptionist for the good doctor; and just kept putting off the collector Christine with further and further appointments to speak with the deadbeat fake doc.

Beginnings reveal the writer

One thing I learned very late in the game of live story-telling and indeed writing, is that – as an audience – whatever story you tell us up front, that story is your introduction of you to us. The opening story must contain the kernel of the theme we’re about to watch for the next hour and a half, as well as indicate the character of the story-teller. It’s like the introductory paragraph to a great short story. Each format of story-telling, whether it’s the novel or the screenplay, the beginning reveals more who the writer is than the characters are.   Believe me, the hardest thing to do is to objectively write about oneself.

Jerry Lewis and Steven Spielberg

When I first met with Jerry Lewis on his yacht, the very first thing he told me was how Steven Spielberg honored him at Cannes.  Why on earth would a comedy legend tell this lowly schmuck how he was honored like a king.  The answer is this. Jerry Lewis is in essence, insecure.  (Private Message to Danny: Danny, as you read this, I thought thrice about including this bit about me and Jerry Lewis, but then decided to leave it in because I think its germane real life lesson for me, as it relates to my seeing your show, but also and mainly, because by having the keywords “Steven Spielberg” and “Jerry Lewis” in this online blog review, the Google robot will take notice and perhaps give this blog more play.  We shall see!)

A Big Furry Jewish Cheshire Cat

In spite of internally wrestling the morality of ripping off a decent company like American Express, putting poor collector Christine into a bind and essentially making fun of her by fucking with her job, one cannot help but be enchanted by Danny Lobell’s Cheshire Cat that ate the canary smile behind the big broad beard of a more than slightly overweight Jewish comedian who simply can’t find his place in the world, and is always thinking of the next easy street or secret way to the top.

A self-deprecating loser after my own heart.

Danny’s skills of the free-ride didn’t just appear outta nowhere.  His dad was notoriously parsimonious to an embarrassing fault, as demonstrated to us by returning a bad piece of salmon to Cosco via strapping the smelly fish to the roof of the car, actually getting a refund, then displaying the Matzo balls to argue for even more money, and getting it.  Dad’s lesson?  Never go into the arts.  Look at Grandfather.  A famous sculptor who worked in the JC Penny’s art department, and having none other than Norman Rockwell in his employ, because of a back tax issue the poor old modern master accumulated.  Cloistered in an Orthodox home, Danny never watched television and when he finally saw Seinfeld, he literally thought Jerry literally invented stand-up.  It is in the world of the naive neophyte where cynicism is born.

Two Words: House Account

Danny eventually tries the art of stand-up himself at a Starbucks open-mic then meets comedy legend Freddie Roman, who impressed with young Danny’s talent, tenacity and sense of japery, invites him into the secret society of the Friars Club.  And what is the first thing young Danny the comedian wannabe learns about the intricate art of telling a string of words designed to elicit laughs?  “House Account”.  Yup.  For the next year, all that young Danny can see are free haircuts, nice lunches and free use of the house gym, which I’m sure he used mainly to sit in the steam room and fart his free food.  What I’m saying is: Danny is a visionary.  He will con his way through life like no other.  And to clarify.  I’m not saying Danny Lobell is a conman.  I’m saying he’s – what the British call – a “chancer”.  He sees opportunity where others don’t.  He blatantly goes for it and hope he doesn’t get caught.  He genuinely has the money-making mentality of Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners, grabbing at every get rich quick scheme he can smell.

Jackie McMason

But wait!  Oh no!  There apparently is another comedian, a legendary comedian, as a matter of fact, who is known as the real house account cheater. Jackie Mason. Whom Danny meets and begins to work for.  Terribly excited to anticipate learning about comedy from one of the best, Danny is soon disappointed to learn that what he is learning from Mr. Mason, isn’t about the business we call show or the mechanics and chemistry of joke-creation or the art and craft of joke-telling or even the valuable lessons of life from one who’d surely know.  Nope.  Danny, whose job it is to help Jackie Mason sell cassette tapes of his show, is gonna learn about McDonalds.  Yes, the great Jackie Mason is obsessed with McDonalds; to the point of insane fanaticism.

G-D Loves a Chancer

What Danny is trying to tell us – but either doesn’t realize it OR is too modest to own it, is that G-D himself (that’s “God”) loves a “chancer” and proves so by arranging a chance meeting backstage with the incredible legendary George Carlin.

Danny: “I became friends with George Carlin, until George passed away and ended the friendship.”

The hilarity ensues in episodic format:
  • Danny sells lightbulbs door to door.
  • Sells a $2,000 hairless cat to a crazy rich Upper West Side Jewish lady, who tries to keep the cat without paying, so Danny arranges a con to get the cat back, involving a friend to sleep with her, the lady not the cat, although, who really knows.
  • Helping someone hide an illegal rooster.
  • Taking a girl on a cheap, if not free, date, to Yogurtland where samples are free.
  • Friending and avoiding the dangerous Blanco gang.
  • Driving to L.A. on no money.
  • Meeting and marrying the girl of his dreams.

All told with professional excellence, humor and no point or theme whatsoever other than he gets away with it. The lesson seems to be that he has finally found happiness, just working for a living and building a life with his lovely wife. And if this was Danny’s farewell performance, his veritable swan song from the world of the big dreams, then it would be a sad ending to unrealized possibilities.  The show I saw and am reviewing is essentially Danny’s preview for his run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.  A festival in which I’ve done 5 one-man shows and produced two big comedy galas.  I know it’s important and I want Danny to succeed.  I want him to get noticed.  I think the Brits and the Scots will love him.  Danny Lobell is the quintessential American chancer who happens to be a comedian.  His singular brand of japery will surely gain him early notice and perhaps a following.  There’s the quote to use, Danny.  Look up “japery”.  Hell.  Look up quintessential.  I’m kidding.  Just being an arsehole for no reason than I’ve got to fill the page with something.

“Danny Lobell is the quintessential American chancer who happens to be a comedian.  His singular brand of japery will surely gain him early notice and perhaps a following.  There’s the quote to use, Danny.  Look up ‘japery’.  Hell.  Look up quintessential.  I’m kidding.  Just being an arsehole for no reason than I’ve got to fill the page with something.” – Steven Alan Green, The Jewish Journal

Danny is very likable and most important: authentic.  Authenticity – to me personally – is the most important aspect or trait of any scenario or personage or art.  All ironies aside, portraying authenticity is the single most important part of story-telling.  Danny Lobell is funny.  No question about it.  He’s got a wonderful sense of self-deprecation and even insights into himself.  In Broke as a Joke, I just wanted to know more.  A lot more. Broke as a Joke is what is known as a shaggy-dog story.  One thing leads to the next.  Episodic.  And, indeed could be a funny television series.  Danny’s got what we all got. Money problems and big dreams.  Like I said, he is the modern Ralph Kramden.

A string of little dilemmas.

His sense of adventure informs how he views life more than how life views him.  As a critic, I see room for improvement.  The one thing I felt missing from the show is a story-arc, a learning curve.  All good one-person shows I’ve ever seen, reviewed, read reviews of and performed.  All the good ones had an emotional journey.  Because that’s what’s important.  That’s what gives the audience the main internal reason for sitting in the theatre.  I think where Broke as a Joke goes a little flat at times – between the consistent laughs – is that there is no real dilemma, except dealing with what comes next and how is Danny gonna become famous, which he never does.  A string of little dilemmas. It’s a great story he tells, don’t get me wrong.  But, for my limited money, I would like to see him dig a little bit deeper and show us, the attentive crowd, what he learned and how he learned it.  Indeed what was at stake. Because then maybe we can apply it to ourselves.  One-person shows are really supposed to be about what Moses brings down from the mountaintop.  Not just stories around the fire.

Modern-Day Ralph Kramden

Danny Lobell is like Ralph Kramden in the sense that the get rich quick schemes are to him like bright shiny objects.  Likability of on stage personae is all important, especially these days with live performers thrown in front of a camera.  If I were a network executive, I’d sign Danny immediately to a development deal before he gets to Edinburgh and gets signed by the competition.  I know the big Hollywood suits are gonna be there.  I’ve hung out with them at the Assembly Rooms bar.

Broke as a Joke heads to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August and I highly recommend it.  Danny’s charismatic likability and quirky sense of humor make it surely one of the better shows on the Fringe this year.  And the stories are all corkers.  This show will surely sell-out.

Trust me.  I’m a doctor.

PS: Lock the mini-bar

Steven Alan Green, Enjoy the Veal, 6/18/17

Link to Danny’s show Broke as a Joke at the Edinburgh Fringe
If you’d like to support the Edinburgh Fringe production of Broke as a Joke: GoFundMe campaign
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