Meet the man who created "Deep Thoughts" and "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer"—and who is about to release his first novel, The Stench of Honolulu
“'A lot of comedy is going the extra step,' Handey continued. 'An unfrozen caveman was funny — but that’s not enough.' Later, he e-mailed me a sheet of sketch ideas he typed up in 1991. The sketch seemed to be a combination of two ideas: 'Too Many Frozen Cavemen,' in which a surplus of frozen Neanderthals drive scientists crazy, and 'Swamp Bastard,' about a Swamp Thing-like creature who keeps stealing everyone’s girlfriends. 'I guess my brain put these things in a blender,' he wrote, 'and out came Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.'"
What happened when the author re-reported Bob Woodward's book on John Belushi:
"Of all the people I interviewed, SNL writer and current Sen. Al Franken, referencing his late comedy partner Tom Davis, offered the most apt description of Woodward’s one-sided approach to the drug use in Belushi’s story: 'Tom Davis said the best thing about Wired,' Franken told me. 'He said it’s as if someone wrote a book about your college years and called it Puked. And all it was about was who puked, when they puked, what they ate before they puked and what they puked up. No one read Dostoevsky, no one studied math, no one fell in love, and nothing happened but people puking.'"
PUBLISHED: March 12, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3279 words)
[Fiction] On a life in stand-up:
"One time on a talk show, before he made the change in his comedy, the comedian was asked why he started telling jokes. He took a sip from his mug and responded that he just wanted some attention. As a child he’d felt unseen. He was a handsome baby (photographs confirm) but his impression was that no one cooed at him or went cross-eyed to make him smile. Common expressions of affection, such as loving glances, approving grins, and hearty that-a-boys, eluded him. His mother told him 'Hush, now,' when he came to her with his needs or questions and he frowned and padded off quietly. He received a measly portion of affirmation from grandparents, elderly neighbors, and wizened aunts who never married, folks who were practically in the affirmation-of-children business. In kindergarten, he was downright appalled to find the bullies stingy with noogies and degrading nicknames. The comedian believed that he was unseen, overlooked, and not-perceived to a greater extent than other people were unseen, overlooked, and not-perceived, when in actuality he was overlooked as much as everyone else, he just felt it more keenly. The talk show host asked him what his first joke was. He said he didn’t remember, but he must have liked what happened because he did it again."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 19, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2948 words)
A new year, and a change in the conversation about race in America:
"As I left the theater after Django, it was interesting to see how diverse the crowd was, and, based on the conversations being had in the lobby, how they were all impacted in some way, whether it was by the violence or the language or the fact that it was simply a really good movie. I left the theaters feeling oddly proud of Tarantino for making such a thought-provoking film, while feeling the exact opposite way about Spike Lee for not giving Django a chance. I was slightly shocked at how numb I became to Leo's use of the N-word, to the point that I almost started to marvel at the bravado with which he uttered it. As for my 'Django Moment,' yes, there was the horrible foreign couple behind me that thought everything was hilarious, but mine came from a more unexpected place: the laughter that filled the room when Samuel L. Jackson and Jamie Foxx would say the N-word — less like we imagine blacks would have in the 1800s, and more like they were two of the four Kings of Comedy."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 3, 2013
LENGTH: 8 minutes (2095 words)
A brief history of Shakespeare and alcohol:
"Shakespeare didn’t just enjoy the interplay of drinking, fantasy, and theater at his favorite taverns, he also enacted this productive relationship onstage. Shakespeare began his popular comedy The Taming of the Shrew with a curious framing device, one that bears little relation to the famous barbs of the lovers’ plot. The play opens with the drunken tinker Christopher Sly arguing with a tavern hostess. He has broken beer glasses and refuses to pay. As she heads to fetch the constable, Sly falls into a stupor; upon waking, he finds himself dressed and pampered as a nobleman. This transformation has occurred because a passing Lord, who stopped at the tavern for refreshment, saw the drunken Sly and came up with a plan for his own amusement: he would take the tinker to his 'fairest chamber' to be pampered with 'wanton pictures' and 'rose water.' Sly then struggles comically to adjust to his dramatically changed circumstances. The prologue ends as the Lord insists that Sly enjoy himself and take in a play."
PUBLISHED: Dec. 19, 2012
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4682 words)
The comedy legend revisits his most famous work—and the lessons he learned:
"I would say, for me, that philosophical treatise about having black beginnings and wanting love to compensate for that, wanting audiences and wanting attention—I say, 'Au contraire.' Completely opposite. I want the continuation of my mother’s incredible love and attention to me. I was the baby boy. There were four boys. I was 2 years old when my father died, and my mother had to raise four boys. She must be in heaven, because in those days you washed clothes, you washed diapers. There was no income, and she had to take in home work. My Aunt Sadie brought her work that made these bathing suits and stuff, and ladies’ dresses. And my mother would sometimes do bathing-suit sashes all night. She got $5 or $6, and it was a lot. She could feed us, you know? But certainly she’d feed four boys for that day. It was amazing. But she loved me a lot. I don’t think I learned to walk until I was 5, because she always held me. [Laughs.] She’d say, 'You can do anything, good or bad. You’re the best kid.' So I say, 'Au contraire.' I think my surge forward into show business and getting audiences to love me was to continue gathering that affection and that love. It’s the opposite of a dark place. I came from a lovely, sunny place."
PUBLISHED: Dec. 18, 2012
LENGTH: 28 minutes (7166 words)
[Not single-page] The Comedy Central star on his TV character's clash with reality, the pain of losing his father and brothers at a young age, and his fear of bears:
"PLAYBOY: How did bears become a recurring motif on the show? Was it just to have something to talk about that wasn’t topical?
"COLBERT: For the very first show, we were trying to find something that had a repeatable structure. We had this bit called 'ThreatDown,' when he talks about the number one threat to America that week. We were considering another story, something from Florida about a Burmese python that had grown to 13 feet long and swallowed an alligator and the alligator had eaten its way out of the snake. It was a really crazy story with horrible pictures. Then a bear story came up that wasn’t as flashy, but we went with it. Partly because bears are very resonant to me, because I really do have a bit of a bear problem. And it just seemed like a richer fear to us. We always said that anything my character is concerned about qualifies as news. If he says bears are the number one threat to America, then that is the case.
"PLAYBOY: He’s justifying his own anxieties?
"COLBERT: Exactly. 'I want to make you afraid of the things I’m afraid of.'"
PUBLISHED: Oct. 16, 2012
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7463 words)
A writer-comedian reviews his successes and failures, realizing there's not much difference between the two:
"You might be thinking to yourself, 'How do you know the fear never goes away?' It could just be me. It could just be pessimism, or cynicism. The realization hit me like a ton of bricks a few years back after witnessing an eye opening conversation in the green room of the UCB Theater. I saw two very accomplished comedians talking in one of the side rooms. One of these people was a cast member on SNL. The other was a correspondent for The Daily Show. (Luckily being at UCB there are multiple people who have passed through that have gone on to those illustrious jobs and I can use those specific examples without outing anyone. Please don’t ask who they were. It’s not important.) Person one said something along the lines of 'I’m just not sure what I’m going to do.' Person two said, 'Yeah, things have been so fucking dry lately. I’m really, really worried.' The conversation proceeded from there and sounded like the exact type of conversation I was having with my own friends who were in the trenches performing all around NYC with me. (To give you the context of where I was at, this was around 2008 or 2009, before the Comedy Central show, before my book, when I really was just a guy who was known on stages throughout NYC but could not catch a break for the life of me and was kind of becoming sadly infamous for it.)
"These were two people who both had careers I would kill for. Being on SNL! Being on The Daily Show! I think for any of us whose dream it is to do comedy, those would be two crown jewel jobs. Those would be two jobs that most of us would think feel like a life-altering accomplishment. Getting those gigs would feel like grabbing on to the brass ring we’ve been chasing. Those are the types of gigs that you imagine lead to the validation, wealth, and fame that we chase so hard. You have to imagine that’s true, right? Those jobs? You will feel like you did it. You made it. Your life can have a movie ending where the sun rises and the credits roll and the hard times are over, you’ve done it. You’ve won.
"But I eavesdropped on those two individuals, and realized – the fear is inside us. It’s part of why we do what we do."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 9, 2012
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6411 words)
How the down-on-its-luck city ended up becoming a stronghold for the Occupy movement--and whether the radicals will stick around when gentrification takes hold:
"Their small capitalist enterprise — named to evoke the famous anti-capitalist tract — represents another side of Oakland, albeit one that’s still in its infancy. Think of it as a less twee, more D.I.Y. version of artisanal Brooklyn. Oakland even has its own take on the Brooklyn Flea, known as the Art Murmur, a sprawling hipster street fair, cultural bazaar and gallery-and-pub-crawl. At the Flea, you can buy refurbished manual typewriters; at the Murmur, you can buy Sharpie-on-foam-cup drawings by a local artist.
"The collision between Oakland’s growing cadre of small-business owners and the local Occupy movement has produced some memorable moments of low comedy. In November, 30-year-old Alanna Rayford, who owns a showroom for local fashion designers in a Gothic Revival building downtown, closed up shop to join the march to the port. She returned the following morning to find the windows of her store smashed and some artwork missing. One of the paintings, a gorilla smoking a blunt, had been placed on prominent display at the entrance to the Occupy encampment."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 1, 2012
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6232 words)