Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Q&A with Levi Agee, creator of 'Too Long; Didn't Read'

Posted By on Tue, Mar 3, 2015 at 10:22 AM

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Inspired by the comedy-plus-current-events format of "The Daily Show" and SNL's "Weekend Update," Too Long; Didn't Read is a new monthly show to be held every first Thursday at The Joint, in Argenta, featuring a panel of comedians (most of whom are regular participants in the venue's Tuesday night "Hogging the Mic" stand-up series) riffing and opining on "everything from celebrity gossip, hyper-local news and Internet memes to global economic policy.”

“I love sitting in a circle with my comedian friends and just talking about topics and see who can get the biggest laugh,” creator and panelist Levi Agee said. “We wanted to bring this dynamic to the stage.” The show will also feature a special guest each program, the first of whom will be Paul Carr, proprietor of the news blog turned Facebook page Forbidden Hillcrest. It’s another encouraging move in The Joint’s ongoing support for local comedy, which isn’t exactly thriving elsewhere.

The first show is this Thursday, March 5, at 8 p.m. I spoke to Agee about the show and about the state of Little Rock's comedy scene:

What are your models for the show? 

I honestly wasn't a huge fan of "Chelsea Lately" when it was on in its early years but now as I'm doing stand-up I really appreciate how well they tackled that format and how many tucked away comedians were featured on that show. So I think the panel portion of "Chelsea Lately," where a host brings up a current event topic and the comedians either have bits or riff on a news story, is one of the biggest inspirations on the show's format. Anthony Jeselnik's show did this well too on Comedy Central. I originally just wanted to make SNL's "Weekend Update" or "The Daily Show" for Little Rock but with random stories people post on their news feeds but never take the time to really dig into or make fun of. We all just read headlines and share it. It's like the Onion. I don't think I've read a single article but I find their headlines to be incredible.

I need to read more and this show is forcing me to do that. Like John Oliver's "Last Week Tonight" on HBO, he just really gets into a topic and makes you see things from a different angle that I find really inspiring as a former journalist and a new comic. My friend (well he won't admit that we are friends) Ozzy got me watching this show that used to be on Comedy Central called "Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn" where it would just be a room of about four comedians arguing and making jokes back and forth on headlines. Comedians like Patrice O'Neal, Greg Giraldo, Nick DiPaulo, Jim Norton and others would just go so hard and vicious after topics and it's exhilarating to watch because they don't have to uphold any journalistic integrity or party line. They are just voicing their opinions in a hopefully honest or entertaining way. I love sitting in a circle with my comedian friends and just talking about topics and see who can get the biggest laugh. It's usually Ozzy. We wanted to bring this dynamic to the stage.

Who are the panelists?

The panelist are made up of mostly regulars at the Joint's Hogging the Mic stand up scene in North Little Rock, which was started by Adam Hogg. I call Hogg an entrepreneur of hobbies because he turns everything fun he wants to do into a business. He's an amazingly talented musician and now he's created a new wave of young stand ups in Little Rock. That's incredible. Our crew of comics are not veterans, they are all mostly starting out with maybe two years of doing comedy under their belt. So they might be a little raw and maybe not found their voices yet but I think that's what makes it fresh and something you're likely to not have seen before on stage. Ozzy Jackson, who I mentioned earlier is a force of nature. I don't know why he doesn't have a show on HBO yet. I literally got a headache from laughing at his act from a show last week. He's black and gay and lives in Arkansas with a background in politics and law so he can tell you everything about Lil Kim and Mitt Romney. Shawn Hipskind, our host, has a wicked sense of humor and is perfect because he has a libertarian point of view like most rich comedians that tends to be pretty neutral on topics, plus he's extremely handsome so we had to make him the host of the show. Josh Ogle is another comedian with a law background and is one of the most consistently funny comics I've seen. He is exceptional with cringe inducing puns like myself and is a pop-culture devourer. He thinks about things in an interesting way but it's never over the audiences head. I think that's why he does so well in front of our audience. He is a great joke writer and I can always count on him to be a crowd-pleaser. We are still in the process of confirming a couple more panelist for the show so there could be some wildcards that show up.

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What's your favorite Arkansas news story of 2015?

My favorite news story of the year is hands down Arkansas and Mississippi outpacing the rest of the country in ticket sales for 50 Shades of Grey. Incredible. That book is a garbage book. Not because it's smutty or kinky, but because it was written as fan fiction for the Twilight: Mormon Vampire series. Fan fiction. Seeing the Bible Belt get all hot and bothered about two people putting things in their butts is hysterical. If the majority of people who saw that movie voted based on their favorite romance plot line we might have a more tolerant political landscape in the South.

Who would be your ideal special guest? 

Oh man. Jason Rapert. I keep telling myself he's some sort of character and that one day he's going to have a press conference and Andy Kaufman is going to zip off a mask Scooby Doo style. He wants to Nuke Isis yet he's trying to run a biblical government. His twitter account is gold. I don't know who we have to talk to to make it happen but he's a dream guest. Can you guys ask on our behalf? The Bible is a perfect metaphor for Too Long Didn't Read.

Why does Little Rock not have a huge, thriving comedy scene?

To be perfectly honest, we don't have a huge, thriving comedy scene because we don't have a huge thriving city. It is growing, like the rest of arts culture in the city, but it's slow. I used to be a big part of the local film scene in Little Rock and it's amazing compared to ten years ago but it's a blip compared to New Orleans or even Austin. I think a big problem with the comedy scene here and other places is that it's still stuck in the 80s and 90s. Clubs aren't willing to throw out the traditional model of stand up comedy and figure out what modern audiences want to see live. Because you can see anything on Netflix and Youtube. People just wanna watch Vines on a loop of a baby twerking to Lil Jon.

Some stand up comedy and improv is insufferable, not just in Arkansas but even in LA and New York, but the key is creating a community around it. Making people feel like they have a connection to the comedians by offering interesting points of view and spectacle style entertainment that might involve Will Ehrle, crying, shaving his mustache live onstage while Adam Faucett sings a dirge, someone standing in front of a video of cows eating while playing the baker street saxophone solo or another comedian drunk-knitting a scarf while doing their material. I think adapting to the culture of comedy is important but delivering consistently entertaining and hilarious shows that are put on by passionate people is the key to growing the scene. Look at Red Octopus sketch group, Improv Little Rock, the standup scene in Northwest Arkansas, the dozen open mics that have started in the past two years and you will see dedicated fans showing up week after week for comedy. I think what Adam started with Hogging the Mic at the Joint is pretty special and I hope it lasts. I really do.

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