M’TOWN: TEACHER DUMPED OVER TRUMP VIDEO

In the February 28 edition of his cable show,“Last Week Tonight,” comedian John Oliver urged viewers to “make Donald Drumpf again.” 

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_02A Middletown High School South history teacher has been forced to resign for showing students a video of comedian John Oliver skewering Republican presidential candidate Donald Drumpf… er, Trump.

According to various news reports, including the New York Post and NJ.com, the forced resignation of Joe Ventre drew protests from supportive students and parents at the school’s board of trustees meeting Wednesday night.

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RED BANK: GRIFFIN AND BEAR IT

kathy-griffin-at-tyler-shieldsKathy Griffin, the flame-haired comic with the celeb-roasting style, returns to Red Bank for a Friday night funny-fight at the Basie. (Photo by Tyler Shields)

She’s got a trophy case full of accolades — including two Emmys and a Grammy — but Kathy Griffin didn’t get where she is by making nice with the targets of her comic flamethrowing.

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RED BANK: SINBAD & GARFUNKEL & MORE

sinbadDavid “Sinbad” Adkins (above) brings his famously family friendly brand of comedy back to the Count Basie for an umpteenth encore this Friday night. Art Garfunkel (below) makes a belated Basie debut on Saturday.

With an incredible 14 scheduled events within the next 15 days — including sold-out sessions with the attorneys from Making a Murderer (tonight) and Rumson-bred pop sensation Charlie Puth (April 8) — the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank surely ranks among the busiest palaces of amusement in these United States.

Its eclectic schedule keeps an enviably diverse audience making tracks to Monmouth Street, and the weekend ahead is no exception, as the venerable venue hosts a gamut of entertainments designed to attract fans of everything from all-ages clean comedy and Boomer-blessed pop, to the Old Masters of the conservatory and the new gods of the guitar-store shredders.

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RED BANK: FAMILIAR FACES RETURN TO TRTC

johndiasTwo River Theater Company artistic director John Dias, above, directs a musical that he co-wrote, and Madeleine George, below, the theater’s first Playwright in Residence, will see her comedy — which is set in Red Bank mounted next season.

madeleine georgeThere are encore appearances by favorite actors. Re-visits to the words and works of Shakespeare and August Wilson. No less than three shows making their world premieres — including one set within “a larger-than-life version of Red Bank.”

When Two River Theater Company unveiled its 2016-2017 schedule of productions Monday night, it did so in a fashion that’s become a real rite of spring on Bridge Avenue: with the company’s celebrated artistic director John Dias joined on stage by creative people representing the comedies, dramas, musicals and multi-media experiences that will illuminate Two River’s stages beginning in September.

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RED BANK: DAVID CROSS TAKES BASIE STAGE

David Cross“Making America Great Again” has been a rallying cry for more than one TV-tested public speaker this season — and if there are, as suggested, two Donald Trumps, then there must be as many iterations of David Cross as the market will bear.

Back on the road for his first large-scale standup tour since 2009, Cross backs the campaign bus up to Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre for an appearance Wednesday night.

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RED BANK: STANDUP, DOO-WOP & ST. PAT’S

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day a wee bit early, Danú (above) heads back to the Basie boards on Sunday. Jim Norton (below) brings his brand of East Coast comedy to Red Bank Thursday night. (Click to enlarge)

Jim NortonA shot of standup from a metro-area favorite with national cred; a dose of street-corner soul, and an authentic evocation of St. Pat’s spirit… all in a typically eclectic week’s work at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre.

It’s a slate that begins Thursday night when standup guy, sitcom wildcard and “serious” broadcaster Jim Norton takes the stage of a venue that’s become a “must” booking for breakout touring comedians.

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RED BANK: MAD-LIBS ‘N MARX ON MONMOUTH

groucho_with_cigar_1-1Frank Ferrante (pictured with accompanist Jim Furmston) re-channels the spirit of the one, the only, Groucho Marx back to the Basie, in a Sunday matinee edition of his EVENING WITH GROUCHO. 

[UPDATE: Because of the blizzard, the Basie has canceled this show. Refunds will be issued this week, the theater said in an announcement.]

As Frank Ferrante sees it, “We all want to be Groucho… to be that wild, irreverent pulverizer of those in power.”

In the years since the 1977 passing of the celebrated performer, author and game show host, one man above all others has worked tirelessly to keep the spirit of  Groucho Marx alive and kicking before contemporary audiences. And this Sunday, Frank Ferrante returns to the Count Basie Theatre for an encore presentation of his acclaimed stage show, An Evening with Groucho.

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RED BANK: NEW ‘REASON’ FOR OLD FRIENDS

rechnitz stunkel 010616 2Ken Stunkel, left, and Two River Theater founder Bob Rechnitz are first-time, eighty-something playwrights getting the big-time treatment. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)  

By TOM CHESEK

hot-topicWhen the 2015-2016 season resumes at the Two River Theater in Red Bank this weekend, it will find the celebrated company once again departing from familiar Broadway-tested properties like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Seven Guitars to the latest in an ongoing slate of world premiere dramas by relatively “new” playwrights.

This time out, the play is called Lives of Reason, and the rookie playwrights are a couple of eighty-something colleagues named Bob Rechnitz and Ken Stunkel.

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RED BANK: TAKE US HOME, KATHLEEN

Repeat Basie favorite Kathleen Madigan returns to Red Bank for an encore Saturday evening. Here’s a sample bit

Long before there was an internet bubble and a housing bubble, there was a comedy bubble — the Comedy Explosion, they called it back in the 1980s, when a hole-in-the-wall “chuckle hut” sprouted up in every other vacant storefront, and when even Monmouth Street in Red Bank boasted two brick-wall standup spots at one brief point in time.

While the explosion became an implosion before long, the wreckage produced a hardy new crop of savvy young performers — among them a cheerfully cheeky native of St. Louis named Kathleen Madigan.

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MIDDLETOWN: FULL-TIME SANTA, TEMP ELF

Miracle34thEach tells a tale of Christmas set in a Macy’s department store. One is earnest and uplifting, and involves a real Santa mistaken for a fake one. The other is less so, and centers on an elf no one would ever mistake for the real thing.

Both make their way to the Greater Red Bank Green this weekend.

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RED BANK: ANDERSON, PONTY PROG ON @BASIE

Jon Anderson and Jean Luc PontyYes frontman Jon Anderson, at right, teams with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty for a new project that comes to town on Thursday.  

It may be “fall back” time on the daylight-savings clock, but this Thursday promises a breath of “prog spring” in Red Bank as two leading players of the 1970s progressive-rock scene team up at the Count Basie Theatre.

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RED BANK: SPLATTER-ZONE SEATING OPTIONAL

EvilDead-splash-rev4EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL (above) anoints the boards of the Count Basie stage Tuesday. 

Arriving just in advance of Halloweekend — and representing the most gloriously gory musical-theater casserole since Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett made mincemeat of the Broadway playbook — Evil Dead: The Musical slips and slides its way onto the stage of the Count Basie Theatre for a one-night stand in Red Bank this week.

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RED BANK: A NEVERENDING TALENT SHOW

bannerThe All Star Tour edition of America’s Got Talent LIVE! (above) takes it to the Count Basie stage Tuesday, and  the Celtic songcraft of Loreena McKennitt (below) makes for an intimate evening’s entertainment this Thursday.  

Loreena-McKennitt-loreena-mckennitt-26282360-393-500As the crowds who snatched up deeply discounted tickets during last week’s annual $10 sale could attest, there’s always a little something for everyone at the year-round talent show that is Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre — and the coming nights are another study in entertaining eclecticism, as crowdpleasing contestants from a hit realiTV series share midweek space with a world-traveling storyteller, and the return of some pioneers in the art of political parody.

 

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RED BANK: BASIE’S ECLECTIC JUGGLING ACT

flyingMadcap jugglers the Flying Karamazov Brothers, above, return in coming days to the Count Basie stage, as does frequent Red Bank guest Lyle Lovett, this time with John Hiatt, below.  

LovettHiattThumbWith a seemingly non-stop parade of showbiz attractions making their entrances and exits to and from the famous stage of Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre, maintaining such a busily dizzying schedule can be a juggling act in itself. Here in a week that’s seen the scrubbing of one slated event — the comedic classical musicians Igudesman and Joo —  and the lightning-fast sellout of next Friday’s concert by Dire Straits founder Mark Knopfler, the show goes on, with the plate-spinning speed and mind-boggling eclecticism of a vintage Ed Sullivan telecast.

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RED BANK: SMOOTHING THE MIDWEEK HUMP

Bo horizComic tunesmith Bo Burnham makes a Count Basie Theatre debut Tuesday, and Engelbert Humperdinck makes a triumphal Red Bank return Wednesday.
e humperdinck 1

A tantrum-throwing tempest named Joaquin may have blown past the Greater Green, but over at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre, a robust gust of activity promises to carry us over the wacky-weather hump — or is that Humperdinck? — in signature style.

It starts with gales of laughter on Tuesday, when Bo Burnham makes an inaugural trip to those fabled Basie boards that have hosted so many kingpins/queens of comedy legend.

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RED BANK: GRAMMY GUYS ARE GO AT THE BASIE

WeirdAl RobThomas“Weird Al” Yankovic brings his Mandatory World Tour to the Basie stage on Tuesday night…while Rob Thomas returns to station stop Red Bank for another two-night stand on Friday and Saturday.  

Don’t look now, but not only has “Weird Al” Yankovic scored the first Billboard popchart-topping comedy album in all of human history — and not only has the MTV-era novelty act entered his fourth decade of performing with the polished legitimacy of three Grammy awards — but his amiable brand of parody has far outlasted the prime-time careers of many of those whose momentary hits he tweaked for posterity.

It’s a growing group that includes Toni Basil, Gerardo, Men Without Hats, the Offspring, Tiffany, Tone Loc, and (arguably) Usher, Beck, and Madonna. With his accordion as his axe, the artist brings his Mandatory World Tour to Red Bank’s Count Basie stage on Tuesday, July 28, still surfing the momentum generated by his year-old Mandatory Fun album and its savvy takes on hits by Pharrell Williams, Iggy Azalea and Lorde. Read More »

RED BANK: BASIE’S STAR-STUDDED STANDUP

KevinJamesmarcMaronTop-of-their-game comedy kingpins Kevin James (Saturday; two shows) and Marc Maron (Sunday) bring their crowd-tested mojo to the stage of the Count Basie Theatre on a busy weekend of laughs.

So you’ve just made serious news-cycle headlines by booking the President of the United States on your garage-based podcast. Or, you’ve watched as your big-screen starring vehicles have racked up nearly a billion bucks in worldwide box office. If your name is Kevin James or Marc Maron, however, you’ll never truly ditch the itch to return to the live-audience roots that set it all in motion — and this weekend, the Count Basie Theatre hosts two of the hottest names in comedy, as they keep their very different standup skills honed before appreciative crowds at the area’s premier theater-scale Chuckle Hut.

This Saturday, June 27 finds the amiable star of TV’s King of Queens (and cinematic franchises that include Paul Blart, Mall Cop and Grown Ups) leaving the Segway in the wings and treading the Basie boards for a pair of shows that spotlight the largely family-friendly, New York working-dude brand of observational humor that’s formed the foundation of his phenomenal showbiz run. continues to Tickets to the 7:30 pm show ($49 – $89) are still available here. Then take it here for tix to Saturday’s 9:30 pm event, or take it around the bend for something completely different.

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LINCROFT: RARE FLOWERS, REAL HOUSEWIVES

Robin-Fox-Headshot2“Mother of all standup comics” Robin Fox returns to the Monmouth Museum for a Girl’s Night Out evening of “fun, food and drinks.”

We’ve said it before, but You Might Be a Mom If… you can appreciate the inherent humor in topics like long-term marriage, suburban lifes and the glories of being part of the “sandwich generation” between aging parents and growing kids. Also if your idea of a “Girl’s Night Out” is an art gallery excursion that’s over by 9 pm.

That said, there’s a definite appeal to the event that returns for a second annual edition to the Monmouth Museum Wednesday. Billed as an evening of “fun, food and drinks” — and once again spotlighting the standup skills of  Robin Fox, the “real New Jersey housewife” who parlayed her observations on family life into a successful career on the New York area radio, cable and comedy club circuit — the Girl’s Night Out raises funds for the museum’s ongoing slate of programs, in a way that’s infinitely more entertaining than a dry-as-dust lecture or stuffy recital.

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NAVESINK: PLAYERS WRAP UP A ‘PRESENT’

MonPlayersEric McDonough (center) and his fellow Monmouth Players serve up Noel Coward’s PRESENT LAUGHTER at the Navesink Arts Center.

Way back in 1953, a fledgling theatrical troupe by the name of Monmouth Players chose as its first fully staged production Blithe Spirit, a comedy from the quill of actor-director-producer-playwright-songwriter Noel Coward. Here at the close of its frankly astonishing 62nd consecutive season of entertainments — a track record unequalled by any other community stage company in the area — the Middletown-based Players have revisited the work of that master multitasker with a production of Coward’s Present Laughter that wraps up the 2014-2015 season in an elegant (and mischievously ticking) package.

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RED BANK: SEDARIS RETURNS TO BASIE

David_Sedaris_WebEssayist David Sedaris brings his droll humor to the Basie Wednesday.

It’s one thing to have earned the status of America’s bestest-selling purveyor of humor on the printed / pixelated page as the author whose Holidays On Ice, Me Talk Pretty One Day and When You Are Engulfed in Flames have been embraced by those thirsting for something a wee bit edgier than Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry.

It’s another thing entirely to successfully transfer the humor from the page to the stage. So it’s testament to the finely tuned skillsets of David Sedaris that his frequent tours  have become dependable draws for venues the size of Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre, to which he returns Wednesday night.

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LINCROFT: OF TICS AND TITTERS

Preferred-ParkingA guy who stutters and a guy with Tourette Syndrome walk into a room — but for once, they’re not the set-up for some sleazy old-school joke. In fact, this time they’re the ones who are controlling the situation and dispensing the punchlines.

Drew Lynch (whose stutter derived from a vocal-cord-paralyzing sports accident) and Samuel J. Conroe (a veteran comic who’s had “the twitchy kind” of Tourette’s his entire life) constitute the comedy duo known as Preferred Parking. And they’ll be parking it at the Warner Student Life Center at Brookdale Community College this Tuesday afternoon for the latest installment in the Laugh at Lunch series of entertainments sponsored by the Student Life and Activities committee at BCC.

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RED BANK: LAUGHING ROOM ONLY

Gaffney CollinsFunnyman Mike Gaffney appears in a Saturday night Laugh Out Loud fundraiser at Two River Theater — while veteran Bobby Collins holds down the shtick at Count Basie’s place.

Saturday night in Red Bank’s “Theater District” finds the laughs flowing freely, with a good portion of the funny business dedicated to the serious mission of one of Monmouth County’s hardest-working nonprofits. It begins at 7:30 pm inside the lobby and main auditorium at Two River Theater (where the new play Guadalupe in the Guest Room continues in previews at the Marion Huber “black box” space), with the annual appearance of the Laugh Out Loud Comedy Show for 2015.

Co-headlined by standup circuit stalwarts Mike Gaffney (a seminfinalist on the most recent season of Last Comic Standing), Gina Brillon (Chelsea Lately, The View), Ryan Reiss and (NYC cabbie turned creative director of A-List Comedy) Jimmy Failla — in addition to other talent TBA — the fundraiser is a lighthearted public calling-card for 180 Turning Lives Around, the organization dedicated to ending domestic and sexual violence in the local community and beyond. One hundred percent of proceeds go to 180 from the 8:30 pm show and the 7:30 pm reception featuring a wine and beer cash bar. Tickets ($40 per person) can be reserved via PayPal or by calling (732)264-4360.

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RED BANK: HOT AND/OR GRUMPY COMICS

craig adamCraig Ferguson returns to the Count Basie on Monday night — while Adam Mamawala is Tuesday’s featured performer for this month’s edition of Laugh at Lunch, on campus at Brookdale.  (Ferguson photo by Michael Becker)

One’s a young Jerseyan whose comedy often revolves around his family’s South Asian heritage, and the culture clashes that tend to work their way between the generations. The other’s a Scottish-born veteran whose apparent inability to fully comprehend the American experience (this despite many years as a fixture on our TV screens) forms the delightful basis of his standup craft. Considered together, they’re an evening out/ morning after study in comic contrasts.

While he may have just ended his decade-long run as host of CBS’s Late Late Show — a Peabody Award-winning bully pulpit in which he took the art of the chatfest monologue to places it may never be taken again — Craig Ferguson remains highly visible on the syndicated game show Celebrity Name Game, a fitting forum for his absurdist adlibs and “outsider” brand of humor. He’s also making his presence felt on the theater standup circuit once more — and on Monday, February 9, the actor, screenwriter, filmmaker, novelist (and onetime presenter of a UK archaeology series) returns to the Count Basie Theatre for a whistlestop on his “Hot and Grumpy” Tour. It’s a 7:30 pm showtime, for which tickets ($25 – $95) can be reserved right here.

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RED BANK: IMPRACTICAL MAGIC

jokersThe Impractical Jokers of TV’s Tenderloins troupe dig in for a three-show stand at the Basie, including TWO sold-out shows on Saturday and a going-fast addition on Sunday night.

It’s a TV format that goes back at least to Allen Funt and his vintage hit series Candid Camera — but just when you might have thought the Prank/ Punk/ Jackass genre had run its course came Impractical Jokers, the TruTV series that quickly became a basic-cable bonanza by turning a trite-and-true trope on its cauliflowered ear. In other words, while scores of innocent passersby get caught up in the demeaning, dirty, sometimes dangerous scenarios cooked up by the producers (primarily in and around the greater NYC area), it’s the show’s hosts who truly bear the brunt of the various injuries, indignities, and inglorious public spectacles — mostly by having no idea of what’s about to transpire until the cameras are rolling.

The Jokers are the members of the comedy troupe The Tenderloins (Joe Gatto, James “Murr” Murray, Brian “Q” Quinn and Sal Vulcano) — improv specialists who first caught the national attention span via the magic of their own low-budget YouTube sketches. It’s a deceptively simple recipe for success that’s already won them a fourth season of prime-time shows (Thursdays at 10 pm) — and it’s testament to their appeal that the ‘loins touring live show quickly sold out not one but two Saturday performances at the Count Basie Theatre, necessitating the scheduling of a third this Sunday, February 8.

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RED BANK: NEW SPIN ON THE ‘ABSURD’

Absurd_Person_Singular_press_1Mary Birdsong, Brooks Ashmanskas and Melissa Van Der Schyff are in the kitchen with Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR, now on stage at Two River Theater. (Photo by T.C. Erickson)

By TOM CHESEK

“You’re no longer a man I care about enough to throw myself out a window for,” says long-suffering wife Eva (Liz Wisan) to Geoffrey (Scott Drummond), her philandering, condescending and probably incompetent architect husband — and the fact that the line gets a laugh tells you all you need to know about the level of sympathy elicited by these “two bitter lemons” and their faux friends in Absurd Person Singular, the ensemble comedy now on stage at Two River Theater.

Written and set in early 1970s Britain, the play by the prolific Sir Alan Ayckbourn opened this past weekend, and continues its limited-engagement Red Bank run with a mix of matinee and evening performances Wednesday through Sunday.

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