Advice. Come on I'm a 37-year-old bald, fat man who drinks and smokes too much. What do I know?
Series on Comedy Central
There's some sort of twisted genius going on here. "Twisted"we're not talking about Einstein or Orson Welles or fill in the blank. This is the sort of genius that comes up with pet rocks or those things that hold down picnic tablecloths. The sort of thing that cries out "Only in America!"and not the real Don King, a synchro-voxed Don King on the TV set behind Conan O'Brien, busy hawking Mike Tyson's latest pay-for-view special in which he goes grocery shopping"the melee at the Safeway"followed by "only $29.95!" Yeah, some kind of weird mutant genius like that.
It's a simple premise. Has to be. But it is the simplicity that makes it work and makes it last. You take a guycomedian Dave Attellsomeone used to and who actually likes staying up all night. A self-professed insomniac. You give him cameras, editors, a fistful of cash, and a cable network. Then set him loose. Since May 2001, the half hour show has had the comedian visit a different city and spend the night (though his homebase, New York City, has been the subject a few times). Mostly cities in the United States but he's visited Canada (Montreal), England (London), Ireland (Dublinfor Saint Patrick's Day), and the Netherlands (Amsterdam). All cities that are familiar to viewers (at least by name) but it really doesn't matter. That's the beauty of it all: it could be any moderately sized city. As long as there's stuff open during the night, it can be show fodder.
He just seems to wander around the place (all nicely edited together), hitting restaurants, bars, night clubs, bars, museums, concerts, bars, factories, and just about any place a normal tourist might visit during the day (as long as it's open past 11 PM). Part travelogue, part bar (pub) crawl. The best of both worlds. And true to his comedic roots, funny.
First saw Attell in the third spot (usually a band or comedian) on Conan O'Brien. A wise ass, balding-shaved head thirty-something with what once might have been called a Don Johnson half-beard. Perpetual five o'clock shadow. A bit racy and definitely vulgar, his New York sensibility clearly evidentbut also keeping things personal and deprecating. Maybe not always laugh out loud funny (though often enough), but funny, nonetheless. And never ingratiating. A quick wit, even through a haze of inebriation: the perfect tour guide to drink and smoke his way across geography.
Each episode starts with him doing his stand-up act (he's still an active comedian) in some town. He wraps up the "show," establishing the location at the same time (titles at the bottom of the screen keep track of the locations and times as the episode progresses). He then exits the club and it's time to go. "Follow me!" for your night on the town. Then the viewer gets maybe a dozen or so (it's a half hour show) vignettes/living anecdotes as he visits places around the city. Or just talks to people he finds on the street. Besides the three or four actual bars (he often finds other attractions that serve alcohol), he hits late night coffee shops, conventions; he's gone ice fishing in Montreal, helped catch feral chickens in the Florida Keys, hung with the piercing set in Ohio, watched his sister's rock band play in a small club, visited his Mom (same episode; his mission: to drink his way from his Long Island birthplace all the way to Manhattan). He's gone to a sewage treatment plant, the Gibson guitar factory, seen how fortune cookies are made, attended late night sporting events (semi-pro football, female boxing, an all-night chess shop), and rode with a street cleaner. He visited Alaska during its "midnight sun" where he went fly fishing and visited new agers. On and on. Every show has its highlights and people (granted they are less inhibited given the amount of alcohol flowing) seem comfortable talking to this sarcastic bald dude and happy to let him snap pictures with his omnipresent camera.
There's plenty of bleeped expletives and blurred/pixillated nudity (drunk people enjoy exhibitionism). And he purposely goes places where the likelihood of it is highera fetish bar, a sex convention, an adult bookstore (where he and the manager make male and female blow-up dolls battle it out and Dave models a chin strap "prosthesis"). Sometimes he's clearly drunk and a bit off (or just a bit off). The patter is pretty much all improvised and the editors do a great job at putting it all together into some sort of coherent whole without sacrificing the anarchic spirit of it all. And the charm and enthusiasm behind the smirking grin and the dangling cigarette helps carry things along if there are any slow moments or lulls.
Not only a touch of genius in its creation, but as an occupation. Dave has a job where he gets to travel to interesting places and meet interesting people. He gets to drink about as much as he wants (there's more drinking per episode than The Long Weekend...or a couple of episodes of "The Drew Carey Show") and smoke pretty much whenever he wants. And he gets paid for it. How could one turn that down? A dream job.
And Dave's always there with an eager "Follow me!", moving on to the next parade or attraction or people gathered on the street. It's pure entertainment and a show can just go on and on. There's no need for plot or character development or continuity beyond the tick of the clock through the night. And there's just too many cities and too many bars to run out of material. And the big cities? Multiple visits.
No, it's not a favorite show by any means. It's not going to get archived on videotape for later viewing and there will be no eager anticipation for the DVD sets. But if it's on, I'll watch it. I'll laugh, enjoy myself and want to tag along. Marvel at the genius. And wish I'd come up with it first.
The opening theme song, written by Robert Golden and apparently sung by Attell, is a great intro, sounding like middle period Tom Waits.
The problem (and joy) of the show is that there are so many cool bits (which increase exponentially as one sees new episodes or old ones for the first time) that the list could grow into the thousands of words. Better to stop now.
Sources: the show and the show's page at Comedy Central (www.comedycentral.com/tv_shows/insomniac; opening quote came from an "interview" there)
Get some sleep!