The Green Room with Paul Provenza 

The Green Room with Paul Provenza
10:30 p.m. Thursdays

One standup comic in front of a room is an act. Two or more — especially with cameras rolling— is a party. Or at least a really entertaining bitch session.

And that's what Paul Provenza has in mind with The Green Room, a rollicking good time that features the host leading three or four comics at a time through a freewheeling half-hour of jokes, war stories and observations about the state of the world and their profession.

Provenza is probably best known for the 2005 documentary The Aristocrats, which featured dozens of comics telling their version of the same ribald joke. Here, surrounded by a small audience, he serves as the instigator-in-chief — which doesn't take much effort when you're sharing the stage with storytellers.

In one installment, Robert Klein talks about going sailing with Rodney Dangerfield and Jonathan Winters recalls what happened when he told the major in charge of his World War II unit that he was 'a very attractive man.' In another, Penn Jillette tells a long joke about Siamese twins and Julio Iglesias that ends with a hysterical punch line, and Martin Mull picks up a guitar to demonstrate the art of the subtle insult.

Each show contains plenty of great one-liners. Andy Kindler observes that Austin, Texas, 'is a lovely town surrounded by Texas.' Provenza imitates comedian Gilbert Gottfried's voice on a GPS system: "Make a left. A LEFT." And Winters says he once asked Richard Burton what Elizabeth Taylor was like. Burton's response: "She was quite furry."

Next to getting a laugh, there's nothing comics like better than griping. So you'll be treated to plenty of stories about crappy gigs, terrible audiences and self-loathing. As comic Dana Gould notes, "No comedian is onstage to make people laugh; you're onstage because you're damaged and you need love from strangers."

Part of every Green Room discussion includes material that may make you cringe. Provenza warns at the beginning of each episode, "If you've ever been offended by anything, don't come in," and he means it. A sample of his jokes: "After River Phoenix died, Jim Belushi called up Joaquin Phoenix and said, 'Listen, it's not all bad.'" And: "Do I believe Mackenzie Phillips? I would have done her if I were her dad."

And he's not the only one working on the edge. Talking about slavery, Bobby Slayton says to Paul Mooney, who is black, "We also let you go. I never heard thank you." Rick Overton does an impression of the man who found David Carradine hanging in a Bangkok hotel. And Roseanne Barr defends a picture she took where she was dressed as Hitler putting some 'gingerbread Jews' in the oven.

Depending on your sense of humor, this is probably either hilarious or deeply hurtful. But as comic Patrice O'Neal observes in the second episode: "The idea of comedy is there should be 50 people laughing and 50 people horrified."

Here's where I stand: Consider this review the highest recommendation. And consider yourself warned.

Also this week:

James Taylor and Carole King help PBS raise funds. Their special, Live at the Troubadour, which was recorded in 2007, airs at 10:30 p.m. Saturday and 10 p.m. Tuesday. If you have any affection at all for these two, you'll want to watch this superb 12-song mini-concert. Taylor is in extraordinary voice, King sounds a little raspy but still sweet, and they're backed by the superb trio of Leland Sklar (bass), Danny Kortchmar (guitar) and Russ Kunkel (drums). The songs are all around 40 years old, but they sound as good as they ever have.


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