Movin On

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It’s been swell


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Gord Downie Passes Away At 53

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Gord Downie, the Tragically Hip frontman who united a diverse array of music lovers with his commanding stage presence and Canadiana-laced lyrics, has died. He was 53.

Downie had an aggressive and incurable form of brain cancer called glioblastoma, which he discovered after a seizure in December 2015.

He died Tuesday night surrounded by his children and family, according to a statement on the band’s website.

“Gord knew this day was coming – his response was to spend this precious time as he always had – making music, making memories and expressing deep gratitude to his family and friends for a life well lived, often sealing it with a kiss… on the lips,” the statement said.

Canadians learned of Downie’s illness on May 24 last year — the same day the rest of the rock group, Paul Langlois, Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair and Johnny Fay, announced that the Kingston, Ont.-based band would head out on a final summer tour “for Gord, and for all of us.”

The final concert, in Kingston on Aug. 20, was broadcast by CBC across Canada commercial free.

The 15-show Man Machine Poem tour, especially its final concert, became a cultural event, as Downie’s dire prognosis prompted an outpouring of support from people across the country who had the rare opportunity to celebrate a much-loved Canadian before he was gone.

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In His 15th Season At ‘SNL,’ Kenan Thompson Still Knows How To Play It Funny

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It was an odd sketch, tucked near the end of Saturday Night Live‘s season premiere, long after Alec Baldwin’s crowd-pleasing Trump imitation and two performances by Jay-Z. Actor Ryan Gosling played a soft-spoken rock flutist performing with a motley trio in a run-down bar. He gets a call from the police during the show, and has to tell his bandmate/roommate that his good jeans have been stolen.

There was only one reason the sketch was even nominally funny: Kenan Thompson.

At a rehearsal the Thursday before SNL‘s premiere, Gosling and SNL cast member Kyle Mooney pretended to play flute and keyboard while real musicians provided the notes offstage. Thompson, meanwhile, gave notes on how to balance that fakery with their lines for maximum impact, guiding the scene as much as the show’s actual director.

That preparation, professionalism and instinct for the funny has allowed Thompson to survive on SNL for 15 seasons — longer than any other performer in the show’s history.

This season, he edges ahead of impressionist Darrell Hammond to become the show’s longest-serving cast member. But ask how he pulled it off — how he has stayed so funny for so long — and Thompson doesn’t really have an answer.

“Man, I wish I could say,” he offers, relaxing in his closet-sized dressing room at SNL‘s studio in Rockefeller Center while his longtime barber gives him a touch up. “It was a blessing just to get the job, you know what I mean? Everything is so up in the air week by week, year by year in a place like this.”

Two days before the first show of the season, the atmosphere backstage at SNL is like the first day back at school after summer vacation. There’s a lot of anticipation: Last season was SNL‘s most successful in decades, with a big win at the Emmy Awards for best variety sketch show.

According to Thompson, the show clicked with viewers because their take on the Trump administration was just what the audience was thinking. “Everybody was on the same page, that’s what it was,” he says. “When everybody’s on the same page, everybody can hear the joke coming, and they can enjoy it when it lands.”

Thompson says being part of the cast last season was a singular experience, even for someone with 14 years on SNL‘s stage.

“To see Alec Baldwin as Trump getting a standing ovation — it was kind of weird,” Thompson adds. “Because it’s like they’re cheering for Alec, I think. …They were cheering for his impression and what it’s doing for the world. We’re healing a lot of wounds that people have to live with throughout their day. And they finally get to a Saturday night, and they patch it up a little bit and go back to Monday.”

Soft spoken and humble, Thompson doesn’t say much about his own performances, but SNL co-head writer Bryan Tucker (who has written for Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle) has a few ideas.

“He’s always a guy who cast members can look to … because he’s going to know how to play it funny right away,” Tucker says. “… I think the biggest thing it takes [to survive at SNL] is to have your own distinct voice that other people don’t do, and then a willingness to … do what we call ‘playing service’ — stepping aside and letting someone else be the star. And when you come in [with] your three or four lines, you make them count.”

Flourishing at SNL is legendarily tough. Chris Rock didn’t make much of an impression over three seasons; Jim Carrey and Kevin Hart didn’t even get hired when they auditioned. It’s important to have a distinct voice; to click with the material, the audience and the times.

Thompson found his voice in 2009 with a sketch called “What Up With That?” It was a fake talk show on BET with three random guests (the first trio included James Franco as himself and Bill Hader as Lindsey Buckingham) who wait for Thompson, as host Diondre Cole, to finish singing the theme song. But the joke is that Thompson never really stops. He’s surrounded by a growing succession of oddball background players — Jason Sudeikis as a track suit-wearing dancer, Fred Armisen as a saxophonist who looks suspiciously like Kenny G.

After years of struggle, the sketch was a triumph for Thompson. And according to Tucker, his co-workers knew it.

“He finished, the audience clapped,” Tucker says. “And then he went out into the hallway to change and a bunch of SNL staff — people from wardrobe, people from makeup, lighting, stagehands — were all kind of lined up on the wall, and they all kind of applauded and gave him a high-five. … It’s pretty rare I see that at SNL, that everybody just decides we’re going to acknowledge this for one person. And it was kind of a celebration of Kenan.”

Since then, Thompson has become one of the best sketch comedy actors on television. He consistently knows how to score a laugh in sketches, sometimes just by making a face. His likeability is his secret weapon.

“Sometimes when a writer just needs a joke in the sketch, or a laugh, you can write in the action line, ‘Kenan reacts,’ ” Tucker says with a laugh. “It’s kind of a cheat, but we know it’ll work, so sometimes we get lazy and do it. … He’s just a guy you see and you like and he just knows how to play those moments.”

Thompson, an Atlanta native, says his work as a teen in local theater provided valuable early training. His skills were sharpened further on the kid-centered network Nickelodeon — first as a star on the mid-’90s sketch comedy show All That and then on a little sitcom called Kenan & Kel.

“I was always very professional in the approach to this,” Thompson says. “… It was never about what this could bring me. It was always just about servicing whatever project I was doing.”

In 2003, Thompson joined SNL as the youngest cast member, and the first born after the show’s 1975 debut. Now, at 39, he’s SNL‘s second-oldest cast member.

Thompson’s one spot of controversy in 15 seasons came from a 2013 interview with TV Guide which touched on the lack of black women in the cast. He had decided he wasn’t going to play black women on the show anymore, after realizing roles like Whoopi Goldberg, Star Jones and Carol Moseley Braun were half the parts he was playing. But he says his quote about black women who audition for SNL — “they just never find ones that are ready” — was taken out of context.

“There’s not a lot of black women in improv houses that Saturday Night Live chooses from,” Thompson says, citing performance troupes like Upright Citizens Brigade and The Groundlings as pipelines for performers trained in sketch comedy and improv.

Controversy over the lack of black women, which sparked protests and analysis columns, eventually led the show’s producers to hold specific auditions. They hired Sasheer Zamata and writer LaKendra Tookes, who have both since left the show, and current cast member Leslie Jones.

Thompson also shrugs off criticism that the show tends to feature broader depictions of black people, sometimes verging on stereotypes. He says SNL performers are creating characters based on things they’ve observed, things that feel comfortable to them.

He does worry, though, about how many black artists use the N-word in their work. He’s unconvinced its pejorative meaning can be reclaimed.

“It’s just weird to hear that word come flying out of anybody’s mouth,” Thompson says. “Anybody with any kind of sense of history, it just sends chills down your spine whenever you hear it. It pushed me off of listening to a lot of my serious hip-hop stations because they just let it fly.”

SNL writer Bryan Tucker is surprised Thompson hasn’t found bigger stardom like former castmates Tina Fey, Fred Armisen and Kristen Wiig. “Frankly, I often get a little frustrated that he hasn’t broken out past the SNL bubble, because I think he’s always good in whatever he is in,” Tucker says. “And he has this thing where you just like him no matter what he does, and I feel like that could translate to lots of other things.”

But Thompson doesn’t cite the work of huge stars when asked what he’d like to do next. Instead, he evokes uber-producers like Brian Grazer and J.J. Abrams. (His explanation: They make more money than most journeyman actors). A devoted husband and father, he’s less concerned with superstardom than steady, quality work. Perhaps that’s another reason he’s lasted longer than anyone else in one of the toughest jobs in show business.

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Alyssa Milano Launches “Me Too” Twitter Hashtag

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Milano wrote that she got the idea from a friend who told her such a tweet “might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

In the wake of sexual assault and harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Alyssa Milano is getting thousands of responses on Twitter to her request that people reply to her on the social network with “me too” if they have been sexually harassed or assaulted.

Milano, 44, received “me, too” responses from Will & Grace star Debra Messing and Anna Paquin, the Oscar-winning actress from New Zealand, among numerous other stars.

Milano says on her Twitter account that she got the idea from a friend who told her such a tweet “might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

In another tweet that links to a blog post, Milano writes the following about film producer Harvey Weinstein: “While I am sickened and angered over the disturbing accusations of Weinstein’s sexual predation and abuse of power, I’m happy — ecstatic even — that it has opened up a dialogue around the continued sexual harassment, objectification and degradation of women.”

#MeToo was the top trend nationwide on Twitter on Sunday night as scores of women and men replied to Milano’s initial tweet.

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Bruce Springsteen On Broadway

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Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, Noah Oppenheim, Brian Williams and Jimmy Iovine also were among those on hand for the Boss’ Broadway debut.

The stars were certainly born to run to the opening of Bruce Springsteen’s Broadway show. Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Edward Norton, Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, NBC News chief Noah Oppenheim, Brian Williams, Jimmy Iovine, Tommy Mottola, Thalia, Nathan Lane, Andrew Lloyd Webber and longtime E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt were among those who were able to nab hot tickets to Springsteen on Broadway on Thursday night. The famous fans capped the evening with an intimate party with the Boss at New York City’s Polo Bar (while the rest of the show’s guests gathered at the massive Hard Rock Cafe).

During the opening-night performance of the two-hour musical memoir, the seasoned singer combined excerpts from his best-selling 2016 autobiography Born to Run with 15 songs from his back catalog — tunes which many devout ticket-holders knew by heart, compelling them to sing and clap along. However, as in previews, Springsteen very briefly paused “Dancing in the Dark” to tell the audience with a laugh, “I’ll handle this myself.” The audience applauded loudly after a section paying tribute on the late E Street Band member Clarence Clemons, as well as a brief reflection on the political scene and the recent resurgence of torch-bearing racial hatred (“I believe that what we’re seeing now is just a bad chapter in the ongoing battle for the soul of the nation,” he said). His curtain call was met with the “Bruce!” chants reminiscent of his arena shows, as well as a lengthy standing ovation (though there was no encore number, despite widespread hope for one).

The production sees Springsteen playing guitar, piano and harmonica, and singing two duets with his wife, Patti Scialfa. The show first grew out of an acoustic concert at the White House in the final weeks of the Obama administration, and virtually sold out its four-month run at the Walter Kerr Theatre almost instantly, grossing a massive $2,332,108 in its first week of previews. Given that the show is playing only five performances per week, in a theater with a seating capacity of 939, its hefty average ticket price of $497 means that on a seat-by-seat basis, Springsteen on Broadway is even outselling Hamilton — Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster is playing eight performances a week in a 1,321-seat house, with an average ticket last week of $272.

Springsteen on Broadway — which The Hollywood Reporter‘s review called “a beautifully crafted reflection on his life, his career and his country, which reinvents even some last-chance-power-drive anthems as hymns of quiet introspection” — has been extended through Feb. 3. Theater pundits are now busy speculating if and how the production will figure in this season’s Tony Awards next June. An early report emerged in The New York Post that the Tony Nominating Committee saw the show in previews and was sufficiently impressed to start buzz circulating about a possible special award.

But there’s also a chance that the scripted show might be made eligible in competitive categories, provided producers can find a way to accommodate more than 800 Tony voters — traditionally with plus-ones. Springsteen is credited as writer and director on the show, meaning he could in theory be a contender for Book and Direction of a Musical. Either way, the prospect of a Springsteen performance on the Tony Awards telecast will be catnip to CBS.

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Kate Beckinsale On Harvey Weinstein: “He Couldn’t Remember If He Had Assaulted Me Or Not”

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“Standing up for myself and saying no to things, while it did allow me to feel uncompromised in myself, undoubtedly harmed my career and was never something I felt supported by anyone other than my family.”

Kate Beckinsale has shared an account of meeting with Harvey Weinstein, after which “he couldn’t remember if he had assaulted me or not.”

The actress, who starred in the Weinstein Co. titles Serendipity and The Aviator, took to Instagram to recall when she met with the Hollywood producer at the Savoy Hotel when she was 17 years old. She assumed it would be a business discussion in a conference room, but she was then sent up to a hotel room, with Weinstein greeting her in his bathrobe.

“I was incredibly naive and young and it did not cross my mind that this older, unattractive man would expect me to have any sexual interest in him” she said. “After declining alcohol and announcing that I had school in the morning I left, uneasy but unscathed.

“A few years later he asked me if he had tried anything with me in that first meeting. I realized he couldn’t remember if he had assaulted me or not,” she continued. “I had what I thought were boundaries — I said no to him professionally many times over the years — some of which ended up with him screaming at me calling me a cunt and making threats, some of which made him laughingly tell people, ‘Oh, Kate lives to say no to me.’ It speaks to the status quo in this business that I was aware that standing up for myself and saying no to things, while it did allow me to feel uncompromised in myself, undoubtedly harmed my career and was never something I felt supported by anyone other than my family.”

Beckinsale also commended the women who have shared their stories so far. “I would like to applaud the women who have come forward, and to pledge that we can from this create a new paradigm where producers, managers, executives and assistants and everyone who has in the past shrugged and said, ‘Well, that’s just Harvey /Mr X/insert name here’ will realize that we in numbers can affect real change,” she said. “For every moment like this there have been thousands where a vulnerable person has confided outrageous unprofessional behavior and found they have no recourse, due to an atmosphere of fear that it seems almost everyone has been living in.”

The actress knows that speaking up can make a difference. “I had a male friend who, based on my experience, warned a young actress who said she was going to dinner with Harvey to be careful. He received a phone call the next day saying he would never work in another Miramax film; the girl was already sleeping with Harvey and had told him that my friend had warned her off,” she concluded. “Let’s stop allowing our young women to be sexual cannon fodder, and let’s remember that Harvey is an emblem of a system that is sick, and that we have work to do.”

Beckinsale joins Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Bob Iger, George Clooney, Jennifer Lawrence, James Gunn, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brie Larson, Megan Ellison, Julianne Moore, Seth Rogen, Kevin Smith, Lena Dunham, Judd Apatow, John Oliver, Patricia Arquette and Mark Ruffalo, among others, who have spoken out on Weinstein’s decades of alleged sexual assault claims, which were first detailed in last week’s New York Times report and further explored in The New Yorker‘s expose, which includes three claims of rape.

Weinstein has since been fired from The Weinstein Co. and suspended by BAFTA, and USC’s School of Cinematic Arts has rejected his $5 million endowment to grant scholarships to women directors. His producing credit has since been pulled from TWC’s television shows, with Amazon reviewing its buzzy pair of upcoming shows from the company. A criminal investigation has been opened by the New York Police Department.

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Meryl Streep Speaks Out On Harvey Weinstein Sexual Assault Claims

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“The behavior is inexcusable, but the abuse of power familiar,” she said. “The intrepid women who raised their voices to expose this abuse are our heroes.”

Meryl Streep has spoken out against Harvey Weinstein, praising the women who have shared their stories of the Hollywood producer’s alleged sexual harassment as “heroes.”

Since the publication of The New York Times’ report — detailing decades of allegations of Weinstein’s sexual harassment and abuse, some of which resulted in paid settlements — many have called his behavior an industry secret that was widely known but never reported on the record. But the actress — who previously collaborated with Weinstein on films like August: Osage County and The Iron Lady, the latter for which she won an Oscar — stated to HuffPost that she was unaware of the producer’s “inappropriate, coercive acts,” and called them “disgraceful,” “inexcusable,” and an “abuse of power.”

“The disgraceful news about Harvey Weinstein has appalled those of us whose work he championed, and those whose good and worthy causes he supported. The intrepid women who raised their voices to expose this abuse are our heroes,” she said.

“One thing can be clarified. Not everybody knew,” she continued. “Harvey supported the work fiercely, was exasperating but respectful with me in our working relationship, and with many others with whom he worked professionally. I didn’t know about these other offenses: I did not know about his financial settlements with actresses and colleagues; I did not know about his having meetings in his hotel room, his bathroom, or other inappropriate, coercive acts. And If everybody knew, I don’t believe that all the investigative reporters in the entertainment and the hard news media would have neglected for decades to write about it.”

“The behavior is inexcusable, but the abuse of power familiar,” Streep concluded. “Each brave voice that is raised, heard and credited by our watchdog media will ultimately change the game.”

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Matt LeBlanc Says Good-Bye To ‘Episodes’

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It’s hard to follow 12 years on television as the same character, but that was what Matt LeBlanc had to think about after playing Joey Tribbiani, first on “Friends” for a decade and then on his “Joey” spin-off for another two. What character could stand a chance of being as iconic? Luckily, he didn’t end up having to look too far. In 2011, David Crane, who executive produced both of LeBlanc’s NBC shows, and his partner Jeffrey Klarik, wanted to do a show set in Hollywood around a problematic actor. And they wanted LeBlanc to play that character as a version of himself.

“I did have a reservation in the beginning. I wasn’t comfortable playing myself,” LeBlanc tells Variety. “But they said, ‘Well, we’re not making a documentary. If there’s anything you’re uncomfortable with, we’ll change it. We’ll get through it together.’ And it was because of my history with them that I really felt comfortable. I don’t know that I would have played that part with someone that I had a new relationship with. It was because of the trust that I said OK. I felt safe in their hands.”

Now, seven years and five seasons later, LeBlanc is saying good-bye to the fictionalized version of himself that he played on-screen on Showtime. Ahead of the series finale, LeBlanc talks with Variety about ending the show and how art imitated his life along the way.

What do you remember most intrigued you about working on “Episodes” years ago?

It was a very unique idea in how it made fun of Hollywood. There were shows that were about the business before, but this one really did it in an original way. There was a device in the show — the fact that Sean and Beverly were new to Hollywood, it allowed the show to explain Hollywood to them and therefore the viewer, so that it didn’t feel too “inside.” It could sort of lay things out, and it would feel like just any other industry. But yet it’s a crazy one. They made an industry that’s not relatable at all, really relatable. Because at the end of the day, it’s stories about these people, and that was what was intriguing.

What do you think you’ll miss most about “Episodes”?

When we’d get the scripts, the whole cast would be unable to put them down. We’d fire through them, it was great. They wrote the scripts in advance, so every year we’d get all of the scripts for each season and shoot it like a big film. We’d do a table read in the beginning of the production year of every episode, all at once. It was an all-day thing because it was nine episodes, and it was read one after another and another, and it was always fantastic. All of the actors, even the bit-part players, would sit down, do their thing, and it was just so much fun to do. The Showtime network execs would always fly over because we’d do it at the production office in London, and I remember David Nevins saying his sides hurt from laughing. “Episodes” will always hold a special place in my heart, regardless of any shows I do in the future, because of working again with David and Jeffrey and that connection to “Friends” in it and the trust factor. Those relationships, and their writing, that’s very special, and it was a lot of fun to do all these years.

David and Jeffrey told Variety why they wanted to end the show now, but did you agree, or could you have seen it going another two, three, four years?

We talked about it, but they felt they told their story. And there’s always the fear of jumping the shark. I definitely wouldn’t have entered into a situation where if they didn’t want to be a part of it anymore we’d do it with some other writers because then it wouldn’t be the same show. We always said we were in it together. The three of us — David, Jeffrey, and myself — always said anyone wanted out, that’s the way we’d handle it.

Having such a close working relationship with David and Jeffrey, how much input into how Matt’s story would be wrapped up did you have?

David and Jeffrey have got the story handled. They know exactly what they want to say and what stories they want to tell, and I don’t think I’m qualified to argue with them about what stories to tell. They’re so friggin’ capable!

Was it important to you to see him have a moment of growth before the end?

I don’t really know that he’s come that far. I think that he’s maybe a little more accepting of himself, but I think he probably always was. He’s sort of this island. And so am I, and so was Joey Tribbiani in that sense of he marches to the beat of his own drum.

But when his dad passes away, it does hit him harder than many may have expected, and you got to play more drama than for which the show usually allowed.

I don’t think he saw that moment coming, and I think that caught him by surprise, and I think what was nice about it was he really did love his father in that moment, and he feels the loss. I remember shooting all that stuff, and it was very, very tricky. I have a less-than-spectacular relationship with my own dad, so that was loosely based on that. I guess he’s grown in a sense, but I think it really catches him off-guard, and then after that he’s back to his old ways. I don’t think it changes him, but he cared more than he thought he did.

Alex Rocco was supposed to be in the season, but he passed away, so they decided to write it in, and I knew that was coming. What a great guy he was to work with! Just a sweetheart of a guy, it’s a shame. But it’s very typical of the way they write, that scene. They’ll take a very poignant moment, and they’ll build it up and build it up and build it up, and then they’ll undercut it with a joke at the end. So in retrospect if you look at it, it’s all a set-up for the punchline, but the set-up was so good you didn’t see the punchline coming. They’re brilliant at that, maybe the best. I can’t say enough good things about the way they write. I’ve just been so, so lucky to be a part of it.

Over the years, how much of that art imitating life aspect has come into the show? 

The whole stalker thing. I did have a stalker in the hotel in London. There was a girl who was staying there while we were shooting, and she’d sit in the lobby every day from eight o’clock to six o’clock, but she didn’t realize I was leaving at like six and getting home at nine. So I had no idea, and the hotel security guys thought it was funny. I said they clearly couldn’t let that happen, but as a joke, I told David and Jeffrey that I went out with her, and they got so nervous. They got so upset that I kept it going for a few days before I told them I was kidding, and that’s how they got the idea that I’d have a stalker on the show. The part about her being a Make-A-Wish kid who never died was all them. They’ll take a seed of an idea, and it will grow.

How do you feel about how the show ends? 

I thought it was a really nice twist at the end, what they’re writing and how my character ends up in it, too. He goes with his hat in his hand, so to speak, and he really has an ulterior motive, and they call him on it, and he doesn’t care. He’s shameless. What I like most about the end is that Sean, Beverly, and Matt are working together.

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Ringo Starr Dedicating First show Of All Starr Band’s Las Vegas Residency To Shooting Victims

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Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band set to launch a new U.S. tour next week with a Las Vegas residency at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, the ex-Beatles drummer has announced plans to pay tribute to the victims of the recent mass shooting in the city. Starr has dedicated the group’s first Vegas show, which takes place October 13, to the shooting victims, and also will make a donation to them from his Lotus Foundation charity.

Ringo and the All Starr Band will play a total of eight shows at Planet Hollywood through October 28, and then will move on to a variety of venues across the country, winding things down on November 16 in Newark, New Jersey.

The group’s lineup, which has remained constant for the last several years, features Todd Rundgren, ex-Santana and Journey member Gregg Rolie, Toto‘s Steve Lukather, Mr. Mister‘s Richard Page, Warren Ham, and Gregg Bissonette.

During the trek, Starr will be promoting his new solo album, Give More Love, which was released last month. The record features guest artists including Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Lukather, Peter Frampton, Richard Marx, Timothy B. Schmidt, Dave Stewart, Benmont Tench, Don Was, and Edgar Winter.

In other news, Ringo is selling signed prints of 12 images that are featured his 2013 book, Photograph. The limited-edition, large-format, high-quality pics include vintage photos that Starr took of his Beatles band mates. Proceeds raised from sales of the prints will benefit the Lotus Foundation. Visit for more information.

Here are all of Ringo and the All Starr Band’s upcoming tour dates:

10/13-14, 17, 20-21, 24, 27-28 — Las Vegas, NV, Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino 10/30 — El Paso, TX, Albert Chavez Theatre 10/31 — Austin TX, Moody Theater 11/2 — Sugarland, TX, Smart Sugarland Civic Center 11/3 — Irving, TX, The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory 11/4 — Thackerville, OK, Global Events Center at Winstar 11/7-8 — Fort Lauderdale, FL, Parker Playhouse 11/11 — Atlanta, GA, Fox Theater 11/12 — Norfolk, VA, ODU Pavilion 11/14 — Morristown, NJ, Mayo Performing Arts enter 11/15 — New York City, NY, Beacon Theatre 11/16 — Newark, NJ, New Jersey Performing Arts Center

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The Improv: An Oral History Of The Comedy Club That Revolutionized Stand-Up

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Jimmy Fallon’s joke bombs and Johnny Carson getting drunk in the audience are part of Bud Friedman’s oral history of his famed comedy club The Improv.

Budd Friedman — the legendary figure in the stand-up comedy scene who founded both the New York and L.A. comedy clubs The Improv — took on the heavy task of telling his own story by teaming with writer Tripp Whitesell for an oral history of The Improv. The tome will give comedy insiders plenty to wag their tongues about as they dig through the dishy walk down memory lane.

An entire chapter is devoted to iconic comedian Andy Kaufman and his antics, with Friedman writing that Kaufman is still the one he’s asked about most frequently. Jimmy Fallon says that he tried to have his own Kaufman-style moment during a talent showcase, but his outlandish attempt to draw attention — shaving his head onstage while telling jokes that had nothing to do with razors, shaving cream or the bowl of water onstage — admittedly bombed.

Long-time L.A. Improv house emcee Bruce Smirnoff dishes about the time Friedman put him onstage for a set while Johnny Carson was in the audience. Carson allegedly got drunk while Smirnoff bombed, getting heckled offstage by his own agent’s son. After the set, as the story goes, Smirnoff was forced to drive Carson home all the while Carson was in the backseat making out with a woman from Chicago who “couldn’t have been more than 18.”

Equally controversial, Richard Lewis and Robert Wuhl both accuse the late Robin Williams of stealing jokes due to his sponge-like brain. “Some comics hated him for it,” says Lewis. “But I wasn’t one of them.”

Friedman even let Smirnoff tell the story of the time he couldn’t keep the secret that David Letterman was coming down to do an unannounced set at the Hollywood Improv in the early ’80s. So when Letterman did show up, he saw the crowds and made a break for it. “Dave just walked out of the club, got back in his truck, and drove away.”

The book — titled The Improv: An Oral History of the Comedy Club that Revolutionized Stand-Up — is now on shelves with a foreword by Jay Leno.

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