Lyceum variety show promises something that won’t ’S.U.C.K.’

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Listen up Brooklyn, it’s time to get ready for the "John Cougarstein and Friends Happy Happy Smile Hour and a Half," a variety show that is returning to the Brooklyn Lyceum on March 23 and which promises to serve up a hearty brew of comedy - including stand-up, sketch comedy and Cougarstein’s own brand of musical satire.

Cougarstein, the founder and virtual emcee of this comedy festival, assures us that this 90 minutes will entertain.

"There’s so many different kinds of comedy on tap, someone’s bound not to suck," said the host from Park Slope. For those of us who may consider staying in and watching TV, Cougarstein assures us that the show is "more entertaining than ’Cops’."

Cougarstein himself has been called "a laugh out loud riot" by Zeb & Jen of KKSM-FM in San Diego. Others have gushed that Cougarstein has - or will soon - ascend to Weird Al Yankovic’s throne as the "King of Musical Comedy."

The show begins at 8 pm when the house band, The Prawns, take the stage. The band plays the "Happy Happy Smile Hour and a Half" theme song and introduces our host. Cougarstein will play a couple of songs (most likely culled from his 2000 debut album, "S.U.C.K in the U.S.A.") and then introduce each of the acts. The various acts will perform their sets and then sit down for an enlightening and hopefully entertaining interview with our host.

At this point, the Prawns are usually heckling.

Every night of the Happy Happy Smile Hour and a Half is different but at the March 23 show, I’m most looking forward to the performance of "Junior or Senior?" which Cougarstein describes as "everyone’s favorite George Bush trivia game show." The other performers are Smile Hour regulars, "The Original Czars of Russian Comedy" - Alexander Pierre Luboknovich and Nicholas "The Great" Stravinsky, former rivals in Russia who have now teamed up in Brooklyn, and guests, the Mellow Yellow Theatre Company, current "Saturday Night Live" writer Charlie Grandy, poet Jamie Ansley, singer-songwriter Amanda Kaletsky and comedian Marina Franklin.

Cougarstein began his career as a solo artist, recording "S.U.C.K. in the U.S.A." (Presumably his name and the title of his album are a spoof on John Cougar Mellencamp’s "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A") in his former home studio in San Francisco. Since moving to Brooklyn, he has performed solo in a number of Manhattan clubs including ACME Underground and Kenny’s Castaways. The record was written and produced by Cougarstein, who also played all of the instruments.

The album is raw, filled with musical parodies of songs such as "Livin’ la Vida Loca" (which becomes the meditation anthem, "Livin’ like Deepak Chopra") and Radiohead’s "Freak." Cougarstein’s "Gleek" is an opus to the blue monkey pet of The Wonder Twins on the old "Superfriends" cartoon. Cougarstein describes a monkey who was not himself a superhero and at the same time, "captures the aspirations and insecurities in all of us."

The gem of "S.U.C.K." is Cougarstein’s parody of The Cranberries’ song "Zombie" (which becomes a tribute to Fonzie of "Happy Days"). "Fonzie is a hero to all funny-looking, short Jewish guys who dream about sleeping with infinite numbers of women and fixing appliances without having to call a repairman," he said.

Cougarstein is currently working on a follow-up to "S.U.C.K.," which will hopefully contain the enigmatic "S.U.V." - a take-off on Tracy Chapman’s "Fast Car."

On a personal note, Cougarstein says his favorite thing about Brooklyn is the chocolate croissant at Cake Man Raven’s Confectionary in Fort Greene. ("S.U.C.K." contains an ode to chocolate croissants.) His least favorite thing is the "incredibly poor signage at Prospect Park." (I passed that complaint along to Mayor Bloomberg.)

Finally, asked whether he finds Al Yankovic weird, Cougarstein says, "According to Webster’s, the primary definition of ’weird’ is ’of, relating to, or caused by witchcraft or the supernatural: MAGICAL.’ So the answer is obviously, yes." Given that definition, we can all start calling him Weird John Cougarstein.

Adam Stengel is a singer-songwriter who has produced an album titled "Train of Thought." He is also a Manhattan-based music attorney.


The "John Cougarstein and Friends Happy Happy Smile Hour and a Half," a variety show, returns to the Brooklyn Lyceum on March 23 at 8 pm. The Brooklyn Lyceum is located at 227 Fourth Ave. at President Street. There is a $10 cover charge. More information can be found at or call (718) 857-4816. "S.U.C.K. in the U.S.A." (Authority Always Wins Records, $10) can be purchased at the show.

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