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Comedian Todd Glass defies convention on ‘Get Happy’

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A few months back, I sat down to give a few Netflix standup comedy offerings what I refer to as “the 10-minute test” - if it doesn’t grab me during the first 10 minutes, I usually move on. One of those specials grabbed me in less than two minutes, one that I’ve returned to several times since – “Todd Glass: Act Happy.”

A veteran of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” Glass has delivered killer segments on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and is the author of “The Todd Glass Situation: A Bunch of Lies about My Personal Life and a Bunch of True Stories about My 30-Year Career in Stand-Up Comedy,” published by Simon & Schuster in 2014.

As “Todd Glass: Act Happy” begins, we see Glass on a tour bus (the driver is played by Jeff Garlin of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) pumping up the musicians that accompany him during the special, filmed at the intimate Lyric Theatre in Los Angeles. The Lyric seats 75 people, Glass tells the band - “but play like it’s 80.”

“The band on ‘Act Happy’ has played with me quite a few times,” Glass told me during a phone interview. “We’ve gotten pretty tight. It’s hard to explain to people before they see it. Obviously, I do standup comedy but the band and I do bits back and forth. They’re great musicians and you could see that people in the audience weren’t expecting it. The band is in their suits and they seem so serious. All of a sudden, people realize ‘Oh, these guys are funny too.’”

Glass makes it appear that he’s creating his comedy in the moment – surely a sign of an artist that has spent decades honing his craft. He began his standup career as a high school student in 1982.

“You realize in hindsight that most 11- or 12-year-olds don’t beg their parents to let them stay up to watch comedians on Johnny Carson’s ‘The Tonight Show,’ but I did,” he said. “Later, around 1984, I had already started doing comedy and remember going to the Comedy Works in Philadelphia to see people like Gary Shandling, Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno. Even then, they were like special events. That was when I just fell in love with standup comedy.”

At one point in “Act Happy,” Glass incorporates deeply personal moments from his life only to have his band act as comic foils. When he broaches the subject of a heart attack he suffered in 2010, the band accuses him of manipulating the audience for sympathy.

“They go ‘Oh woe is me, I had a heart attack.’ They don’t stop,” Glass laughed. “‘Oh, Todd had a heart attack. He’s so great. Feel sorry for him.’ It is really funny. Sometimes, we plan things like that but for this special, it just happened at that moment which made it even funnier.”

Glass says he is in awe of comedian Brian Regan and does a joke during the show in Regan’s voice.

“I think most comedians are in awe of him,” Glass explained. “I was putting this special together and I had this joke that I thought I should just give to Brian because it sounded more like him than me. I decided to do just do it, but I do my impression of him.”

“Act Happy” climaxes with a five-minute segment in which we see Glass railing against the oft-heard notion that things aren’t like they used to be.

“It’s me getting out all of my frustrations,” Glass said of his special’s rapid-fire conclusion. “I don’t believe that we live in a world where you can’t say anything anymore. I also don’t think kids are getting dumber. I’m just literally – not figuratively – exhausted with the premise that political correctness is keeping people from saying anything anymore.”

Glass says he had near-total artistic control on “Act Happy,” for which he happily credits his producers and Netflix.

“The great thing about working with Netflix is they do what you want,” he said. “They don’t dictate anything. That’s the best way to do it. I had some very specific requests for this special.”

One of those requests was to create an atmosphere similar to a tiny jazz club in New York City.

“The kind of intimate place where the tablecloths go to the floor with candles on the tables,” said Glass. “I wanted the band in their suits and I wanted the audience to be in the dark. Audiences in every other special are lit up but they belong in the dark. I’ve had situations before where producers will say ‘Yeah, we’ll do that’ but they usually end up splitting the difference. This time, everything was just the way I wanted it.”

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