Every so often I’ll go to the Rivoli on a Monday night for alt.Comedy lounge, which will feature anywhere from 8 to 15 comedians in one night, and for a pay-what-you-can cover (suggested $5), that’s a lot of laughs for your buck. I don’t know if I mind going to these things solo or not. It’s always nice to share a laugh with someone… just laughing together creates a sense of uniformity or belonging, or at least a retreat from isolation (Bruce McCulloch meditates on this as he looks at sitcom laugh tracks from an alien perspective on his “Drunk Baby Project” cd). At the same time, there’s nothing I find more awkward than laughing really hard at something and the person your with doesn’t get the joke and/or find the humour in it. I often feel distracted, even at a comedy movie, by whomever I’m there with, looking over to see if they find it funny too.
Eugene MirmanAndy Blitz makes fun of this tendency when discussing Lincoln’s assassination, since the play Lincoln was watching when he was killed was a comedy (apparently). Mirman ponders that someone should have been looking that way wondering “What does Lincoln think? Does Lincoln think this is funny…oh, Lincoln look out!”
Last night’s roster, surprisingly, was almost a mirror of the roster I saw at the last Alt.Comedy lounge I attended (November 29/05). When I saw them then, it was new material night, so it was interesting to see how many of the jokes I had already heard… and how many of them were worth hearing again. Each comic gets about 7-10 minutes, while the emcee does bits before and after the break as well as intros each act. A bit of a run-down of the roster:
Debra DiGiovanni - Acting as MC for the evening (as she did at the last show I was at).. the woman is gifted. She has a natural ability to coherently ramble, and her self-depricating humour inspires laughs every time, rather than mood-killing sympathy. I don’t know how much of what she talks about is routine and how much is just her natural ability to run at the mouth… probably a mix of both. She starts the evening off on a high note.
Jay Malone - Compared to Debra’s hyperactive verbosity, Malone’s set was like walking through tar. I guess someone had to bring the pacing down, and Malone is amusing, but a little obvious at times… you can see where the jokes are going. Funny but no surprises. Apparently he’s moving to LA.
Perry Perlmutar - I don’t know how long he’s been doing stand-up but he still seems relatively new at it. I saw Perry perform last time as well, and I had the same feeling then. He’s funny, but he’s not hysterical. He’s charming though, in that seems-like-a-nice-guy-you-want-him-to-succeed kind of way. I enjoyed his Mom & AC/DC bit, but he mines the ESL class he teaches for material which I’m not sure is funny or lazy. If anything I don’t think he pushes it far enough. Oh, and he looks like a shorter version of Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, not that that has any relevance.
Fraser Young - While travelling around Ontario in 2001, I was staying with at a friend’s place near Ottawa. While she was at work I pressed play on her vcr (just curious as to what was in there) and there was the Cream Of Comedy 1999 showcase. This is where I first saw Frasier perform (and he won the Tim Sims Encouragement Fund beating, thankfully, Jessica Holmes… it’s a shame that she went on to be more prominent though) and he immediately became one of my favourites. His humour is as much in his delivery as it is in his jokes, sounding like Mitch Hedburg in his delivery, but less high and telling more long-form jokes. He can go on a 5-minute rant about childkilling and still keep the crowd in stitches. That’s talent. He has a new cd called “everyone loves a smug bastard”.
Mark Forward - it’s sad that I needed to look him up on-line to remember who he was. He’s got a weird act. He comes out acting nervous and/or mildly retarded, then bursts into a routine that involves a lot of screaming. He’s funny, but inconsistant in how he presents himself… he’s like a slow building song, but one that starts off as a kids rhyme and winds up a free-form jazz session.
Laurie Elliott - Oh, she’s dirty… salacious even. Sometimes you just don’t expect it, but it’s that off-guardedness that makes her funny. She didn’t really have the usual energy behind her jokes tonight, but still, the racyness of it, and her ablity to put forth all her faults in a proud manner is amusing, if occasionally off-putting.
Sean Cullen - the first surprise guest of the evening, one of my favourite comedians ever, Sean came out to work on his stand-up skills since I think he’s fallen into the musical theatre trap since the Producers (in fact he talked about falling into the musical trap and went on a riff about appearing in Cats as the only human performer amidst actual cats in cat suits, it’s sequel Bats, and the third of the trilogy, Lats about both Latveria and the latissimus dorsi). Cullens whole set was off-the-cuff and evidently so… but he’s a gifted and intelligent improviser and even when stammering he can be funny. His riffing on worshipping Zeus fell flat at first, but he parlayed it into comedy gold when talking about “What Would Zeus Do”. Still love him.
And that was just the first half.
Jon Dore - Yup, he’s that comedian on Canadian Idol. While he seems Jim Carrey-ish on that show, his stage act is miles more intelligent, or at least more adult…. more for adults… he does have a juvenile streak in. With a devilish glint in his eye, he tells his jokes expecting an equal amount of laughs and outrage. He’s also resposible for one of my favourite quotes: “Racism is funny because it hurts people.” His closing gag involving a forgotten joke is delightfully conceptual (I actually saw him do this last time as well but it’s ingenious) and he works it brilliantly.
Alan Park - Now a member of the Royal Canadian Air Farce, he’s a hard comedian to like (maybe because of, but not likely). He’s caustic, abrasive, and surly… and it’s more of a detractor than a boon. He seems to either loathe his audience or feel superior to them. His humour often is based on politics but his take is more depressing than funny. He does have a great bit about Coronation Street though… they had it comin’ to ‘em!
Alex Nussbaum - one of the stars of the unfortunate and unfunny Comedy Now (the Bizarre of our times), Nussbaum actually is an amusing stand-up and performer. None of his material really sticks in my mind, but he’s sort of the perfect disposable entertainer. He doesn’t challenge you but he doesn’t dive into the easy material either.
Nile Seguin - Nile not only has a whimsical candor, but he is also intelligent, cunning, canny, sly, satirical, and sardonic amongst other adjectives. His stand-up pulls from personal experiences, from headlines, from time tested subject matter like race and religion and even irreverence. The guy is talented, and funny. His set, out of all of them this evening, seemed too short. His new one-man revue Evil is the New Good comes to Toronto’s Glen Morris Theatre July 5 - 15.
Ron Sparks - Ron presents his comedy in a slow-burn fashion. He takes his time telling his jokes, never in a hurry to get to the finish, but never lacking in laughs along the way. He can sidetrack and get right back on the path, and his observational humour is of the too-fucked-up-to-be-fake variety. I didn’t really get much sense of what he’s like, his pacing minimized his impact. He has a great list of “the best insults he’s heard on the TTC”, which includes his insight of “he was so sick, I bet he died that night” which is really funny in context.
Tim Steeves - jutting between self-deprication and verbal assault isn’t Tim’s only trick, he can also riff off of an idea and be excessively funny at it, tossing in a plethora of pop culture references and then mixing a bit of himself, and a bit of theoretical “you” in as well. If the Rick Mercer Report is funny, chances are Tim Steeves had something to do with it (not that Mercer isn’t funny himself, just so much of what works on the show is what I see in Steeves’ stand-up). The guy had me hurting from laughing so hard, and he can turn a one-liner like nobody’s business but his own..
Shaun Majumder - the other surprise guest for the evening, Shaun on sabbatical from his LA life, showed the audience what a king of comedy is. The guy kills no matter what he does, and it’s all affectation, how he’s able to say it like no one else can. He’s developed an exaggerated stage persona which at times is over-the-top and at times disingenuous, and yet, he is always funny. I have a feeling Shaun could make reading the phone book a hilarious endeavor.
What I’ve noticed about stand up is the different kind of performances people have. Some are completely personality based, while others are performance based (impersonations or whatnot). Still others work traditional punchline jokes, some work improv which merits from the gift of surprise, some do conceptual which depend wholly on execution, and others do irreverence. Some do a mix of these but those that hone themselves in one or a combination of two are the ones that can really make a name for themselves.
I found it interesting this evening, however, how many people told jokes that had to do with China, the Chinese, or the accent. And each time it delivered a strange lull in the room. Impersonating Russians or Hungarians is okay, but affecting a Chinese accent isn’t, and I wonder why that is.