Sunday, March 25, 2012


I don't like hypnotists.

I'm putting that out there right up front because it probably slants everything that will follow. It isn't for lack of understanding. I am fairly well-versed on hypnosis, Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) and other tools used by behavioral therapists and birthday party djs nationwide. It isn't fear. I don't believe a hypnotist will cause me to do something horribly shameful from which I'll never recover. I just have never enjoyed hypnosis as entertainment, and I want you to know that as you read this review.

The Sandman uses music, lighting and a suit to create ambiance. He tells the audience they need to know three things. 1. No one will take off their clothes during the show. At least not this show; I don't know what exactly happens at the XXX-rated show he'll do Sunday evening, and I have no intention of finding out. 2. He can not make anyone do anything they do not want to do. 3. He won't make anyone act like barnyard animals, so volunteers don't need to be afraid of being told to cluck like a chicken. Despite these reassurances, he is only able to get 7 of the 12 volunteers he is hoping for. After repeating the rules for the audience several times, and warning us we don't want to fuck with him (search YouTube for Sandman reverse racism), he starts the show.

Despite his focus on the people on the stage, he also pushes the audience to participate. I debate raising my hands in the air. Fortunately, it's hard to take notes that way, so I put them down. Only now I feel like he's going to yell at me for not playing along. The show isn't even 10 minutes old and I'm so conflicted I just want to leave. Remember, that's because I have a bias against hypnosis as entertainment. Other people in the audience seemed happy to watch and wave their hands in the air as directed.

Rather than draw this one out, let me do a quick summary of the types of scenarios Sandman created for his volunteers. At one point, they were all seated next to people from Arkansas - all the women were having sex with their fathers, all the men were having sex with their donkeys. Then, everyone was smoking really great weed and getting the giggles to Afroman’s “’Cause I Got High”. Next, they were guests on the Jerry Springer show. We found out by show of hands who liked giving and receiving oral sex, who ever farted or queefed during sex - you know, the kind of information you would share at a cotillion or Bar Mitzvah. They were told the person sitting next to them was hitting them in the balls, twisting their nipple painfully or sticking a finger in their ass. He suggested his pants were split in the back and they were seeing his bare ass, and then told them they could see his monstrous, 18-inch cock when he turned around to face them. This was followed by some prop action involving a pink swim noodle. The two men on the stage were directed to imagine they were in a darkened room with a partner where they were to have sex at 100 miles an hour, only to discover when the lights came on that they were the only ones in the room. They could only sit down delicately, perched on their seats due to the pain in - you guessed it - their asses.

Is it me, or is there a lot of anal obsession in that paragraph?

Of course, I repeat, I do NOT consider hypnosis comedy. Nor do I usually laugh at stale lines like "happier than a fag at the YMCA". So it IS probably just me, folks. I was a bit of a verbal bully when I was a kid, and often used my quick wit to be hurtful. Maybe that’s why I don’t find it funny now. I don't really enjoy people being made fun of, even when they semi-volunteer to be part of the punch line. I do love a good roast where it's expected that people will be taking shots at one another, but that is not what happens in Sandman's act. It also feels a little too voyeuristic, and that's not how I get my kicks.

The one thing I did react to in a positive way was the finale, where he took the participant who seemed the most easily hypnotized and physically appropriate for the trick, had him go completely rigid, suspended him between two chairs and brought a young woman from the audience onstage to stand on his chest. It was an interesting demonstration of the power of hypnotic suggestion that didn't involve embarrassment.

I've been told there are different hypnotists out there who don't use the audience in the same way, so I'd be willing to watch another show someday. Maybe there's a performer who uses more harmless scenarios, like a second grade class with a substitute teacher or, since barnyard animals seem really important, maybe a group of city slickers watching a calf being born. I don't know. Obviously, it isn't my thing.

But it may be yours. It certainly worked for much of the audience and the volunteers didn't seem too worse for the wear - although I haven't yet asked Joey how he feels about the video....

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pat Dixon (2) and Joe List at the Auburn Public Theater

The joy of being able to see a favorite comedian at multiple shows and in different clubs is that you start to really notice the interplay between audience, environment and material. The five Pat Dixon shows I saw the other weekend each had their own personality. Thursday was just new, the first time I’d seen him live. Friday was an early struggle with a very odd crowd, although the second show was a little livelier. Saturday, with Chet Wild in the mix, the first show was upbeat, and the second show rocked. Pat’s energy was consistent, but he varied pace, order and delivery to try to make each show a success. He even threw in an extra punch line on Saturday that was just for me. I love to watch the five-show weekend whenever possible, to hone in on nuance and see how constancy and spontaneity can coexist in the same set. I enjoyed Pat’s performances so much that I told him I would travel to any shows between Buffalo and Syracuse to support him as often as I could.

I didn’t realize, at the time, that he’d be playing the Auburn Public Theater a mere three weeks later. I checked MapQuest, bought my ticket and began to anticipate how different seeing him in a black-box theater setting would be from sharing a booth at the Comedy Club.

Let me first say that I am now a HUGE fan of the Auburn Public Theater. It’s a great venue, complete with bar, snack counter, movie theater and stage area. There was public art in the lobby, a welcoming staff in each room and that feeling you get in small town art havens that every moment volunteered, every dollar raised, was an act of love. It reminded me of the Little Theater of Mechanicsburg, the tiny venue nearest my home town that cultivated my own passion (loud and crazy) for live performances. I knew, once I settled into my seat, that I was going to enjoy my night. Watching the rest of the audience pour in, however, I wasn’t sure I could say the same for the comedians.

The crowd was, for the most part, a little older, a little homier, than the five from our weekend in Rochester. It made me feel a bit nostalgic. Here were doppelgangers for my family, my teachers and parents of friends. This could have been my hometown crowd, transported and transformed; I was uncertain how some of Pat’s material would go over. I was afraid there might be a need for diagrams, or at least some flannel board puppets.

Before I would know, however, I had the pleasure of seeing another comic for the first time. I was familiar with Joe List by name only. He had been tagged/name checked on an old podcast I had listened to a few nights ago as research for this week’s Comedy Club guest, Jon Fisch. I knew he was part of this wave of comedians I was suddenly encountering who make their home in Astoria and are some of the funniest voices in New York comedy today. There is a certain sheen to these guys, a polish, as I mentioned in my previous Pat Dixon review. The LA comics I’ve watched lately have a very different demeanor, almost a veneer. A buddy summed it up for me as simply New York being the place for comics who do stand up and LA being home for comics who want to act. There might be truth there, if only based on the thickness of the clear coat I see on these guys.

Joe List, though originally a Boston boy, has the New York sheen. A boyish face, a quick pace and no fear of an older, small town crowd, Joe shared his identity as a small-breast lover, performed his bit about traffic cops being run over (go check it out on Comedy Central: Live at Gotham), and played with the crowd, who seemed to find him adorable. He started his comedy career right out of high school; though his appearance would convince you it was just three years ago, his performance skill reflects what has been a very successful 12-year run. Check Joe out at and figure out where you can see him live.

After what the audience decided would be a brief intermission, Pat Dixon took the stage. Even after hanging with him a little last month, I’d still describe him as a warm, personable guy in a stylish suit. The audience was ready to like him. A few were even ready to be part of his show. I believe one of Pat’s greatest strengths as a comic is his ability to play with the crowd, push them out of their comfort zone, and not lose control of the scene. Tonight, in Auburn, he was challenged by an audience who seemed to think the show was meant to be interactive. The two lovely older women in front of me kept answering his rhetorical questions aloud. A man in the front tried to straighten his pocket flap for him and the guy in the post office shorts passing the stage on multiple trips to the bar and bathroom slapped him up on his way through. The audience went with him on most of the jokes, even a few of the more sexual ones that I thought might offend. That small town girl in me was impressed and proud of them.

The one member of the audience I thought was going to present a real challenge was a man who sat in front of me with his son. Ron called out to both Joe and Pat during the show. He made comments after punch lines, and stepped on at least two of Pat’s best. In his “just you and me dialogue,” Ron told Pat he knew what was going on because, he, too, was a comedian. Pat, who had laughingly let the first major interruption go, told Ron it was now no longer possible to chalk his error up to not knowing any better. “You do what I do and still you try to mess it up for me.” Delivered with just a bit of edge and a deeper understanding of Ron’s need, Pat encouraged the audience to give Ron a hand. After the gig, I overheard one of the staff thanking Pat for dealing with Ron so well.

Comedians work hard to refine and reshape a joke, trying to create the perfect wording. Seeing that material performed over and over for a year or two, sometimes longer, some audience members might get bored or start playing the punch lines in their heads while the comedian recites it aloud for the 457th show. Not me. I loved the opportunity to see someone of Pat’s caliber adjust his shots for wind, noise and movement, and still hit the target with amazing accuracy. I loved seeing each audience choose the role it wanted to play in the success of the show. I loved the change in atmosphere brought about by the change in venue. This is exactly what the geek in me lives for. Thursday night at the Comedy Club, I was laughing without thinking. Tonight in Auburn, I was thinking way too hard and still laughing. What a great way to spend a weekend.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Jon Fisch, Dario Josef and Steve Burr

There are a few comedians about whom I will never be able to write an objective review; one, in particular, because he owns too much of my heart, and a handful of others because the line between funny onstage and funny while moving cheap furniture around a studio apartment is razor-thin. While I could just be the annoying chick they feel obligated to be nice to - you never know when your car will be out of commission and you’ll need a ride to do 20 minutes at the Diaz-Leon quinceanera in North Tonawanda- I know I have some genuine friendships that started here at the Comedy Club. Steve Burr is one of those friends.

Steve wants me to tell you that I thought he was a pompous jackass when I first met him. He also expressed a desire for me to rip him to shreds in tonight’s review for being disjointed on stage, not his usual smooth-flowing self. While both of those things may be – ok, ARE – absolutely true, neither has anything to do with what I really want to tell you about tonight’s show.

It all began with a scheduling mix-up. Steve was under the impression that he would host, and Anna Phillips would be doing a guest spot. Dario Josef, another local guy, happened to come for the show and told him Anna had listed the event on her Facebook page for Saturday. In a last minute game of Who’s Got the Mic, Dario agreed to MC, while Steve worked the sound board and middled. Big deal, most people would think. So the order got switched. But it’s more than that. Dario hadn’t planned on hosting, so he’s got to get up cold and weave his jokes around the audience. Steve, who was prepared to play with people, now has to shift more to his straight material. It’s like being the weather guy and hearing five minutes before the live broadcast that you’ve been given the sports report, instead. Sure, you’re a pro and you’ll make it work, but it’s harder than it looks to the viewers.

Though it seemed there were several parties more interested in their own conversation than the comedian, Dario did a good job with the small crowd. His Facebook controversy bit was well-received; his Italian/Puerto Rican comparisons and Walmart parenting practices coaxed them along. By the time he saw the red glow from the back of the room, they had warmed up to him and reluctantly given themselves to the show.

Steve took the stage and immediately raised the energy in the room. His humor is silly, almost boyish, even when he’s talking about sluts and suggesting the best way to get over a break up is to fuck a comedian (for the record, it doesn’t hurt). He did a number of his familiar bits, including walking out of an argument like a Muppet. And, true, maybe he did have a different pace, a second or two longer between jokes, a scrambling of the set order. Didn’t matter. He was funny. I laughed, and I probably know his set as well as he does. As I mentioned from the start of this piece, sometimes objectivity is just not an option. I know a bit about Steve’s struggle with his muse right now, and having seen him perform on three of the past four weekends, I may have been watching a different show than the rest of the room. For me, Steve just has an impish quality, whether he feels he’s on or not.

It was the perfect lead-in to Jon Fisch.

I like to do some homework before a show if I’m not really familiar with an artist. At three this morning, I found myself listening to several episodes of “In the Tank with Jon Fisch”, a podcast that can be found at For good measure, I watched his recent Letterman appearance on YouTube. I was expecting well-crafted jokes, but I also knew from the podcast that he could be casually amusing. The audience tonight kinda determined his direction. He started easy, discussing body hair or the lack thereof, then segued into the crowd a little. When it became obvious that it had a mind of its own, John pulled up the stage stool, took a seat and acknowledged that it was the kind of show where he was gonna’ do jokes as filler while talking to the audience. From there, it was a fun ride between the set list and throwaways. “That joke did well at the bar. Not that they could hear it, they were just laughing at my cadence.” When two men in the back of the room got chatty, he said, “You guys should have a radio show. I can see it now. Well, I can HEAR it now.” I love those types of lines, even though I sometimes find myself laughing at them alone. I had the same experience watching “Spinal Tap” in the theater; I was the only person in the audience that laughed out loud when Derek (Harry Shearer) described David (Michael McLean) and Nigel as “both like, uh, like poets you know like Shelley or Byron, or people like that.”

I don’t know exactly what happened tonight. For some, this may not have been a memorable show, but I can’t remember when I have simply gone with the flow and laughed so easily. The whole thing kinda’ snuck up on me. As a true lover of the art of comedy, but also an intellectual who much of the time overanalyzes performances to death, I can honestly say I giggled tonight, I laughed freely, unexpectedly and with total abandon. What my funny friend Steve Burr did was a great primer for Jon Fisch. What Jon Fisch did definitely did not make me feel like I wanted him to shut up (watch the Letterman clip). What all three guys did tonight was remind me that sometimes I can think less and laugh more.

I can’t wait to go back tomorrow night and watch them again.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chas Elstner, Brian Herberger, Dan Mahoney

Typically, I’ve been reviewing only the feature and headliner comics in this blog, because I assumed talking about the MCs would get a little redundant. When you sit at one club every week, the rotation is short, and that’s not a bad thing. As much as I have yet to meet the comic who doesn’t crave the longer stage time, being a good MC is an art unto itself. The truly naturals stand out.

Brian Herberger stands out.

His laid back energy and likeable demeanor are strengths when trying to move a crowd’s attention toward the stage. He’s like the Temple Grandin of comedy. Where some might cling to the cattle prod and actually rile up the herd, Brian gently leads them, one funny line at a time, through the chutes and gates, right up to the – ok, here’s where the analogy generally breaks down. I could reach and say he delivers the audience so the headliner can slay ‘em, but that’s just too hack, even for me. Still, I think you get my point. A good MC has to be funny, has to give the crowd whatever special attention they need to settle in for the show and keep the evening moving forward. Brian is a good MC. I’ll talk more about his material in another piece.

I have had the pleasure to see quite a few Buffalo comics here at the Comedy Club and there’s an underlying similarity that appeals to me. It’s not the plaid shirts, although I do think that’s the official uniform. It’s the pacing, the timing. The speed of life can be very place-specific, and it’s something to which I am attuned. Tonight being the first time I saw Dan Mahoney live, I would have guessed he’s been in NYC for a quick minute. The rhythm feels a little run-pause-run-stroll-run, but I don’t know that anyone other than me would have that thought. And I had it while enjoying some nice observational stuff – my view on gladiator sandals and dating is forever skewed – and a fun bit of “on purpose” language play. The audience was into his whole set, and rewarded him with well-deserved gluten-free applause. There are great Dan clips online. Go to and check out the clip Poligion.

Chas Elstner hit the stage at a very different pace. I read an online bio that informed me he had once been a clown for Ringling Brothers, and I saw that physicality immediately. For someone with no point of reference, I would suggest Chas is the perfect comedian if you enjoy the manic energy of Kevin Meaney, the amusing sound effects of Michael Winslow (but more Porntastic!) and classic joke telling. He worked the audience well, calling them out in a non-threatening way when he felt they weren’t with him. “There’s no talking to you people.” “I like this crowd. You don’t laugh at any old joke.” His body awareness is a great lesson for less experienced performers who sometimes struggle with seemingly simple tasks, like what to do with their hands. For a quick look, go to and check out a video.

While not my favorite kind of humor, Chas puts on a very fast-paced fun show. I think, this week, I just couldn’t tear myself away from the Buffalo boys.

Friday, March 2, 2012

jim Norton and Joel Lindley

Lenny Bruce once said, “The role of a comedian is to make the audience laugh, at a minimum of once every 15 seconds.” By that measure alone, Joel Lindley is a success. Tonight, on a sold-out Thursday at the Comedy Club, Joel was a success by more straight-forward measures: the audience laughed not just often, but sincerely and fully. There wasn’t a single instance of those awkward chuckles or lone guffaws you hear when a joke hits with only a person or two. Applause was loud and long. In a room packed with people who obviously were there to laugh, Joel Lindley didn’t disappoint.

Having said all that, I will admit I don’t particularly enjoy his act. For me, seeing Joel onstage is like flashing back to the winter of 1990, sitting alone on the floor of my Indiana apartment in front of a 13” black and white television, watching a rerun of Short Attention Span Theater on The Comedy Channel. He is professional, poised, prepared – everything you want in a comic. His Hallel homeboy bit plays well to a hometown crowd (Hhholla!) and Brighton High School grads can certainly be proud of how he represents. No one else has ever made me think so hard about the purpose of nonalcoholic beer. But something feels more old hat than old school. I’m just not wowed. This is one of those times when I stand by my conviction that comedy is completely subjective, that while some elements may be universal, the overall experience of a performer or show is an individual one. Joel Lindley is a talented comedian who just doesn’t excite me, but neither he nor any of you should lose sleep over that.

Now, as to Jim Norton, you have no idea how anxious I was thinking about this show. I want to be honest and still supportive. Even when I don’t particularly enjoy a comic, I most likely have respect. Previous exposure to Jim Norton’s work, none of which was live, left me indecisive, unsure if I liked it or not. Rather than prep by watching his stand up specials or listening to any local radio coverage, I decided the best approach was to walk in open and wait for an honest reaction. Turned out to be the right move.

Seeing how quickly the house filled up on a Thursday night, I suspected I would soon be witnessing something special. Having forgotten to put in my reservation, I am extremely grateful to Mark Ippolito and Steve Burr for letting me sit with the MC (Mark Walton, who killed! I will be doing a special piece on MCs later this weekend, but let me state for the record that this Buffalo boy was a crowd-pleaser). I couldn’t help overhear people quoting their favorite Norton lines and discussing various television appearances; the audience was ready. Perhaps more interesting to me was the number of local comedians who were lined up in the back of the room, eager to see this show. They chatted with the same energy and excitement that blanketed the rest of the room. I’m certain I’m influenced by that professional admiration. It’s like hearing a cardiac surgeon talk about a fellow chest cutter’s bypass incisions, or listening to a composer analyze someone else’s music. Knowing they have some insight and are impressed by one of their own lends credibility.

When Jim Norton finally took the stage, I was immediately struck by two things: he is smaller in person and his energy, though quirky, is less dark than I expected. Maybe we got him on a good night, maybe he just employs his demons and thus keeps them fed. Helping the masses deal with the sometimes deviant behavior of our fellow man seems like a perfect role for someone with Jim’s point of view. His takes on race and political correctness, our baffling relationship with privacy, our obsession with people at their worst (Hoarders) and his own kinks and churlishness all made for a long set of funny. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that he left the stage to thunderous applause.

I’d tell you to check out another of Jim’s shows this weekend, but if you don’t already have a reservation, that won’t be an option. Instead, you’ll have to be content with visiting his website,, and finding out how to get his newest CD, Despicable. As for me, I’m glad I didn’t miss this show. If the weekend brings nothing enjoyable, at least I’ve had my laugh quota filled.