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.

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