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 JoeListcomedy.com 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.