Dick Cavett once said, “I don’t think anyone ever gets over how differently one audience reaction is from another.” While he was most likely referring to viewers of one of his myriad talk shows, he could just as easily have been referring to his brief stint as a stand up, thus stating one of the great truths of live comedy. The audience has a role to play in a show, whether they recognize it or not.
Friday night just seemed, well, off. Both shows were under-attended, so the room carried silence all around the edges. Seating, when you have a smaller crowd, is intentional; people are placed in a way to maximize the feedback to the stage. It isn’t just for the comic, though. Laughter is very much a social reaction. There are plenty of things that I find funny, but I’m more likely to laugh aloud at them if I’m sitting in close proximity to others who are laughing. The audience collectively feels more sociable, more like laughing, if they are seated together.
Someone pointed out it was a Friday the 13th, but I’m not superstitious. I don’t know what was going on, but the comedians felt it, the lack of energy in the room, the dearth of pre-show conversations. Still, 7:30 came and they started.
I’ve written about Chet in an earlier piece, so you already know how I feel about his comedy. He’s been working in new material since December and the week’s events had given him something to explore. He just ended a relationship with a Tweet queen (she wrote a whiney blog, he wrote jokes) and has a new bit about how far we’ll go with social media. “Will we reach a point where, let’s say, I take a girl back to my room, we start to get into things, and I pull out my phone – checking in to her vagina. Look, 11 others were recently here….” It’s evolving, but funny. When the audience didn’t really react, Chet moved on to more proven bits. Jokes that I’ve seen him land 40 times in the last year just didn’t seem to hit, and it wasn't him. It was the crowd.
Kate Anderson had slightly better luck. Her stage persona is a little insecure, a little Sad Sackish. She’s living in Buffalo, where she’s “had to learn to get by without stuff, like success.” Her material about being disqualified as a Dairy Princess because they found out she was lactose intolerant got some giggles and seemed to finally break the ice with the audience. I like Kate’s style; she lulls you in with her self-deprecation, then hits you with a punch you didn’t see coming. She’s the first comedian I’ve ever heard tell a your mama joke in Polish. Coming from a small town where they still celebrate Farmer’s Fair after 98 years, my favorite bit of Kate’s was the reference to Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery (“I drew the black dot, and I had to leave town or become the next harvest sacrifice”).
I have to admit, I was excited to see Keith Alberstadt. When comics speak highly of another comic, it tends to carry weight; I had been hearing good things about Keith for weeks and was anticipating a great show. It was clear Mr. Monistat had a lot on his mind while he waited for his set. He had taped the Late Show with David Letterman the night before, and would be watching himself on television in a few hours. That sense of distraction was only apparent in the back of the house, though. The moment he stepped onstage, the audience knew they were seeing something special. Me, too.
While he frequently reminds you he’s a dork and a smart ass, Keith’s comedy feels unforced and relatable. From the witty (I used to think soy beans was Spanish for “I am beans”) to the mundane (the million mispronunciations of his name), from potentially shared experiences (meeting someone who has rescued a pet) to what could only come from his unique brain (losing a child named Marco), his delivery is relaxed and very evenly paced. The drawl is soothing. His use of silence to emphasize facial expressions or punctuate a punch line is incredibly natural. When I close my eyes and listen, he sounds a lot like a young Ritch Shydner. Can a Nashville boy who moves to Queens have vocal inflictions similar to a New Jersey boy who moves to Virginia? Like every comic who insists he isn’t lucky with the ladies, when he holds a grin for a still second, he looks like Malibu Ken. Kif stuck with his strengths and earned laughs from both audiences, despite the strangeness of the evening.
Saturday night, fortunately, a different group of people showed up. The late show crowd especially came ready to laugh, ready to play. Keith got to do some audience work that showed he is not inaccurate when he calls himself a smart ass. When an overexcited Giants fan broke up one of his bits, he pulled us back together by asking: You know what’s overrated in comedy? Timing.
Go to www.keithcomedy.com and get to know Kipp Applesack. If you like a clean show, you’ll love him. If you prefer something a little raunchier, you’ll still love him. He’s just that good. Buy his cds – you will find yourself listening to them again and again. Check out both of his Letterman appearances. And, next time he’s in town, come to the Comedy Club and give him the kind of audience he deserves. Be sure to tell him Marla sent you.