Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Godfrey, Dario Josef and Marcus Cox

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that Thursday nights at the club can sometimes be difficult, simply by virtue of the size and interest of the audience. I say sometimes; a small crowd isn’t always a tough crowd, especially when they’ve come ready to laugh. This Thursday was one of those nights.

Dario Josef had the honor of MC duties this weekend. The last time I saw him in this role, with Steve Burr and Jon Fisch, it was kinda’ sprung on him at the last moment. He did well. This weekend, he did even better. Comfort and confidence rising together, he had a nice mix of material and audience work ready to go. The premeditated stuff is getting stronger every week: the crazy neighbor’s advice and intuitive child on a plane are becoming favorites, and the way he delivers the rap concert first date joke is priceless. Dario has a natural ability to play in the moment with the various personalities gathered around the tables. He keeps it friendly, doesn’t get uptight. His laid-back charm is easy to take, and easy to laugh with. Dario got the night off to a great start.

Marcus Cox stepped in for the feature set. I’ve had a difficult time conveying how funny I think Marcus is: his energy seems kinda’ low-key onstage, although I suspect he’s a beast of a different sort among friends. I used to think the problem was nerves, until I hung out with him a few times and learned that that delivery is just Marcus at his most natural. Remember Don Knotts in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, or maybe slightly less anxious, more like The Incredible Mr. Limpet? Marcus is similar, although without the screw face. His jokes, though, are oh so smart and designed to make you a little uncomfortable. His “pot makes me racist” bit might offend, but his delivery softens its impact. The attention to detail, like using Gertrude and Hazel – very old-fashioned names both hanging on my family tree – in his Necrophilia Convention bit, is sharp. And his quicklets (you’re not home watching the draft? Me, neither. I’m a draft dodger.) were spot on. I am going to enjoy watching this kid evolve. I think many of you will, too.

Now, to the headliner.

When I first saw Godfrey, in the 7 Up commercials and on Friday Night Videos, I wasn’t sure how to take him. Here’s another beautiful black comedic actor. Why is he so cocky? I couldn’t see what was backing him up, but I wasn’t taking in to account that I was seeing him in roles and bits that were generally written by others. I didn’t have a real sense of who he was and what he was bringing to the conversation besides a great chest (seriously, did you see that 7 Up commercial? Dang!) Personally, I had had some events occur last week that made me pray for laughter. By the grace of - (don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it…) - I got what I needed.

Godfrey took the stage. Took it. Every person in that room had no choice but to look forward, put down their wings and beers, and pay attention to the man on the stage. Not because of the old-school beats blaring from the speakers; not because, well, because we were at a comedy club and he was the headliner. Godfrey took the stage by force, by energy. Suddenly, the ego made sense, the best sense, where confidence and charisma form a natural halo around a person. I am hard-pressed to think of any arena where people wouldn’t be drawn in.

Godfrey assumes you’re going to assume things about him. He counts on it. And you will, because that’s who we are, that’s how we do. He spends much of his set messing with those assumptions, and that’s the pure gold of his show. Yes, he’s an excellent impressionist, from Cosby and Obama to Jason Statham and an up-and coming Steven Segal he revealed in a “show after the show”. Yes, he has some observational material that we can all relate to: homeless people having the same voice, the Snoop Dogg navigation system, gay ghosts (Boo-ooo!), how we will never suffer in any facet of life as much as our parents did. His energy is high, his facial expressions and body language are dynamic and mesmerizing. All of that stuff kept the room laughing nonstop.

And in the midst of that laughter, Godfrey pulled out the real, the things that can be said in the context of comedy that might have people reaching for their concealed weapons in a different scenario. He called us out on a lot of issues. He said there are no more men. He gave props to Johnny Cash for going off into a cave to detox, and never wants to see Justin Timberlake in an action film again. He said this is the first time in history when white and black people are acting corny at the same time. He told us we wouldn’t believe he was African because he had clothes on. He gave an assignment to the young white dudes in the front seats to look up the origins of rock, to check out the Arethas and the Chucks and the P-Funk. He told the heckler he expected him to hate, it’s what black people do to one another. He called us out for being ignorant, for saying a basketball player was whack when we’re just sitting in our living room watching him play, for being willing to put clothes on a dog before a person.

Godfrey told us he was an arrogant elitist who wouldn’t want to be friends with most of us, that to hang with him we had to be smart and floss. He said we’d trip over assumptions, that we couldn’t judge his blackness by the way he sounds or guess what he had to say based on his exterior. He talked down to us, he put us in our place, he reminded us why he was given the mic and we were shown to a chair.

And then he’d laugh at himself, at us, at the uncomfortable space he had created and say, “You know I’m just fuckin’ with you, right?” He let the audience off the hook. He planted real seeds, real ideas that need to be talked about, and then he let us laugh while they took hold. He laughed at us, with us, for us.

And I am now completely, hopelessly, forever in love with this man’s comedy.

It reminds me of the journey Chris Rock took from talking about generic foods and daddy getting the big piece of chicken, to talking about domestic violence and race issues in Bring the Pain. I bought Rock This! and read over and over the words collected between the covers. It was everything I knew comedy could do when it comes to addressing social issues, taboo topics and uncomfortable ideas that can’t be resolved if we can’t even discuss them. It’s what I loved about Carlin, about Dice, about Hicks, about Whoopie’s Fontaine character. It’s what made A. Whitney Brown’s Big Picture one of my most prized possessions. It’s the kind of comedy I adore most.

Godfrey brought all that to the Club this weekend. I had the privilege of hanging out and hearing more of his thoughts all three nights; he’s probably the most naturally funny person I’ve ever met. He’s smart, motivated, talented – I know now what he backs up that energy, that ego, with. Go to his YouTube channel; check out the White Woman’s Workout on Funny or Die; go to iTunes and pick up “Black by Accident.”

Godfrey will be back in Rochester again. When he is, I expect 5 sold-out shows. I expect a diverse audience packing the room and taking it all in. I expect water cooler conversations all over the city on Friday. If you think that’s hyperbole, that I’m just gushing like a schoolgirl, prove me wrong. Buy a ticket, sit through the show and tell me what you think. Write a guest blog – I’ll post it right here. It’s all opinion, and yours is just as valid as mine.

Next week – Jimmy Shubert!

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