Saturday, May 26, 2012

Isaac Witty and the Subjectivity of it all

It has taken me a long time to write this review. Too long. The reason is simple enough: I saw this show so differently from nearly everyone else in the room, that it led to a rather horrible mini-feud in my Comedy Club family. Nothing on the level of Hatfield-McCoy, because, ultimately, we’re grown ups and none of us own rifles. It was enough to make me worry that I’d lost my second home for awhile, though, and so I’ve been consciously avoiding this one.

Today, I’ve got it figured out.

I tell you that comedy is totally subjective all the time. I encourage you to go to the Club and check out the shows for yourself, or visit a comedian online to see some of his or her act, because I want you to understand that one girl’s giggle is just that. I preach it to you every week, and yet I forgot it myself when Isaac Witty came to town.

Isaac plays clubs all over the US and Canada, he’s done Letterman, he’s done Montreal. By all accounts, he’s a successful comedian. His stage presence is studied awkwardness, his jokes can be surreally strange, smartly wordish or just plain silly. I wasn’t sure what I thought, at first. I had heard his comedy was shaped by his parents’ work as Christian sketch comics throughout his childhood. I had been prepared for something a little different.

For the record, Thursday night’s crowd was small and mostly drunk, because it was Amber’s 21st birthday and her friends and family thought getting her drunk and taking her to watch a comedy show was a cool way to celebrate. It probably was. I’m sure they had a good time. I’m sure the two guys in the booth next to me who – to use an overused line – learned to whisper on a helicopter also had a good time. Maybe it was just myself and the 8 other people in the room who were trying to listen to the show who weren’t enjoying ourselves. And probably the guys on stage, too.

It took me a bit to get into Isaac’s act, partially because of the distractions and partly because it had been a while since I’ve seen that particular style of comic. I played my usual “Who Do You Remind Me Of?” game, and came up with two comparisons. There was a little bit of early Newhart there, with the stops and starts, the fake nervous laughs; and there was one other. Isaac Witty, to me, was a poor man’s Emo Phillips.

I’m not sure how many of you recall Emo. I had a very hard time deciding if I enjoyed his act when I first started watching him. From the “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” cut to the Godspell costume clothes, Emo was a being from somewhere else, someplace I wasn’t sure I wanted to visit. Once I truly listened to his lines, however, I enjoyed him. I had to love “I was my next door neighbor’s imaginary friend” or “Some mornings it just doesn’t seem worth it to gnaw through the leather straps.” His delivery was so unique that it was hard for many people to embrace him. I did better when I listened without the distraction of his visuals.

That’s how I came to enjoy Isaac most, as well. I bought his CD Thursday night and listened to it three times Friday morning. It was – sorry – very witty and I heard jokes I wished he had told on stage the night before. Like when the thing you want to describe IS the thing (a deer in headlights) or why there are Free Tibet signs so far away from Tibet (as opposed to yard sale signs, which generally are placed in your neighborhood). His bit about sending a marching band into a war zone instead of the military was funny on so many geek levels, I almost wanted to publicly confess to 5 years of playing the baritone. Almost.

While I was having this experience, many other people were having a very different one. They didn’t care for his material. They didn’t like the persona. They didn’t feel any connection to him offstage. They had some issues of a more personal nature that made them not enjoy his show.

The mini-feud started when all of this was discussed in a Facebook chat that I thought was a private conversation but, due to some very unlikable privacy settings and default changes, was actually made visible to five of us. Two were smart enough to stay away. The rest of us had a rough go of it for a few days. I stand by the opinions I expressed, but had I known who was reading, I might have expressed them differently. In the end, though, our chosen family connection is our devotion to comedy, to keeping the Comedy Club thriving and Rochester laughing. We resolved the situation and I am happy to say my year at the club will continue.

Still, Isaac’s show was the perfect reminder, part of the unique joy and sad reality that two people, sitting next to each other in the same room, watching the same stage, will never see the same show. Our perception filters are there to muddle the experience.

I’ll say again. Laughter is universal. Comedy is subjective.

Isaac Witty may be an acquired taste. I certainly found him funny, along with about ten percent of the room. That’s 2.8 people plus me. Check him out on his web site Give him a chance. As one of the local boys said to me later, “Sometimes when you’re watching comedy, you have to be willing to go there in your head. You have to work for it, but it’s worth it.” They can’t all be dick jokes, folks.

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