Sunday, May 13, 2012

Jimmy Shubert, Steve Burr and Ralph Tetta

I began this blog as a way to keep an appointment with myself, as a place to put my notes and thoughts in preparation for a book I’m writing. I also wanted to promote the Comedy Club, to support live comedy here in Rochester and take a weekly laugh bath. As such, it wasn’t my intention to be a critic, at least not in the purest sense of that word. I began the first few in a straightforward manner, but now that I’m kinda’ in my element, you’ve noticed me drawing connections to my own life, to pop culture at large and the greater comedy world. I pull up quotes or lyrics that might inform my opinion on the most recent show. I am opening up the pieces a bit and, while I’m not sure how any of you feel about that, it makes them a joy to write.

I imagined, when I began, that the most difficult pieces to write would be the acts I didn’t like, the shows that didn’t go well. I am at a point in my life where I wish people well, try to see their strengths and hope for their success. I thought that might be hardest to do when I found myself sitting in the club and not feeling any impulse to laugh.

I was wrong.

Turns out, the most difficult pieces for me to write, at this point, are the ones that include comics who are my friends. I am using the real meaning of the word friend here, no disrespect to Facebook. This week, I have to write about two of them, Steve and Ralph, both men I admire for their comedic skills and adore for their simply being. They are the kind of friends you console in times of loss, celebrate in times of achievement and go to the midnight movies with in times of comic-book-to-big-screen premiers.

I have procrastinated this week because I want to do justice to my friends. The end product may take on a different form than previous pieces. I am unsure. Come along, anyway. It could be a good trip.

I’m gonna’ start, in honor of my hero A. Whitney Brown, by telling you folks about the Big Picture. The overall show was a good one, because the three acts share some core characteristics. Their humor is generally observational, relatable, well-written and well-performed. They all have a level of skill that reflects years of experience. They all understand the job they’ve chosen. As a whole, the evening was filled with set-up/punch line comedy, the kind we all know and love, the kind that makes us laugh out loud.

As MC, Steve got the audience moving right away. He was upbeat, throwing in newer material with his classic go-to stuff. He chatted with Jeff, who was celebrating his 42nd birthday. He talked about going to see the Avengers after the show and threw out a “Wonder Woman costume, not even Marvel” reference that made a few of us geeks feel, just for a second, that our comic book pasts had lead us to that very moment when only we got the joke. Steve was having fun, so we were having fun.

And then he brought up his comedy friend/political foil, Ralph Tetta.

I introduce them this way because, if you’ve friended either of them on Facebook, you know that’s how they are – two guys who couldn’t seem to be further apart on the political spectrum, but who care about each other more deeply than some of us do actual family. Watching Steve and Ralph together is like watching old Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello films, right down to the skinny/not-so body types. I’m hoping they find the right project to tackle together, because that duo dynamic doesn’t exist much anymore (no, the Sklar brothers don’t count. Twins who complete each other’s sentences don’t make the jokes funnier).

Ralph started his set with some audience work, playing with a guy stuck in the “comedian ass seat” off the end of stage right. He kept the laughter going with his regular material (two year coke habit that left him fat, shouldn’t have sprinkled it on lasagna), but along the way, people wanted to jump in. When Ralph began talking about his 17-year marriage, one heckler with a few drinks under his belt got a little aggressive, slurring something like, “When you get to 24 years, then you’ll have a marriage.” After a few exchanges, Ralph asked the guy, “Where’s your wife now?” “She’s at home.” “Yeah? How do you know?” The audience laughed and the guy eventually simmered down. Ralph finished his set, sharing his key to wedded bliss: marry into your weight class. While Steve returned to the stage to bring on the headliner, the heckler got up from his seat, went over to Ralph and offered his hand to show there were no hard feelings.

The rest of us moved on to the evening’s main event.

With plenty of television and movie credits (2 Broke Girls, Reno 911!, Entourage, The King of Queens, Go, The Italian Job, and more), you’ve probably already seen Jimmy Shubert, the actor. Take that expressive face, booming voice and confident body language, throw it in front of a fake brick wall emblazoned with “The Comedy Club,” and turn on the mic. What you get is an hour or so of traditional stand-up delivered by an experienced pro, washed down with a couple vodka shots.

When a set starts with a hand job/Shake Weight joke, you know exactly what sort of ride you’re in for. He begins a series of themed jokes about airports, touching on everything from the TSA (Take Away Shampoo?) and the need to show your id every three feet, terrorists and racial profiling, to the ridiculousness of soda rationing on the plane. It’s not story-telling – there’s no narrative being moved forward by the jokes; it’s more like firing 50 rapid-fire rounds at the same target. His energy pushes you along, not giving you a chance to step outside and process anything. You don’t need to think too hard, anyway – he’s got the tour all set up and you’ve just got to sit back and enjoy the ride. There’s a certain comedy audience who loves this style of show, and they come out for Jimmy Shubert.

I have to admit, it can be a little scary watching this man onstage. When he’s deep in a rant, or railing against some out-of-their-league hecklers (shut up, you selfish twat. Sorry, didn’t mean to say selfish), his face turns red and I wonder how strong his heart is. For those of us who love the Hicks-Leary-Miller-Black tirades, it’s part of the fun. Still, when he breaks character and laughs at himself, I think we all feel a bit relieved.

So, back to the Big Picture. For me, the flow not just of these guys, but between them, made for an interesting night. Three different comics with similar features that gave the overall show continuity I haven’t noticed very often in the past. The audience enjoyed the entire evening, even though they didn't have the added bonuses of a lecture on how to stay relevant in the business by Jimmy and a midnight showing of "The Avengers" with Ralph and Steve. I hope I will worry a little less in the future when I talk about these guys, and maybe focus on the one thought that came to me sitting in that theater, passing around Red Vines and Mike and Ikes. Friendship has its privileges.

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