Austin Lafond cracks me up.
I guess that’s not such a surprise, given that the 16-year old is well underway on his comedy career path. He’s setting up rooms with local bookers, playing open mics and I’ve seen him onstage at The Comedy Club at least twice already this year. Oh, and then there’s that whole opening for Charlie Murphy here and in Syracuse at the end of the month. Austin is chasing his comedy dream with the same tenacity as many of his slightly older peers. But what is cracking me up right now is just the normalcy of the kid sitting in the booth with me before the show, telling me about the senior prank gone awry that resulted in the arrest of 27 School of the Arts students this week. He breaks the situation down in a number of ways. He feels bad for a few of his friends who were caught in a “wrong place, wrong time” scenario. Some of those kids are about to enter college – what if the incident impacts their acceptance? He’s just as puzzled as I am about the choice of materials. Who would use a permanent spray paint for a prank, when there are so many temporary options available? And why did a few kids have to take it too far, turn it into actual vandalism? It’s ten minutes to show time, and I’m having a regular conversation with a bright kid who is about to get on stage and tell one of my current favorite Holocaust jokes. I can’t help but enjoy the incongruity.
On stage, Austin is disarming. His physical presence can’t be mistaken for anything other than the youngster that he is: a childlike face, a growing-teen stance, a voice that will probably drop a bit by the next time I see him. The audience is in a state of “awwww!” Then he opens with a joke about a “midget – sorry, I guess the PC term is Asian” – and the audience loses it. His set contains a number of age-appropriate setups followed by mature misdirections and smart punchlines. I think adults who don’t spend time with teens on a regular basis tend to forget how funny they can be. The brightest can be both self-conscious and completely shameless at the same time. Add to the mix the superpowers of invincibility and omniscience that we have during those years and you understand why Austin Lafond can make a room full of grown folk laugh out loud. I won’t tell you the Holocaust joke – really, I want you to find him some night and hear it live. He swears it went over well at his friend’s Bar Mitzvah, so you have nothing to fear in finding it funny.
Jesse Joyce is a great contrast to Austin. If Jesse projected awkward onstage, it would be intentional and practiced, and you would say to yourself, hey, this comic is a pretty good actor. Having read his extensive writing credits - the Comedy Central Roasts of Sheen, Saget, Hasselhoff, Flav; numerous television, radio and print commercials that earned him two ADDYs (American Advertising Awards), his partnership with Greg Giraldo, being selected by Joan Rivers to write for her TV Land’s How’d You Get So Rich – but not watched any clips, I was a little under-prepared for the fast and furious funny that is Jesse Joyce.
He expects you to see him as a coked-up Dr. House (“I’m jittery, I talk really fast and I have enormous, squirrelly coke eyes”), which isn’t far off, when he’s got the facial scruff workin’ and you’re viewing him head-on. At various times throughout the weekend, I caught glimpses of a younger Bit of Fry and Laurie Hugh and a thinner-jawed Michael Weatherly (Tony DiNozzo from NCIS). Despite the appeal of his face (!), I found myself drawn to his hands, fingers splayed, as he threw them in the air to highlight hysterical punchlines that were passing by at breakneck speed.
His bit about his drug-selling neighbor (Loose lips sink ships! Between you, me and the lamppost. Mum’s the word!) is sharp, and I loved it when he later said making fun of shelves is “more in his wheelhouse.” While baseball fans hear that expression frequently, it’s one whose origin has yet to be collectively agreed upon. Did it come from a ship’s wheelhouse, where the captain was in control? Was it the wheel on the carriage house floor, whereby the carriage was turned, or the same configuration in a train yard to ease in realigning the cars? Who knows? Who cares? Who pays attention to such things? Well, I do. So I love that joke.
The less nerdy audience members laughed at everything from Jesse being “engaged to be divorced” to his take on Malaysian monkey roadkill. The jokes were rapid-fire, connected by a “so, whatever, it doesn’t matter” when we started to fall behind. While the majority of his set stayed very consistent over the five shows, he added some untold material on Saturday that I later found on his CD, Pro Joyce (available and well worth the money at www.jessejoyce.com or iTunes). For more free funny, check out the videos on the web site, especially what he does to Rich Vos during his performance at Jim Florentine’s roast. Densa meeting? Bonnie and Clydesdale? Forget being John Malkovich. I want to find the door that leads into Jesse Joyce’s head. I don’t know if I can imagine a more amusing place to be right now.
Next week, it’s Robert Kelly. Between now and then, look for a special review of the graduates of Ralph Tetta’s most recent comedy class – the next session starts in July and you can get all the details at www.thecomedyclub.us – and something new, some one-offs on guest spots and trips to other comedy venues. I’m going home to central PA to see Andy Hendrickson again at the Comedy Zone, and will be catching a few Laugh Riot productions around town over the summer. Might as well tell you what I think. Oh, and I might start throwing a few more of my humorous essays up here, too. It’s only fair.