Saturday, July 21, 2012

Brian Dunkleman and Marcus Cox

One of my favorite movies of my early years was “Some Kind of Wonderful.” Falling for someone outside your own social group seemed to be a universal experience, one that your best friend who secretly loved you said would end in utter rejection. Most of us kept those crushes to ourselves, accepting the hierarchy and sticking with the status quo. Every now and then, though, the stars would align or someone popular up top would need to teach someone else a lesson, and the working class soon-to-be hero would get a shot. You put yourself out there, supported by the rest of the underdog pack who hoped for your success. All but your best friend, who wasn’t sure what to hope for. Your night with Amanda Jones was interesting, and everyone learned a little something about themselves and each other. Still, in the end, that pairing was, well, off. In the end, as it was meant to be, Watts was the one on which to hang your future.

I was happy for Watts because I always loved the underdog. For years, I bought into the conventional wisdom that Brian Dunkleman was the American Idol underdog, a poor schmuck who let the big one get away, who came in a distant, forgotten second in the prom king contest of 2002. Since his own public discourse has changed from time to time (I was glad I left, I was going to be let go, I shouldn’t have left, it was the right thing, it was the wrong thing), I stopped giving it any thought. I also stopped watching American Idol, and couldn’t possibly have cared less about Ryan Seacrest, his career, his sexuality, his anything. It had never made sense to me why these two were co-hosts in the first place. One was clearly a comic, one was clearly a spokesperson. The show itself wanted to spotlight the competitors, and that required someone who could interview the kids, highlight the corporate sponsors and take us to commercial break. If there’s no place for original observation, improv or mockery, why hire a comic?

And Brian Dunkleman, truly, is a comic, funny and gifted, amazing with voices and really far too entertaining to simply introduce other people.

Before I get to Brian’s performance, however, let me tell you about the set Marcus had. Recent surgery for skin cancer left him with a bandaged ear and some new jokes. Apparently, the doctor who did the surgery reattached the skin too tight and made his ears a little uneven, which begs the question, “How badly does this dude suck at Mr. Potato Head?” From Dalmatian puppies who are born without spots, to the arrest of a 97-year-old Nazi at Bennigan’s, Marcus worked in quite a bit of new material. It’s odd for me, someone so focused on the words, to not recall or note the actual lines because I’m a little bedazzled by the show, but that’s what happened. I was excited about his delivery. Marcus is getting smoother, his beats between jokes, his transitions, everything seems more confident, more certain. When he asked if anyone else was doing the online dating thing and no one responded, “I’m the only one who’s lonesome – awesome!” burst from his lips without slowing his movement into the next set-up. It was a good night for Marcus.

And then Brian Dunkleman took the stage, saying, “How about a hand for the kid from the Breakfast Club, all grown up. I bought a computer cord from that kid today.” The audience laughed and then we settled back to see what was going to happen.

The Dunkleman show is surprisingly fun. The self-deprecating lines run the gamut from light-hearted (I get winded running a bath; I tore my rotator cuff playing Guitar Hero) to near-tragic (getting second billing in his obituary to William Hung). There’s plenty of Idol chatter, with jokes about Simon and Ryan’s sexuality, the laughter he sometimes incurs from people who think he threw away a multi-million dollar shot, and the unearned vehemence of Seacrest fans who seem to take Brian’s emotions as a personal affront (yes, that’s you, Cunty Cunt Cunt). And maybe those are the jokes people show up to see, maybe that’s material he can’t put down until the audience does. But it isn’t even his funniest stuff.

Brian is at his best when he’s talking about relatable things: being married to a feisty woman, choosing a non-rescue dog and possibly giving birth to very swarthy, hobbit-sized children. His advice for keeping a relationship together – the only way to win is not to play – is smart. His take on parents who give their children ridiculous names (Apple Martin – that’s only one syllable away from apple martini) is contemporary and witty. And his bit about not doing any more sit-ups, but still doing crunches (Nestles, Captain, Cinnamon Toast) is accompanied by the most adorable eye twinkle-nose wrinkle combination this side of a Christmas elf.

I have that elf image in my head because, Friday night, Brian broke into some unplanned voice work that brought the room to its knees. He referred to an older member of the audience as Burl Ives and then began singing, “Silver and Gold.” Soon, we were hearing Rudolph, Hermie, Yukon and Charlie-in-a-Box and another side of Brian Dunkleman emerged. The man’s voices are spot-on, and the story he launched into about how his friends used his talent to get laid in high school was priceless. I was laughing so hard, both impressed by and simply grateful for that bit of foolishness.

The other part of Brian’s set I admired were his one-liners. “Don’t you hate it when someone’s into you just for your brains? Fuckin’ zombies!” When he made comments about the wait staff and the audience jumped in – “Her name is Candace.” “Her name is Rachel.” – Brian quickly responded, “What is this, Webster, the Waitress Protection Program?” Having Chet Wild in the room Friday gave Brian a chance to play with a comedian friend, to open up and just let go. His mind is quick, his humor is mostly light, even if the subject is a little dark. The American Idol stuff still seems to carry a little heat, but I blame the rest of us for keeping that going. Go to and check out his work. Don’t skip the acting reel – it’s a bit of a revelation. And in the shorts column, “The Horror” is a must! You can also follow him on Twitter.

Look, I have nothing against Ryan Seacrest. Ten years after Idol, though, I can honestly say Brian Dunkleman is more interesting to me as a performer than almost anything else associated with that show. I admit, I love Simon’s directness, his smugness. It amuses me. But it doesn’t make me laugh like Dunkleman. And in the end, though a night with Amanda Jones is amusing, I still want the winner to be Watts.

No comments:

Post a Comment