Sunday, August 26, 2012

8/23/12 Paul Hooper, Julian Kross, Austin Lafond and Pam Werts

“Unless a man or woman has experienced the darkness of the soul, he or she can know nothing of that transforming laughter, without which no hint of the ultimate reality of the opposites can be faintly intuited.” Helen Luke, a strong Jungian and a lovely little old lady in her own right, in an essay titled “The Laughter at the Heart of Things,” talked about the vital importance of a sense of humor on the spiritual road to freedom and joy. It makes sense that a student of Jung would embrace integrating dark and light, things most of us see as opposites. In a nutshell, and not to bore you to death with my college psychology recall, Jung was a proponent of individuation, the joining together of opposites like the conscious and unconscious to become a whole being, while still maintaining the essence of each, their relative autonomy. He believed it to be holistically healing, and that those of us who achieve this state tend to be “harmonious, mature and responsible.”

I say all this not to impress you with my vast knowledge of useless information, but to share with you that, while the lightness is what I try to exude in my daily interactions with people, the darkness within is what allows the light to exist. And I love darkness, both in the natural state of a new moon night, and the psychological states of anger, fear and melancholy. Dark humor makes me laugh. Dark chocolate makes me swoon. The woman who has repeatedly referenced Pollyanna throughout these blogs adores well-written and masterfully-delivered rape and Holocaust jokes, lines that make me laugh and find myself a bit repugnant at the same time. I think that’s human, it feels right to me. So you shouldn’t be surprised that I love the weird, dark intensity that is Paul Hooper.

Paul is not the darkest comic I can think of, but he sure walks the same unlit alleys. After the raving I did last week about Carl LaBove bringing light to his village, it might seem a little discordant that I will rave equally for a comic who seems at the opposite end of the spectrum. I say, nay. These two men engage different parts of my brain, tickle different spots on my funny bone, delight me in ways that collectively leave me holistically healed.

First, though, let’s take a quick look at the other comics on stage this weekend. Pam Werts is handling the MC position and working in a medley of her “greatest hits” in preparation for the semi-finals of the Funniest Person in Rochester Contest. Her fans are hearing her classics – the commercials she feels are a testament to the dumbing down of America, her mother’s experiences with pot and at the Ob/Gyn – and laughing accordingly. While she’s still relatively new to hosting, she knows how to engage people and isn’t afraid to tell them exactly what she expects from them as an audience.

Austin Lafond is in the booth simply to watch, when he is asked to do a 5-minute set Thursday, late Friday and Saturday. Austin’s working in new jokes, as well as new segues and filler. His “not being PC” bit (My teacher didn’t like that I used the word midget. I guess the politically correct term was Asian.) and camp jokes stand out as dark enough to be a complement to Julian and Paul, despite coming from this squeaky-clean, cherubic face. I love his contrast, and everyone is impressed by his confidence. For me, watching Austin is a pleasure every time.

Julian Kross is a good friend of Paul’s who came down for Friday night’s shows. I know I usually only review Thursday, but Julian is worth writing about. He begins by helping us wrap our brains around the dichotomy of his look versus his accent. (My father lost his hopes and dreams in northeast London, and thought the first place he should look for them was in a trailer park in rural North Carolina.) He tells us bullies were stronger when he was a child, how it only took 7 8-year-olds kicking him over a weekend to beat down the influence of a 5000 year British monarchy, and replace it with an accent carved from 300 years of brown eggs, corn liquor and racism. He goes on to discuss his children, the ex-wife he completely forgot about and the art of truly fighting in a relationship. He breaks down the very strange dumb shit his mother says to him, especially her opinion on chicken and dog fighting versus baby fighting. He closes by explaining why female teachers who have sex with their male students should actually be part of the Make A Wish Foundation. Julian’s delivery is more than a little angry, but you get lulled in by the accent that lilts even as it spits and sputters. Check out his web site (, look for his book “What You Didn’t Expect When You Got Knocked Up” on Amazon or iTunes, find him on Facebook and get to know this comedian, writer, asshole – and really funny guy.

Now, let’s go back to Paul Hooper. He starts by telling us he’s a surly turd and claims it’s because his father left when he was three, and we are about to pay the price. That’s something you’ll remember long after the show ends, because he goes back to it ten or more times in the next hour to perfect comic effect. For the first twenty minutes or so, you learn why Paul will never have one of those “World’s Greatest Father” mugs from which to imbibe his coffee. When fuck stick is a synonym for child, when pumpkin-headed berserker is almost a term of endearment, there are probably no ties and cheap cologne in your Father’s Day future. “If you have eight kids, you’re never going to Australia – you’re going to Walmart.” A great rant about the Duggers and an acknowledgement that kids are faulty little droids brings us to this moment: I’m an only child, I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this.

The next big chunk begins with Paul just blurting out, “I think I was molested,” then proceeding to tell the audience a story of 6-year-old butt bumping, flustered stepfather intervention and learning that Santa doesn’t exist. It’s a great bit, and highlights the way he scaffolds his set. Each new idea somehow builds on an earlier one, making the overall impression of the show seamless. I would guess that’s a positive influence of his OCD. His rapid ranting and quick-draw pauses make you feel obligated to keep up and delighted to discover you can. Fourteen years in the business has taught him how to bring an audience along, like a comedy personal trainer who pushes you to go a little harder each time.

Paul’s set goes on with the atrocities he may or may not have committed while he was a suicidal alcoholic – did he or did he not set a cat on fire? He can’t remember; the owner could be lying. He knows if he drinks again, he’ll be like Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven”, only instead of attacking people for killing his best friend, he’ll take out anyone who talks about Tim Tebow. He shares the difficulty of crossing the border with a DUI on his record, while Tim Allen’s former drug trafficking hasn’t stopped him from playing theaters all over Canada. His Roman Polanski comparison (Which is worse, statutory rape or bad Santa movies? I don’t know, but, either way, a child shouldn’t be surprised like that.) lost a few people, but made me spit water all over myself. His line about Birmingham, Alabama, where the only thing harder to get than an abortion is sarcasm, is one I hope to tattoo inside my brain.

Because of how fast this man thinks, talks, I’ve only gotten through maybe a third of Thursday night’s set. I’ll speed it up a little by going all Barry Sobel on you and just sharing some of my favorite punch lines. “Don’t leave me stranded on a couch with an afghan and my inner turmoil.” “He’s an intense and uncomfortable person. Play with that.” “How far back are we going with these elixirs? Is this the War of 1812?” “My retirement dream is to drive cross-country in a convertible with my duck, listening to NPR.” “It isn’t all mouth spreaders and ass play with me.” “I finally want to fuck her and there’s an assassin guarding her vagina.” There is so much more. Go to and watch his bits about the Oklahoma moron girl, the NYC brothers who don’t work well together. Friend him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter to learn when the podcast, The Dreaded Hour, will be ready for consumption.

I guess by now you can tell I adore this guy. I have such a personal and passionate reaction to some comics, that it’s hard to keep even a hint of a professional voice in this blog some weeks. I’m not going to try any more. I’m just going to gush when it feels right. If you don’t like it, you should probably follow me, commenting every week on what I write. Remember to focus more on my strengths, quote my great lines, and be as encouraging as possible, maybe even gentle and Pollyanna-like. I think that’s how I learn best.

Next week, I am having my birthday dinner with an old friend on Thursday, so I will miss a showcase at The Club. Instead, I will regale you with tales from the Chet Wild Comedy Showcases Friday night, especially the Cringefest, for which I rescheduled my visit home. And I hope to pull together a piece called “Laugh Lines,” where I’ll just share with you my favorite jokes from the last six months of live shows I’ve attended.

Thanks for staying with me through whatever last month was. Thanks for getting that I do truly believe in the vital importance of a sense of humor on the spiritual road to freedom and joy. Thanks for promoting live comedy wherever and however you can. Thanks for making one girl’s giggle feel meaningful and shared. I truly dig laughing with you people.

Friday, August 24, 2012

8/16 Carl LaBove and Brian Herberger

Outlaws of Comedy. Sam Kinison. Friendship. Paternity. Support. Lien. Fucked up mess.

There. I got that out of the way for you, so you can focus on what’s important for the next few moments. Carl Labove is so much more than just THAT story, than just that guy’s friend. Carl Labove is an exciting, exquisite teller of tales and comic in his own right, and that’s what I want you to think about during this review.

First, let me mention that Brian Herberger had one of the strongest sets I’ve ever seen him deliver at The Comedy Club this weekend, and it was delightful to see the audience’s temperature and his pause rate meld together into something perfectly timed and well-received. Congrats, Brian.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the man who made me laugh out loud more times this weekend than I have altogether in the past month. Carl started out with a little priming of the small but eager audience by telling us he’s tired of crowds. He likes this intimate approach, he’s not into laughter like some comedians. If half of us are just staring at him, it’ll be fine. Naturally, everyone is now ready to go wherever he chooses to take us. And what a ride it is.

From his sphincter muscle tension during the puddle jumper trip to get here, to the breakfast line of air-conditioned stroke zombies at the hotel, every small moment of daily living becomes a shared chuckle, an embarrassing anecdote or an aberrant whopper to be hung over the mantle and marveled at en mass. There are few simple observations – they all seem to be integral parts of a bigger exchange. The sound effects, the pratfalls, the contortions and conniptions involving his every physical part make this show more than a comedy set. This is living theater.

While each of Carl’s five shows were different, either in content or organization, they all were filled with funny. This night, he takes us through stories about his $900 asthmatic Devon Rex kitten, an unplanned acid trip at 18 that led to his encounter with a talking vagina, getting a job on the water truck at the construction site, bull riding at Mickey Gilley’s place and his mother’s religious conversion. Along the way are lots of shared tidbits that seem like words of advice from a funny uncle. This is paraphrased, as I was listening and laughing too hard to write it verbatim. Ladies, if you’re on a date and you need to put an end to unwanted sexual tension, use your straw. Gag on it (simulated sucking and choking). Then say, oh, this straw is so huge! The next words out of his mouth will be, “Check, please.” Retold on Friday and Saturday, Carl uses the neck of his Corona bottle to the same laugh-inducing effect. Also a standout is his explanation of organized religion: it’s like Amway. The product is good, but I don’t want to hang out with the salesmen.

Carl keeps the audience included in the stories through comments like, “That’s the loneliest clap I’ve ever heard.” “I wrote that joke for one clap, but I bet it’ll be getting 15 by Saturday.” “This must be what a stripper feels like when there’s only one guy left in the club.” I’ll never get that dance out of my brain.

The bit that I connected with most strongly is the tale of his mother and her religious conversion. The description of her Christian Tourettes – random shouts of “Jesus Christ” or “Hallelujah” – is a little more animated than my own mother’s relationship with the Lord, but that one crying confession – “I wish you were going to Heaven!” – hit home. I’d been on the receiving end of that line many times throughout my years. I felt even more nostalgic when he shared his trick of faking his way through the hymns to shift the ever-present eye of Christian judgment to some other stranger in the chapel that day. When Carl belted out “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” I was both warmed by his beautiful voice and transported back to my church choir Sundays at Chestnut Grove. A bit that can evoke mirth and memory at the same time is a gift.

I guess there’s no hiding how much I adore Carl Labove. Every show was mesmerizing. I recorded an overwrought video note on my way home Friday night: in your review, say something about how in another time, on nights of angry skies filled with lightning, Carl would be the distracting voice around the fire, soothing children and reminding the elders of past storms weathered, bringing light of a more permanent kind to the darkness. He would be able to wear the mask of tragedy, but not without pulling it aside to wink at those who watched, to remind us that we can turn any story into a comedy, if we choose.

Many people tell stories, few people tell them so well, so completely, as Carl Labove. Another of my comedy heroes, Tom Rhodes, describes Carl to me as one of his favorite human beings on the planet, and I couldn't agree more. Check out for one of the coolest web site designs I’ve seen in a while. You can get info on his upcoming projects, including a possible movie of his personal story and a future book of his twisted tales. Support him live any chance you get, because he’s simply amazing.

On a personal note, I wrote in my Mid-year report that I have not found much joy with comedy recently. I told you that I shared that with my comedy angel, never expecting a reply – I talk to the dead often, they talk back only rarely. Apparently, Tiny just needed enough time to finish his holy set and make a few phone calls. I got the message, the reminder that my comic view has always had more than one channel, has always been bigger than the space I inhabit. There will always be friends willing to pass the punch lines and I need never feel lost simply because my comics are spread around this world or another.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Laugh Riot: A Bromance of Comic Proportions

You’ve read several reviews over the past few months that included Dario Josef either hosting or doing guest spots at The Comedy Club; what I want to tell you about now is his biggest project, Laugh Riot Comedy, and his comedy life partner, Kevin Ricotta. These two guys are making the scene funny all over the greater Rochester area in bars, in theater spaces, even on a boat!

Dario and Kevin are very different comics whose styles are a direct reflection of where they are in life. Dario has that new puppy energy, eagerness to please and willingness to learn new tricks. Kevin, on the other hand, has the married guy stability thing working for him, and a calmer nature. The two of them balance each other in good and interesting ways. Together, they are creating comedy rooms all over town that provide workshop opportunities and practice space for their fellow up-and-comers. I haven’t been to all of them, but I can tell you about the three I’ve checked out so far.

The first was, I think, a Sunday night at the Brickwood Grill on Monroe Avenue. The room is a little removed from the bar, but still fairly open, and the 13 of us (6 comics, 4 friends and family, 3 random bar patrons, if I counted correctly) were able to sit down to see and hear the whole show. Kevin and Dario led the pack, which I know included Marcus Cox and maybe Brian Edwards, but I can’t remember who else and I can’t find my notes right now. What I do remember is that it seemed like a night to build on.

The second time was on the Mary Jemmison cruise on the Genesee. Dario and Kevin both did stand up, while the Geva and Search Engine Improv groups performed various games for a mixed-age crowd. The show was an experiment that should continue. With a better sound system, and a guaranteed time for enjoying the beautifully distracting view, I would love for them to try this again.

Most recently, I’ve spent a few Tuesday nights at Dub Land Underground. The spot is tough: the speakers are set up 5 feet from the bar, there’s no cover charge so anyone who just wants to sit at the bar and talk can easily derail the comedy. Still, each of the past two weeks, I’ve seen at least 9 or 10 of my local faves standing at the mic and throwing out their newest, strangest or soon-to-be-retired lines to anyone who is listening. There’s a certain looseness that suits these guys and their styles, but there’s also a lot of distraction, a lot of uncontrollable factors. It’s been an interesting experience, especially this week when Katie Wood and Strawberry Shortcake nearly threw down in a comedy catfight. I can’t deny, however, that it’s fun to sit there and listen to some pretty dark comedy in a pretty dark room with some pretty funny comics.

Laugh Riot is an example of what’s good in the local scene. If you can’t find a stage, make one. If there aren’t enough places to perform, create your own shows. Kevin and Dario have the right idea, the right chemistry and the right initiative. What they need now is more of the right audience. What they need is support, help to grow. I’m on board. What about you? Find either guy or Laugh Riot Comedy on Facebook and get them on your calendar now.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

8/9/12 Joel Lindley, Chet Wild, Jordan Hernandez and Rick Matthews

It was a bonus night at The Comedy Club, with four performers slated to take the stage. Rick Matthews got things rolling admirably with his marriage and fatherhood material, quickies (Women can multi-task. I can’t even task.) and weight loss bits. My favorite remains his whole discussion around big guys getting nicknames, usually from their cute female friend who says they’re just like a big teddy bear who makes them feel safe. “Just because we can’t see our dicks doesn’t mean we no longer want to use them.” His turning the tables, wanting to curl up on those big bean-bag girls, gets me every time I hear it. Rick’s coming along as an MC, and will be performing in the semi-finals of the Funniest Person in Rochester contest.

Jordan Hernandez looks like he should be in a boy band, but can certainly hold an audience’s attention when he’s telling jokes. It seemed roughly 80% of the room had come to support him while he discussed not knowing how to pick up girls (who needs a GTO when they’ve got a GPA?), using song lyrics as pick up lines and being able to do jokes about Hispanics because he’s half Puerto Rican and therefore at least partially PC. Kudos for also bringing back the word “super duper” without being a bubblegum popping, pig-tailed tween or Big Gay Al.

Chet Wild worked the crowd with his usual flair, taking them through his grandma’s birthday card, missing kidney and social media bits with energy and ease. It’s no secret that Chet is one of my local favorites; he delivers more consistently than any other comic I’ve seen in the past year and he believes in putting in the hard work to better his act.

Finally, it was time for our headliner.

I made things a bit awkward with Joel Lindley by asking him, while sharing the judges’ booth during the quarterfinals of the contest, whether or not he had seem the review I did of his February show with Jim Norton. He said no. I told him he would not enjoy it, as I had not really found him funny. That led to a Q & A session about what it was exactly that I hadn’t cared for, after which I assured him I try to be in the moment for each show and review only what I’m actually seeing. I promised I would be listening with fresh ears this time.

As I explained in my Marianne Sierk review, if I don’t find myself enjoying a show, I always want to know why. I try to analyze every aspect, from physical presence and word choice to persona and delivery, attempting to pinpoint exactly what it is that isn’t reaching me. I listened with the intention of identifying those lines that did make me laugh, and I was successful.

Here are just a few: Jesus being a carpenter – not necessarily the sort you’d expect would go to trade school; Once you go white, you’ll be very pleased with your decision; I’m ready to meet a nice girl, settle down and then start cheating on her. I also really dug the two math-related questions: What’s 2A + 2B? ABBA? What’s pi r squared? Pop Tart? There were a few more sprinkled throughout the set. I also like the closer about going to a gun shop and messing with the salesperson.

There remain pieces of Joel’s routine that I still don’t find funny. The audience piece where he applies the bouncer voice to their real-life profession really doesn’t amuse me, but I can’t tell if it’s because the bit isn’t clever or if the voice is so overly annoying.

One thing hasn’t changed since February. The audience still loves Joel Lindley. He’s still professional, polished and popular. Joel is still everything a comic of his stature should be, and I can appreciate that. This time around, I even found reasons to laugh. Follow Joel at the usual places, Twitter and Facebook.

Next up, some words about Laugh Riot Productions.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

8/3/12 Al Madrigal, Jimmy LeChase and Ralph Tetta

The evening began in the capable and familiar hands of Ralph Tetta, who handled the celebrations and housekeeping with aplomb. He then bought to the stage the evening’s guest spot, Jimmy LeChase.

I’ve been hearing great things about Jimmy for at least six months but, because I hadn’t yet made my way to Boulder or any of the other open mics around the city, I hadn’t yet had the privilege. Fortunately, Jimmy brought his “wedding chunk” material, and I could completely relate. He started discussing the difference in his feelings toward getting married to his best friend (like lying in a field of grass, looking up at clouds, where cherubs are riding unicorns as they jump over rainbows) versus the process of planning a wedding (like getting stabbed with a sword made of a million 9/11s). He went on to cover the cost of feeding guests and what he could have bought instead. Finally, he closed his set by sharing the brilliance of marrying someone who cleans when angry. I won’t recite it here, because Jimmy can be found all around town, and it is worth the effort to hear it straight from him. Next month, look for the first monthly installment of “After Bedtime with Jimmy LeChase.” Find the details at, and learn more about Jimmy by friending him on Facebook or following him on Twitter.

At the heart of Al Madrigal’s current show are his wife and children, and the crazy characters that orbit around them. He explains married shorthand, when a couple doesn’t speak, but uses touch to communicate. He rubs the back of his wife’s thumb and she knows it means Cholo at 3 o’clock. In this case, it’s Cholo Soccer Dad, Coach Louis. He brings the snack list, centered under the header in Arial, and says inappropriate things to the kids. “You guys are gonna pay attention or you’re gonna have bad dreams.” His 6 year old son tells him “That’s how I roll,” and Al assumes he learned it from television. “My wife doesn’t say that. It’s one of the reasons I married her.” He made the mistake of teaching his son how to do comebacks, and now regrets it when the pint-sized wit is turned on him.

As the hour continues, we meet the Blue Tarp neighbors, the mushroom-tripping college cleaning lady (“On Sunday I was reading the Bible to the children, and now I’m on the droges.”) and the finalists in the day laborer contest, Hector and Jesus. The stories have an easy flow, like a conversation that lasts into the night. Al’s voices bring the characters to life. I could see him and Jesus sitting in that truck, staring at the chichis negra and bonding like frat brothers. Rapid, nonstop storytelling with smart references and engaging accents, that’s the simple breakdown of what Al Madrigal brought to The Comedy Club. To check it out yourself, pick up his cd, “Cholos on a Moped,” and check out his podcast, “Minivan Man.”

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Mid Year Report

(I've been sitting on this for a week. Wasn't sure if I should post it, but it's real and honest, and this is my blog, after all. It also will help explain why my Carl Labove review will sound deliriously, ridiculously giddy and giggly.)

When I was young, I adored this thing called comedy.

Childhood was full of so many reasons to feel like an outsider who was never quite enough: not pretty enough for the boys I liked, not normal enough for the girls I wanted to hang out with, not rich enough to matter, not tough enough to handle all that life had given me to deal with. I am the biological child of a prostitute mother who had 12 children and put 9 of us up for adoption. According to the story told to me by her sister, she got arrested for drugs, thought she might get probation instead of jail time if she were pregnant, and took a gamble by conceiving me. She lost. I spent my developing months in a women’s correctional facility, became a ward of the state at birth, and was placed with the couple who would become my family at the age of three weeks.

I know, where’s the funny part, right?

It’s not exactly a tragedy. My parents loved me very much, even if they didn’t understand me. I had friends and boyfriends and moments of triumph and hideous hurts, like you, like everyone. Around third grade, however, I realized I felt just half a step out of synch with the rest of the world. Slightly askew. I was an introverted extrovert, or maybe I was an extroverted introvert. I could speak in front of crowds, read well beyond my years, imagine and act out entire worlds when I played, and still enjoyed being by myself. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be included or left alone, noticed or not seen.

Due to varying influences explained in “One Girl’s Giggle,” comedy and I were pals.

And one day about 19 years ago, I met this amazing man. He was physically large and imposing, spiritually warm and protecting. He called everyone friend, even if he’d never met them before. He told stories that made the most innocent child and jaded adult laugh together. To me, he was the living embodiment of a gentle giant. And he was magic: he was a comedian. I met him when he was just starting out. It would be another four or five years until we became true friends and, by then, he was a stand up.

I found myself seeking reasons to hire him. He did teambuilding exercises with my camp staff, he did conflict resolution workshops with my Girl Scouts, and he never failed to put a smile on my face. He joint-taught improv and stand up classes with me. The more we worked together, the more we shared the ways we experienced humor, the moments that left us dizzy from laughing too hard. He brought me this thing I adored, this thing called comedy, and placed it in my hands. He encouraged me to write, he tried to convince me to get on stage again and do it myself. We would talk for hours about all aspects of comedy, who we liked, what we didn’t, gender and cultural differences, smart business models. He was a great friend. And then he died, way too soon.

But another funny man stepped into the gap. This one was leaving the stage for awhile, wanted to focus on writing. We would camp out and hand laptops back and forth, sharing lines we were proud of, asking for suggestions on the ones that were still a little off. He never hesitated to laugh at something I wrote or said if it was truly funny; he would also be the first one to tell me when something wasn’t. He, too, was temporary. He moved on with his life and, though we still talk, that connection has naturally weakened with distance.

The thing about my two friends, my two comics, is that they never challenged my passion, they never said “hey, this place isn’t for you.” Without them, sometimes, I feel like I’m walking around this familiar but foreign landscape to which they gave me access, only my passport is gone. Where once I had some diplomatic immunity, I am now regarded with suspicion.

I am writing this because the past few weeks have been painful, have been draining. This thing I love, this place that for so long has been my refuge, is beginning to feel forced and cruel and no longer funny. I am becoming someone I don’t recognize, saying things that I don’t mean, feeling burdened by too many vows of secrecy. The behavior I’m witnessing, both my own and that of others, is not anything of which I am proud. I am trying to be compassionate, kind and loving toward the maximum number of people possible, even people who are cruel to me. I’ve dealt with cruelty before. I’ve been cruel myself. I struggle with my role in this world I want so much to continue to be a part of, but realize my allies are gone. My comics are gone.

I began this project as “Thursdays at the Club” because, for a long time, I used to come to Thursday night shows and always try to bring a friend or two. It was the hardest night for the comic. Who wants to show up at a gig and play to a sparsely-seated room the first night? I still recall seeing Mark Price once with 15 people, including the wait staff. I hated being put at the front table – I NEVER want to be part of the show. I come to watch. But I sat there when asked because, at the bottom of all this, I have a lot of respect for anyone who steps into the light. It doesn’t mean I’ll like your humor, but it means I’ll listen and applaud and not be a jackass while you’re on stage. I have offered Saturday lunch to a number of comics over the years because it sucks to be stuck in the Super 8 with no car, no company and limited food options in walking distance. Sometimes, people say yes. We have a meal and talk about whatever comes up. For me, it’s a little like a fanboy moment, like having an all-access pass at Comic-Con. Still, the things I’ve heard said about those lunches? Ridiculous.

I know how some of you see me. I’ve heard it all: she’s a wanna-be, she’s a hanger-on, she just wants to fuck one of you. Some of that is guy talk, I get it. It’s not anything personal and I don’t take offense. But I’ve heard it has been said by a friend, seriously, that I’m trying to fuck him, fuck you, fuck the headliners. Let’s be clear: While I have never hidden my attraction for smart, witty, funny guys, I’m not a chuckle fucker. I don’t want someone JUST BECAUSE he’s a comedian. And I can broker my own sex. If I want you, the first person who will tell you is me. There is nothing demure about me. If you feel you need further clarification, see “Funny Fuckers” or simply ask me.

Sometimes I just want to come to your house and kick your dog, even though he’s never so much as barked in my direction. I want to lash out and prove my inner bitch knows how to hurt with striking precision, I want to tell you that I know what a cunt I can be because I’ve tried very hard not to be a cunt. And then I want to remind you that, like me or not, you want me around. If you didn’t care about an audience, you would keep your funny on paper, like I do. But you do not. You stand in front of a room of people, with a live mic in your hand, sharing your thoughts and looking for feedback. You get a kick out of hanging with your fellow comics and trying to make each other laugh, sure. But you tweet, facebook, email and poster, you travel miles for little or no money, you work your best seven minutes in a side room off a sports bar for an audience. You want to be seen. You want to be heard. I would venture to say some of you NEED it. For you, I’m a gift. I’m a real comedy fan, a lover of the art.

So, let’s get this thing back on track.

I am going to start branching out, coming to coffee houses and pizza joints, attending improv shows and jokes on boats (again). I am going to catch up on the several reviews that I have not finished in the past few weeks. And then I am going to find my comedy bliss (again). This is going to be fun, or it is going to be over. Live comedy and I will break up; we’ll promise we’ll stay friends, but it won’t work. We’ll feel awkward when we meet unexpectedly, won’t know what to say when others enquire about our status. I can always write about my long-distance flings, like my obsession with British comedian-based pseudo game shows (Ah, QI. Mock the Week. Dilemma. How you comfort me.). Of course, it won’t be the same.

I went to Riverside Cemetery Sunday and had a long chat with my friend. I gave him a copy of the DVD from the show we put on in his memory. I apologized for not dropping by sooner. And then I spoke all of these thoughts to him, asked for a little help. No, I didn’t expect an answer and I didn’t get one. But I had a peaceful place to recall what we had shared over the years, and I could clearly see myself giggling like a child.

A month from now, if I haven’t found my laughing place again, then I’ll move on. There will always be other reasons to put words on paper; I’m going to build a website to connect the different ways and whys I write in one easy-to-find location. And this blog will be just a place where I used to share some thoughts about comedy.

It’s only ever been one girl’s giggle. I never promised more or less than that.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Marianne Sierk, Mike Gifaldi and Dario Josef

If you’re following this blog regularly – and I know at least three of you are – you probably have a sense of the kind of comedy I love the most. Smart, dark, edgy, political, sexual, surrealistic word play is not as easily surmised as “observational” or “prop comedy.” The things that really fire my brain synapses are varied, and for that I am grateful. It allows me to enjoy many different comics; it lets me be a little more Pollyanna in my prose because I can find something to laugh at in nearly every performance I watch. The flip side, however, is that I’ve been told I’m too nice to trust as a reviewer, that I need to give equal shrift to the elements of a show that I don’t like. Well, that’s not so easy. As I keep stressing, I’m a fan. I want to move people to check out live comedy, I have a selfish desire to keep The Comedy Club open because my entire social life takes place in its booths. As an educator, a motivator, I want to encourage beginners, acknowledge dedication and show proper respect to the trailblazers. And even my dearest comic pals don’t hesitate to remind me that I should only have so much criticism for something I am not actively doing myself. Of course, that line of thinking disappears when they are Monday morning quarterbacking.

I admit it is much more natural and simple for me to find your good, your strength, than to attack your weakness, because it’s a way I’m choosing to try to live my whole life. It doesn’t mean that I love every show, that I can’t express my dislikes. What it does mean, though, is that on those days when I am struggling, when I’m just not getting it, I try to defer to my puzzle-solving nature and seek the reason. Why am I not enjoying this so much? Is it the material? Is it the persona? Is there something else going on in my life that’s distracting me and not allowing me to give this person a fair shake? I have an obsessive need to understand things. Why? Why now? Why this? Why me? Why her? Why, why, why?

Why am I telling you this? I had one of those awkward experiences this week and want to be honest about it.

We’ll start with Mike Gifaldi, one of a handful of up-and-comers on the local scene whose material cracks me up. “Science is religion for smart people.” That’s the kind of line that puts a smile on my face. And while Mike’s set has a number of those, it also has some really dark moments. “I love the summer fashions. They show off my favorite feature on a woman – bruises.” I know, not for everyone, right? So it comes as no surprise when a room is hot and cold with Mike. Still, I believe, the longer he does comedy, the larger his repertoire of jokes, the smoother his seven minutes will be.

Tonight, Dario pulls out his most audience-friendly fare, his Roman helmet bit, his RG&E envelope full of dreams, and it pays off with laughter and applause. He’s working The Comedy Club more these days than some of his peers, and it shows in his stronger stage presence and more relaxed delivery.

Finally, our headliner for the week takes the stage. Marianne Sierk is a local gal, a comedic actress and a very funny talking head on Tru TV’s “World’s Dumbest…” She establishes her character immediately. “Who’s drunk? It can’t always just be me, you guys.” The crowd is with her as she talks a bit about her personal life, her previous relationship with the MC and what it will be like when her family comes to the show. And then it’s back to the alcohol. (I’m on this diet where I’m only allowed 1200 calories a day. I think I drank all my calories for the month of July.) I laugh, but I’m not really into her set. It’s not her, it’s who she’s being on stage. I’m not down with party girl cuteness, and I know the show is not going to get any better for me.

Let me claim that. My personal dislike of the “Gosh, I was SOOOOO drunk, I can’t believe I…” nonsense will not shut off. I’ve always given my friends, both male and female, a hard time when they’ve used that excuse to do something they actually wanted/planned on doing or when they find themselves embarrassed by the previous night’s choices. I grew up in a dry town, in a dry house, and alcohol has just never been a big part of my life. I’m not claiming to be better than my friends – God knows, I’ve managed to do plenty of ridiculous, disgusting and bewildering things in my life. I just did them sober. There’s something about that loss of control, that surrendering of your own power and decision-making, that freaks me out.

And that’s why I asked audience members and the other comics what they thought of Marianne’s set: they loved it, thought she was hysterical. So I went back for Friday’s show in full-on puzzle-solving mode. Was it her or was it my bias? I listened through the giddiness and focused on the jokes. There were a number that were relatable – playing Barbies, disappointing Mom, restaurants that advertise home cooking – and I agreed with everyone else that Marianne Sierk is one funny lady. I just wish I could hear her material a different way, or through a different comedian.

So, this is how my mind works. I love many types of comedy. I always want to find what’s good in people. I am working hard to practice kindness and be positive as much as possible. And I’m always aware that I am here, writing in a very public forum about other peoples’ livelihoods. I am not trying to kiss comic ass; I am not trying to pretend all is well when a show goes off the rails; I am not lying when I seem to equivocate. I am choosing to find the positive while reminding all of you, and myself, that this is simply what makes one girl giggle. Laughing together or laughing alone, it’s all good.