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.

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