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.

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