Thursday, September 20, 2012

9/6/12 Greg Warren and Austin Lafond

Austin has waited semi-patiently for this review. I keep telling him, I’ll get it done tomorrow, I’ll have it up tonight. He’s anxious, not because he doesn’t know what I think of him both as a person and as a comic, but because he knows our opinions vary widely on what constitutes a good set. I felt Austin did his job – he delivered the set he wanted, his way. He reworked his hacked street sign joke and it went well. He also added a new bit I’d only heard once before at an open mic, about hating to tell people he lived in New York. They always think, sky scrapers, traffic. “Then I have to remind them. Upstate New York – tears and suicide.” It gets a decent laugh, and will probably stick around for awhile.

Some of his regular killers just don’t connect with tonight’s crowd, and he experiences his usual post-show angst. I worry a little – I’d hate to see him suffering stress-induced ailments before he even graduates from high school. At the same time, I admire his seriousness. If I had focused that intently on my writing at that age, you might be reading this blog between chapters of my latest book, while waiting for my podcast to download. More experienced comics give him time and advice, and he applies it all. I just want him to remember that it’s supposed to be fun for him, too.

Listening to Greg Warren is a lot like sitting around the living room on New Year’s Eve, early evening, before the drinking is really underway, and laughing as your favorite uncle tells all the classics. His language is generally clean, his version of every incident is the funniest ever and nobody’s getting mad about any of it. No one’s sitting there, arms folded, face of stone. You’re all laughing, at each other, at yourselves, and at how ridiculously, humorously normal it is to have this much fun with family.

At least, that’s what I imagine as I sit here in the booth, laughing as Greg recites his dad’s many exploits: the way he “escapes” restaurants (We got out of there for $12!), the way he would distract his kids by sending them to look for arrowheads (I spent 15 years looking, never found one. There are only 4 and they’re all in a museum.), his role as Greg’s wrestling coach and the political attack ads he and Greg’s mom lob at each other over fixing anything in the house (Colleen Warren wants terrorists to invade this house.). With a relaxed pace and that storyteller’s gift for voices, Greg makes even the quickest encounter seem like a tale worthy of Shirazad.

There’s poor Shannon, the checkout girl who mistakenly comments on his 2 am oreo purchase (Shut your whore mouth, Shannon. A crack dealer doesn’t say “ooh, looks like someone needs crack.” No, ‘cause a crack dealer knows a customer when he sees one.). The little old men at the gym who love to warn him about the dangers of an untied shoelace. His queer girlfriends, laughin’ and lesbianin’ while he gets hit on at the gay bar. The disapproving contractor who always wants to kill the last guy who passed that shoddy handiwork off as professional. The three very different cabbies – in Saint Louis, Nantucket and Brooklyn – who each have plenty of advice to give and, thanks to Greg, the perfect, annoying voice in which to give it.

The two sweetest bits of this weekend are the one-star people and Huey Baker.

One-star people are everywhere. He’s encountered them in a four-star hotel, sharing the pool with their basset hound or hanging out in the fitness room, kids eating peanut butter & crayon sandwiches while dad works out in his jeans. He knows when one-star people begin a statement with “I’m just sayin’,” he’s about to hear a really ignorant comment. For more on this particular subculture, check out Greg’s current CD, One Star Wonder, available on itunes or on his website, You can also check out the hilarious song/video, “One Star People,” on YouTube.

When they think of Greg Warren, many people think of his Huey Baker bit. Huey was a black guy (still is) that Greg knew in school, a friend who gave him the nickname “Flute Man.” Never mind that the instrument he played was a clarinet, Huey was always down for a flute joke. “Hup 2 3 4, What the hell we fightin’ for, Flute Man!” “Where’s your flute, Greg?” “Know who Greg’s favorite football player is? Doug Flutie. Know his second favorite? Brian Picolo.” As the proud owner of a faded, unopened box of Flutie Flakes and a big fan of “Brian’s Song,” I almost bit my tongue trying not to overlaugh. That joke would be funny to me no matter who was telling it. But add Greg Warren’s distinctive Huey voice, and I am helplessly holding my sides.

Greg Warren is a nice change of pace for me. His humor is homespun, but not hokey, and he makes it all seem so effortless. Sitting at the bar before the show, you’d barely notice you were talkin’ about the game on the screen before you with the night’s headliner. There’s something real and comfortable and almost nondescript about this guy, until he takes the stage and the voices start coming out of him. Then, you just want to sit back and laugh at Uncle Greg.