I hadn’t yet rounded the final bend in the road that kept me from seeing The Comedy Club, but I worried. Summer was almost over, and things were starting to pick back up. Would this be the night? Would Ben Bailey, the comic, be a huge draw? Would Ben Bailey, host of tv’s “Cash Cab,” bring in a crowd? I had my answer soon enough when I found myself parked on the far side of the pizza parlor next door. The lot was full, the tables were full; Ben Bailey was the man. A weekend of good shows and entertaining audience interactions solidified that impression.
I made a decision a few weeks ago not to talk about the MCs unless they were new to the role, new to the club, just to avoid becoming redundant. I’m deviating from that because I need to talk about Dario. I have seen Dario perform on six nights out of seven this week, and he is on fire. I’ve watched him take real risks, blending new jokes in with some tried and true material, and it’s paying off. The time he’s spending doing improv has made his crowd work quicker, less mainstream. His stage presence is more natural; his eyes are no longer on his feet. The transformation is a pleasure to watch and I find myself laughing every time.
Tim Almeter, like Dario, is also a local comic on the rise. Finishing third in this year’s Funniest Person in Rochester Contest, Tim takes the stage with an attitude of fearlessness. He assumes the audience will find him funny, and they do. He jumps right in to material that can be polarizing: talking about our differences. First up is the Indian woman on the train platform whose son said he wasn’t going to be a doctor, like some white person, to which she replied, “Shh. They’re right there.” Then on to a story about his coworker’s fear (Deer are afraid of white people. Black people are afraid of deer. White people are afraid of black people.) and the discovery of an anti-Semitic golf cart (Who’s on the golf course good-time hatin’ Jews?). Tim talks about things both common (speaking to your cat, wrinkling your girlfriend’s underwear) and curious (being “regal” at the bar) at a speed that occasionally requires you to play the joke back in your brain to make sure you caught it. Both these guys can be found easily on Facebook, or seen live at various open mics and Laugh Riot productions. It is well worth your time to seek them out.
Ben Bailey began by acknowledging the potential confusion that might result for people who had only ever seen him on “Cash Cab.” He apologized for having hair, pointed out that tv isn’t real. “Know what else isn’t real? I’m not a cab driver.” He did a long riff on the guy down the road selling dirt and then proceeded to show us he’d done his homework on Rochester, noting that he was downtown earlier (just me, no one else. Tumbleweed, tumbleweed, government worker, one lone guy making Xerox copies) and checked out the
(thought he’d found a beer river).
Ben’s show is packed with jokes. His rhythm seems to be premise, punch, punch, tag, tag, tag. He tries to see how far he can go without the joke weakening. Instead of that taffy-pull feeling where the humor gets stretched thinner the longer it goes, Ben’s jokes feel like they’re an incredibly long rope, endlessly uncoiling, until he gets bored and moves on to the next premise. He talks about things: traffic light countdowns, taking people to prison in the Oscar Mayer wiener mobile. He talks about places: the reaction of people in NYC when they see him in the cab (You’re going to be playing the Hudson River Challenge!), “I was down South, don’t go if you don’t have to.” He talks about people and how we talk: “Do what now?” It’s always Now now, stop specifying.” “I don’t understand all y’all. I thought y’all was already plural.” His bits on good ass toast and ordering multiple Guinesses were hilarious, as was the friend wanting to borrow a scissor to cut his pant into short. He also has a great bit about to-do lists: I woke up and looked at my to-do list. It said “all that stuff” on it. I thought I better get up. I got all that stuff to do and I don’t know what any of it is.
For myself and the other comedians who watched the shows with me, the most interesting parts of Ben Bailey’s weekend were his crowd interactions. On Thursday, there was the mini-fan club down front who brought him a Cash Cab drawing, “This is cute. Do you have jobs? If I were a gay man, this would be so important to me. You recruited a colleague? I thought you said collie.” And the drunk girl: “Don’t pretend you’re mad. You have such a crush on me. You’re like a little girl who pushes the boy off the swing because she likes him.” Friday was intense, as there was mounting conflict with a drunk guy who tried to be funny but just grew more annoying. Ben’s already fast pace picked up, his anger became apparent as he went back and forth with this guy. He reminded everyone that timing is part of the job, that he doesn’t just get up on stage and say random stuff, there’s work and an art to it. The audience was with him, and Mark had to go warn the guy that he was going to be escorted out if he didn’t stop immediately. Ben continued and, for a moment, I wasn’t sure he was as annoyed as he appeared to be. He smile/smirked a little as he tried to bring us back. Saturday had a mini-match with an audience member, as well.
I liked watching these near-collisions. No one truly seemed like they were gunning to screw up the show or mess with Ben Bailey – at 6’6’, he’s really not the kind of guy most people would test for the hell of it. The girls seemed a little star struck and the guys just seemed to have had too much to drink and no way to turn themselves off. Watching Ben stop one step short of losing it made the already fun show just a bit more enjoyable. In the final moments, I heard this: “If we’ve learned anything here tonight, it’s that you can’t learn anything at a comedy show.” Great line, but I don’t agree. I learn things at comedy shows all the time. This weekend, I learned how much I enjoy watching hecklers and comics collide just a little. I learned that Ben Bailey can get people into a comedy club. And I learned that I really enjoy premise, punch, punch, tag, tag, tag.