Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dave Foley

Note: If you came to this blog because you followed the link from Dr. Eowyn of "Fellowship of the Mind," I just have to know: how is the fact that I asked him nicely NOT to link to this review helpful to any conversation between right and left, liberal and conservative, you and me, us and them? Why am I not entitled to write about what matters to me, the same way all the bloggers on that site do, and not have it used to support a political agenda to which I may or may not subscribe? If you want to rant about Dave Foley and his comments about gun owners, which you find so offensive, great. Do so. See, I HONESTLY support your right to say what you want. I'm not interfering with you in any way. So why is it ok to interfer with me? I work with club managers, comics and marketing professionals. Using my positive review to support a negative message may make comics think twice about talking to me; the club owner may decide not to let me have the access I currently do. Why do I become collateral damage in your war of words? PLEASE, ask Dr. Eowyn to take down the link. He can quote Dave Foley's act any way he wants. He does not need to link to my blog to do so. Thank you for considering the welfare of another real human being.

This review is going to drive some of you over the edge. It’s going to make you think I am one silly, silly woman with no perspective, no sense of proportion, no ability to discern what’s important in life. And that could not be further from the truth. For twenty years, my day jobs have kept me grounded – almost buried –in the deep, dark realities of impoverishment. Not simple poverty, although I know that place well, but truly “deprived of natural richness or strength”, fellow travelers deprived emotionally, spiritually, intellectually or intimately. I have perspective. I know, many times, a joke is just a joke.

But sometimes, as witnessed in my own life time and again, a joke is so much more.

It’s an expression of hope, a declaration of identity, a blow to the system and, in the words of Sarah McLachlan, a fumbling toward ecstasy. A joke can reach across a great divide or fall gracefully to the closest ear, the one pressed to your chest. It can both give and take comfort; it can make you fidget with anxiety, freeze in distress, hide in embarrassment or erupt with elation. It can be the shortest distance between two ideologies, and it can be the simplest expression of joy. Sometimes, a joke is simultaneously the lightest and heaviest thought in my mind. Tonight was one of those times.

I’ve been a huge Kids in the Hall fan for years, and even though you’re supposed to say you love all your Kids equally, the truth is I loved Dave the most. As much as I enjoyed his sketch, I was able to appreciate News Radio as a very different beast. But stand up? I hadn’t seen so much as a clip and I was a little dubious. With the noted exception of Orlando Jones, who I will also be writing about this weekend (I swear!), I’ve seen only a few sketch comics be really good stand ups; I’ve also seen some good stand ups be horrible at improv and some good improvisers be only so-so at sketch. Comedy is variegated, motley, multicolored; some colors just look better on the other guy.

Oddly enough, the conversation Austin and I had on the way to the show was about being star-struck. I said I hadn’t had that feeling yet when meeting comics – I’ve been shy, uncomfortable, giddy, intrigued, aroused, bored, embarrassed, intimidated, underwhelmed, and a host of other emotions, but not yet star-struck. Oh, I know there are certain comedy heroes who would leave me dumb and unable to string together two sentences were I ever to find myself in their presence: Eddie Izzard, for one; Ricky Gervais; Woody Allen; Douglas Adams, while he was among the living; and Whoopi Goldberg, whose Broadway show became my touchstone for comedy with a conscience, comedy that could teach and reach and even possibly change a life. I know those people are out there. I expected Tom Rhodes to overwhelm me that way, but he turned out to be what I had somehow felt – like the coolest guy in the dorm who was sitting in the hallway with me at 2 am, talking about Oscar Wilde and classic rock until the sun came up and I was late for my Child Development class. We clicked so immediately that I had no time to be scared. I tell you that the conversation with Austin was odd because, 162 minutes later, I was awkwardly, trippingly, ridiculously trying to tell Dave Foley about my blog, and flailing foolishly. I lost all sense of grammar, of actual language, and it felt like a gift. Comedy and its pushers can still catch me off-guard and leave me breathless.

Let me state right now that Josh Potter and Bryan Ball both did great work. I will post a separate review and tell you all about them. I am not trying to gloss over them, but I am writing at 3:47 in the morning because I need to share this Foley thing right now, with no detours. I will give them their due (I swear!).

Dave Foley walked into the room with a calmness in his step and a smile on his face. As he passed the booth on the way to the green room, I had my first flutter that I was heading toward awe. That gap-toothed grin that lives forever in the KitH Seasons 1 and 2 box sets on my comedy shelf was three feet from mine. No entourage, no hype or yes guys, just Dave, looking happy to be Rochester-adjacent for the weekend.

He starts his set by telling us the show we were about to see wasn’t for kids (Mommy, why did Flick say cock?) and then dives headfirst into a well-polished, well-written set that had the feel of a really great one man show. In form, it was what I expected from a comedic actor. In content, it was many things I’ve dreamt lately of hearing said in front of a fake brick wall. When a set starts with statements like “God hates gays,” the room seems to freeze while everyone inhales. What did he say? Should he have said that? Where is this going? If comedy truly is about the creation and release of shared tension among people in a temporary but real relationship, Dave Foley is a comedy master.

“It makes me feel badly for God…he’s been up there creating the Universe for some time, and he hates the gays, but he can’t seem to stop creating them, which has got to be pretty frustrating for God, up there in his workshop making souls and one out of ten keeps coming out gay.…If being gay is a choice, then I think, logically, that being straight must also be a choice. Because that’s how choosing works. There have to be two of them for it to be a choice…If you are a straight man and you feel like you’re choosing every day, then, guess what? You’re gay.”

 The laughter starts out a little soft, a little stunted, as the room slowly figures out the path down which it’s being led. And Dave knows he’s leading us someplace many of us have been afraid to go. Like the best guide, he moves at a sustainable pace, lets us rest in familiar places and drink along the way. He starts talking about his sex life, about how antidepressants can interfere with orgasm (I can fuck like a fucking machine. I’m like Sting without any of that discipline), how women aren’t prepared for men not to come, that men can now fake orgasm thanks to AIDS. It’s familiar territory. The audience is given a chance to acclimate and the laughs grow stronger, longer. He talks about going eleven years without fucking, during his first marriage, then tells us it wasn’t entirely her fault (She had been diagnosed as being a cunt. Technically the diagnosis was borderline personality disorder, but, trust me, cunt covers it). That leads to the image of a single condom kept under a glass dome, like the rose in Beauty and the Beast, and a tale from his mid-20s when he opted not to cheat with a 19-year old Uma Thurman.

He stays in this safe zone for a bit, sharing how he was ordered to pay $17,700 a month in alimony to his ex. At an enforcement hearing, the judge ruled that his “ability to pay was not relevant to his obligation to pay, and that his debt would not be considered a material change to his circumstances.” His corpse would have to keep working or go to jail (I’m pretty sure corpses are the low hanging fruit on the prison rape tree). That’s followed by a great chunk on the disappearance of pubic hair over the past 20 years (What if it’s an indicator species? What if it’s a sign of environmental collapse.?...Why isn’t the Lorax speaking for the pubic hair?), and a local reference wrapped around men shaving their balls (maybe not here in Rochester. You can’t afford to lose the body heat, you need it for the lake effect).

Everyone has relaxed, is comfortable again. So, naturally, it’s time to get back on that mystery trail.

He tells us, haltingly and in pretend confidence, that he is smart, which is not an asset in today’s cultural climate. While casually sipping his drink, he talks about a recent discovery in the realm of physics that may finally help us answer some deep questions about the structure of space and time, about the very nature of the universe. That may not excite you, but I was turned on just hearing those words fall out of this man’s mouth. And to turn it into a joke that even non-nerds could laugh at? Sheer genius. (Hey we were just fucking around with the collider and we thought, why don’t we collide a couple of proton beams at the speed of light and see what fuckin’ happens! And we did, and it was fuckin’ awesome! And we discovered the Higgs boson. Now we know why matter has mass, but fuck it! Let’s go to a titty bar!)

I want to share the entire science chunk with you, but I remind myself I’m not writing his biography. Let me say, though, that it is brilliant and funny and I am laughing out loud with the rest of the room, while having a private experience in my brain that borders on intellectual pornography.

We press on.

Dave now says he’s afraid of Muslims, and the audience tension is ratcheted up instantly. Not all Muslims, just the one who will hear him tell a joke and decide to kill him, because that one is out there. He reminds us that, although it’s cool that we can hear offensive stuff and not kill each other, in earlier Christian days, like during the Inquisition, he might be delivering a very different set. He’d probably skip his Jesus chunk and work his “Witches be crazy” material. This is how he leads us to his atheism, to lines like “Religion is just a socially acceptable form of psychosis.”  The crowd is a little divided. Is this funny? You’ve had me for awhile now, but can I really laugh about Jesus? With Dave Foley leading the conversation, yes, yes you can. And you can use the big words, like transubstantiation and Eucharist. You can talk about the Mormon practice of baptism by proxy, baptizing souls after death, how they have baptized over 100,000 Jews killed in the Holocaust, including Anne Frank. And who talks about that?  Who continues by saying that the Jews who demanded apologies were also fucking crazy? “It’s not real. They can’t do it. They don’t have the power. This isn’t Hogwart’s…Relax, Jews. You’ve got real things to worry about!” Even the Mormons say the dead soul has the right to accept or reject the offering.

The room is laughing again, laughing at information most of us probably never knew, laughing at religion, that supposed taboo topic.

And then Dave Foley escorts us to the place I long to live, to that mystical space where words are just noises we make, where they have no central nervous systems and are neither good nor bad, that space where meaning and intention matter. He begins by saying, “I’m not a racist. And I say that just in case I’m wrong. And I know racism is back, racism is cool again.”  And then he mentions the n word and tells us that stands for nigger, by the way. “It isn’t algebra, it isn’t an unknown variable...if s equals social discomfort and 1 equals liberal white guilt, then n equals nigger.” And he goes on to tell the room that using a different phrase, like “the n word” or “sugar” for “shit” doesn’t release us of the burden of those words. It merely forces the people around us, who know exactly what we’re saying, to say the words themselves in their heads, “and that’s just passive-aggressive, and stop it!”

I will concede that everyone cannot appreciate this act. There are some people reading this review right now who are appalled that this man had the audacity to speak those words, make those statements. As Dave tells us, if all you hear are the words someone says, but not what they’re saying with them, you run the risk of missing the point entirely. But maybe you simply don’t agree with how the point was made. That’s cool. I remind you quite regularly that comedy is subjective, that few things in life could be so universal and so personal at the same time. For me, though, this show was one that reinforced what I’ve always known and hoped and believed about the power of humor: that it can break through barriers, lower defenses and provide an opportunity to really examine those topics that make people afraid, that make us lie to one another because it’s the socially agreed upon reaction. Humor is the grown up version of Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar.

Given the business of the past few months and the dearth of real cause for laughter, this night wasn’t all Dave. While not necessarily preaching to the choir, there were more than a few of us who showed up ready to shout an amen. Admittedly, maybe that’s not the best way to show appreciation to an atheist. When I tried words, however, when I approached him after the show to tell him what an amazing experience the previous hour had been for me, I failed. I could not. I was, for lack of a better cliché, star-struck. Not by the fact that I was standing in front of a tv star. Not because this man was part of my second-favorite sketch group of all comedy history. No, I was struck because I had heard some of the lightest and heaviest thoughts in Dave Foley’s brain, spoken into a wireless mic for a room full of strangers who squirmed, and tensed, and then surrendered the laugh. I had witnessed jokes being more than jokes. It caught me off-guard. It left me breathless.


  1. Bruce is the best of the Kids, and I will brook no opposition.

    1. I stand by my Foley favoritism, yet greatly admire your linguistics.

  2. 0h, and for the record, Whoopi Goldberg's last TV set (that closely followed the Michael Richards incident) also had a huge "nigger" bit in it that I found mirrored a little bit in Foley's set (however many years later), but coming from a white man rather than a black woman gave it a different impact, so it's not as though anyone could accuse him of stealing the bit; though the central thesis, "it's not the word, it's the intent," was stated verbatim.

    1. I think "it's not the word, it's the intent" is at the root of nearly every conversation I have with others about comedy that makes them uncomfortable. As a writer, I can't ever say words don't matter, but as a compassionate human who doesn't choose to live outside society, I try to tease the two apart when necessary. And I truly believe what I've written here. I do believe the joke is a powerful tool in our attempts to know one another.

  3. I should say: I didn't see this set live, I saw the version of it that was shot for Showtime. In fact, I'm watching it again right now On Demand.

    1. Awesome! I hope you're enjoying it again. And thanks for the feedback.