Monday, April 22, 2013

Theo and Me

It was roughly three years ago when my friend Crazy Julie asked if I could get tickets to go to The Comedy Club and see Theo Von. My initial response was, “Why?” I knew Theo, like the rest of America, from MTV’s Road Rules. I enjoyed him as a cast member because he seemed to be a little more grounded than some of his peers, more laid back and able to be awed. I agreed with CJ that he would be worth meeting, but it never occurred to me that that meeting should come on the way out of a room where I’d just finished watching him deliver a 45- to 60-minute stand up set. Still, CJ was a lot of fun to take to The Comedy Club, or any other room where a loud laugh is an asset, so I got the tickets. Before leaving my place, I posted a rather obnoxious Facebook status about going to see Theo and not expecting it to be funny. I say it was obnoxious because I try not to be so prejudicial about a comic if I have no experience with their work: 1) it’s foolish to assume you can guess a person’s act from some unrelated venture, and 2) I personally try hard to stay open to possibilities, to get out of my brain and let the Universe surprise me from time to time.

Boy, did it kick my ass that night.

I found myself laughing, if not as loud as CJ, then at least as often. I loved his material, his delivery, everything about the entire show. Once the room had cleared, I walked up to Theo and bought one of his cds. I also told him I owed him an apology. I explained the status update and how absolutely wrong I’d been about his act. I promised I was changing that sucker as soon as I got home, that I would come back the next night for both shows and buy him a beer afterwards, if he would let me. With what I now recognize as true Southern grace, he handed me the disc and accepted my offer.

Those three days became more than just a great comedy weekend. I had a front row seat to watch this guy give honest consideration and helpful advice to two kids, barely old enough to be in the bar, about going for their dreams, pursuing their art with purpose and smarts. He talked to us about the opportunities that were unfolding before him because of the MTV affiliation, about being pulled to try so many things and needing to narrow his focus. He seemed to be genuine and in the moment. I didn’t want to miss a second of those conversations, even after one of the young boys spilled a full beer into my lap. By the time we said goodbye late Saturday night, I knew I was a real fan.

The following year, I couldn’t wait for Theo Von weekend. More great comedy, a few hours of lunch conversation across a diner booth, and I was once again grateful that CJ had wanted so badly to see that first show. Not only do I like his jokes, but it has been another life lesson entirely to see Theo finding his way down a path that only a year earlier seemed so unclear. He had ideas that he wanted to explore, but wasn’t sure where he wanted to end up. Yet, there he was, moving forward, seemingly fearless. And this guy’s work ethic is sick.

There’s the blog, In My Hat, where you can find both short, funny bits about random topics (Pony, the best circus meat) and photos from his Total Creepers site., where he sends out texts to random numbers and engages with whomever is there to receive them. He released his cd, Midgets vs Cats (which you can get on iTunes or on his web site, He continued touring, hitting clubs all across the country. He crossed national borders to perform for the troops and appear at festivals like the South African Comedy Fest and Montreal’s Just for Laughs. And in the year leading up to his most recent return to Webster, he became the host of Yahoo’s Prime Time in No Time, made a brief appearance in InAPPropriate Comedy and recorded his set for Comedy Central’s The Half Hours. I have never seen such a beautifully woven tapestry of hyperactivity and ambition up close, and I am in jealous awe.

Making myself move forward, let’s talk about the actual stand up sets from The Comedy Club last month.

One sign that Theo’s star has risen significantly in the last year is that he was only booked for Friday and Saturday this time around. Awesome for him, but one less night of laughing out loud for those of us still trapped under gray skies and snowflakes here in upstate. Still, I was excited to be camped out in the booth, as this was my first time blogging about my road friend and I wanted to soak in every laugh line.

When I run down Theo’s joke topics in my head, I can understand how someone who hasn’t seen his act might assume it to be – in the words of funny woman Brett Butler – a bigot’s buffet. Tonight starts with a shout out to white folks. (We’re still here. That’s our motto in America. Mexicans bang faster, blacks bang better. No one wants to bang white people anymore, not even white people.) He moves on to Asians and, although there don’t seem to be any in the room, Theo’s got a line ready to go, anyway. “For every one you don’t hear, there’s 40. They’re quiet.” On to Mexicans, covering their ability to sneak into the country (I bought a blow up doll. Took her home, blew her up. She was Mexican! She made me blow up three of her kids. Now I got the Inflatables family living in my house. These motherfuckers snuck in through my lungs!) and their rapid reproduction. (Mexican women can make a baby in about an hour…c’mon buddy, let’s go to work. Say “ladder.”) Soon we’re discussing the clothing (Black guy looks good in anything. They can wear a t-shirt down to here. What size is that, forever? If I wear that, I look like a lesbian about to take a nap) and candy shelf nicknames (Dewey, Pookie, Payday, Rolo, Snicker, KitKat, Oh Henry – that’s a gay black guy) of blacks. Lest you think it’s all about the color with Theo, there’s also very funny material on midgets, a stab at himself for looking like he has Down Syndrome and some great lines about aging, homosexuality and drug use. Theo started the set by saying we were gonna’ make fun of everyone, and that was no joke.

Just about every other line out of his mouth was, however, and they were hysterical.

Theo’s take on dating (You gotta’ have money. I don’t blame you ladies. Who wants to fuck some poor guy? That’s disgusting. You get done banging and you’re just laying there, all poor. “Can I get you a towel that won’t match any of the other towels?”) and chasing hos electronically with (I asked if she wanted to meet for coffee…”Didn’t you read my profile? I’m adventurous! Coffee’s boring. I wanna’ go sky diving”…nowhere in my budget is there skydiving for unknown bitches) had the whole room laughing uncontrollably. His describing himself as “Tom Brady & Shrek had a son” or “the Grinch that stole Matt Damon” made my booth mate spit her drink onto my notebook. I nearly joined her over his children in sweatshops bit (Why doesn’t one sew a message for help into the pants? Knowing us, we’ll make it a fashion statement. Like these new “I’m thirsty” jeans? What are those, “a lion ate my brother?”) and his trip to court. (This black guy in court pleaded “my bad.” So I pleaded, “Blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-al-co-hol and blame it on the weed,” that’s when they got me for possession of marijuana. But I blamed it on the black guy and they rearrested him. That’s the system.)

So, what is it that lets Theo Von tell these types of jokes and not be walking part of the room?

Maybe it’s the fact that many of us have seen him in action on Road Rules, Last Comic Standing. Those glimpses of “reality” may have tilted us in his favor. He seems like a nice guy. None of it seems to come from anger. He has a smile on his face the whole time, and the dimples can be seen from the farthest booth.

There’s also that way he has of peppering his accented speech with phrases that could pass for colloquialisms, if there were more than one person on Planet Theo: “I don’t know, Buddy Bear.”  “I wanna’ look tough vehicularly.” “I don’t know how to talk to her. I don’t know any demons firsthand.” “It’s like balancin’ a warm fish stick on your lips.” From now on, I only want to refer to my vagina as a “sweet little vase you wanna’ put your dick flowers in.” There is no way to hear those lines, honey-dipped in that Louisiana lull, and get uptight. Combine that with his wit (Funata, where Mexicans keep their fun.) and pop culture panache (Blacks are some of the most athletic people on the planet, yet you still can’t swim? All you need is to make a dance out of it. “Teach me how to dougie, te-teach me how to dougie paddle…all this water love me, all this water love me”) and it’s easy to understand why the audiences adore this guy. Each show, all weekend, there was nothing but love for Theo Von.

There are jokes that stick in my brain. There are people that live in my heart. And there are those moments when the stars align and I am blessed with meeting someone who bridges those two places. Theo Von is, to the best of my knowledge, a truly nice guy. I didn’t grow up with him, I don’t know him from church, we’ve probably not spent more than 48 total hours in shared space over the last three years. Still, I’m not the worst judge of character you’ll ever meet. In moments offstage, in quick and quiet conversations and those prolonged by boys with beers, I’ve heard kindness, consideration, confusion. I’ve seen gentlemanly gestures, gratitude and grace towards fans. The Universe kicked my ass to see the first show. And it’s given me a gleeful gift every show since.

Theo Von is a comic who can make me laugh out loud every time I see him; I root for his continued success when I read about a new opportunity, like his recent deal with TBS to host its new hidden-camera show Deal With It, premiering on Tuesday, July 16 at 10 pm ET. Please check it out, along with all the great projects I mentioned at the beginning of this review. You will not be disappointed.

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