Thursday, August 15, 2013

8/15/13 Jeremy Essig in 3-part Harmony

Prologue: This piece was pulled together from notes taken December, 2012, and July and August 2013. I apologize in advance if some of the jokes aren’t exactly as he tells them, but my memory and my notebooks are redefining their relationship with each other, exploring other options. I trust that I’ll do well enough but, let’s face it, I’m no Jeremy Essig. Enjoy!

I first saw Jeremy Essig live when he featured for Brian Posehn at The Comedy Club last December. I dug his material and was looking forward to telling you all about him. As the night progressed, it became apparent that I enjoyed his act more than Brian’s. (Subjectivity, people! I liked Brian, I swear. I just liked Jeremy a lot more.) Posehn himself said “Jeremy’s super smart. Now you can take off your thinkin’ caps….” If you know me at all, you know smart is one of my trigger words. Anyway, long paragraph longer, I never finished or posted anything about the show. I kept my notes and looked for an opportunity to see Jeremy again.

And, lo, it came to pass that the weekend of July 25th arrived, bringing Jeremy back to the Comedy Club, this time as a headliner. Real life had me booked until the Saturday late show, but I made it. And what a show it turned out to be.

You know that classic Lloyd Bridges running gag from “Airplane” where he picked “the wrong week” to quit drinking coffee, doing drugs, sniffing glue? As soon as Dario Joseph took the stage and gregarious drunk guy started heckling, I knew I picked the wrong week to wait for the final show. Admittedly, the whole audience was strange and gave tepid responses to Dario, Sarah Benson and Austin Lafond. I expected Jeremy to be able to win them over, to handle hecklers and deliver a good set, which he did. It’s just that, if you read this blog much, you know I believe absolutely, and without wavering, in the role the audience plays in a live show. This random group of people disappointed me. Jeremy did not.

He began talking about porn, saying he doesn’t watch a lot of it. And that dudes shouldn’t send other dudes porn. “She knows where the cum is at!” Dudes also shouldn’t end sentences with prepositions. She needs to go back to school to learn where the cum is, period. I love this. Anyone who can turn a porn promo into a grammar lesson is my kind of guy. And that’s what I enjoy about Jeremy’s material. It’s like he’s standing at the crossroads where common thoughts meet ideas best kept transcribed by monks and, without haranguing you for not knowing the tough stuff, makes it all accessible. There’s the inanity of a person of power in a Catholic school telling him he has to cut his long hair that’s inappropriate for a Catholic boy, while he glances at the picture of Jesus hanging on the wall. Or the thought that the real drug problem we have today is not too many drugs, but a mismatch between type and location. (Small towns, where there’s nothing to do so everyone decides to brew up a drug that keeps them awake for three days in a row. “Ain’t nothin’ goin’ on. Better not miss it.” Small towns are meant for ‘shrooms, acid, so they can see shit that’s not actually there: things like money & hope and opportunity.)

His bit about his dog hitting on black guys is one I really enjoy, because it takes a friendly path to a potentially bad place. His first thought was that he doesn’t mind that his dog is into interracial relationships. His second thought: why did he assume his dog was white? (You assume your pet is your race, but you adopt them. I have a friend who adopted his daughter from Korea. “What’s her name?” “Ashley.” “I don’t think it is.”) Race perceptions, our need to remake things in our own image, these thoughts can strike deep, when you care to let them. Personally, the way our brain and society handle differences is one of my favorite areas in which to provide training: high risk, high reward, when done well. Jeremy makes it look easy.

And that’s what I meant when I used that crossroads analogy earlier. Jeremy’s approach to difficult topics, like homophobia and misunderstood sexual communication, is to make them funny, less personal for the audience and easier to process. When he talks about dating a dude once by accident (invited to dinner, chicken was delicious, the problem was post-chicken), he takes what could feel threatening and turns it into a common experience. (It’s one thing to think I’m gay, but I’m not easy. Think I’m gonna’ put out for chicken? You didn’t make a side dish, sir.) Everyone can relate to being undervalued in a dating scenario. His concept that all relationships end (because one of you will die first) was something I heard from my Social Psychology Professor during a horrible college break-up. On his cd, Monque, he talks about people using culture as their excuse for wrong behavior (Can’t blame Michael Vick – dog fighting is part of his culture. That’s an excuse now? Because I’m German….), and chastises Cincinnati for making rules that protect racists. (Your school system passed a rule that students can’t wear Confederate flag t-shirts. I say let ‘em. They’re only gonna’ wear ‘em once. Stop making laws to protect idiots. Let nature do the job for you.)

His literary/pop culture references are rock-solid. Starbucks is like a caffeinated Lord of the Flies. In response to Build-a-Bear’s Make and Take model, “Don’t think so, Tom Sawyer. Not whitewashing your fence.” When asked to be Godfather to his niece? “Neat! I just saw a movie about that.” Buying her 3 American Girl dolls after telling her she could never have one because of her diabetes. Drunkenly giving some playing pointers to Joe, and then finding out he’s the guitarist for Fall Out Boy.  Referring to the show inside a McDonald’s as dinner theater for poor people.

For his shorter sets, he’s constructed a great framework from the simple notion that his five-year old self would be so impressed by who he is now (Wow, you have $20 in your pocket?) He doubles back nicely for closure after sharing a great Gary Sinese/Chuck Woolery tale, and I’m paraphrasing here: if five-year old you knew that someday that guy on the tv would call you an asshole, he’d think you really made it. There’s something so oddly endearing about that joke, about much of what Jeremy says in his act, about Jeremy himself.

Jeremy Essig embodies some of my favorite traits of smart comics. His material is witty, it resonates and it invites you to take a next step. It encourages you to ask a follow-up question. It allows you to look at some real, potentially explosive topics, shielded by the protective armor of shared laughter. It’s the heart and soul of what I find valuable in the stand up I love most.

Friend Jeremy on Facebook. Follow him on Twitter @jeremyessig. Check out his videos on YouTube. Go to to get tour dates, info on his upcoming moves and to pick up a copy of Monque. You’ll dig it. You’ll dig him.

Trust me, even though I’m no Jeremy Essig.

No comments:

Post a Comment