There’s a fan front and center on the stage of Cameo, a theater in the back of the Lovin’ Cup Cafe, which blows upward at the crotch of whomever’s standing at the mic. It gave a couple comics last night something to address immediately, a nice way in to a set after the applause, something more visible and direct than “How’s everybody doin’?” It also blows upward into this strange fiberart sculpture suspended from the ceiling (see above), a wide gauzy sheet from which hang scores of yardlong threads that wavered like cilia from the breeze. The thing made a kind of frame for the comics. It’s both big and terrific, the way monsters are.
Max Silvestri is one of two hosts, and he may be the quickest comic I’ve seen all week. Not just in the speed of his delivery, but in the way some crowd work with the visiting mother of one the Brooklynite women in the audience could turn on a nickel into a sendup of his powers of deduction. I say nickel because his bravura piece from last night involved an old man trying to change a quarter for five nickels at a bar. Where Silvestri was able to take this premise involved such quick invention—before I knew it we were talking about puppets and doll laundrettes—that the comedy of his subject was like tripled by it. I mean: I couldn’t tell whether I was laughing at what the jokes were saying, or that these jokes were suddenly begin said, or that these jokes had been yanked into the bit so suddenly. I mean: it was all three, of course. Just a stunning performance.
Including the hosts we had eight comics last night. One was Aziz Ansari. Another was John Mulaney. People when they hear I’m writing about standup often ask me who my favorite comic is and I always forget to say it’s John Mulaney. Because it is John Mulaney. Right now I can’t figure out why I think Mulaney’s the most exciting comic working, but I’m seeing him down in DC tomorrow night and so maybe I’ll figure it out Saturday.
Standouts for the night were Paully P, Brendon Walsh, and Gabe Liedman. I watched Paully enter the room during Leo Allen’s set and sit down near the hosts at the side of the stage. I didn’t know who he was. He had a long ponytail underneath a black beret, and his face and eyes while watching the show looked like some unending series of electroshocks were jolting through them. “This next gentleman we’ve never had on the show before,” Silvestri said in introducing him. “He’s from Staten Island, and he’s just getting his stage legs back after a absence from comedy.” It didn’t bode well. Paully P, spastic and crass, made everyone uncomfortable. His opening bit was about frottaging his own pillow until he comes. Every bit ended up with him saying “You know what I mean?” as a kind of rimshot. Was this an act? I was never sure. At one point he pulled out a crumpled up sheet of paper to consult between jokes. Most of them were topical, about Chick Fil-a, the Aurora shooter, the Jacksons. It wasn’t until he looked at the paper and went, “Linda Carter!” that I got it. Because her inclusion among these celebs was itself funny. “Wonder Woman, right? She got irritable bowel syndrome.” As if this had been in the news. So this was a deeply dedicated, in-character act about hack comics, and I loved it. Turns out it was John Roberts, that guy from “Supreme Court”.
More celeb work came from Gabe Liedman, co-host of Big Terrific, whom Eliot Glazer suggested I try to see in the way that he’s a gay comic working to be funny as a funny person, not as a funny gay person. (I caught Big Terrific by playing hooky, in a sense, from seeing another club showcase in Manhattan of queer comics, which was booked so aggressively as a night of queer comics I couldn’t stomach the wallowing in stereotypes I’d probably have had to endure.) Sure, Liedman had plenty of jokes about being gay. On the Olympics: “They’re very inspirational. A lot of people on the men’s swimming team seem like really nice people.” On Channing Tatum’s dyslexia: “This is my impression of Channing Tatum: ‘I love you Ebag’.” But most of his set is about being a person. And a very funny one. He ended with a long piece about how nobody’s perfect. Again, most examples were from certain celebrities and their real or made-up ailments. It was a long list. Damon Wayans. Dan Aykroyd. Minnie Driver. Each time being presented as how who is seemed perfect is revealed not to be perfect. It’s therapeutic but also weirdly obsessive in the extent to which Liedman knows all this. The bit’s a sendup of the ways gay men are understood to worship celebrities while also being a kind of warm embrace of same. Also impeccably timed. What’s great though is how the long bit is the same joke told over and over again, but in the timing and changing of the details he can keep his audience laughing.
I’ve wanted for days to write about Brendon Walsh‘s set from Whiplash the other night, but after last night I’m realizing it wasn’t as good. Two things to mention. One is that at Whiplash half his set was reading aloud to us letters he’d written to various companies during a temp job he worked thirteen years ago. The letters were funny, and we all laughed. It’s a blend of standup I didn’t see much of in LA but have seen good amounts of here: making fun of, or having fun with, found documents. Gervais does it a lot, at least he did in last HBO special. Eugene Mirman, too. Eliot Glazer does it with video clips. Nicholas Fehn tries to do it with newspaper headlines. And maybe because I love Armisen’s Fehn character so much I assume this kind of comedy is easy. Or maybe as a writer I prefer more traditionally written material. But such comedy isn’t necessarily unwritten, and funny is funny, and so along with monologues here’s another form of standup to look more into.
The other thing to mention is that Walsh did a set at Big Terrific that was just as long as his Whiplash set and it was all different material—the only repeat act I’ve seen this week who didn’t repeat material. The highlight was about a show he did in a porn store, and the “two things they have for guys to stick their wangs into”: the Fleshlight and the “rubber ass-pussy combination.” “You can’t have one of those,” he says, going on to point out the hilarious ways objects like this show the simultaneous urgency and shamefulness of male sexual desire.
Yawn. Who outside of academia gives a fuck what it says? As an academic I have all sorts of smart-sounding things I can say, but as a fan of comedy I just like Brendon Walsh. I like the way he’ll laugh at some of his own bits. I like the creativity with which he goes blue. From what I can tell on Twitter he’s doing comedy most nights of the week around New York. How do you people live here, surrounded by such continual displays of talent?
It’s like I’m at Mardi Gras, gorging each night on comic excess before I leave for a long Lenten season.