Sunday, July 13, 2008

Underground Comedy Night @ The Brillobox

On Tuesday night I did something that I rarely ever do- I went to see live stand-up comedy. The last time that I saw such a thing (in a formal context, of course) was several years ago when I went to see Neil Hamburger play the Rex Theater. Don't quote me, but I think I may have gotten in for free due to knowing the doorman and organizer of the event. I had mild fun, and seeing a national comic was an experience for me. If you're not familiar with the stylings of Hamburger, he affects a naïve and painfully shy demeanor while delivering a string of cringe-inducing jokes in a monotone voice. It's supposed to be uncomfortable to watch him work his way through his routine. Regardless I wasn't sad that I went.

What made me consider going to the Brillobox for Underground Comedy Night was the inclusion of a guy that I recently met through a friend. It's not something that I would typically patronize because I tend not to share prevailing attitudes regarding humor. In short, if I was trying to be funny on-stage, I would definitely not want to face myself in the audience. I'd be working extra hard trying to provoke a smile on my face, as I stared at myself with a mild look of disgust. Suffice it to say that I'm a tough crowd. But I got a good feeling from meeting this friend-of-a-friend (whose name, by the way, is Tom Henry), and resolved to break my pattern and spend my weeknight in an unconventional way. I even prepared to pay a cover.

I was frankly delighted to arrive on the second floor of the bar and notice that no one was collecting for the show. I had nothing to lose but time, which is at less of a premium now than it would be during my work year. I greeted Tom and could tell that he appreciated my presence. We grabbed a booth up front and settled in for the performances. Apparently the event is held semi-regularly on Tuesdays throughout the year at this venue, and is always hosted by local comic Gab Bonesso. As an MC she is garrulous but animated, and tries to set a tone of respectful attention for the performers. Actually she does so by haranguing anyone she notices talking during the individual sets. But that's understandable given the nature of the presentation.

There were an unusual number of comics signed up to take the stage this week, and so everyone got about ten to twelve minutes to strut their stuff. Much of it was about what I expected from a locally-produced free happening. I was mildly amused as folks ran through the typical material about blacks, gays, Asians and perverse sexuality. Naturally there were a few that stood out, and strangely enough a couple of them happened to be the fat white males. It seems that being socially marginalized adds an element of hilarity to our contemporary experience. Perhaps that's why the nerds, minorities and homosexuals get the best receptions. I realize that's a stereotype, but such assumptions seem to be particularly embraced within that circle.

I felt fortunate to be able to say that I truly enjoyed Tom Henry's jokes. He was the only comic that assumed an entirely manufactured persona. Oddly enough, he just happens to be heavily influenced by Neil Hamburger (and Steven Wright, for that matter). But Henry also manages to include absurdist elements that seem wildly creative as he delivers them. He even made me laugh out loud at one point, which I consider quite the achievement. I noticed that I wasn't alone as he drew some of the best audience reaction, along with a young dude named Tim Dimond. After all was over, I was glad I went. The only downside was having to sit through the "best political humor" in Pittsburgh, as delivered by local gadabout and radio host John McIntire*. The scene still has plenty of room to grow.

* Perhaps I am not being altogether fair in my assessment of McIntire's set. Maybe he just couldn't get it up on this particular night. Or otherwise, maybe he just had his "dumbing-down" meter set too high for this particular venue. If I had to confront the unsophisticated listeners of the local talk radio set, my approach might suffer as well.

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