Monday, May 12, 2014

Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival: Kitson Loose in Boston

Eugene Mirman has taken his comedy festival on the road with the second annual event in Boston.  Joining him were many of his comedian friends who have appeared at the New York festival including Kristen Schaal, H. Jon Benjamin, John Hodgman, and Daniel Kitson.  Obviously I was there to see Kitson as he kicked off his American tour with Mirman

I stopped by the festival for a two-show Saturday night extravaganza at the Berklee Performance Center.  The first line-up, Pretty Good Friends, featured Janelle James, Nick Thune, Hodgman, and Kitson with musical guests Neko Case and Eric Bachmann.  The second show of the evening Comedians Who Have Been On The Daily Show And Also Comedians Who Have Not, involved Schaal, Hodgman, Wyatt Cenac, and Bridget Everett.

The earlier crowd needed some warming up but it did not come from the automated Australian-tinged voice at the venue that creepily directed us to the exits--like we might need them sooner than we thought.  But it was officially Eugene Mirman Day, according to a very official certificate from the Mayor of Boston, and mirth ensued.

James' low energy style was tough to start out with but as the crowded warmed up she employed some sly and hilarious pull-back-and-reveals proving that you must pay close attention to her set which involved stories of auditions, dating, and racial stereotypes.  Hodgman was an unexpected guest at Pretty Good Friends and he did a bit of storytelling.  His meandering tale involved the unfriendly shores of Maine, the class issues inherent in a New England childhood, and the uneasy place he finds himself as a person who is on TV dealing with parenting and social circles. 

I had never seen Thune before, but found his easygoing, irresponsible pot-smoking hipster parent-to-be an unexpected twist on thirty-something comic tropes.  Somehow he managed to tell a story about his pregnant wife, his foolish choices, and their dog that avoided the well-trodden (and frustratingly common) “nagging wife” schtick and shifted the focus to his man-child ways.  He became the joke, and she came off as the saint who puts up with him.  

Although the setting was Boston, it was hard to avoid the many Brooklyn connections of many of the comics.  I wondered how the local crowd would fully appreciate a Park Slope Co-op joke or a Park Slope Whole Foods joke.  But glad Mirman had an excellent Provincetown/Boston accent joke to remind us we were not in Gowanus anymore.  

As the one true foreigner to Boston’s ways, Kitson came out with more observational work about his couple of days in Boston. He ended up mining quite a bit of humor out of Boston bridges after asking the audience about their favorite bridges and getting a lesson in Boston bridge nicknames (Salt and Pepper being a bridge and not a condiment suggestion thrown out at the wrong time).  As he said, “In the absence of material, do a quick bridge based survey.”  He started out by redirecting the lighting and when that was done he explained that his was “less a performance and more a jolly hostage situation.”  He noticed a “small child” in the audience and had a brief conversation with Henry, age 13, mostly focused on Henry’s knowledge of swears.  Henry rattled off the ones he knew, to which Kitson countered “Have you heard cunt?”  When amusing himself over the fact that the “squares” in Boston were not in fact square, he encouraged Henry to use that material back in school as he would be showered in blowjobs.  Ever the contrarian, he was not going to pull back on his material at this “all ages” show.  He turned the “time” light toward the audience and instructed the audience to give him a standing ovation when his time was up.  Sadly, the ever obedient Bostonians did as they were told and Kitson rushed off stage as everyone came to their feet. Eugene teasingly suggested we check out Kitson’s album “Accurate Descriptions of My Day.”*

In the second show, the packed audience sounded a little more ready and raring to go at the start. Cenac's set started out with a piece of business over the lighting.  It was hard to tell if it was planned or not, but there was something about the conclusion of that set that made me think it was entirely intentional and a bit of subversive performance art.**  His more "traditional" comedy set touched on Americans and their disdain for soccer, racism in sports, and millionaires and got stronger as it went on.  Schaal had an entire set of unicorn jokes that make me think they will be her new "ghost poop" routine--I continue to not "get" her comedy.  Hodgman performed again but this time he brought out his Ayn Rand routine which he performed at the Under the Radar Festival. I found his political satire mostly boring and unfunny.

The final performer was Bridget Everett.  Having seen her at the last New York Mirman festival, I knew what was coming, but I was able to enjoy her performance a lot more this time.  In the style of a hard-partying, boundry-less rock singer, her character takes Kitson's "jolly hostage situation" to a new level.  With nudity, audience participation, and amusing threats ("'Cause I've got real soft'll see"), she takes comic performance to an unexpected place.  She's well-known in cabaret circles, but her balls-out, relentless musical performance works very well as a closing act in a comedy festival.  She creates comic tension with the audience because this is the type of performance where anything could happen, and usually does.  She holds back nothing it seems.  We lucked out that she found a willing audience member to play along with her routine who fully embraced his role.  She's the kind of performer that you'll want to see more than once because she's first and foremost a great singer, but it is her "dangerous" comic persona that is just as startling as it is entertaining.  But for the faint of heart, I advise you to buy a seat far from the aisle or else you will feel that real, soft skin for yourself.

*If only that was a real thing

**I could be totally wrong but if I'm right I'm impressed with the risk taking in that gambit.

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