Sunday, October 14, 2007

Showalter and Black at the Ivar

MTV's "The State" was on television a decade ago. That makes me feel really old. In fact, most of the members of the comedy troupe that brought the world "Louie," "The Jew, the Italian and the Red-Haired Gay," "Doug" and "Monkey Torture" are better known for their subsequent projects. (Thomas Lennon probably gets way more attention for "Reno 911" than he ever did for "The State," even though it's one of the best sketch comedy shows in recent memory.)

Tonight, I saw two "State" veterans - Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black - doing stand-up comedy at the Ivar Theater, a converted movie theater. It was, without a doubt, one of the most hilarious evenings of stand-up I have ever seen. Their delivery, Showalter's in particular, recalls the brilliance of Zach Galifianakis from the recent "Live at the Purple Onion" DVD. It's a halting, awkward sort of persona, as if the show might just run out of air and collapse in on itself at any time.

I'm not sure if this is done strategically, to put the audience in a somewhat uncomfortable, edgy state, to raise the tension in the room, so the punchlines hit harder, or if it's just the natural rhythm these guys fall into when they get on stage. Either way, it totally enhances the frequently non-sequiteur, just plain bizarre jokes these guys tell, by bringing you inside this fractured state of mind. This is why a Galifianakis joke can't really be explained to someone who wasn't there after the show. It only makes sense when you've been inside his head for a little while.

Much of Showalter's act involved a slideshow, so he had to, at one point, stop doing his comedy and fiddle with the projector to ensure that it was going to work. At that point, he'd been on the stage for less than 10 minutes, but had already won over the audience to the point that even this generally unfunny technological gaffe won him big laughs. Usually, I'd criticize this kind of a flaw - a comic having to fudge his timing in order to do something a stagehand or assistant should really have taken care of before the show - but instead I laughed, the way you'd laugh if someone you know was messing up a big presentation.

Showalter combines the kind of long-winded anecdotal style of someone like Jeff Garlin with, I shit you not, prop comedy, and it totally works. He walked the crowd through an entire game of Scrabble with visual aides, and it freaking killed. (Just so you know, the word "penissockser" is allowed in Scrabble and refers to someone who manufactures penissocks.) A bit where he plays random songs off his iTunes and then invents fake movie dialogue to go on top of them is like the stand-up comedy version of a YouTube meme. The less said about the X-rated Smurf drawings the better...

After the mad genius of Showalter, Michael Ian Black was much more traditional, observational stand-up. Funny, still very funny, but not really as exciting, I guess. Both he and Showalter seem to be inventing their acts as they go. All comedians try to master this sort of off-the-cuff delivery - you want to keep things fresh, even if you're reciting a joke you wrote a year ago - but Black really has it mastered. I'm certain plenty of this was canned material - I've never really seen his stand-up before tonight, so I have no way of knowing if he talks about Wisconsin's Taco Palace all the time - but it felt very conversational.

My friend Dave remarked afterwards that it felt very communal in the Ivar tonight. The audience and the comedians all seemed to relate to one another in a way. It was not very much like a typical comedy show, which is either in a big amphitheater filled with obnoxious assholes shouting out their favorite of the comedian's lines from TV or tiny, extremely hot, overpriced comedy clubs with obnoxious assholes who talk loudly throughout the set because they don't actually give a shit about comedy. Anyway, a good time was had by all.

Then, Dave and I went to the Cat and Fiddle and saw Joe Lo Truglio and Ken Marino from "The State" hanging out there. (Maybe meeting up with the Michaels after the 10:00 show?) It's cool to think that all those guys (and that one girl) still get along. Could a reunion be in the offing?


Anonymous said...

Dude. Michael Black posted your blog on his webiste.

Anonymous said...

Oh man wrong blog.
Im sorry.

Lons said...

No worries...He actually doesn't link to the person's blog whom he's quoting, which makes it pretty confusing. It also kind of sucks for them, because I'm sure getting on a celebrity's blog brings in some amount of traffic.

Thanks all the same for reading!