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April 26, 2003

The Essence of Comedy

Normally, I'd take it as a bad omen if I walked into a comedy club and noted that their featured act of the month was a standup performance by Screech. Especially if his only two listed credits other than "Saved By the Bell" were appearances on "Celebrity Blind Date" and "Celebrity Boxing."

I couldn't have been more wrong. I learned an important lesson last night: while good stand-up comedy is funny (I assume, not having actually seen any), bad stand-up comedy is fucking hilarious.

It's a difficult phenomenon to describe. See, the pleasure in bad stand-up lies not in the jokes, but in the awkward pauses, the facial expressions, the "Is this thing on?" improvised quasi-humor that fills the long silence following a poorly received punch line. It's the pure joy in sitting anonymously in the darkness, and not being the guy on stage. Oh, man. I was laughing my ass off. And I meant it.

Here's a shining example. The fourth or fifth comedian of the night, a woman who looked and sounded freakishly like Amanda Plummer, walked up on stage without any prepared material and proceeded to launch into a series of monologues that ran along the lines of:

"So, I'm a single mom. Yeah. I'm raising two kids by myself, since my husband, who was an alcoholic, left us six months ago."

About halfway through this little soliloquy, the audience would be gearing up to laugh, assuming that a zinger of some sort was coming. But no. That was it. Then there'd be a long pause, in which someone would start to laugh and then trail off halfway through, or bust out with something halfway between a chuckle and a "huh?" And then there'd be more silence. And then I'd laugh. Man, that killed me.

Best of all, this woman's routine lasted for a good three or four times as long as anyone else's, since she seemed oblivious to the guy in the back frantically signaling with a flashlight to indicate that her time was up. Toward the end, she was bellowing at the top of her lungs into the microphone, not telling anything recognizable as a joke, but ranting incoherently about her job working a perfume counter at Nordstrom's and waxing Hulk-like about how we wouldn't want to get her angry.

The audience was paralyzed. Occasionally someone would chuckle nervously, and everyone else would stare straight ahead, their faces frozen in mirthless grins. We were like hostages in a bank robbery where the head gunman had suddenly removed his mask and started telling knock-knock jokes. Knock-knock jokes with mismatched answers. Comedy gold, I tell you.

Finally, the owner of the club himself went up on stage to escort her off; and away she went, bowing graciously and blowing kisses to the audience. Later, in the lobby, I saw her trying to get one of the other comedians to walk her to her car, as she didn't feel safe going outside at night by herself. Her car, as it turned out, was parked right across the street, about fifty feet away. I was sad to see her go. She was, far and away, the standout act of the night.

God. I haven't laughed that hard since Final Destination.

posted by whitey at 02:26 PM


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