Smile Politely

“Where’s the bathroom? — too late!”

Bob & Tom Comedy All-Star Tour at the Virginia Theatre

Saturday 23 January 2010

Cristy: Brown sugar from the bag. Megadeth. Raunchy, puerile comedy. These are a few of my guilty pleasures. And I got to indulge in the third on Saturday night when Bob & Tom’s Comedy All-Star Tour hit the Virginia Theatre.

William: I’ve always held a deep respect for stand-up comics. Armed with only a microphone, their job is to invoke a specific physiological response in the audience: laughter. Abstract painters, rock musicians with turned-up amplifiers, avant-garde performance artists-they all have ways to bullshit, and pass off weak material as the real thing. Not so with comedians. Laughter is harder to fake than orgasms. Regardless, few comedy audiences would fake laughter out of politeness the way an academic bookstore crowd will still offer a dead-dull poet dry applause.

Of course, if you want to laugh, you have to be prepared to get in the gutter. As Steve Martin famously said, “comedy is not pretty.”

C: True, and that’s what I initially dreaded about the show. Like I said, I love puerile comedy, but sexist jokes get old (and ladies, at this show, there were a lot of ’em). So I’m glad that Kristi Lee (right), news announcer and the lone female from the Bob & Tom show, emceed. She was sassier than she is in the mornings, when she’s often the target of juvenile jokes or plays the “exasperated mom” role. I enjoyed watching her swagger confidently across the stage and crack jokes about life with two young (and equally sassy) daughters. (It would have been even cooler if comedians like Tammy Pescatelli, Etta May, Patti Vasquez, or [University of Illinois alumna!] Denise Ramsden also participated in the show, but I digress.)

W: It was indeed a surprising pleasure to see Kristi Lee in her un-FCC-regulated, profane glory. On the Bob & Tom show, she acts as a foil to the rambunctious men on the cast-the tasteful, modest member of the crew. If part of me was afraid that this seemingly polite woman would be vulnerable to a rowdy audience, I was quickly reassured. She was crude, sexually candid, in control, and easily dispatched the idiot who shouted for her to take off her top.

C: Bob Zany (right), the first act, looked like a realtor: a large man in a large suit wielding a large unlit cigar. He quipped about seeing “the Land of the Lost” when he took a wrong turn and ended up in Mattoon, eliciting cheers from the crowd. Then he performed the “Zany Report,” a rundown of news articles and factoids, knocking each down with a swift one-liner. Something about his jokes reminded me of old-school comedy, like Henny Youngman (“take my wife — please”).

W: Zany had decent material. “That’s how good I am,” he boasted, “I just used the words ‘caveat’ and ‘behoove’ in a dick joke.” That is what passes for class in the Bob & Tom Comedy All-Star line-up. His joke about buying marijuana from the Easter Bunny was classic, but I won’t spoil it for you.

C: Then Drew Hastings took the stage, looking hip and dapper in a black sports coat, stylish bed hair, and art-critic glasses. I tend to like Hastings when he guests on the Bob & Tom show, because he’s dry and cranky. When he started his act, though, I bristled at abrasive bits about Haiti, blacks, and the disabled — he sounded like my grandpa! I realize that part of stand-up comedy is to shock and make us think about stuff we’re uncomfortable with, and that many of comedy’s groundbreakers have explored taboo subjects. But I still cringed, loosening with relief when he changed gears to tell stories about life on his farm.

W: Hastings immediately pushed some buttons that turned me off. The shock value of his blunt complaints did not succeed in releasing me from what he feels is the too-sensitive mindset of contemporary consciousness. If you’re going to condemn all countries with black governments, you’d better have, if not reams of data, at least a good one-liner. Too much of his material seemed like the cruel and to me insensible logic of angry conservatism. A pentagenarian hipster seemingly more proud of his history of cocaine use than his abstinent present, Hastings had all the vanity and corrupted idealism of the worst of the boomer generation. Which would all have been great if he made me laugh. He did not.

If Hastings was old, cranky, and tired, Greg Hahn (right) had the energy of a three-year-old who had just devoured a box of Sugar Smacks. His extended routine about how he fails job interviews made me laugh so hard I almost threw up. “Is there a bathroom — too late!” His extremely physical routine, as well as his almost frighteningly energetic presence, was certainly best experienced live. He was, in a word, a spaz. “Some of you work real hard, make employee of the month — what kind of lunatic keeps a job for an entire month?” I could not have withstood anything any funnier.

C: Hahn’s Sam Kinison shouts and random remarks (“I wear a diaper!”) have thoroughly grated on my nerves when I’ve seen his act on TV or heard him on the radio. In person, it’s a different story. He was so outrageous, loud, and high on life, I laughed in spite of myself.

W: But the best was yet to come. The true talent of the show was Donnie Baker (right), backed by his virtuosic rock ensemble the Pork Pistols. Handsome, articulate, erudite, genteel, totally kempt, Donald Baker, the aristocratic, multi-talented showman, treated us to the concert of a lifetime. Generously rescuing, repairing, and completing unfinished songs by the lesser talents of Michael Jackson, Prince, Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, and others, he was all class, polish, and false modesty. The aura of love he emanated, his considerable talents as a dancer, and what must be the best pipes in the business, enchanted the entire theater. For those of us lucky enough to not be numbingly drunk, it was a night to remember and to cherish always.

C: Yes! I especially thought he lent a deft touch to “Rack in My Hands,” a faithful rendition of “Jack and Diane.” In his Zubaz and mullet — flanked by band members Todd Boner, Dusty Privette, and Scotty Winkler — Donnie Baker was truly charming.

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