Monday, November 25, 2013

A Tale Of Two Stand-Ups

On Saturday, two major names in stand-up premiered their new special.  By coincidence, I assume.

I'm tempted to say one was old, one was new, except Sarah Silverman is no longer a kid.  She's well into her 40s and has been doing this for over two decades.  Her HBO special, Sarah Silverman: We Are Miraclesisn't even her first filmed concert.  That honor goes to Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic, released theatrically in 2005.

Silverman has an odd comic persona--a cute girl with a potty mouth who makes all sorts of (fake) naive discoveries about ugly and disgusting things.  I think she can be funny, but I find her best in small doses.  In We Are Miracles, she does generally random material for an hour (actually, closer to 45 minutes when you get rid of the framing device) and while some of it scores--and too much of it doesn't--there's never any build.  There's a lot of sexual stuff, of course, a few feints toward politics, some looks back at childhood (which seemed to get more personal than usual--most of her stuff keeps you at arm's length) and an attempt or two to be cosmic, all from her cockeyed point of view.  Then she ends with a song.  It's entertaining enough that you don't get antsy, but her stand-up still doesn't seem made for long-form.

She shot the show in the small room at Largo.  I'm not sure if having a crowd of 39 people (she made sure you knew that) is good or bad for a special, which usually features a large crowd.  I suppose if the material takes hold it doesn't matter.

By the way, Largo is about a mile or two up the street from where I write this.  Meanwhile, up the highway is the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  That's where Comedy Central's Bill Cosby: Far From Finished was shot.  It's his first filmed concert in 30 years, but he's never really been away. Cosby is more than just a stand-up comic, he's an institution.  He's been at the top of the stand-up game for 50 years now, not to mention a major TV star.

Like many institutions, he's no longer "edgy," if he ever was.  He doesn't swear, he doesn't do racial material, he doesn't talk politics (in his comedy--he's politically involved in his personal life), yet, in some ways, he's the most radical comedian out there, even at the age of 76.

That's because he doesn't tell jokes, he tells stories--long stories.  He's not afraid to go minutes without laughs (not that that usually happens), and is sure the audience will stay with him.  He may be the biggest comedian of our era, but he's not especially influential simply because almost no one else can do--or has the nerve to do--what he does.

His latest special is just more of what we see him do on talk show appearances, where he generally performs material before doing panel. (And he's no longer a stand-up.  These shows are long so he sits down the entire performance.)  It's a little more pointed and concentrated, but his style still allows him to talk about what strikes him at the moment, and interact with the audience. The material is prepared, of course, but he, more than any comic, seems to be making it up as he goes along.

The special was mostly about his favorite subjects--relations between men and women, husbands and wives, parents and their kids.  He generally portrays himself as the sad sack who has to get around his wife and deal with his kids.  His act is also very physical. He may sit in a chair, but he's quite animated, acting out his scenarios.

And it's funny.  That's the key.  His material may be a bit looser than the material that made him famous in the 60s. (It'd almost have to be, since that material was mostly seen on TV and heard on albums, formats that require a certain amount of brevity.)  Whatever he has, he's still got it.  Far From Finished may not be up to his best material, but the title is accurate.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The top reason to watch Sarah Silverman is that a Variety columnist criticized her for not being "ladylike"

9:34 AM, November 25, 2013  

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