Improvisational theater involves the art of creating live theater without preset scenes, characters, props or a script. It’s a distant cousin to sketch comedy, which is written and can be seen on shows like Saturday Night Live and MADtv (although to complicate things, some sketch work starts out in improv). Improvisational theater (or improv for short) is an amazingly difficult craft, and when it’s done well, the result can be some of the funniest and most ‘alive’ theater you can see.
“I know that things will probably never get better than this and I’m ok with that” – it wasn’t a boastful exclamation from one of the hottest contemporary comedians, but more an admission that Louis CK‘s popularity is unusually strong. With his self titled show a hit on FX and concert film “Louis CK: Hilarious” making the rounds online, Louis CK has built a very strong following, putting him on par with many of the top stand-up comedians performing today. Selling out two back-to-back shows at the Aladdin Theater in Portland, Louis CK tickets sold for hundreds of dollars on Craigslist and had people waiting in line around the block from the Aladdin Theater.
Louis CK’s charm is that he simply isn’t charming. Most comedians want to connect with their audience, compliment their city and make them feel welcome. Louis CK dispels all this pretense and simply says what he thinks and what he feels. This naked approach results in a show that is constantly fresh and alive. I’ve seen much of Louis CK’s work, including his entire series and recent concert film, and the set he did at the Aladdin didn’t repeat a single joke from any of it. To have an entire show of completely new material is a real delight, and some jokes, including a riff on Sarah Palin, seemed to come right off the cuff during the set.
Many people may still see Bob Saget as Danny Tanner, the wholesome Dad from the late 80’s and early 90’s sitcom Full House. Or perhaps they see him as the goofy host of America’s Funniest Home Videos. However, if those people were to catch Bob Saget doing standup they’d realize he’s actually one of the dirtiest comedians performing today. Saget plays a lot with these clashing perceptions in very much the same way a five year old takes pleasure in saying the word ‘shit’. It’s a mix of shock, amusement and perhaps delight in shaking people’s perceptions.
Saget embraces his dirty side right off the bat, joking about his love life and the possible paternity connection to some of the people in the audience. Saget spends a lot of time poking fun at himself and his own image, even telling a story about how someone yelled “I suck dick for coke” to him while he was spending time with his mom. He follows with a volley of dick jokes, the rapid fire approach finding some hitting their mark and some missing, but Sagat is cool, comfortable and at ease as he lobs his jokes into the audience.. The first part of Saget’s show felt very alive and unstructured and featured a lot of off the cuff and improvised material. Many of the evening’s funniest moments came out of this part of the show and his unrehearsed interactions with the audience. I enjoyed the fact that Saget’s opening was all over the place. For a comedian who has been around quite a long time it’s great to experience their raw sense of humor, something that is much more alive than the general schtick that they become known for.
After Saget was done playing with the audience, he moved into a segment of jokes that came from his father Benjamin Saget. In both a tribute to his dad and an explanation of “why I’m like this”, Saget told a number of wonderful and charming dirty jokes.
In all Saget delivered a really solid night of comedy. His complete comfort and ease on stage and his wonderfully dirty sense of humor are an absolute delight to watch. I liked how Saget moved through different styles of comedy and seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself onstage. Unfortunately, Saget’s opener, Ryan Stout, was the opposite of Saget, with humor overly contrived and uncomfortable. Stout seemed to be trying to play in the same space that Michael Ian Black does but without the charm. Stout does a have a sharp sense of humor, but he needs to find a way to be more authentic with his routine and material and perhaps learn some ease from Saget. (Also, an opening act shouldn’t keep checking his watch – it’s bad form).
It’s not that I was an orphan; I had two parents, a nice house and a dog. But I grew up in New Jersey, in the 70’s, in a house where yelling was the main form of communication. My dad yelled–a lot –at my mom, my brother, the dog, but mostly at me. So when my parents went out every Saturday night (whether or not they were actually speaking to each other), I found refuge with Carol Burnett. Without fail, I would be bathed, night-gowned and ready, sitting cross-legged in front of the TV in our family room promptly at 8pm. My entire focus was only on the world I saw before me, the one so much different from my own.
I so desperately wanted to live in that world. Carol was the perfect role model: a woman who looked like a real person, like your sixth grade teacher, but could transform herself instantly with a Bob Mackie dress into someone glamorous. It gave me hope that someday I could be like that, too. Aside from my own mother, Carol was the only adult who had ever made me laugh. I remember laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. She could also sing, so well it would move me to tears. She just seemed so…nice. I came to believe, at the ripe young age of 7, that if I lived with Carol Burnett, I would have the best life ever. I imagined living in a big house with the whole cast. I mean, after all, I thought she was really married to Lyle Waggoner, and that Tim Conway and Harvey Korman also lived in the house, sharing a room like on “The Odd Couple”. Vicki Lawrence got to have her own room. They just laughed all day and I wanted to be a part of it.
Then I learned that Carol Burnett and I share a birth date—April 26th—and I thought this was a cosmic message telling me that we were somehow connected. Despite the fact that she was married and had daughters of her own, I firmly believed that should Carol Burnett and I ever cross paths, she would just love me as much as I loved her. She could be my “Aunt Carol”. She just projects that warmth, that openness, whenever I see her.
As I grew up, the fantasies of being Carol Burnett’s adopted daughter faded, but I always managed to keep her in my life somehow. I saw every movie and TV appearance she made. I have a special place in my heart for “The Four Seasons”- I mean, couldn’t you see her really being married to Alan Alda? Carol did an HBO movie in the early 80s with Elizabeth Taylor called “Between Friends” that I adore. My girl crush on her has never really abated. Mention her name to anyone and the response is usually the same: “Oh my God, I LOVE Carol Burnett!” It’s as though she’s everyone’s ideal mother and friend.
It’s hard to remember a time when I laughed harder or for longer. Of the over ninety minutes in Patton Oswalt‘s Portland concert I found myself laughing (nearly to the point of tears) through almost every minute of it. Joke after joke hit its target dead center, and when something wasn’t quite a bullseye, Oswalt tweaked it into something even funnier.
Patton Oswalt doesn’t look or sound like he’d be the next great comedian. He’s short, stocky, and his voice strongly resonates his character from Ratatouille. Don’t let his looks be deceiving – Patton Oswalt stands on the shoulders of comedic greatness. His comedic ability, timing and spontaneity puts him solidly in the company of Robin Williams, George Carlin and Richard Pryor.
After you clear the tears out of your eyes from laughing so hard and look at the wide variety of styles of comedy and types of comedic elements that Patton hits in a single show, it’s absolutely mind blowing. From ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ stories, to witty observations and total off-the-cuff riffs, Oswalt seems to have an amazing tool kit to pull from on stage and he’s completely fearless in doing so.
In his Portland concert, Oswalt covered about 25% of his material from his current concert film My Weakness is Strong. Many comedians who tour for a major concert film release would rely on much more of that content. Oswalt seemed to use it as a wire frame for his show, only falling back to it when he seemed to want to get things flowing forward. Some of the funniest material of the evening came from Oswalt’s completely improvised interaction with a member of the audience. It was equivalent of a high wire act unhooking the safety line and doing somersaults on the tight rope.
The Newmark theater was filled to capacity for Patton Oswalt and the uproarious standing ovation brought Oswalt back on stage for a series of ‘classic’ material that seemed remarkably fresh. To date, Oswalt has built a very loyal and eager following but has been working just below the radar screen of many comedy fans. I don’t expect Oswalt to continue to be one of the best kept ‘secrets’ in comedy; he is absolutely destined for greatness and I’d be surprised if his next trip to Portland doesn’t have him selling out a venue twice or three times the size of the Newmark.
If you missed out on Patton Oswalt in Portland, be sure to pick up his concert DVD My Weakness is Strong and then make sure you catch him the next time he comes to Portland. It’s one of the funniest nights of comedy you’ll ever experience.
Patton Oswalt is an exceptional comedian who was a smash hit at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival and is in an explosive break out period in his career. After reaching large scale notoriety as the voice of the title character in Pixar’s Ratatouille, Patton’s acting and stand up career have gone through the roof. Patton just released his new concert film My Weakness is Strong and he’s starring in the critically acclaimed Sundance Film Festival hit Big Fan.
On Portland is giving away a pair of tickets to see Patton Oswalt in Portland. All you have to do to enter is comment on the thread below with your thoughts about Patton. We’ll pick the one comment as the winner.
Winner will be drawn on Thursday, September 10th at 7:30pm.
For an hour and a half Robin Williams ran at a spitfire pace, telling about three hours worth of jokes. Starting with a series of local jokes “I see you’re drinking a Sam Adams, that isn’t the only Sam that enjoys a little head in this town” to his trademark penis jokes (as he reenacted a committee meeting to design the penis), Robin Williams hit a home run every time he went up to bat.
I’ve been to my fair share of stand-up performances (most recently Eddie Izzard and Henry Rollins) and no-one comes even close to landing so many extremely funny jokes as Williams.
What struck me the most about Williams was just how energetic and youthful he is. Fighting a cold his horse voice never stopped him in his explosive comedy and he bounded around the stage like a man half his age.
Some of the funniest jokes of the night came between Williams a woman who was signing for some deaf audience members. Williams often uses faux sign language in his act, and his interplay with the interpreter was Williams at his absolute best.
After Williams finished his set everyone in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall rose to their feet in a complete unanimous standing ovation. Williams returned to the stage and continued his set for another half hour. “It feels great, my regular routine is over and now I get to play!” What followed was pure, raw unadulterated Robin Williams and perhaps the best case made that Robin Williams in the funniest man alive.
Telling jokes like John Coltrane played the sax, William bounced and riffed like no other comedian can. Robbins did an entire riff on porn, including celebrity porn with impersonations of Jimmy Stewart, Betty Davis and Katherine Hepburn all doing porn. The capper was an impersonation of Christopher Walken doing porn!
The evening’s finale was an impromptu country western song that was inspired by an audience member’s t-shirt. It showed off the sheer genius comedy of Williams and was a perfect cap to an amazing night.
Hopefully it won’t be another six years until Williams goes on tour again, no matter how long it is, I can tell you it will be worth the wait.