Last Comic Stranding
My daughter still wanted to see standup comedy before leaving for college. At about 8:00 pm last night we decided to catch a 9:30 show in Fairfield which is about 90 minutes away from where we live. Rather than take her best friend, it wound up being Mrs. Chancelucky, daughter, and I. All of us are over 18, so that part wasn’t an issue this time around.
Pepperbelly is a converted movie theater in the old downtown section of Fairfield. It’s nicely laid out, clean, and the food’s actually pretty good (though parts of order never got to us). I’m not sure if it’s because the feature acts were African-American or if it’s Fairfield, but most of the audience was black and many of them looked liked they’d been part of a casting call for G’s to Gents. We’re talking some really big medallions, though I didn’t spot too many grills. That may be because we were in back and it may be because for the first two warmup acts hardly anyone laughed. Comedy can be pretty hit or miss even with the best performers, but when you’re paying real money for the show it does help to have warm up acts who can get at least a laugh or two. Even the other comedians were sitting in the back of the room looking stone-faced.
The official warm up act was a guy named Mikey who did about fifteen minutes on having sex with the mother of one of his friends then segued into a long bit about being married to an older woman and the joys of misappropriating her son’s child support. He went to some less edgy material at the end, with a very funny line about who actually works at Panda Express, but we were still very much in the “We actually paid for this?” zone.
Throughout the evening, only one table was laughing. There in the front and it appeared to be a group of friends who had maybe had a fair amount to drink.
They finally brought on the headliner, Roy Wood Jr. who I guess is best known for a series of prank call bits he does on nationally syndicated radio. He’s 28 years old, but looks 40, and he’s a bit edgy without quite being mean. For twenty five minutes, the guy just “killed” the room. It actually sounded and felt like a comedy club. He had bits about the sauce at McDonald’s, Martin Luther King making exceptions for certain groups in his I have a dream speech, bracelets that identify white people who actually like black people, and some general relationship humor. My wife and daughter actually started laughing as did I. Unlike his predecessors, this guy had material, a sense of timing, and some idea of how to build a joke. Up to that point, the high point of the evening had been that Pepperbelly’s chicken wings were actually quite good. Anyway, it was clear to me that Roy Wood is a real talent.
At that point, one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen happened. The rowdiest table in the club began talking amongst themselves, not exactly heckling (I’ve seen way worse), and the talent started engaging them. Somewhere in there, Roy Wood asked the cocktail waitress for a double grey goose with pineapple juice which she brought (something that our waitress didn’t do so well, but we weren’t talent), and this odd exchange happened between the rowdy table and Roy Wood essentially about who was drunker, who was really drunk, and how he needed to get back to his routine. Some of his heckler material got a bit too barbed as he explained that he was “drinking at work” and asked one of the women if she did that too at Home Depot which he then changed to Lane Bryant. (Definitely funny in the moment, but funny with too much of an edge) Patrons began walking out in pairs as the comedian kept trying to get back into his regular material without ever quite getting there. Within about fifteen minutes, what had been a great show (like thirty minutes worth of great show, a lot for any comic) drained right out of the room with Roy Wood on stage openly questioning the way he handled the audience that night and telling them not to treat the next big comic who came to Fairfield that way because he wouldn’t put up with it.
Bottom line, I’d never seen a comedian that accomplished who was dong that well so suddenly have his act done in by hecklers (they weren’t exactly heckling just sort of chattering). I’m not sure why the house didn’t do anything about it, though that one table might have been a significant percentage of the house and up to that point they were doing the bulk of the laughing. Anyway, talk about slipping on a banana peel in the non-vaudeville sense. A couple years ago, my daughter and I went to see Alonzo Bodden at Cobb’s and had a heckler he had to get kicked out of the club. We noticed, but it didn’t wind up taking over the evening and he did it really smoothly. It's an interesting aspect of being a comedian. I guess this is why they have comedy clubs in places like Fairfield. The material was every bit as good, delivery was good, etc. It's just that there's more to it than that.
At least we actually got to see comedy this time and yeah, I’d probably give the guy another chance in a couple years. Both the greatest thing and the most frustrating thing about live comedy, you just never know.
Labels: Roy Wood Jr. Pepperbelly