Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rocky Road ~ Chris Rock brings another kind of pain to Oakland.

Posted By on Tue, Apr 8, 2008 at 4:00 AM


Live review: Chris Rock, Paramount Theater, Oakland – Saturday, April 5, 2008

Stand-up comedy genius (and film actor with poor judgment) Chris Rock brought his No Apologies tour to Oakland’s Paramount Theater over the weekend, with four sold-out nights that sadly showed the fallibility of the modern-day Mark Twain.

Momentum was high following a solid set from regular opener Mario Joyner and a powerful slide show of African-American art from the likes of Kehinde Wiley and Basquiat. Rock was introduced via a fast-paced montage of news clips and sound bites featuring many of his impending targets, an appropriate segue considering Rock is a topical artist in the best sense. But his opening riff on one Ms. Spears was immediately tiresome considering her recent overexposure; it seemed distasteful at this point, even though he was actually defending her. “So they take her kids,” he said in his trademark grit, “but Bobby and Whitney keep theirs?! Even O.J. kept his kids, and he killed their mother!

Still, Rock has a knack for finding gold in already exhausted territories, as evinced by a brilliant 30-minute bit on the current presidential candidates. “So if Hillary wins, she’s going to work every day in the same office where her husband got a blow job,” he said amid a sea of side-splitting shrieks. “There ain’t enough redecorating in the world to get rid of that!”

Rock also had fun with his choice Obama, using the candidate's status as a reminder of how hard it still is to be a black man in America. “Until a black man ran for president,” he said, “I’d never heard of a ‘super delegate!’” His jokes still worked, although they were a little too respectful: “He’s got the blackest name next to Dkembe Motumbo!”

Not squandering much time on McCain beyond a couple of jokes (“Do we really want a president with a ‘bucket list’?” / “I don’t want to vote for someone who got captured; I want to vote for someone who got away!”), Rock knew that digs at Bush would go over much better. “He fucked up so bad, he made it hard for a white man to run for president!” he said early on. “No one gives less of a fuck than Bush,” he continued. “If you were hanging off a cliff and all you needed was someone to give a fuck, and Bush was at the top with a pocket full of fucks…”

And so went the nearly two-hour set of his trademark blend of socioeconomic concerns, the state of the union, and painfully honest & spot-on relationship wisdom. But although he still outshines virtually every other working stand-up comedian, Rock’s material failed to fully incite the Saturday night crowd, even though a good portion had already gotten their swerve at least halfway on.

One might think the large venue had a hand in the restrained reaction, but large venues are nothing new to Rock (his best TV special was filmed at the Apollo). More damaging was the derivative material, recycled from his past glories. When talking again about getting caught cheating, the previous “left turn” became the highway (“Did you take the highway with that bitch? Only side streets from now on!”). Marion Barry’s drug habit became Obama’s very "black-sounding" name (“President? It's hard to become a manager at Burger King with that name!”). He used Obama’s reverend-speech controversy to reiterate how old black men are justifiably the most racist people, and some punch lines were repeated verbatim: “I haven’t seen white people that mad since they canceled M*A*S*H.”

What’s most upsetting about this use of “regular bits” to which many comedians adhere is that not since Eddie Murphy (Delirious, Raw) has a comedian had such universally celebrated, instantly classic, entirely quotable comedy specials. Bring the Pain (1996) and Bigger and Blacker (1999) have endured and entered the pop culture lexicon, becoming more like perfectly paced one-man plays than hour-plus stand-up sets. They continually persist as must-sees for comedy fans everywhere despite their rapidly aging subject matter. It seems naive of Rock to think that his fans wouldn't remember, or would want to hear anything but new material.

Like on 2004’s substandard Never Scared, Rock’s current subject matter is as bold as ever, christening forefather-decorated dollar bills as "rapist trading cards", for instance. But his delivery is not as hard-hitting, never warranting a microphone smack as it did in Bring the Pain. Pacing – always vital for such scripted shows – was also a problem, with Saturday's show scattered and meandering in places. Even the relatively tame Never Scared was sufficiently kinetic when it came to the Bay Area early into his 2004 tour.

Maybe his success (see the live video clip below) or his age has spoiled him a bit. Surely it’s not easy to hit a grand slam each time out, but it’s hard not to think that Rock’s questionable film script-reading skills have extended to his live shows. Although he’s already been on the road for a couple of months, No Apologies is still obviously a work in progress, with the comedian even admitting half-successful delivery at a couple of points on Saturday. But this is a sign of hope that the HBO special that airs this fall will be worthy of his and his co-writers' formidable CV. There's still a killer show buried beneath the shit, so no apologies are necessary, Chris – just some careful editing.–David Sason

VIDEO: Mr. Rock's Neighborhood...

Get it while it’s hot (yes, “hot” in that way too, I guess).

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dana Carvey at the Wells Fargo Center

Posted By on Sat, Mar 29, 2008 at 4:00 AM

I told my agent, look, if I’m gonna do an HBO special. . . it’s gotta be in an old church near the freeway by Rohnert Park!

Is Dana Carvey really 52 years old? The nimble little guy who bounced all over the stage last night, unreeling rapid-fire impersonations and quick-witted jokes? Really?

For the most part, the adoring, sold-out crowd last night would have never guessed it. In youthful spirit, Carvey delivered fast-paced marathon descriptions of “the kind of religion that a Scientologist would find weird” (must be seen to be believed) and a spot-on impersonation of Andy Rooney firing up a fat joint and ruminating at stoner’s length on the exact meaning of the phrase “you’re shitting me.”

And yet Carvey, who appears to be in great health, spent a good portion of his set in older-man's land: keeping one's body from deteriorating, developing an “S”-shaped posture, performing special exercises for getting up off the toilet. This resonated with a crowd whose average age matched his, and when Carvey compared the music that “kids listen to these days” (a typical death metal impersonation with the growled lyrics “You’re gonna die, you puny little bitch / I’m gonna skin you alive and wear you like a hat”) to his generation’s music—the Beatles and Neil Young—the audience roared their approval.

Repeated concessions to age aside, Carvey last night was the same masterful comedian who most know from his Saturday Night Live days, almost 20 years ago.

Carvey’s slam-dunk impersonations alone were side-splitting, not least of all because he himself seemed to be having such fun doing them. He repeatedly cracked himself up in the exaggerated mannerisms of Deepak Chopra, Al Pacino, Tom Cruise and Jimmy Stewart. His famous Ross Perot and George Bush, Sr. impersonations drew wild applause in an athletic free-for-all called the “Reagan Oracle,” a fantasy scenario wherein Ronald Reagan, in 1988, assigns the presidency for the next 20 years—Al Gore, John Kerry, John McCain, Dick Cheney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Clinton (“the horny one”) and George Jr. (“the drunken one with the coke problem”) all made hilariously accurate appearances.

Lots of comedians in the last few years have stated outright that they won’t do George W. Bush material—it’s just too easy, they say. But Carvey dove right in, expertly aping the failed president’s garbled speech and smug self-satisfaction, the kind of comic brilliance that isn’t easy at all. Followed by an inspired routine where Kim Jong Il grammatically diagrams Bush’s tumor-riddled sentences, it was a perfect example of why Carvey films HBO specials instead of YouTube clips.

Carvey didn’t outwardly take sides on the current election, but let's add it up: he made fun of Hillary Clinton’s bulging eyes, large cheeks, incessant pantsuits, and droning speeches, and he had Bill Clinton pleading sympathy for the Lewinsky affair because, “I mean, take a look at my wife!” He was much less vicious to Barack Obama, about whom the harshest line he could muster was that the Illinois senator looked “like a cross between the Mad Magazine guy and Urkel.”

This no doubt rankled some Hillary supporters, but it wasn’t an entirely irresponsible treatment; that’d be saved for later, when Carvey gave a groan-inducing monologue about keeping sex hot after 25 years of marriage to his wife. “You’ve gotta speak her language!” he instructed, simulating sex with dirty talk built around domestic chores like doing the dishes, carpooling the kids, and getting the mail. Lame.

Carvey was at his best in off-the-cuff moments, like when he dropped the microphone and it stopped working (“I’d like to thank Showtime!” he immediately quipped) or when he assumed a sprinter’s stance to receive the replacement microphone from the wings, following with TV-announcer Olympic Games-style commentary on his second attempt (“same joke, same position, 3.2 difficulty”).

This on-the-spot ability spilled into an encore where he singled out a couple in the audience, collected some background info, and sang an impromptu guitar love song, “Take Me, Winery Man,” to Dick and Ellen. (Dick Arrowood, by chance?) A gracious Q&A with the audience followed, with Carvey patiently answering questions, mostly about the old days (“Do you miss SNL?” someone dorkily asked, to which he shot back, “Do you miss high school?”).

An old neighbor of Carvey's from Montana introduced himself, and Carvey could barely contain his excitement (“Mr. Davenport! Oh my God, I got laid in your poolhouse!”). At other questions, he beatboxed, impersonated John Lennon, and joked about someday making Wayne's World III: The Viagra Chronicles.

When asked why he chose Santa Rosa to tape the HBO special, Carvey heaped praise on the people and the intimate theater. A resident of Marin County, he flipped when a couple people started chanting “Sebastopol!” and holding up peace signs. “That is definitely a healing-crystal, hemp-watch, spirulina-bar neighborhood!” he howled.

And of course, the Church Lady made a few appearances too. There’s now a Church Lady slot machine, believe it or not, and Carvey finished the night with a great story about walking through a casino, noticing a lonely guy playing a Church Lady slot machine, and not being able to control himself.“I don’t usually do things like this, ever,” he explained to the crowd, “but I crept up behind the guy and whispered in his ear. . .”—in the Church lady's famously pious voice—“. . . Jesus doesn’t like what you’re doing!

Carvey returns for a second show tonight. It’s totally sold out.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Margaret Cho & Liam Sullivan Deliver the Diverse Goods

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The Warfield, San Francisco – March 15, 2008

Former “All-American Girl” Margaret Cho returned for a pair of triumphant nights at the Warfield a couple weeks back, reminding us why she’s still the Bay Area’s biggest gay pride (and joy). Looking relaxed and slender in her red and white striped top and skin-tight jeans, Cho delivered a potent, acerbic set which seemed to delight the mostly gay and Asian-American audience.

“I just got back from Australia,” she said before cataloging other prominent celebs like Kathy Griffin, Cyndi Lauper and Olivia Newton-John who were there with her. “It was like a fag hag summit.” Although Cho can trump her friend Griffin at her own oral-tabloid game (“The paparazzi pussy shot is bad luck and it captures the soul of your pussy,” she said of the recent rash of young Hollywood downfalls), she’s always shined brightest when presenting herself as one of us, be it a gay advocate in everyday life, a self-conscious minority trapped in a Eurocentric culture or just another member of MySpace (“Who hasn't fucked their top 10? I actually fucked Tom!”).

With hysterical bits on everything from Project Runway to Ann Coulter and former Senator Larry Craig, the comedienne’s set catered mostly to her gay following, “I love gay bars until it gets to be ‘dick o’clock,’” Cho joked. “We should have a fag hag shuttle go by all the bars to takes us to a safe house, where we can watch the Sex and the City movie before anyone else!”

This left little time for empathizing with other Asian Americans. Still, the crowd lovingly erupted when Cho spoke of being mistaken for other Asian-American performers, part of a segment drawing on her trademark raunchy blend of culturally astute social commentary and painfully hilarious recounts. “What was it like to make Charlie’s Angels?” someone asked, to which she replied, “No, I’m the one from Grey’s Anatomy.”

The crowd nearly burst when she described her father’s curious reaction to the Virginia Tech massacre, an atrocity unfortunately wrought by a fellow Korean. “Wow, 32 people,” she mimicked in an exaggerated Korean accent, "I mean, one or two is okay, but…”

With The Cho Show premiering this summer, I can’t wait to finally see some real talent on VH1 to counter the “Celebreality” has-beens who’ve taken over the channel.

Liam Sullivan, whose electro-pop internet music videos as valley girl caricature Kelly (“Shoes” / “Text Message Breakup”) are bona fide smash hits, was a worthy opener, if a little too restrained in the large theater. Flanked by two backup performers, Sullivan stayed put behind the microphone for a live rendition of Peoples Choice Award-winner “Shoes,” a performance that paled in comparison to the gut-busting showing of “Let Me Borrow That Top” that preceded it. But if Sullivan can translate his characters onto a clever stage production – or onto a screen size bigger than a YouTube window – the man touted as the next Dave Chappelle or Sacha Baron Cohen will soon be able to buy all the shoes in the world. Be on the lookout.

David Sason

Margaret Cho

Liam Sullivan

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Monday, March 3, 2008

George Carlin at Wells Fargo: March 1, 2008

Posted By on Mon, Mar 3, 2008 at 4:00 AM


Now that he's attained the septuagenarian rank of "old fuck," and like old fucks since humanity's rude beginnings, will next become a dead fuck, it's pardonable to take the long view of a George Carlin show and cite a few precedents. But first a rundown Saturday night's "It's Bad For Ya," concert, broadcast live for HBO from the Wells Fargo Center for the Performing Arts. It was a sellout. Carlin got a standing ovation—twice; once in the beginning and once at the end of his hour-long performance.

Carlin still hates humanity, and that's good. We deserve it. Last night Carlin laid waste to Dr. Phil, families, growing old, Lady Liberty, human rights, Lance Armstrong, ethnic identity, Alzheimer's, dying, biblical fantasy and other such pufferies currently deluding our species. Carlin's Bush family digs felt obligatory, but were anticipated and well-received. All in all, Carlin expelled a well-paced load of good ol' fashioned misanthropic obscenity, which is what we'd all come there to hear.

So on to the precedents. George Carlin comes from that rarified but ill-bred family charged with social criticism and satire. Picture Lenny Bruce shooting up, then reading and regaling our Constitution before a sellout crowd at Carnegie Hall. Lenny was Carlin's dad. But Lenny never knew his comedic father. Lenny was so obnoxious as a kid that Dad abandoned him. Rumor has it that Lenny's father was a Hitler look-a-like named Chaplin. And Charlie Chaplin was begot by Twain, and if you've never read Letters From Earth, you won't know what I'm really talking about—so get a copy, and also by Ambrose Bierce, the infamed author of the Devil's Dictionary, who was begot by Swift, who was begot by that randy monk Rabelais, then before him Chaucer, Boccaccio, Persius and everyone's favorite Greek cynic, Aristophanes. Somewhere out there, right now, Carlin's own kid is stirring up shit. I don't know who he is, but just like the Dalai Lama, we'll know when it comes time to pass the torch, cuz like Carlin and his seven Supreme Court words, and every last one of his son-of-a-bitch forebears, Carlin's kid's headed straight for the kind of trouble and no good that'll have us rolling in dark, morbid hilarity, ironically illuminating our entirely pathetic existence.

Like Carlin says, "It's all bullshit. And it's bad for you."P. Joseph Potocki

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