Monday, January 18, 2010

A Professional At Work

One of the most frightening aspects of last night's Golden Globe awards ceremony was the decided lack of gray hair in the audience and on the heads of presenters. Oh, sure, John Lithgow and William Hurt were there to balance the age curve. James Cameron, again on top of the world with AVATAR, looked a lot older than he did when he took the Oscar for TITANIC. But, by and large, everybody else was twelve. And, as is often the case these days, I didn't know who some of them were. I imagine many of them played vampires in those TWILIGHT movies or slutty suburbanites on some CW TV show. One look at them and all I could think was: I just don't care.

But on Friday night, I hauled myself into Boston (which I hate to do) to see the great Richard Lewis. Gray hair and all. And he didn't let me down.

I had booked tickets for Lewis last year, at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton. But he cancelled. I suspect, because nobody was coming to see him. He should have known better than to book that place. Nobody in Northampton has a sense of humor. I mean, not really. Something about wearing Birkenstocks saps the wit out of a person. So, while I was disappointed, I was not surprised when he bailed.

But there he was on Friday, at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston, converted into a half club, half theatre, half arena. (Okay, you do the math, I don't have time.)

First, though, there was JB Smoove, to open.

Now, one thing you become aware of very quickly as you look at the electronically changing marquee outside the Wilbur, is that Larry David's CURB YOUR EHTHUSIASM is a hit TV show, because no fewer than four cast members are booked to play the Wilbur this season. Susie Essman and Jeff Garlin will be in town later in the winter. Tonight, it was Lewis and Smoove. (Patton Oswalt, not a CURBIE, but who I think is damn funny, is also coming to the Wilbur. Check it out. And check out his superb performance in the film nobody saw, BIG FAN.)

JB plays "Leon," Larry's live-in-and-won't-leave foil on the show, and, on the show, he is brilliant. There is a control to his insanity, and his ad-libs (it's all pretty much ad-lib on CURB) are exquisite. I still can't read or hear the word "ejaculate" without thinking of Smoove's line reading. Anyway, JB is a funny dude, and his stand-up has moments of wonderful lunacy--like when he portrays a stage coach driver getting juiced by listening to a hip hop tune while he races from the bad guys. But a lot of his act is repetitive, and you can tell that it's going to be a while before he has a true handle on this aspect of the business. His act is as raunchy as, say, Louis CK, but LCK has it under control. JB, not quite. Still, some funny stuff.

Richard Lewis, though, is a man who has been doing stand-up for forty years, which he tells you more than once in the course of his act, and you can tell that this is true--in a good way. I remember Lewis used to bring an almost infinite scroll of notes onstage with him, and went back and forth from the scroll as he threaded his act together. Now, at 62, he has abandoned the scroll, and trusts his manic brain to bring him from one bit to the next. And when his manic brain lets him down, he uses the loss of memory to transition from riff to riff, and he's as funny transitioning as he is riffing.

His act, like everybody's these days, has sex as its core. He's a man who seems to have been a serial womanizer for years, who is now married, and that late life alteration has provided him with a perspective that fuels his comedy.

And his energy is ceaseless. If you've watched him on CURB, you've wondered if his frail body was going to make it from frame to frame. Onstage at the Wilbur, you get the impression he could have gone on for a month.

I waited years to see Lewis onstage and he did not let me down.

When you commit to your art, and you work at it, and you believe in it, it shows.

Long Live Lewis.

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