On a base level, I see an outer shell made up of neurotic people-pleasing, masturbation jokes and a supposed-or-stated lack of self-confidence.
I see a next layer composed of searing human observations, confessing to one's own foibles and/or finding universality in a highly specific situation.
And then I see a next layer, only in the minority of comics, that draws in the audience, one at a time, into different jokes, to total immersion with the performer... whether it's in laughing at ourselves, illustrating an injustice/prejudice, or just feeling like s/he is your oldest, bestest friend up there on stage, telling a story you were there for, and how you absolutely love reliving it.
That likability is a double-edged sword - and I enjoyed walking the sharp edge. As an audience member, I want every comic to be great. I want to like them and walk into their world, whatever it might be. (It's of value to me to "like" someone... by which I do not mean I always must agree or be of a similar disposition as the other person. It is, rather, an appreciation that they are authentically themselves, and I like nearly everyone who can be authentic. It's the fronting I hate, and so perhaps I will find myself drawn to more stand-up; after all, it doesn't really work well to fake it all on stage. The performer has to be as fallible, funny, lazy, ambitious and complex as me and mine.)
So I don't aim to be judgmental; I aim to be open to whatever they've got. But, well, I AM me, I am human, and I am paying good money to be entertained or thought-provoked. So of course I'm judgmental in my seat, with a piercing gaze for great callbacks, new takes on the common themes, and that amorphous, floating, undefinable ability to meet the exact vibe of the room.
I went to shows last week with 500+ in the audience, and one as small as 25 in the audience. To subtly adjust to the time of night, the drunkenness of the crowd, the comic who went just before, even to the shape of the room and volume of the mic, was fantastic to observe. Scratch that; it wasn't wholly observing. I, too, was part of the balance. In one room, I was one of only two women in the audience; my tittering laughter in the third row, in a clearly female voice, was one small ingredient in the show.
It was a great experience. Will I do it again? Ask me when I'm not so tired! But it served as a reminder that I do best in immersion. To see over fifty sets in three days was the way to go for me; I often say I do things, I say yes to things, purely to add a notch to my Experience List. So I have a new line item on Things Experienced, and in case you have the chance to see the following folks, don't miss 'em!
- Ron Funches (he's a Portlander and killed both sets I saw).
- Moshe Kasher (I saw him thrice, and every time was grand).
- The brilliant Chicagoan (and Thunder Cat!) Cameron Esposito.
- Zach Sherwin/MC Mr. Napkins (the aggressive bee!!)
- My regret is only seeing him at 1:40 AM... but he still brought the house down at that hour, Mr. Kyle Kinane.
- And Andy Peters, who should not have been funny to me by all rights, but I was holding my face because it ached from laughter.