By Nathaniel Nelson
The Juicy J concert at Irving Plaza is really the only thing holding me back from saying confidently that Regular Comedy’s first show was perhaps the most worthwhile event in the entire city on March 2.
Regular Comedy aims to be a semi-regular standup series (it seems, thus far, to run every couple of weeks or so) at the Weylin in Williamsburg, with about four comics and an emcee each time around. The opening night lineup at the repurposed Williamsburgh Savings Bank sported a group of innocuous but very talented comics—David Angelo, Sean Patton, Michelle Wolf, and Drew Michael, with host Mike Lebovitz. The room itself is dimly lit, and not exactly perfectly shaped for a performance event—there’s an awkwardly wide gap of empty space behind the stage, and off to one side of the audience—seeing as how it was designed to protect large sums of cash. The chairs and tables feel like they were brought over from random living rooms, and there were far too few to accommodate the audience. On the other hand, the moody yet awkward juxtaposition of the space does lend itself sort of perfectly to the improvised concept behind a semi-regular comedy show.
If you want to get a sense of the types of people who showed up to Regular Comedy, picture “resident of Williamsburg.” In other words, I bet you couldn’t pick out David Angelo from a lineup with the guys in his audience. It’s worth noting that I’m not just poking fun at the character of the audience for my own pleasure, as this will all become pertinent information later.
Emcee Mike Lebovitz, a couple of minutes into his introduction, made a joke about how the crowd was willing yet unforgiving—the type to give you no more or less laughter than you’ve earned. It became evident, as the night went on, that the audience itself would have more influence over the night’s proceedings than any one of the performers. When the first featured performer, David Angelo—who created and stars in the Comedy Central web series Nothin’s Easy—started talking about how Donald Trump is “the closest thing we’ve got to punk rock,” he seemed to be feeling out the limits of the audience’s willingness to follow him. Even Michelle Wolf, of The Daily Show fame, prefaced one of her jokes by warning that (for political reasons) it might not play well to this room.
Alright, some quick housekeeping before we get to the meat: David Angelo, Sean Patton, and Michelle Wolf all had very good sets. Great stuff, talented comics, yada, yada. Got it? Good. But when Drew Michael, currently a writer for SNL’s Weekend Update, took to the stage, the whole night changed.
A bit on abortion that fell somewhere between the classic pro-choice and pro-life stances agitated the liberal audience and began a contentious half hour that involved heckling, walkouts, and the like (In short, Michael is pro-choice, but understands abortion to be something further along the scale of “murder” than, say, buying office supplies). As the scene turned into something more like a post-Trump congressional town hall than a comedy show, the comic parried constant boos and shouts of “not murder!” and “move on!” with cocky insults. After 15 minutes of digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole, he managed to come out on the other end. Half the crowd was gone, everyone remaining felt tense, and he continued until he felt like stopping (he ended up going for double-time). I left Regular Comedy questioning the state of America, the future of stand-up, our current national discourse, the way we think about sensitive issues, and where I myself stand in it all.
While I very much intend to tiptoe around any charged political debates (as I, your humble, spineless author, care far less about stating my opinion than being liked), I will say that, for those with strong stomachs, it was well worth passively experiencing the sort of discussion that emerged during Michael’s set. As someone who watches an unhealthy amount of unashamedly biased political media (Lawrence O’Donnell, Sean Hannity, etc.), it was engaging to see two different viewpoints clash in one room, even if the quality of discourse itself was very low, with neither side willing to admit anything short of 100 percent correctness. I imagine that for Drew Michael this felt like a truth-to-power Bill Hicks moment, while for the audience it felt uncomfortably like any other time in which a man uses a microphone to promote a troubling idea.
I imagine some would disagree, but I found Regular Comedy’s first night to be just about everything you could ask for, squeezed into one: more than enough great comedy for the price of admission, plus a bonus bombing-turned-charged-political-debate. I doubt they’ll be able to replicate that same energy ever again, but for your sake (and you should go next time), I hope they can.
You can keep up with David, Sean, Michelle, Drew, Mike, and Regular Comedy on Twitter, and snag tickets to Regular Comedy’s next show at the Wyelin on April 11 here.
Nathaniel Nelson (N8) is a filmmaker and writer.
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