I consider myself a pretty funny person. I’m not sure if that is something that you are supposed to say about yourself or if that is something that other people are supposed to say about you. But I crack myself up all the time and enough other people have told me that I am funny that I don’t feel too off base in my assumption. I like to make other people laugh; as a fairly shy person I use humor as a way to break the ice and get to know people. In a different world with a different personality, I’d love to be a stand-up comic. But there is a huge difference between making your friends or polite strangers laugh and doing it for paying customers. I just don’t possess the thick skin necessary to go out there night after night and take your chances. Making people laugh is not an exact science and when it goes badly, it can go REALLY badly. And I’m just not built for that kind of vulnerability and possible rejection.
However, that means I respect the hell out of the people who are wired for this particular career path and I enjoy going to see stand-ups when they come to town. I don’t know how vibrant of a local comedy scene that there is here – this isn’t NYC or LA – but we do get our fair share of touring national acts that descend upon the area. In the past few years I’ve seen Seinfeld, Louis CK (the best), Chelsea Handler, Denis Leary, Kathy Griffin, Lewis Black, Stephen Lynch and Ron White. I’ve even seen Dane Cook, which was very disappointing (and which I probably deserved for going to see Dane Cook). Usually I am familiar with the comic before I’ve seen them; I may not know all their routines, but I have a general idea of their style of comedy and what to expect. If they have previous comedy specials, I usually have seen them. I broke the mold a bit this weekend when I went with friends to see Jim Jefferies. His name was vaguely familiar, but I really didn’t know much about him beyond the fact that he was Australian and that he was decidedly not for the weak of heart. I considered youtubing him before the show, but decided that I wanted to go into the show blind. You never know how often a comic writes new material and I didn’t want to take the chance that I would take the element of surprise out of his routine. I wanted to see if he could make me laugh without the benefit of familiar jokes or the goodwill that he might have garnered if I knew him from a TV show or movie.
And he completely exceeded my expectations.
When I left the show, my face actually hurt from laughing as hard as I did. And I immediately ran home and downloaded every special of his that I could find. He didn’t displace Louis CK as the best I’ve ever seen (that will be a difficult feat) or my inherent loyalty to and affection for Jerry Seinfeld, but he has definitely catapulted his way to the top of the list of best comedy show experiences.
Now his comedy is decidedly not PC; if you are easily offended, he might not be the comic for you. Though I may not have a thick skin when it comes to myself, I’m pretty hard to shock or offend otherwise. It is, in my opinion, a lot easier to “work blue” as they used to say. The few comics who choose to not cuss or stay family friendly have inherently made it more difficult on themselves. But just because it is a little easier to get laughs with salty language doesn’t diminish how funny it can be when done well. I’ve seen comedians who rely only on shock value for laughs, which wears thin pretty quickly. That wasn’t the case with Jefferies. If you can look beyond his usage of the c-word and the other f-word, two words that I’m not particularly fond of but can tolerate in this setting, there is real skill and humor in his delivery. He is a natural storyteller and the two hours that he was on stage just flew by. I was only happy that the show came to an end because I wasn’t sure how much more I could take; I was already having difficulty breathing because I was laughing so much.
Jefferies was hysterically funny with his prepared material, which appeared to be mostly new from the search I did on-line after the show. But it was his handling of an unscripted moment that pushed a really great night into the realm of outstanding.
Over dinner before the show, I was lamenting that as much as I enjoy going to shows, the behavior of the local audiences has become increasingly embarrassing. For some reason, crowds in this city seem to think that going to see a show requires audience participation and insist on yelling things out to the performer. This isn’t just limited to comedians; I went to see Amos Lee and someone was compelled to yell out to ask him what he did the night before. I don’t know if it is the alcohol consumed or their desire to be in the spotlight briefly or if they think that this behavior is expected. Not that this would be excused otherwise, but they aren’t even particularly witty in what they yell out. I mean, what did you do last night? We all live here; we know that there isn’t much to do that is particularly exciting. The whole act reflects badly not only on the idiot who yells things out, but the entire audience. It makes us look like a bunch of yokels who don’t know how to behave properly. It drives me so nuts I sometimes dread going to shows because I just know someone is going to do it. I’m sure it happens everywhere, but I’ve noticed that it happens with regularity at shows in the Capital District.
It is especially bad when comedians come to town. Again, I don’t know if people think that they are expected to heckle as part of the experience. Most performers tell them to shut up and then generally ignore outbursts and then the disturbances seem to dissipate. Perhaps the people who would be inclined to yell pass out as the show continues.
Saturday night was no exception. Very early in the show, some doofus in the crowd decided to yell something at Jefferies. But this time what transpired was the most epic takedown of an audience member that I have ever seen. Jefferies crucified this guy; if the heckler wasn’t being such a jerk that brought this on himself you might have almost felt sorry for him. While most times the person in the audience gets a line or two, this guy didn’t know when to quit when he was ahead. And when he continued to engage, Jefferies went in for the kill. It wasn’t even a remotely a fair fight. It was all to profane and hilarious to recount, but I remember turning to my friend and saying “is this really happening?” After the dummy insinuated that he wasn’t getting his money’s worth from the show, Jefferies offered to pay him out of his own pocket to make him leave. Of course the idiot came down to the stage to get the money, but then insisted that he shouldn’t have to leave. The whole exchange culminated with Jefferies hitting the guy in the head with the microphone. It. Was. Amazing. It is one thing to hear tales of how some comedians handle hecklers, but it was quite another to see that awesomeness in person. Jefferies became my hero. The whole thing electrified the audience as well as Jefferies and the rest of his set was just a little bit better because of it. He was doing just fine before that, but post altercation he kicked it up a notch.
Do yourself a favor and if you aren’t familiar with his comedy (and don’t think you’ll be offended), go to youtube immediately and check him out or find his two comedy specials, I Swear to God and Alcoholocaust. He mentioned during the set that he is currently working on a show for the FX network, which makes me unbelievably happy. I may have just discovered Jefferies, but I’m already anxious to see what he’ll do next. An amazing night of comedy.