One of the more promising developments for 2013 is the increase in the number of comedians that are making a stop here in Albany; while I may have missed out on Louis CK’s latest tour – and I’m still bitter about that – it’s only a few weeks into the new year and I already have tickets to see five comedians in the coming months. If this is a precursor to what the rest of the year is going to be like, I’m going to be a very happy girl.
The first of these shows was last Friday night when John Oliver came rolling into town. Most people know Oliver from his stint as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He fits right in on the show – he’s smart and has a dry sense of humor, but he also isn’t afraid to be silly. He’s particularly funny when he’s asked to be the representative of England, his native land. He did some great stuff associated with the Royal Wedding and the Diamond Jubilee. I always look forward to his segments, especially when he gets to banter with Jon Stewart; the two of them work very well together. This isn’t his funniest or best segment, but it was the only one I could find to embed:
I am also a fan of his other program, John Oliver’s New York Stand Up Show. Oliver is always funny in his opening monologues and he has introduced me to a lot of other comics featured on the showcase that I might not have necessarily heard about otherwise. It’s a good way for me to keep up to date on new voices in comedy when it isn’t easy for me to go to comedy clubs and see people live. It isn’t only new comics featured – some of Oliver’s Daily Show comrades have dropped by, as well as a personal fave Hannibal Buress – but it gives exposure to a lot of different comics and I look forward to DVRing it every week (it’s currently on break, but I’m hopeful that Comedy Central will bring the show back for a 4th season).
So I was pretty excited to see John Oliver live; I’d sampled enough of his stand up to know that he was funny, but I was curious if he would be able to sustain that for an entire set. I am happy to report that he was very funny and I had a lot of fun. It may not have been all new material, but he did improvise some material that was specific to the venue (more on that in a minute) and kept the crowd in stitches for most of his 80 minute set.
I normally don’t like to sit too close to comedians for fear that I will wind up part of the act, but since Oliver doesn’t have a history of doing that (and I didn’t plan to heckle), I braved it and sat in the second row. The audience skewed a little older than I expected; I didn’t figure there would be a lot of young people there, but I had assumed that the median age would be 30-40 when in reality it was probably closer to 45-55. Perhaps it was the slightly older age of the crowd, but for the first time in forever, not a single person yelled anything during the show or was otherwise obnoxious. Everyone was well behaved; it was a nice reminder that people in this area are capable of going to shows and not acting like jerks (they just choose not to most of the time).
John Oliver covered a variety of different topics, but started off with the one closest to his hear: politics. He then branched off to discuss the flu epidemic (something he came back to, especially if anyone in the audience coughed too loudly), what happens when you Google yourself and America’s loosening grasp on their empire. He also did a really funny bit on a library in Boise that has unusual punctuation featured on their building.
Turns out the exclamation point was donated by a former local pizzeria owner, which as Oliver pointed out, doesn’t make the whole thing any less hysterical (the story behind the donation can be found here).
The funniest recurring bit that he did, however, was on the venue that we were watching the show at. The theater is called The Egg because….welll….it looks like a giant egg:
Having lived in this area most of my life, you kind of forget how absolutely ridiculous this looks to outsiders. Who designs a theater to look like some combination of an egg and a spaceship? We all take it for granted, but when people come to visit it is one of the things that they comment on. I’ve seen a lot of shows at The Egg and all the performers mention the oddness, even if it is in passing, but Oliver came back to it several times through the show and really made us feel that we were getting something that was tailored for us. It is a weird theater – and it only gets more confusing on the inside – and Oliver’s observations about the structure got some of the biggest laughs of the evening.
My only real disappointment about the show was that I had heard a fair amount of the material previously on John Oliver’s New York Stand Up Show. It was still very funny and had been slightly tweaked, but the general premises were the same. I would have preferred some newer material, but I suppose when you are involved with two shows that doesn’t leave a lot of time to be crafting an entirely new set. I’ve been spoiled that several of the comics that I’ve seen have used almost 100% new material -Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld come to mind- so my expectations may be a little too high. Again, it was still very, very funny, but there was no surprise to it. Most of the recycled material was toward the end of the show, which was a little anticlimactic. For example, he ended with this bit:
And the basics of this bit were done as well:
Despite the fact that some of the set was familiar, I still left The Egg with a face that was sore from laughing too hard. My friends enjoyed the show as well and the murmurs I heard from the crowd as we were filing out were all positive. John Oliver has great comedic timing and provided a very pleasant evening. I would definitely see him again, but would hope that he would have some newer material the next time. Still, he managed to make the older material work with his delivery and enthusiasm. And he reminded us all just how bizarre The Egg really is.