It’s easy to forget that before he starred on King Of Queens and started appearing in terrible movies that somehow make a lot of money (middle America – I will never understand you), Kevin James was actually a stand-up comic. I tend to think of him as an actor that is funny rather than a comic who successfully made the leap from comedy clubs to the big and small screen. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that his comedy special Sweat the Small Stuff used to be in heavy rotation on Comedy Central, I don’t know that I would have had any exposure to his previous life behind the mic.
Despite the fact that most of James’ projects aren’t my cup of tea – I never took to King of Queens, though part of that could be attributed to my general intolerance of his co-star Leah Remini – I quite enjoyed Sweat the Small Stuff, so I was more than game to check him out live when he came rolling into town. I was kind of curious what his on-stage persona would be; a lot has changed since his last stand-up special, both professionally and personally, and I wondered if “going Hollywood” would have any impact on his performance. Turns out that while the latter has definitely provided him a new source of material, the former hasn’t had much influence on him at all. If you didn’t know that he’d been in a bunch of movies, he appeared to just be a chubby comedian telling jokes about fatherhood and air travel.
While I was amused throughout his set, James is definitely not an edgy comedian. His set is totally PG and family friendly; I don’t think he cussed at any point during the evening. Now working blue is not a requirement for being funny – too often I think comics rely on shock value rather than actually funny or well-crafted jokes to get them through their sets. I think the bigger issue, if there really was one, was that his material in general was a little too conservative and reminiscent of joke areas that many other comedians cover. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t funny, just that a lot of it didn’t feel very fresh. When you’ve watched as much stand-up as I have, you have heard a lot of jokes about struggling with weight gain and issues with family. It’s relatable, but while I chuckled throughout the set none of his jokes felt very memorable. Jerry Seinfeld covers some of the same topics and also is generally very PG, yet I felt like he provides a new and interesting perspective. I’ve left other shows physically exhausted from laughing so hard; Kevin James was perfectly enjoyable, but didn’t have that same effect.
The highlight for me was when he went “off script” and interacted directly with the audience. To me, that makes or breaks a comedian; if they are able to be funny with the random conversations that they have with the crowd, then to me that indicates a smart comic mind that can work on the fly. James did a great job with that – after asking some audience members about their tattoos, he was able to use the responses to make some very funny observations (though, to be honest, he really lucked out with some of the answers he got. Who knew some of my fellow Albanians had such ridiculous ink?). Per usual, some people in the crowd proved to be an embarrassment by yelling things out, but James also handled that very well. Unfortunately, after he deflected one person, others in the audience didn’t get the memo and continued to yell sporadically throughout the set. No one was heckling, per se, but I don’t know what people expect to happen when they yell out Mall Cop in the middle of his act. This is why I need to be allowed to Taser annoying audience members.
If you see Bob Saget doing comedy live, people are surprised at how different his comedic persona is from his Full House/America’s Funniest Home Videos persona (seriously – Danny Tanner is one dirty bird). The exact opposite is true with Kevin James; his stand-up is pretty much exactly what you’d expect to see in his sitcom or in one of his movies. He seems to be a really nice guy and he certainly is funny, but I don’t think his comedy stylings and my personal preferences are a great match. I enjoyed him and had a perfectly lovely evening, but I don’t know that I would ever have to see him again. He appeals to a wide variety of people, as evidenced by the wide diversity of last night’s sold-out crowd, but I just don’t know if I am one of those people. He made some funny observations, but ultimately I think I like my comics with a little more bite.
Programming note – voting for my summer viewing project will close on Wednesday June 5th. Currently it is a dead heat between The Good Wife and Shameless. Make your voices heard!