Comics Come Home – TD Garden (Boston, MA), 11/8/14

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Using stand-up comedy to raise money for charity has a long and proud tradition. While the Comic Relief events are perhaps the most famous on the national level, comedians make a habit of donating their time to fundraisers of all sizes all across the country. While stand-ups are often generalized to be damaged and unhappy people, it seems to me that they have the biggest hearts and freely give of their talents to help others. As a fan of comedy, it’s always nice when I can laugh for a good cause. Somehow, Comics Come Home had flown under my radar up until this year; I may have vaguely heard about it over the years after it happened, but now that I have started going to more events in Boston regularly, I am more keyed into what’s going on in Beantown. And once I heard Jimmy Fallon was involved, it was a no-brainer that I’d have to check the event out; I think I am contractually obligated to attend anything that Fallon is a part of.

Comics Come Home, celebrating its twentieth year, is a fundraiser for the Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care that is organized by actor/comic Denis Leary. Neely is a retired hockey player who played for the Boston Bruins and now serves as the team’s President; he has also apparently appeared in Dumb and Dumber according to my guy friends, who are horrified that I have never seen that movie. Many, but not all, of the comedians that participate in Comics Come Home have a connection to the Boston area; they either grew up there or started their careers there. Some of the comics on the bill have a personal connection to the foundation; others just think it is a worthy cause. Over the years, many great comedians have donated their time to the fundraiser and this year was no different – in addition to Leary and Fallon, the 2014 lineup included Bill Burr, Marc Maron, Jim Gaffigan, Lenny Clarke and others. While I’ve seen many of the gentlemen perform before, I was particularly excited to finally get the chance to see Gaffigan, who I’ve been looking forward to seeing but always seem to miss when he’s out on tour. As cancer has recently affected me in a personal way, I was more than happy to help this worthwhile cause while selfishly getting a great night of comedy out of it. I was a little skeptical of the location of the event, as I generally think that comedy is better in a more intimate setting, but if hosting it in the TD Garden meant more money was raised, it would be worth it.

The night kicked off with numerous video messages from comics that were not able to participate this year but that wanted to send their well-wishes. Conan O’Brien wondered why, as a guy that grew up in Boston, they only asked him to send a video every year instead of inviting him to perform. Larry David, in typical Larry David fashion, commended the altruism of the participants and said that he probably wouldn’t participate next year either because “nice thoughts occur to be but I generally don’t act on them.” Craig Ferguson, Jon Stewart and David Letterman all sent video messages as well.

Denis Leary served as the master of ceremonies and host for the event and he got the live show going with a Boston-centric parody of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” I can’t say that I got all the references, but the crowd loved it; my “outside” status as a New Yorker would be reinforced a few times during the evening. Leary then warmed the crowd up with some rants about how at his age he just doesn’t care anymore (that’s a cleaned up version) and how he hates anyone under 30. Leary would pop in and out for the duration of the show to do a little stand-up and then introduce the next comic.

 

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Denis Leary

Comedians Tony V and Joe Yannetty got things going and while they may have been among the lesser well known comics on the bill, they both brought their A game to their sets. Yannetty’s set was perhaps the most appropriate to the theme of the night as he had just received a clean bill of health after his battle with cancer. You wouldn’t think cancer in and of itself is funny, but Yannetty was able to mine his experiences for comedy gold. On being dismayed at the number of people who shared sad stories with him of people who had cancer after his diagnosis, he joked that he only wanted to hear triumphant stories from here on out. “Tell me about a woman who had ovarian cancer that is now f*cking her way across Europe!” That punchline got a huge laugh and particularly tickled Leary, who kept coming back to it the rest of the night. Both Tony V and Joe Yannetty were solid and the night was already off to a strong start.

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Marc Maron

Marc Maron then came out to do a set about his anger issues, kale and the Ebola scare. I always enjoy Maron – I watch his IFC show and listen to his podcast – and appreciate his point of view. I thought his bit about the Ebola scare being a boon time for self-involved people was particularly funny, as well as his observation that kale seemingly came out of nowhere to suddenly be the most important food ever. Maron isn’t necessarily a guy where there are big punchlines or belly laughs in his delivery – he’s more a conversational story-teller than a joke machine – but he was consistently funny throughout his set.

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Lenny Bruce

 

 

He was followed by Lenny Clarke, who is probably best known from his role on Leary’s FX show Rescue Me. A sizeable portion of his set was about the Hilltop Steakhouse, a former Boston institution. Despite the fact that I had no reference point for his jokes, he was still very funny – while his early observations were about the Hilltop specifically, his later jokes were more relatable to even a Yankee like me. And his Boston-specific humor went over very big with the audience.

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Jimmy Fallon

Next, it was finally time for my pal and yours, Jimmy Fallon, to finally take the stage. I was curious what exactly he was going to do; Jimmy may do monologues on his show, but even before he was on Saturday Night Live I don’t know that he was really known for his stand-up. So I wasn’t sure how he was going to entertain the masses. Leary made a point of introducing Fallon as a Yankee and Knicks fan, which earned jeers from the audience – though I bravely cheered – and Fallon rebutted by kicking off his set by pointing out that Leary hadn’t lived in Boston for nearly 25 years and that while Fallon starred in a film about the Red Sox, Leary started in a TV show set in New York City. Fallon then did a bit that he does on the Tonight Show where he awards superlatives to athletes, with the focus on Boston area players. Leary came out to do equal time with New York area athletes; my favorite was the one about Derek Jeter:

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It’s funny because it’s true.

 

Fallon and Leary then did a rendition of “Dirty Water” and Fallon came out into the audience to do his best James Brown impression. His set was capped with an audience sing-a-long of “Sweet Caroline,” which was especially delightful to me since that was my sorority song in college. So the song has special significance to me and the chance to sing it with Fallon and one of my sorority sisters was icing on the cake. The crowd loved Fallon and he gave the event a nice jolt of energy.

Bobby Kelly followed that spectacle and joked that he was in a tough position of being “the fat, bald, nobody comic.” Kelly looked very familiar to me but I couldn’t place where I knew him from; after the fact I realized that he’s appeared on Louie numerous times. When he came out, I turned to my friend Laura and said “hey – it’s THAT guy!” Well, “That guy” wound up stealing the whole entire show from his better known counterparts. Kelly had the audience laughing so hard that I could hear the people around me gasping for a breath. He came out of the gates fast and furious with some hilarious observations about how men in the past could open jars and men of today have “Facebook fingers” that are only adept at using a smart phone. It was then non-stop laughs as he discussed become a father for the first time and the creation and birth of his child. I can’t even begin to do his jokes justice, but his quip that seeing his wife give birth was like seeing someone sneaking a peek out of speakeasy pretty much brought the entire Garden down. He was no longer “That guy” – he was now “Bobby Kelly – the best comic at Comics Come Home.” He was fantastic and I’m still laughing at his set two days later. He was a most pleasant surprise and I’d see him again in a heartbeat.

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Bobby Kelly

Jim Gaffigan and Bill Burr took the stage last and Gaffigan was as fun as I hoped he would be. He did some funny material on bringing doughnuts through airport security and Jesus’ ability to create bread being key to his ability to recruit followers. He was affable and made me chuckle quite a bit. I’ll definitely want to see him perform his full set and I may get around to finally reading his books while I’m traveling the next few weekends. Burr is a much angrier comedian and he seemed even crankier after following Gaffigan. His more misogynist jokes didn’t work for everyone – the women behind me certainly weren’t fans – and he was probably my least favorite of the comedians. He was still pretty funny, but something about his vibe and material just didn’t connect with me this time around; I saw him a few months ago and enjoyed him more then.

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Jim Gaffigan

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Bill Burr

None of the comedians were on stage more than 15-20 minutes and all of them left us wanting more. Leary came out again to close out the evening with a rendition of his song “Asshole,” which was unfortunately hard to hear over the band. The big finale was all the comedians coming out on stage and being joined by the Boston Bruins. I unfortunately don’t follow hockey, so I was less impressed by this than most people in attendance. Regardless, my friend Laura and I had a great time and have decided to make this an annual tradition; we may have missed the first 19 years of Comics Come Home, but we’re on board for the next 19. It was a great evening with great comics for a great cause. It doesn’t get much better than that.

All the comics joined by the Boston Bruins

All the comics joined by the Boston Bruins

 

Bill Burr – Palace Theater (Albany, NY), 4/27/14

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Back when I saw Anthony Jeselnik perform live, he ended his show with a Q&A from the audience – always a dicey proposition in my book. One of the questions that he received asked about what comedians that he liked and Jeselnik turned it around and asked us who we thought he would say. There were lots of interesting guesses – and some ridiculous ones – and while I didn’t shout out because one does not draw attention to oneself at an Anthony Jeselnik show, I had a pretty good idea of who he was going to say.

Bill Burr.

It turns out that my instincts were right; I may not know Anthony Jeselnik, but I have read enough about the stand-up comedy world to know that Burr is a comedian’s comedian. He tours a ton and is well respected by his peers, which is enough for me. Surprisingly, I wasn’t all that familiar with Bill Burr the comedian; I knew Bill Burr, the actor, from his minor supporting role on Breaking Bad, but couldn’t remember catching any of his specials on Comedy Central. Despite my general unfamiliarity with his stand-up work, when I heard that he was coming to town I immediately snatched up tickets. I purposely didn’t do any research before the show, preferring to be surprised by his set and his on stage persona. For some reason, I assumed that he would be very similar to Louis C.K. – an assumption that presumably was rooted solely in the fact that both comedians are redheads. I guess I profile comedians based on their hair color.

Though their styles vary quite a bit, Louis C.K. and Bill Burr are similar in that both of them are very smart and talented comedians. I thoroughly enjoyed Burr’s set and while he didn’t crack the upper echelon of my stand-up comedy experiences – to the best of my knowledge no one was arrested after this show – it was a pretty spectacular way to end my Sunday night. I’ll absolutely be seeking out Burr’s previous stand-up work online so that I can enjoy his previous sets.

The biggest surprise for me was how much Bill Burr yelled; he isn’t really an angry comedian, per se, but a lot about life clearly exasperates Burr. He does not suffer fools lightly and early on in his set he took an audience member to task for recording the show with his cell phone. I think that Burr was more annoyed that the guy wasn’t experiencing the show than he was about the bootlegging of his material. Burr frequently went off on tangents within his prepared material, but they were welcome diversions and only enhanced the overall experience. There is a long line of comedians that are annoyed by the daily experiences of life, but Burr didn’t seem like a rehash of previous comedians. He was animated and shouted from time to time, but he also laughed at himself and the absurdity of it all. He really seemed to be having a good time up on stage.

His material covered a range of well-worn topics – religion, guns, feminism, and marriage – but he was able to mine these areas for new and interesting innovations. I particularly enjoyed his discussion of how he could defend his home with a BB gun – “you might not kill the guy, but at the very least you force him to go outside and regroup.” He touched on some recent events, such as the controversy over Duck Dynasty and gay marriage – Burr wasn’t at all shocked that a man in his seventies with a ZZ Top beard who sits in the swamp all day with ducks might not be a person from whom you expect progressive thought. My favorite segment by far was his retelling of the time that he decided to blow passed a police office at the airport that was trying to flag him down, just for the fun of it. He painted a vivid picture of his exhilaration at defying authority followed by his panic over what he did and his attempt to stay out of trouble when he realized what he did. Burr was animated throughout his set, but he was particularly alive during this segment. The sold-out crowd ate it all up, enthusiastically howling with laughter throughout his entire show. Burr was on stage close to 90 minutes by my calculation, which is a fairly long set for a headliner. Usually these sets seem to clock in at a little over an hour, so we more than got our money’s worth from Burr.

Burr liberally uses the F-word, so it’s definitely not a show for the easily offended or for children. Content wise, I’d put him in the middle of the edgy spectrum; it was certainly adult material, but it was not nearly as explicit or racy as some other comedians that I’ve seen. He does cover some sensitive topics, but they are all in good fun; if you can pull of material about guns in upstate NY, you’re doing something right. The only thing that really threw me off was Burr’s appearance; he’s shaved his head and lost his goatee, so for the first few moments that he was on stage I had trouble adjusting to this new visual.

Burr’s opening act, Paul Virzi, was also very funny. He did a brief 20 minute set to warm up the crowd that focused primarily on parenting and drinking. I was laughing particularly at his portion of the set that focused on the morning after a night of drinking, when you have to call your friends for them to fill in the details of what exactly you did the night before and assess the damage. I think most people have been there and his re-enactment of the conversation was spot on. There was an additional warm-up guy (Thomas Attilla Lewis) who did about ten minutes and seemed like a likable enough guy, but wasn’t quite in the same league as Virzi and Burr. Almost all the comedians made some joke at the expense of the neighboring city Troy, though I would argue that they should have substituted Schenectady for the punch line instead. Troy has come a long way.

A great night of comedy overall and I now know what all the hullabaloo is about. I would definitely consider going to see Burr again if he comes through town in the future. He doesn’t crack my top five stand-up experiences, but he’s solidly in the top ten. I am looking forward to digging into his achieves to see what else he has done. Burr also routinely does mini-videos from his time on the road and we were promised that Albany would be featured in an upcoming one; I can’t wait to hear his thoughts after driving around my fair city.

For more information about Bill Burr or to find his upcoming tour dates, check out his website.