Because I care little enough about my own well-being, instead of relaxing, shopping for fruit and veges, eating well and having even a solitary glass of water, I didn’t. I’m en route back from a day of Magic the Gathering frantically writing in order to catch up on life before seeing Bill Burr at 7pm. 90 minutes to eat, drink water, shower, write and get into town would be a feat for a lesser human if the objective was to do any of these things adeptly. C’mon, this is me we’re talking about here. So before I get into what I see tonight, what did I see yesterday?
Double headliner night started with future Daily Show host Trevor Noah. Was he funny? Yes. Is he an outstanding standup? Less sure. The crowd loved him. LOVED him. Every joke landed, belly laughs and applause breaks all around. He didn’t quite grab me though. A trend I find with TV people at comedy festivals is you get a ton of attendees who don’t see a ton of comedy. They’ve shelled out big bucks to see someone at a snazzy venue, so they’ll go in there with their mind already made up that they’re experiencing the divine. Because the person in front of them was ordained to grace the small screen, they must be the funniest around. Geez, this just sounds like I’m a bitter, resentful hipster snob, so I’ll give some explanation. Very few of his jokes explored new territory. I mean, one of his bits was exploring how white perpetrators of hate crimes are never given the label of terrorist. It’s undeniably true, but it’s very well trodden territory. There have been a myriad of think pieces exploring the same notion over the past few years. Former Daily Show host John Stewart already went massively viral with a heartfelt segment on that same thing. A ton of his jokes just felt like they’d been told before by other comics. The longer the gig went, the more I felt it. Here’s the other thing though, I think he’s gonna be a tremendous Daily Show host. He was charming and affable cranked up to 11. His jokes, while not hugely original, crackled with engaging energy and heartfelt sincerity. He has an enthralling presence. He might not have slayed with cutting wit, but everything hit that “funny and because it’s true but awful” note with pitch perfect clarity. His extended bit about wanting to know how he, as a black man, can interact with the police without being shot, was superb and landed perfectly. Whatever I think about him as a standup has no bearing on him as a performer. Get him in front of a camera with a team of stellar writers and he’s gonna make the show worth watching.
TV and podcast host Chris Hardwick was a different nut to crack. Admittedly I’m a fan. I think he’s an excellent, personable interviewer, but I haven’t been totally convinced with his standup prowess. He’s got great timing and is visibly descriptive. His sets I’ve seen in the past have sometimes felt a little awkward and pandery. Extensive touring over the past year or two have honed his skill and it feels much more like he’s convinced he deserves his place on stage. There’s less cringe, less reliance on his known persona and an increased use of perspective. Delving into topics like his father’s death and overcoming anxiety added depth beyond being the “points!” guy everyone expects. Not only does he finally look comfortable enough to be there, but it’s evident he wants to be there and thrusts this enthusiasm into the performance. Dabbling in crowd work resulted in utilising a front row high school student to make the rest of the crowd feel prehistoric (“holy shit. You don’t even know what grunge is”). He took a stack of audience questions, finishing off with a few older bits and a surprise (slightly cringe-worthy) work in progress. His self-described “crusty Seacress shell” still stands above his comedy, but it feels like he has nowhere to go but up.
Moshe Kasher’s Hound Tall podcast flared with some moments of brilliance, but got bogged down under its own weight. The podcast format puts a topic expert on a panel with a selection of comedians. A professor of theology at York supplied her expertise on a topic far too huge to adequately explore in 90 minutes post midnight. Her strong French accent took a little while to get familiar with, but once recognition kicked in her openness and knowledge were hugely charming. AI Madrigal, Kurt Braunoler, Joe Mande and Darcy Michael made up the rest of the panel. Kurt dominated with an extended bit about choosing religions based on what they let you fuck. Mande was on point throughout, in contrast with Madrigal who at best phoned it in. Kasher kept everything running pretty smoothly, and some genuinely interesting discussion of Indian religion and its progressive approach to transgender issues made for great listening. Well worth seeing, but as a post midnight show, things fell apart occasionally. At the end of the night, it was still in my good books.
Get it? Good book? Like The Bible? Ah fuck it. I’m no comedian.