Is it fair to call him the comedy equivalent of Primer?

I’m quickly discovering that my energy and enthusiasm aren’t unlimited resources. If my train into JFL42 was running on full steam, it’s rapidly drying out. Work today has been a hard slog through molasses, dreading the lather, rinse, repeat of work/comedy/write/sleep (or more accurately work/write/comedy/write/comedy/write/comedy/write/bed). I’ve taken tonight to chill out and I’m keeping it down to 1 gig. It’s a Monday and I’ll be finished viewing by 8pm. I can eat well, watch Rick and Morty/You’re the Worst and remember what it was to feel sane and youthful. Also weird things are happening with my reviewing. After sitting through so many performances I’m finding it really taxing when a comedian doesn’t connect with me. Being in a show where the rest of the audience laps it up and I’m sitting back peering through layers of meaning, writing and construction instead of just watching a gig is exhausting. It’s affecting how I’m dealing with what I’m viewing and maybe I need a little me time. I’ve found with every show I attend I’m getting increasingly critical about them, as you’ll see in a moment. First up in yesterday’s gigs, Bill Burr.

You can often tell a lot about a comic through their audience and if Burr’s audience is anything to go by, he’s a loudmouthed misogynist post-fratboy whose humour is broad as shit. Gutteral guffaws responded to anything spilling out of Burr’s mouth, the crowd lapping up his act. After viewing his show, 2 things came to mind. 1) You can’t judge Burr by his audience and 2) He’s an immensely talented comedian. Here’s my thing, 80% of his act relies on entrenched gender dichotomies. It’s regressive sexism, pure and simple. It’s placing ideas out there and taking a side, completely ignoring logic because it doesn’t fit with his punchline. There’s a bit about pay disparity between genders where the joke is essentially it’s ok that women earn less because men pay for everything. Checking the calendar, it’s still 2015, right? Buying into this kind of knowledge ignores the fact that men paying for everything is a symptom of patriarchal society where women were considered property, thus the notion of property needing money didn’t compute. Equalising the pay gap and breaking down this inherently sexist behaviour (on both sides) only serves to elevate humanity. This doesn’t make for an easy punchline though, so it’s left unsaid. In the hands of anyone else this material would be total 90s hack. He’s sharp as a knife and it doesn’t come through that he personally believes what he says, but I’d be surprised if his audience understood that it was meant to be a joke instead of taking it literally.

It’s just sad, really, because he’s a fucking electric comic. He knows how to push and is possibly the most relaxed performer I’ve seen onstage. He owns every moment and when he’s on a roll with solid material he feels unstoppable. His bits about the cavalier nature of a pilot during an emergency was a riot. How he’d succeed in the illuminati or why Hitler is the Hootie and the Blowfish of the dictator world were on point. The sexist stuff though? It’s dated. It’s the reason why Burr’s material won’t stand the test of time in the same way Carlin or C.K. will. Tried to watch Eddie Murphy’s Raw lately? It’s “faggot” this and “faggot” that in the first 5 minutes. It feels primordial and frankly, embarrassing. If Burr chose his targets or material a little better he’d be amazing, but I can’t imagine people looking back in 30 years and thinking “oh that is funny, women do like shopping”. You’re so much better than this Burr. I still have faith.

In different matters entirely, T.J. Miller, holy fuck. I’ve never seen a more appropriate modern approximation of the court jester. It’s obvious that he’s brilliant and the layers upon layers of meta commentary on the state of the comedy scene were a far cry from what attendees hoping to see Erlich Bachman expected or wanted. From the slick physical bits to the narratives nestled within set ups, nestled within anecdotes 4 or 5 concepts deep, there was almost too much going on to handle. Judging by the roaring laugh (of relief, by the sounds of it) responding to his declaration of more accessible stuff to follow, the crowd had no idea what was going on in front of them. Spontaneous tangents were everywhere and it was nigh impossible to tell pre-written bits from absurdist improvised rants. He went off for upwards of 5 minutes on the layers of thought behind a front row audience member’s decision to wear his Hal 9000 shirt, which of course resurfaced later in the performance. The show had more concurrently running threads than an episode of The Wire. Callbacks were everywhere, whether they were to multiple offhanded comments within his own set, or riffing on punchlines in the openers’ sets as if they were his own. He finished with a bit that would’ve literally cost him $40 or more. Madness, pure but in no way simple. Is this what transcendence feels like?

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