Earlier this summer, I went to see Eddie Griffin perform live at Sony Hall in New York City.
To say he “killed” would be an understatement.
Coming out like a Rock Star or Rap Star, if you will, as that’s what he played upon walking on stage, he owned that joint for a good 90 minutes.
Laugh out loud funny, he did a plethora of bits on his drinking, partying, and womanizing exploits but also went well beyond “dick jokes,” touching on White and Black racism in a brilliant bit on inter-racial couples introducing their significant other to their less than thrilled parents. He emphasized that those walls came down when they brought home their newborn baby, and all of a sudden, the in-laws softened noticeably. The set ended with him telling every racial, ethnic and religious group in the joint, “And if I offended you in any way, Fuck you.”
It was one of the five greatest sets I’ve ever seen live in over nearly 50 years of attending comedy gigs, and I’ve sat at the feet of the greatest of the greats- Richard Pryor, Robert Klein, Sam Kinison, Gilbert Gottfried, Brother Theodore, Professor Irwin Corey, Mort Saul, Dick Gregory, Paul Mooney, and innumerable others.
In short, “I laughed my ass off,” as the cliche goes. As did everyone else, and he left to a deserved roaring standing ovation.
I could hear myself go, “Wow!”
The gorgeous venue, home to some of the most eclectic comedy and music fare anywhere, has a capacity of 1,000 standing and 500 seated, and this was a combination of both, so let’s split the difference and say he drew 750 give or take a few. Any way you sliced it, the place was packed.
So I was quite curious when not long after, I saw that Bill Burr was playing at local Forest Hills Stadium, capacity 12,900 and “limited tickets were available” the week of. Now that’s no small achievement for a comic to fill or even nearly fill a stadium or any venue seating thousands. And while I couldn’t go because I had tickets gotten months earlier for something completely different (George Benson tickets if you need to know- see previous blog for review), it made me wonder just what was so wonderful about said Mr. Burr, who I’d only seen bits and pieces of over the years and not for the longest time. So a night or two after his gig, just a few evenings ago, I popped in his latest Netflix special, Bill Burr Live at Red Rocks.
It was described in the publicity as “Bill Burr sounds off on Cancel Culture, feminism, getting bad reviews from his wife, and a life-changing epiphany during a stand-up set.”
As I watched, I found it all amusing and insightful, he “had balls” tackling feminists and such mid-Cancel Culture, but a lengthy bit on women not supporting the WNBA- while it rang true- wasn’t exactly riotously funny. Nor is it the most pressing social issue in the world. Blaming men for the failure of women’s basketball may very well be hypocritical, but it wasn’t Richard Pryor lit on fire running through the streets funny.
As enjoyable as the set was, I laughed out loud all of 4 or 5 times. I kind of felt like I was sitting in on a rich, middle-aged guy’s therapy session. Interesting? Sure. Entertaining? No doubt. Uproariously funny? Um, no.
It felt like a guy preaching to the converted and telling them what they (mostly) wanted to hear.
And as far as the “getting bad reviews from his wife” and “life-changing epiphany” which they hyped in the p.r., just a few days later, if you put a million dollars cash in front of me, I couldn’t tell you what they were. And while I could quote Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor bits from 50 or 60 years ago, whatever Burr said on those subjects honestly didn’t stick with me.
And again, I ENJOYED his show and would watch him again, but I don’t get the bust the doors down and sell 12K tickets thing.
Now I realize comedy is totally subjective. But I had the exact same reaction to Bill Maher’s most recent HBO set. Described in its publicity as “Filmed at Miami’s Fillmore Theater, Bill Maher’s latest stand-up special, Adulting, sees the acclaimed comedian, host, and satirist take the stage for a hilarious and scathing hour of his signature commentary on the latest hot-button issues.”
Now, yeah, if the man has a target, he’ll zero in and eviscerate any and all hypocrites. And to his credit, he’s doing it to both the loonies on the Extreme Right AND Left. But there was nothing- I mean nothing “hilarious” about this set.
Ultimately, I laughed out loud a grand total of three times.
Maybe work harder on the funny and less on the snarky next go round, Bill.
The previous live comedy show I went to was by a brilliant young New York-based comic, Neko White. Pushing 30 years old, he’s insightful enough to tackle the most serious social issues but also willing to get silly with bits on rich folk wheeling their dogs in strollers. He recently made his Netflix debut on Pete Davidson’s The Best Friends.
Paste Magazine had this to say about White:
“But the most memorable set for me came right at the top with Neko White if only due to the larger commentary it had for comedy—and society—in general.
White joked about a barber oversharing with him while he’s simply trying to get a fade. The barber went off on a transphobic litany against his child, who’s determined they’re actually “a woman inside.” The barber then asked what White would do if he were in the same situation.
To illustrate to the barber and current audience his hypothetical response, White embarked on an elaborate physical bit in which he pantomimed entering his kid’s room, asking them to take out the trash, and is met with the teary-eyed admission, “I think I’m a girl inside.”
“Hold on,” White said, then acted out stepping back, closing the door, and then reentering with a, “Hey baby girl, could you take the trash out?”
The Los Angeles audience erupted with laughter and applause as White thanked them and left the stage.”
His self-produced set during the pandemic lockdown (without a live audience) is tremendous, and I’m jaded: https://youtu.be/SZJVEEjJ7E0
So ultimately, all this comedy fan wants when I go to a show or sit down to watch one on TV is to, um, laugh.
And laugh often.
Tackle all the politics you want. But don’t leave the funny out.
Is THAT too much to ask?
This and That:
Judo Gene LeBell tribute on Wrestling and Everything Coast to Coast podcast:
This week join Buddy and Mike Lano along with guest Jonathan Schwartz (SLAM Wrestling reporter & Attorney) as we talk about the legendary life and contributions to the entire martial arts world of “Judo” Gene Lebell who died this week. Plus talk about the final Ric Flair match and other wrestling updates! Definitely check out this special show! https://youtu.be/F_xRYIA9ZPg
Evan Ginzburg is the Senior Editor for Pro Wrestling Stories and a contributing writer since 2017. He’s a published author and was an Associate Producer on the Oscar-nominated movie “The Wrestler” and acclaimed wrestling documentary “350 Days.” He is a 30-plus-year film, radio, and TV veteran and a voice-over actor on the radio drama Kings of the Ring. He can be reached on Twitter @evan_ginzburg or by e-mail at [email protected]