One of the tests of a stand-up comic is how well they do with a dull audience. Do you give up and blame the crowd? Or do you soldier through and try to win them over? Comics tried both strategies on Thursday night at Yuk Yuk's Downtown in a show that showed promise but never caught fire. Too bad. Headliner Darcy Michael, who's performing all weekend, shows great promise.
It wasn't that the club was sparsely attended; it was an average crowd, more than 60 percent full. But as genial MC Simon Rakoff found out early on, it was populated by a group of female teachers. Oh, and there were some young, polite bank clerks in the audience too. Not exactly the party-hearty Friday/Saturday crowd.
Alex Nussbaum, now based in L.A., had the unenviable task of performing first, and while he had some solid material - including a sure-fire physical bit about shaking hands that leads to a Nazi joke - the crowd never got on his side. He left the stage quickly, barely saying goodbye.
The gritty-voiced Christina Walkinshaw was the next to strike out. Her act was scattered and unfocussed, touching on unwanted pregnancies, U.S. healthcare and being "voluptuous in all the wrong parts" of her body.
Comic Dom Pare proved it wasn't all the crowd's fault. Casually sitting on a stool and basically letting us come to him, he confidently delivered a short set about angry and jealous girlfriends. He somehow hit that comedy sweet spot of being crude yet likeable. The crowd could have watched him for twice the length.
Andrew Johnson commented on Oscar nominees, child porn and a Pizza Pizza operator who upsold him like a laid-off travel agent. The material was good, but he delivered it too quickly, and sometimes his enthusiasm seemed manufactured. But again, maybe it was because he wasn't getting the proper response.
Steve Dylan and Nitin Mirani perked up the crowd with material about unsuitable words on clothing (Dylan) and Enrique Iglesias (Mirani, who was visiting from Dubai).
But it wasn't until Rebecca Kohler that the room finally erupted in laughter. She delivered a beautifully crafted story about being self-conscious in the gym change room that climaxed in a terrific joke about communal benches and talking genitals. I've never seen Kohler do such good work. And her final joke about men's testicles was gold. "Hello... madam!" indeed.
As headliner Darcy Michael, Pickering-born but now B.C.-based, admitted at the top of the set, he's lost over 100 pounds in just over a year. ("I lost you!" he said, pointing to a small Asian woman in the front row, to lots of laughter.) I wouldn't have recognized him. Also gone is the shaggy, bearish beard. But the sly, subversive humour (punctuated by giggles) remains the same. Michael is a unique comedy voice with a lot of potential.
His best material concerns his seven-year marriage (to a man) and his 13-year-old daughter. The punchline to his high school bullying joke is full of vengeful hilarity, and his material about visiting Edmonton Pride ("it wasn't so much a parade as a good chase") still holds up.
He's one of the few queer comics to deal openly with sex and desire, and he does it in a laidback way that endears the audience to him (even the guy he picked on in the front seemed fine). His closing bit, comparing his ejaculations to an Oprah Winfrey giveaway show, is peerless.
His rhythms were a little off on Thursday. "I don't know where this is going either," he admitted at one point, which is understandable because he was testing out material to tape for an upcoming CD. Clearly his life - and material - are in transition. He mentioned being diagnosed with colon cancer a year-and-a-half ago, but didn't deal with the subject in his act.
Here's hoping his health continues to improve and that, if he decides to tackle illness in his act, he brings the same honesty and irreverence to the material as he does everything else.