It's hard to imagine a comedy performance more energetic or well received than Greg Proops' late show Friday night at the Punch Line. Sure, maybe this Bay Area native had home-field advantage. Proops grew up in San Carlos and got his start as a comic in San Francisco. He has performed at the Punch Line for 25 years. But there was hardly a second of his act that didn't elicit big laughs.
Proops is a literate comic with extraordinarily fast delivery. His act encompasses the topical and the historical, the fleeting and the eternal.
Striding confidently across the stage, Proops delivered a mocking critique of the inaccuracies and omissions contained in the impressionistically painted cityscape backing the Line stage. "Remember that mountain the Cliff House sits on top of? I love that mountain!"
Proops expounded at length on a favorite topic: the Irish, citizens of "an island nation without a navy." He described the many wonders of Ireland, including the food available on Irish rail. ("A bacon butty. Did the word 'butt' just find its way into my food?") He was careful to allow that Ireland has, indeed, produced some of the greatest writers in all of literature, as well a beloved beer that tastes like "motor oil and tobacco juice."
An extended bit about the current political scene bled into a hilarious rant against Delaware, which Proops accused of colorlessness and irrelevance. Referring to colonial re-enactments, he called Delaware the birthplace of "the most punishing field trips ever visited on children. No one wants to watch someone else polishing brass."
His incredible speed is coupled with an impressive vocabulary and a well-rounded grasp of culture, history, and literature. Proops' high energy and total engagement with the room extended to his calling for drinks from the stage. At one point he upbraided a patron in the front row for talking: "It's okay, I'll repeat my jokes if you aren't paying attention."
But the mood was overwhelmingly positive. Proops does not rely solely upon punch lines, yet it seemed every phrase of his smart (and smart-assy) act was met with laughter.
Proops was aided by his MC, San Francisco's Janine Brito. Her bit about performing slam poetry at a lesbian art gallery was a hit. The featured act was Robert Mac, whose naive, dry delivery went over well. (On staying in a Utah hotel: "It was a little mom-and-pop-and-mom-and-mom-and-mom-and-mom place. Well, why do you think they're called 'Mormoms'? They have more moms.")
But Proops owned the evening. He started out in San Francisco in the 1980s as a regular on Alex Bennett's Live 105 morning show in the early '90s before being exported to the U.K. for the original Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Seeing him live in San Francisco was much more than a nostalgia trip. Proops is at the top of his game. His voracious intelligence is behind every bit in his act, highlighting absurdities we take for granted and encouraging his audience to work with him, thinking and inferring every step of the way. Maybe that is Proops' greatest gift as a performer: He respects the intelligence of his audience by refusing to dumb down his own.