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Monday, May 23, 2016

Adam Sandler and Friends Went Back to the Basics at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

Posted By on Mon, May 23, 2016 at 4:00 PM

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It feels like it has been an eternity since someone last wrote something nice about Adam Sandler.

Yes, the Saturday Night Live alum responsible for 90s goofball gems like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore has certainly taken his lumps in recent years. His film Jack and Jill, in which Sandler played brother and sister identical twins (which is…not a thing) had the dubious distinction winning more Razzie awards than any other film in history. The Ridiculous Six, his first movie under a six-picture deal with Netflix, brought reports from production of insensitivity to Native Americans. Grown Ups and its sequel appear not give even the slightest hint that they are anything more than an excuse for Sandler and his friends to hangout together under the pretext of shooting a film.

However, beyond all these unfortunate truths lies a more significant one: people love Sandler. In middle school, I spent countless nights replaying his CDs, including They’re All Going to Laugh at You and What the Hell Happened to Me?, comedy albums of songs and sketches that mined his unique ability to carry a tune with a bathroom humor sensibility that at 11 years old — and to this day — I still can’t help but laugh at.

Sandler has also never tried to present himself as anything but who he is: a guy who likes stupid laughs and has a ton of funny friends. Aside from a few more serious projects, including the truly exceptional Paul Thomas Anderson-directed Punch Drunk Love, it’s not as though Sandler has been marketing his projects under false pretenses. These are the cinematic efforts of a guy who wrote a song about a lunch lady, played a golfer who punched Bob Barker in the face, and was a part of one of the most talented SNL casts to date.

The Do Over tour, which started last night at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, features two of those castmates: David Spade and Rob Schneider. Also appearing was Nick Swardson, an immensely talented stand-up perhaps best known for his years on Reno 911! as Terry, a roller-skating male prostitute who may or may not also sell oranges. The Do Over tour is so named because it comes in advance of Sandler’s second film for Netflix, in which he and Spade fake their own deaths in order to have a second shot at their lives.

Entering Bill Graham, I was eager to see who would fill the 7,000-seat auditorium, given the show had sold out fairly quickly once the date was announced. While some of the crowd did fit the demographic that would’ve been watching Sandler during SNL heyday, it was a decidedly younger crowd of rowdy 20-somethings filling most of the seats. Through snippets of eavesdropping, it appeared that a large part of the crowd had taken the same route to Sandler fandom as I, growing up on repeat viewings of Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Wedding Singer, and SNL reruns on Comedy Central.

Schneider opened the show, peppering in some local references around stale material that relied heavily on a very clichéd Asian accent routine and pot shots at his ex-wife. Cheers of jubilation filled the venue when Schneider ceded the stage by announcing that the evening would feature a surprise guest: Norm MacDonald.

Macdonald is a comic’s comic. His intentional sandbagging of the Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget (“Ladies and gentlemen, this man is for the birds!”) is a wonder to behold, and between long series of tweets recalling life long ago and occasionally performing at clubs across the country, MacDonald has taken on a bit of mystique since his days behind SNL’s "Weekend Update" desk. His performance on Thursday night was a sharp blend of observational humor and storytelling, and a true delight to fans who already felt they were getting a good deal with four prominent comics on one bill.

Swardson followed Macdonald, and Spade followed Swardson. The former is well worth seeing anytime he comes to town. His voices are great, and his self-deprecating admissions of over-drinking are usually damn funny. Spade on the other hand fell pretty flat, a mash of generic material that focused mainly on his cell phone and his penis. I will always love Spade for his co-starring role in Tommy Boy, but stand-up does not appear to be where his career should be focused. Buh-bye.

When Adam Sandler took the stage, no one was sure what it was we’d be seeing. Stand up, which he’d done in character for Judd Apatow’s 2009 film Funny People? Songs from the five albums he’d released between 1993 and 2004? The answer was a mix of storytelling mixed with new songs, some the equivalent to musical punch lines and others more fully fleshed out. Sandler spoke a lot about his marriage, his children, and even made a few references to the drubbing he’s taken on Rotten Tomatoes in recent years.

Performing for nearly an hour, he was affable and humorous, the epitome of a nice guy with dumb jokes that landed the vast majority of the time. Certainly the evening’s highlight was a heartfelt tribute to the late Chris Farley, a new song that spoke both of the joy in watching Farley perform and the pain of losing him so young. Sandler even tossed in some bonafide electric guitar chops during the number’s bridge, to the crowd’s immense delight.

While there may no defense for Jack and Jill, or the lazy racism that most likely plagued The Ridiculous Six, or the lack of depth and effort many have found in the latter years of Sandler’s career, as a man on a stage with a guitar and a microphone, it was hard not to remember why we gave ourselves over to his toilet-tinged brand of innocent sincerity all those years ago.  

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About The Author

Zack Ruskin

Zack Ruskin

Zack was born in San Francisco and never found a reason to leave. He has written for Consequence of Sound, The Believer, The Millions, and The Rumpus. He is still in search of a Bort license plate.

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