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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Last Night: Comedy Death Ray at Cobb's

Posted By on Sat, Jan 31, 2009 at 11:50 AM

click to enlarge Photo of Zach Galifianakis by
  • Photo of Zach Galifianakis by
Comedy Death Ray w/ Zach Galigianakis, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Bob Odenkirk, Paul F. Tompkins, Andy Kindler, Chris Hardwick and the Fun Bunch (Scott Aukerman & BJ Porter)
Friday, Jan. 30, 2009
Cobb's Comedy Club

Better than:
Lemme get back to you on that one...

Being awkward can make for great comedy. Many a great comic actor has feigned being flustered on stage, or has used real unease to make audiences laugh in spite of themselves (see the great Andy Kaufman). There's something about keeping a crowd in suspense as they wonder where the hell all this is going that also endears fans to a comedian's set. But when someone isn't that funny to begin with, and you add a dose of verbal clumsiness to the mix, it can make for an uncomfortably unfunny night.

Last night, Sketchfest's Comedy Death Ray gig at Cobb's showcased one comedian with great expertise at making awkwardness hilarious (Zach Galifianakis) surrounded by lesser-skilled jokesters who either hadn't properly prepared for the event or whose pretense of being the fumbling comedian flat out didn't work.

Comedy Death Ray is the

brainchild of the show's opening act and hosts, Scott Aukerman and B.J.

Porter, who run the popular CDR club in Los Angeles. Their regulars are

amongst comedy's most popular names, from David Cross to Patton Oswalt

to members of SNL and The Office. They hold a lot of weight in the business, helping them corral for Sketchfest folks from Best Week Ever (Paul F. Tompkins) and actress Mary Lynn Rajskub (whose deadpan delivery usually kills), among others.  

The duo's opening skit--about screwing up the opening skit--got off to a shaky start until Aukerman and Porter pretended a heated argument was getting physical, at which point they stripped down to their skivvies and started jacking off (or pantomiming it). They broke the tension with good absurd humor, paving the way for a lineup that was conversely too predictable with their punchlines.

For many of the comedians -- who spent a lot of time pacing back to a stool holding their notes and cue cards -- it felt like they were just now testing out new material to see what would stick, confident in very little of it. Jokes based on hilarious observations -- pointing out, for example, that bowling balls are just "hick eggs" that hatched most of the  South--were pretty funny, but few and far between the one liners about other bad comedians and being in San Francisco.

The highlights of the night were the unexpected moments. Bob Odenkirk headed up a great skit called "America's Top Competitor" where he was the asshole on a panel of judges that also included Mad Men star John Hamm. Their American Idol -style tryouts brought forth more surprises, including a kissing ass bit by what looked like Freaks and Geeks nerd Samm Levine (he was facing away from where I was sitting so I couldn't say for sure) and Rajskub (in her only funny bit aside from a tangent she went into demonstrating her new baby getting drunk on breast milk).

Tompkins also built momentum during his performance by riffing off probably one of the worst hecklers I've heard at a comedy club--some dude asking Tompkins mid-set to explain the premise behind his show Best Week Ever. Tompkins hammered the guy on his stupidity before going off on a bit about meeting Weird Al.

It was Zach Galifianakis, though, who stole the show. Even though his delivery is supposed to make him sound a bit unsure about what he's saying, the guy is sharp. He has great timing, and he's swift with the punchlines. Nearly all his jokes came out like perfect tennis serves, where he'd lob the idea and smack it out on to the court before picking up a fresh ball to aim the next shot somewhere completely different. Even his one-minute impersonation of a New Yorker who likes cargo shorts cracked up the crowd. Galifianakis knows not to stay on one topic for too long, but in that brevity he still makes droll observations and impersonations. His set unraveled just a bit towards the end as he kept asking how much more time he had on stage, but he made up for the rough patches by traveling into the crowd, making fun of the audience and himself as he bumbled his way forward for new material.

In the end, not every performance is going to be slick as Aziz Ansari and Nick Kroll's last week at the Punch Line. And like I said earlier, a little awkwardness can go a long way in getting people to laugh. But in such a long parade of comedians, it's unfortunate that only a few made a good act of seeming amateurish.

Critical biases: This Galifianakis video for Kanye West, and the fact that I'm a huge Mad Men fan.

By the way: Tonight is Sketchfest's big finale, with eight shows to choose from.  


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Ian S. Port


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