One of the pioneers and major figures in today’s alternative comedy scene, Eugene Mirman hosted his annual ‘Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival’ at Brooklyn’s Bell House (QRO venue review) and Union Hall (QRO venue review), September 15th to 18th. Most of the festival consisted of the standard ‘one stand-up after another’ set-up, but there were two nights that stood out as something different: Night One’s ‘Evening of Science’ and Night Three’s ‘The Drunk Show’:
One of the most interesting assignments I can recall happened in elementary school years (and again in my middle school years). It was an English assignment and simply put it was a question: "If you could sit at a table with anyone – living or dead – to have a lengthy conversation with, who would be at the table and why?"
And the answers used to be some of the more famous and cliché icons – presidents, Hollywood blockbusters, even relatives are among many of the answers I’d hear and I must admit that I would even stutter on the question – knowing that there are thousands of names to weed through and infinite possibilities.
And then I attended Night One of the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival at The Bell House. Wednesday’s ‘Evening of Science’ included fellow Flight of the Conchords (QRO live review) star Kristen Schaal (QRO photos), comedian Scott Adsit (30 Rock) and StarTalk radio host Neil deGrasse Tyson. But the special surprise guest of the evening was science enthusiast/M*A*S*H* star Alan Alda.
These are the people that I would sit with and converse for lengths of time if I had the opportunity. The five sat on stage at The Bell House in Brooklyn, NY and conversed about some interesting facts about science in the same style that has made Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk radio podcast so popular. Tyson’s subjects included but were not limited to multiverse theory, hyper-cubes, black holes, the end of the world and pseudoscience. The banter between comedians and Tyson fused perfectly for the two-hour set and made science… fun.
Eugene Mirman sat in a recent episode of StarTalk radio. To understand the format of the show and hear the chemistry between Eugene Mirman and Neil deGrasse Tyson, check out the link.
On the other side of the comedic coin stood Saturday night’s ‘Drunk Show’. It started with intellectuals, in John Hodgman (The Daily Show, those ‘I’m a Mac’ ads) interviewing MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, and following was another panel of stand-ups, led by Mirman, with at least one graying eminence, This American Life‘s Ira Glass – but that’s where the similarities ended. After the cocktail-swilling Hodgman & Maddow, Mirman, Hodgman and Glass were joined by hosts Kevin Townley and Elna Baker, Leo Allen, Jodi Lennon, and Ptolemy Slocum, along with a fully-stocked bar. They proceeded to enact a mock version of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, getting drunker and drunker along the way. There were great jokes, jokes that fell flat, super-awkward moments, super-awesome moments, and much more, for an experiment that may never be tried again, that maybe never should be tried again, but was certainly an experience to watch.
The evening began like a somewhat ramshackle comedy show, reliant on pre-arranged gags like Allen arm-wrestling others in parody of Step Two ("Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity"), and a Plinko board taking the place of God for Step 3 ("Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him"), to see who would end up as ‘Edward Fortyhands’ (two forty-once bottles of malt liquor taped into both hands) – Baker ended up with that dishonor, perhaps fitting since she was the one who proposed the idea that others mocked (they had to bring out a mike stand for her to continue her hosting duties). Step 4 ("Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves") had each person write on a slip of paper the last thing they wanted people to know about them, with Slocum guessing (and shots as the penalty for guessing wrong). Repeatedly Allen was incorrectly guessed as the culprit, but it was Slocum himself who admitted that he masturbated at the urinal at work and his boss came in.
Not everyone was drinking. Townley, for one, had been sober for three months, and Glass’ wife Anaheed Alani was running the behind-the-scenes operation, albeit on stage in full view while doing it. They also invited recovered alcoholic Dan St. Germain to tell his rock bottom stories for Step 5 ("Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs"), which included getting drunk with the Asian guy from Lost (Daniel Dae-Kim – QRO photo) and proceeded to call him ‘the Asian guy from Lost’ the entire night (actually, that was a top…), naked doing coke in his room when he was living with his parents and they walked in (he yelled at them, "Don’t come in, I’m masturbating!"), getting Christian sayings told to him while blacked out from a puppet ("Think of the worst thing that ever happened to you, and then a puppet being there…), and discovering that the mark on the vagina of a girl he had just slept with wasn’t herpes, but where she injected her heroin…
Special notice must be made of the quickest -and most surprising – drunk was Ira Glass himself. If you arrived early, you wouldn’t have even seen him sober. He was drunkenly amazed by St. Germain living with his parents, and spilled on Townley, at the same time. He had the highest blood alcohol by Step 7 ("Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings"), so had to step forward and take two shots, after someone from the crowd got a tattoo of Eugene Mirman’s face on their shoulder while Mirman gave a makeover to Lennon for Step 6 ("Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character").
But the single most memorably mock-Step of the night had to be Step 8 ("Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all"). Townley had Baker tell her story about being a Mormon virgin at age 27, writing about it for Glamour ("Yes, I’m a 27-Year-Old Virgin!") then finally deciding to have sex at age 28, writing about it again for Glamour ("Guess What? I’m Not a Virgin Anymore!"), and it completely pissing off the guy who she had slept with – she played a recording of his voice mail message to her, reciting the (Wikipedia) definition of sociopath, and challenged the crowd to drink every time something came up that described them.
However, that was not all – not even close. Townley then made Baker call her ex, to say that she was going through the steps of AA and was on Step 8, so was calling to apologize. This rubbed a few people in the audience the wrong way, one shouting that it wasn’t funny anymore, and another saying that she knew the ex. Between that and everyone else trying to be quiet to hear the call, things got kind of tense, with a post-shots Slocum particularly taking offense at those who took offense ("You came to the drunk show!…"). The conversation between Baker & her ex was short and amicable, agreeing to talk again later, but it definitely signified the moment in the drunken night when things had been taken a bit too far.
The rest of the night wasn’t quite as good as the middle portion, with a drunken Pictionary from Glass (marred by technical difficulties – possibly the amount of liquid & wires on the stage…), and not nearly enough John Hodgman (he, Allen, and Mirman had a surprising amount of tolerance). Slocum became the drunkest, losing and stealing back his mike, and getting somewhat belligerent towards a few hecklers. If a drunken Glass was a funny sight to see, a drunken Slocum was eventually a kind of sad sight to see.
Blood alcohol results for all participants were tallied throughout the night thanks to a Breathalyzer, with the clinical effects for that level read aloud. Glass took an early lead with .26 ("I feel great…"), but it was Slocum who took home the ‘prize’ (also no surprise by then) – singing a karaoke version "Do They Know It’s Christmas?" (which he sang seated, under advice from Alani).
‘The Drunk Show’ kind of reflected an epic drunken evening, with a witty opening, a steadily building start, an excellent middle, and an end that proved that maybe you should have stopped after the middle. But no one drunk knows when to stop, just wants to keep the good times going – and blame Alcoholics Anonymous for having a whole twelve steps (it takes only just over half that to become a highly effective person…). And, like any drunken night, what a ride it was…