More and more I find myself loving stand up comedy. The latest gig I checked out (last week) was Wil Anderson's A Work in Progress. Each year before he tours he does a series of small shows to try out and play with his new material. I love these shows. This guy is not just funny; he also hosted a really popular TV show called The Glass House ~ excellent ~ so he's very well known and he can (and does) sell out really big shows, yet there am I at the WIP show each year seeing him perform five feet in front of me, in a venue that holds around two hundred people. Each performance is different. He covers basically the same territory, but the tangents tend to be different. And how do I know this?
Sky: That was great!And off we ran to the nearest ATM (about a block away) and back, bought the only available tickets and slipped into the audience. Wil did wait till we arrived and the second show was just as awesome. Yah!
chosha: I know! I feel like I could just turn around and go back for the 9pm show.
Sky: [wide-eyed and excited] Do you wanna??!!
chosha: Sure. Let's see if there are any tickets left.
Couple at counter: Actually, we have to leave suddenly and we were just asking if there was anything we could do to recoup our ticket price...do you want to buy our tickets?
chosha and Sky: [thinking: how freaking written in the stars was that?!] Hell yeah, but if we're paying cash we need to run to an ATM first.
Couple at counter: No problem.
chosha [to Sky]: Okay but we really have to run, because I've been to four of his shows now and I know exactly what joke he's going to use to give us crap if we go in late!**
Ticket seller: [laughing] Just hurry and I'll ask Wil to wait a few more minutes.
This is the third year he's done the WIP show and the third year I've seen it. A lot of his comedy is social comment and political satire, but he also tackles religion and a little observational humour on life in general. So imagine my surprise when the guy comes out and does almost an entire two hour show on love, relationships and the end of his seven year romance with the love of his life (so far), Amy. The show was hilarious, but it was also poignant and heartfelt. I was in the front row and there were times when he looked right into my eyes and said something, and it was like the comedy show was paused for a moment and all I wanted to do in that moment was give him a hug. One of the friends I went with expressed exactly the same feeling about it the next day at work.
I really admire the honesty and courage it takes to do material like that. Even more impressive is that he managed to talk about someone who completely broke his heart without shredding her or encouraging us to think ill of her even once. I found out a lot about dealing with pain through comedy the first time I listened to Julia Sweeney's God Said 'Ha' show. It's her retelling of the most terrible year of her life ~ the year when both she and her brother contracted cancer. The facts of that year are heart-breaking, but the show is fantastic and very funny.
Even though cancer and love lost are quite different challenges, they're both hard to deal with emotionally, and to be able to take hard times and find the humour in them (as opposed to being defeated by them) is an amazing strength. Because in the process of doing so, you have to not only face your feelings, but be willing to reveal them in all their vulnerability and embarrassment and whatever else those experiences make us feel, to an audience who are then (hopefully) going to laugh about them. But I think when comedians do this, they tap into something that is very human and vulnerable in the audience as well as themselves. I'm sure that anyone battling cancer would feel cheered and comforted by listening to Sweeney's show. Similarly I felt like I connected with Wil's material in a whole new way last night because some of it was personal and was painful and because most of us knew from personal experience exactly the kind of feelings and scenarios and emotional processes he was describing. I've never had to personally face any illness as serious as cancer, but I've certainly had a couple of broken hearts.
I certainly don't need all this from a comedian in order to laugh or enjoy a show, but going to a show like that delivers quite a different night out than does the usual fare. We went out for a very late dinner afterwards and there was just so much to talk over and think about. It branched out into one of the best conversations I've had in ages. Great night.
To any Aussies reading this, I highly recommend checking to see if there are tickets left in your area for Wil's 'BeWILdered' tour happening March/April. But please don't let my emotional little spiel over-hype the show, because it's great and I don't want anyone to be disappointed because I made it sound life-changing, haha. There's nothing heart-wrenching about his impression of his cat typing letters to the editor or his description of mishearing an adult talking about sex when he was ten and then trying in vain to work out what kind of sexual act a 'hedgehog' could be. This post is more about my reaction to parts of the show than about the show itself. All you have to go there with is the intention to laugh your ass off.
**Hi there. No, it's okay, come on in, sit down. Can I get you anything?...like a @#$%ing watch..."