published Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Dallas — There is a musicality about the diverse tastes of comedy-fest audiences. A comedian’s routine might elicit low chuckles, bright laughs, loud guffaws, surprised gasps, guttural moans, spontaneous “ohs” or silence as people react to comics in different ways.
On Sunday, the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival at Gexa Energy Pavilion in Fair Park brought together such disparate talents as the dry understatement of Ashley Barnhill and the outrageous musical sexual bravado of Bridget Everett, the dark sarcasm of Anthony Jeselnik and the bright storytelling of Nick Thune, the jerk-wad aggression of T.J. Miller and the congenial sharpness of Jak Knight. Caustic roastmaster Jeff Ross served as emcee.
The two headliners—Amy Schumer and Aziz Ansari—did not contrast so much as complement. Both are top comedic arbiters of the singles scene, but Schumer stayed safe while Ansari took you unexpected places right up to the edge. Too bad the late hour and prospect of facing horrendous traffic caused by the last day of the State Fair caused many to leave before Ansari came on.
Schumer provided a satisfying, solid set that always remained Amy-centric. The usual topics of body image, sex and dating were joined by a new one: the perils of fame. The New Yorker’s time in Los Angeles while making her movie Trainwreck has been good for her comedic repertoire.
She opened with a crack about her fame’s predicted fleeting nature because she’s been “burning bridges all over the place. Schumer later related punking a fawning Katie Couric at a celebrity dinner. The newly famous may adhere to a protective “no new friends” rule, but when it comes to Jennifer Lawrence for Schumer, it’s the “OK, one new friend” rule.
Schumer’s humor is like hanging out with a lascivious “Oh, did she just say that?” gal pal: outrageous and safe at the same time. Her “opener” was a humorous intro from Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
The night’s real revelation was Ansari, who took charge right off with a jab about the overwhelming whiteness of the audience. He offered a long, lighthearted routine on his Muslim background and love of bacon—despite parental disapproval. He added terrific bits on the vacuousness of internet life versus real life, and the futility of introducing philosophically complex literature such as The Grapes of Wrath or Moby-Dick to hormonal sixth graders.
Ansari’s delivery, always top-notch, has become a jazzy melody. His set construction is downright masterful. Once the audience was laugh-lubricated, he slid in for the kill: an astounding routine on the white backlash to “Black Lives Matter” with the great capper of, “Don’t worry, white folks, we won’t forget you. There’s way too many of you and you’re always around.”
Some people squirmed in their seats, yet Ansari went on, proposing a twist on The Amazing Race reality show with “five people who don’t believe racism is real” and all the things he’d have them encounter.
He masterfully shifted the mood with an extended bit on sex and how condom-makers should be marketing the easier clean-up offered by their product. Amid all the singles sex talk, he worked in the feminist points of not relying on the morning-after pill because of how bad it makes women feel, and razzing men for prizing penetration over what women actually want.
Jeff Ross, decked out hillbilly style in long shorts and a crumpled cowboy hat, opened with his usual clever crassness and led the audience in a singalong in honor of Texas—”Have a Blessed Fucking Day”—that was effective in stirring the crowd out of its waiting stupor. Later in the show, Ross pulled a dozen audience members onto the stage and, a la Don Rickles, thoroughly insulted each one, which they loved.
Ashley Barnhill was short on delivery skills but long on sly and dry well-written routines. She scored with a jest at Los Angeles culture, noting that if sports cars compensate for men’s inadequacies, then “fake boobs compensate for a lack of personality.” She also zinged with a subtle bit referencing Lincoln’s assassination: “Theater shootings seem like a new thing, but we’ve been doing that shit since 1865.”
Even though many comics have stories about stoners and mislaid pot brownies, Nick Thune’s fine weaving and delivery skills saved his tale. When he accidentally inebriated his wife’s beloved bulldog Mikey, he said, “There is only one way to describe the look on her face: divorce.” The veterinarian being a Thune fan, and a comic’s inability to resist working a room, even with just one audience member, did not help that situation.
Bridget Everett, a high-libido Amazon cited by Schumer as her favorite performer, belted out a handful of bluesy, sexual songs. The giantess strode into the audience, fondling people and thrusting men’s faces into her “beaver-tail boobs,” before dragging one guy onstage and getting even more intimate. As she pointed out, “You may have never heard of me, but you sure won’t forget me.”
Anthony Jeselnik, the dark prince of sarcasm, got progressively more warped as his set went on, leading with transgender and transvestite jokes—”They used to be chicks with dicks. Now they’re men who talk too much”—and ending with his amoral family. “Mom should be 60 this year, but because of the drugs and alcohol we forgot.”
T.J. Miller presented a take on his bumbling, ego-inflated jerk from Silicon Valley, which for some reason involved dousing himself with water.
Ross, who calls himself the “patron saint of the Oddball Festival,” is allowed to add an unbilled comic of his choosing to the show. Instead of choosing a local or regional comic, as in years past, he presented LA-based Jak Knight, who’s only in his early 20s, but already is a favorite of Dave Chappelle.
Keep an eye on this guy. Boasting a rolling, conversational-yet-polished style, Knight launched strongly with a bit about being a ‘hood kid, but twisted it: “When I was 21, my dad said ‘Get in the car, we’re going to make a man out of you.’ He took me to vote.”