Sunday, June 08, 2008

Iconoclasts in the Mist: Show and Tell Part 2

It had all started to feel normal, shuffling past a man wearing a sequin dress and a wig and an overweight and heavily tattooed woman in a Vegas-style cabaret bikini to find a seat. I recognized almost everyone. There was Jordan Carlos, friendly TV comic who was surprised when I could quote his jokes back to him from his Comedy Central appearances; there was John, willowy Lower East Side veteran with the grating voice; there was Angry Bob, obese, hateful Angry Bob; and there was I, the quiet kid with the Moleskine, sad to be amongst the peanut gallery for the last time. Of all the performances I had seen during my time in the city, Show and Tell still remained the most entertaining, the most challenging, the most genuine.

A new face sits down across from me and asks me if I'm performing. I tell her no, find out she is planning on doing a comedy routine and ask her if she's been here before. She has, only a couple times. "A naked guy" is the best she can offer in response to my question regarding the strangest act she's seen. Child's play. I tell her about the bladder guy and, five minutes later, he sits down next to me.

"Hey man, how'd the oil thing turn out?"

"It went well."

"Are you going to do it again tonight?"

"No, I'm going to do an entire standup routine with thirty-two stitches in my head."

As jaded as I had become over the previous six weeks, this crowd still found ways to render me speechless.

He removes a bandana to reveal a gnarled bird's nest of flesh and suture thread.

"What the hell happened?"

"Fell off my bike. Broke my collarbone, too. And got a concussion." He pulls his shirt to the side to reveal a massive bruise on his chest.

"But it's alright, I've got a pocket full of Vicodin."

He pulls out a prescription bottle and giggles.

The reading of the names begins. Jeff Dickerson is called; Diane O'Debra chastises him for the second time for his fart-based rendition of the national anthem. "Do you know how long it took to get the smell offstage? Weeks."

But it's not all scatology in this twilight zone -- Show and Tell, perhaps because of its character or its reputation, attracts fairly big names. Seth Herzog, a well-known comic, opened the night with stories about accidentally signing up to entertain troops in Kuwait.

The real comedy arises about halfway through the show, when Abbie, a middle-aged woman doing a routine about her failed relationships, makes a confession.

"Cocaine is the drug to give me if you want a running commentary with your blowjob."

There are a few moments of silence, and then the audience gradually erupts into cheers, groans and hysterical laughter of recognition. It is a revealing moment.

Most of the content is light fare -- mediocre to good standup with a couple of decent music sets interspersed -- which is both a disappointment and a relief. My mind was saturated and my astonishment muscles were sore from flexing. All but one of my friends had, at this point, stopped coming with me, whether from lack of interest or low weirdness thresholds.

Despite all appearances, the grotesque spectacle is not really the show's greatest virtue. What sticks out most are the moments of lucidity, when a performer reveals something genuinely artful, often more by accident than anything else. I saw film-score-worthy music, HBO-worthy comedy and countless snapshots in time that were just too perfectly strange to adequately summarize.

Show and Tell is a crucible and a Rorschach test, from which molten talent can be easily retrieved, forged, and upon which swims a blotchy and chaotic pastiche of human potentials. There are many things the show is not. It is not necessarily good, as it is an extremely inconsistently bejeweled treasure chest. Nor is it always enjoyable -- some of the rough bits are agonizing. But it is, above all, authentic.

After the last act, I gathered my things, wished Mr. Stitches good luck with his set, and wound my way through the seats to the exit. Of all the spaces I had occupied in New York, in mind and body, I would miss this one the most. The smell will linger for months.

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