The Rosie common room used for Monday night’s WBRS comedy show was certainly an odd venue. Traversed throughout the night by students heading to their dorms, it made for an unorthodox though natural atmosphere, bolstered by the chill hip-hop playing from the front of the room and Chinese New Year’s decorations hanging from the ceiling. The whole room seemed excited for a fun kickoff to their week, and the initial series of rapid-fire idiosyncratic puns from the host, Josh Day, set a playfully offbeat tone for the rest of the evening.
The most common threads throughout the first two opening acts were growing older as were the cultural differences between the performers and modern college students. The opener and feature—Matt Kona and Anthony Scibelli ’09, respectively—touched on many things they remembered as kids, such as Tetris, the ’97-’98 Bulls season and old cartoons. The jokes got some audience reaction, but for the most part, fell flat because they required explanation, given most of the crowd had not grown up with these cultural touchstones. Although this commentary was clearly necessary for the young audience, it did show a lack of discernment on the comedians’ part for not recognizing what would be appropriate in their set.
Despite these difficulties, both openers still had some shining moments. The majority of the successful jokes concerned either Jewish culture or Brandeis culture specifically, with Kona discussing the restrictions on tattoos in Jewish graveyards and Scibelli commenting on the campus’ labyrinthine and frustrating geography. With the more relatable content came a noticeable positive shift in audience reactions, allowing both acts to end on high notes despite the relatively lukewarm reception.
The first openers were okay. However, the obvious star of the show was the headliner, Reena Calm. From the get go, it was obvious that Calm’s set was going to be a change of pace from the relatively sluggish start of the openers. She started with jokes that involved spotting aggressive Christian fundamentalist anti-abortion billboards on the highway in Indiana. These topics effectively setting the stage for the lively—although at times uncomfortable—performance ahead. The first third of the set focused largely on Midwestern life (Calm hails from Chicago) and views of race, sex and gender in the region. She praised the common room crowd for their receptiveness and contrasted them to vocally racist audience members she had encountered in Fort Wayne several months prior. She also joked about dreams of living in New York and slimming down to fit in a Manhattan apartment, which landed well with a crowd that is largely from the Midwest and/or Northeast (including myself). At this point, Calm had proven highly adept at feeling out the room and knowing what would get a laugh out of them, which was a welcome move in an evening that had previously felt a bit stiff. After a series of stories about being Jewish and encountering a Georgian anti-Semite (who turned out to be autistic and obsessed with World War Two), Calm shifted into the awkward domain of discussing her sex life.
Comedians are certainly no strangers to the idea of openly discussing their sex lives in their sets. The subject can make for some of the most awkward and hilarious jokes imaginable, but it is a fine line to walk. The storyteller has to keep the audience from being overly uncomfortable while still communicating the inherent awkwardness of terrible sex. Unfortunately, this part was where Calm’s set began to stumble, veering too far into uncomfortable reality without rooting the stories in humor. The stories also seemed to signal a misconception of what the audience had found entertaining before—simply put, the kind of sexual stories suitable for an older, more experienced audience are not entirely appropriate for an audience of college sophomores in a cramped common room. Few of the jokes evoked laughter from the audience, and when they did, it seemed largely nervous. Stories of awkward encounters and strange attempts at metaphors culminated in a tale about accidentally menstruating on a man’s face in St. Louis and proclaiming that he “sure had egg on his face,” the only joke from this part of the show that set the whole room howling. Calm took the opportunity to tie up the set shortly after this high point.
I understand that the life of a comedian can be grueling, with the constant traveling and performance taking a toll on one’s mind. Along with discussions of sex, dating and growing old, the weariness of life on the road forms a cornerstone for many comedians to base their set. At this WBRS comedy showcase, however, it seemed that all three of these subjects might have been taken a bit too far without a proper approximation of the audience. Although the sets throughout the evening were quite funny at times, there seemed to be several jokes that elicited little reaction for every one that fully landed.
The show was entertaining for the most part but not consistently. The jokes alternated between awkward and outdated, although nothing ever kept the room completely silent, with many of the funniest jokes still eliciting an audience uproar. Far from great, though equally far from bad, the WBRS comedy show still proved to be a fairly worthwhile night on campus, if only sometimes lacking in relatable jokes.