Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Laughing at Valentine’s Day: Natasha Leggero Stand-Up Review

I’ve worked for a few long years in the fine dining industry. I’ll let you in on a tip: there are some nights of the year you just shouldn’t go out to eat at a fancy restaurant. These nights, ironically, are the nights everyone wants to go out to eat: New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Weekend, and Valentine’s Day. Trust me, the service will suck, the food you get may (depending on how unscrupulous a joint you visit) be more expensive than it normally is, and you will be looked at like an amateur. For these reasons my girlfriend and I decided to do something different for the day of love. We went to see stand-up comedy. Natasha Leggero, to be more precise, and, quite frankly, she cracked us the hell up!

I’ve talked about comedy several times before, and I truly think it’s an underrated art form. I listen to far too many comedy podcasts, watch far too many online clips, and am beginning to amass an old comedy record collection. My girlfriend is, decidedly, less interested in stand-up (which is why I surprised her with tickets to the show). I’ve been a fan of Natasha for a bit now (through her stand-up comedy generally and her turn as the voice of Callie Maggotbone on Ugly Americans) and we both knew Leggero’s comedy through her regular stints on the hilarious Chelsea Lately, so I figured this would be the perfect way to do something we would both enjoy. Was it selfish? Maybe a little, but come on, it’s not like I gave my girlfriend a vacuum or a bowling ball!

The Valentine’s show was the last of a weeklong stint in Philadelphia’s fantastic Helium Comedy Club. Yes, they do the two-drink (or item) minimum, but for a Philly venue it’s always fairly heckle-free. She entered the stage in a fur coat, white party dress and long white gloves. Her persona, from the first instant, was that of “drunk debutante” and the comedy, which was at times brash and at times vulgar, matched the swagger and faux-panache perfectly. She joked about a diverse spread of things: everything from the TLC program I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant to singing drug addicts outside her door in L.A. (well, maybe that’s not so diverse). Her crowd work was fantastic, asking if there were any “rich men or Persians” in the crowd. She teased the audience, she celebrated the audience, and she did it all with a self-afflicted swagger. The show kind of felt like making it to the bitter end of a Southampton party, with the hostess making bawdy jokes and throwing herself at the remaining male guests.

Leggero’s comedy is imbued with a sort of wild energy. Her small frame and vicious tongue make for a startling and hilarious combination. She’s scrappy and elegant at the same time. Her pop-culture comedy is fueled by a strong and sharp wit and an ability to control an audience. Clearly this comedian was in complete control of the crowd the entire night, letting us roar with laughter and shout out when she wanted, and shutting us up when she didn’t (a crucial ability).

Said audience was definitely couple-heavy on Valentine's night. I wondered how many in the crowd knew Natasha from Chelsea Lately versus how many knew her from Last Comic Standing. I have to admit, I've missed out on the Last Comic Standing train all this time. For as much as I love stand-up comedy, I was never too huge on the general concept of the show. I always assumed it was a hack factory, a place where sub-par comics were given prime time slots. Looking up the past judges (who include Natasha and some of my other favorite comics) and some of the past contestants, it’s clear I’ve been too hasty with my judgment.

Everyone at a comedy club wants to feel special. No one wants to feel like they’re being told a joke that’s been told over and over for the past three months. The best comedians need to induce a sort of suspension of disbelief. Will I believe that you are this strange, naturally hilarious person? Will I accept these jokes as fresh, relevant, and written just for me? Just on this night? With Natasha Leggero’s comedy it all feels immediate, and my disbelief was hung up with my fur coat at the door.