Notes from AltCom, part two

The second and final night of AltCom saw a packed crowd of enthusiastic comedy fans at the Somerville Theatre on Saturday night. Certainly more of a buzz in the air. Then again, in comedy clubs across the country, 8 p.m. Saturday is considered the sweet spot for audiences, because those customers tend to have circled the date on their calendars, get all dolled up and are more than ready to laugh. So it was this night, too. More than a few in the crowd appeared to have arrived specifically to see headliner Patton Oswalt.

Boston-based comedians Myq Kaplan and Micah Sherman again opened with their warmly received rendition of the "Comedians National Anthem." But Saturday’s show certainly had an unusual flow to it in terms of energy and material.

The Walsh Brothers, raised in nearby Charlestown but recently relocated to Los Angeles, got things going with an early gag on a seating upgrade for the fan with the worst seat in the house (Q-16?), inviting a young lady named Denise to come downstairs — not to the front row, but to a chair Dave and Chris Walsh put onstage next to them. (Spoiler alert: Denise actually was local comedian and friend of the Walshes, Renata Tutko) The brothers then began by talking about their new neighborhood in Los Angeles, remarking on all the men who happened to be really good at dressing up as ladies. "Fool me once, shame on me," David said. "Fool me twice? (pause) You’re good!" But what they really wanted to talk about — and these brothers are known stylistically for their storytelling banter — was something closer to home: The Fung Wah bus company. Ah, the Fung Wah. I’ve heard them talk about the Fung Wah more than once, and in fact, once called up David one noontime to tell him to turn on the local TV news when a bus had careened into a Mass Pike toll booth. This time, their story included a flourish I hadn’t heard, though, about the idea to turn the Fung Wah into an amusement ride with special harnesses, having the bus hurtle down the Pike at 150 mph and then have the walls and the floor disappear. That’d be a way to get to NYC, I tells ya. The Walshes also got to close with their elaborate ad pitch for the Fung Wah, complete with a rockin’ theme song backed by local band (and Walsh Brothers friendlies) The Grown-Up Noise. Playing it down the road in the basement at Jimmy Tingle’s former theater is one thing, but on the big stage in front of 900 fans turns it into quite the production.

Which made the transition to Morgan Murphy more than slightly jarring. After a few minutes, though, Murphy got the audience adjusted to her pace and energy, and they were completely onboard with her proposal to do away with all of the pre-existing holidays and replace them with 12 Halloweens. Hard to believe, but Murphy flew all the way from Los Angeles on Saturday just for this show, then departed for her return Sunday morning. She deserves a prize for that. I don’t know if they also give out prizes for ending your set with the word "cuntface," but it works for her!

Jim Jeffries followed and quickly ramped the energy in the room back up past 11. The "unhealthy Australian" who seems healthier by living in England proceeded to school the audience as to why kids should be exposed to pornography at an early age, why nondrinkers are boring people who should not be listened to, and why he’ll end up being a TV spokesman for penis cancer. That last story, by the way, as colorfully told as it was, ended with a lengthy applause break from the audience. Perhaps sitting on the floor to tell part of the story helped soften the blow of some of his material. He’s a charming bloke, that’s for sure, so even if he’s talking filth, it mostly goes over easy. So Jeffries wanted to reward these fans by closing his set with, as he put it, "my signature filth." Good luck following that!

Of course, Patton Oswalt would not need any luck headlining the showcase. He had fans in the crowd there to see him and clap loudly at any mention of a word that sounded like a previous bit. He opened topically with a tale reportedly from the night before in New York City, when he had a waiter tell him, "Have fun with that salad!" That led Oswalt into a routine about his current physical condition. Then, perhaps in an act of defiance against the nature of "alternative comedy" itself, he spent the next several minutes talking about flying on airplanes, and specifically, about JetBlue. It was funny enough. But still. Hmmm. I didn’t get a chance to ask him about this afterward. In the meantime, Oswalt moved on to funny observations about the James Bond music and the inappropriate nature of his own real-life Bond experience involving a restaurant bathroom. I told you it was inappropriate. He then went current again by talking about the recent death of his grandmother, and how, leaving only one of his grandparents alive, whether it makes his grandmother Oswalt the "Highlander" of the family. Oswalt offered a look ahead at the 2008 presidential election, condensed into a four-second shouting match between his Egyptian cab driver and a black pedestrian. A long discourse about being an atheist but loving religion for all that it’s given us over the centuries was followed, oddly, by an observation about self-checkout grocery stations. It was a set that went all over the place, but delivered to an audience that was willing to go anywhere Oswalt wanted to lead them. He acknowledged that getting interviewed by kids for last year’s hit movie Ratatouille unnerved him deeply. He offered a delightully macabre vision of the birds and the bees as told by the oldest couple to reproduce, and then, by request, did his best Daniel Plainview impersonation from There Will Be Blood, putting the character played by Daniel Day-Lewis into all sorts of other occupations (and telling the audience that he’d love to have had his former job back writing for MADtv just so he could pitch this sketch). Oswalt closed his almost hourlong set by calling back and updating his now famous routine on the KFC Famous Bowl (related: he wrote about actually eating one earlier this year) with thoughts on how the bowl now includes a biscuit and the dangers of the newest test product, the MegaLeg.

Known friend of comedy Aimee Mann congratulated the comedians backstage (she happened to be in the neighborhood following her in-store performance at First Act Guitars in Boston), and Friday’s performers such as Emo Philips and doktor cocacolamcdonalds also hung out, at least for the show. Afterward, Philips, Oswalt and Murphy all looked for a cab back to their hotels, while the rest of the crew took over the downstairs lounge at Redbones to celebrate the end of the inaugural festival. AltCom founder Brian Joyce beamed and talked of plans for next year. Jeffries said he’d just finished a long tour and was ready to get back home. Which reminds me, it’s time for me to get back to the city, too.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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