Comedy's in a weird place right now.
It's seen a mass middlebrow resurgence of sorts, after inside-baseball podcasts and Louis CK's artsy crit-baiting TV show. And it's also seen new backlash, after Tosh.0's rape jokes revealed that hecklers can be as much the victims of comedians as the other way around.
New, more progressive discourse has put a strain on white male notions of "free speech." But, if last night's Hannibal Buress gig at The Stage Miami was any indication, comedy is in good shape and there are plenty of other voices out there.
The opening act and host for the evening was Joyelle Nicole, who spent a lot of time riffing on the weird kinks still being worked out in American race relations. For instance, how her measurement of safe neighborhoods is a white woman jogging in booty shorts at night. Or a white guy strolling with a baby strapped to his chest. "If he's willing to use an infant as a human shield," then you know it's safe ... For white people.
Such notions of safety don't translate that way for everyone. Musing on how if anyone told her that slavery was still happening somewhere, she'd have guessed the location of the previous night's show, Tallahassee. Having drunkenly gotten in a fight with a bartender and then the entire bar, back in summer of '08, after they shut off my selection of "Love in This Club" and told me to go the FAMU bar, I'd have to agree with her.
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There was a tossed-off thought experiment where she asked us to "Think about thugs...hoodie...Skittles..." It was one of two "too soon" jokes, the other being a bit on the irony of her laziness in the context of her physique, so well-built it might have been ... bred? When someone shouted out "too soon," she replied with something along the lines of "really, slave-breeding here goes back to at least 1600 and it's too soon?"
Next act Gene Harding continued that awkward navigation of "post"-racial precariousness, be it getting mistaken for Djimon Hounsou by a bartender and wondering, "Oh, we're still mixing us up?" before deciding to just retrofit the dialogue from Blood Diamond and get some drinks on the house. He's even been misidentified as Seal. "Yeah, if you put my face through a paper shredder!"
Harding lives in Plantation, but can't break it to his family that he resides in a place with that name, opting instead to just leave it at "Florida, FL." His reaction to seeing whites working at McDonald's there is shock, "Does master know you're out here playing?"
Harding tried going pre-divorce Louis CK with crumbling marriage jokes, but relative silence led to a less illuminating turn on drunk hookups with an ugly girl. Points to him, though, for nearly making it a one-act play that went from Jack and the Beanstalk to Mission: Impossible.
Finally, the main act, Hannibal Buress, blessed us with two introductions. The first was an unassuming, workmanlike stroll through a few breezy observations. As a comedian, this is what he's supposed to do. But Comedy™ is part Vegas showmanship, which, as a down-to-earth dude, isn't really Buress's style, leading to banter with the DJ deconstructing the "appropriate" way to enter the stage. After (thankfully) snubbing "Harlem Shake," the comic Wayne Newton-ed his way through the crowd to the Miami-friendly "Pop That."
On Adult Swim's Eric Andre Show, Buress plays the Ed McMahon to Andre's Johnny Carson. Or more appropriately, Dr. Edgemar to Andre's Douglas Quaid, the straight face that says "maybe you should chill, this is just a Rekall-induced hallucination" to the tripped out absurdities of Andre's post-talk show madness. So, for most of the night at The Stage, Buress played the role of bemused spectator, asking wry questions about lapses in human logic, including his own.
One particular stretch, on eyebrow raisers in rap songs, quietly exposed the dead-end of Rap Genius analytics, not by even mentioning or calling the site out, but just trough demonstrating the conversational nature of rap deconstruction. "Did they just say that?" Reactions vacillate between dumbfounded (Big Sean's ass pun obsession on "Mercy" or an old interlude that talks about making a girl suck 100 dicks or really just Big Sean in general) and awestruck (Juicy J's self-backing posse of ad-libs).
Buress actually demonstrated this once on the Rap Genius website when he annotated his own lyrics for the "Gibberish Rap," a song composed entirely of ad-libs and non-sense. Adorning it with superinvolved explanations exposed its patent absurdity.
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Appropriately, Buress dropped any semblance of grounded remove and gave us the Gibberish Rap live, backed up by "Runaway"-like ballet dancers, Spongebob, and Dora the Explorer. Having spent the first night of the weekend watching the forced solemnity of a capella breakdowns in underground rap songs, Buress's insistence of letting us "really hear" the words, punctuated by righteous air horns, was a relief and a riot. It was the signifier without the signified, sincerity revealed as its own kind of sham formula.
Then after "dropping knowledge," Hannibal dropped the mike and walked off.
-- Adam Katzman