Local art is always uneven, comedy especially so. When I showed up to Zoolarious this Sunday, I had no idea what to expect.
(A bit of backstory: last week, I went Zoolarious and wrote this review. I’ll spare the details here, but I left with some pretty pointed criticism.)
This week, I ended up leaving with High Life on my breath, and with a much better feeling about the show than I had before.
Co-host Brad Stewart opened, and again proved he’s at his best when selling jokes with physicality or facial expressions; this was especially clear in one of his opening bits about dating while broke:
“So, yeah, I invite girls over for dinner like this:
‘Can you come over for a candlelit dinner? Oh…and…uh…can you bring…the dinner?’”
By itself, it’s not a knockout line — a lot of comedians joke about being broke. But Stewart’s pacing and facial expression make an average line either gut-busting or groan-inducing, depending on how broke the audience has been.
The second act, Lincoln native Drew Bohlke, proved adept at going beyond the standard setup-punchline format, but hasn’t quite mastered how to deliver payoff lines.
As an early joke in his set shows this: “My brother is married to a Japanese woman, and my sister just married an Italian … I figure as long as I marry a German, I’ll have full control of the axis powers.”
Much like Stewart’s candlelit dinner joke, it’s nothing special on its own. But with a less rushed delivery, it could land much better than it did.
Ariel Sinha drew a middle set, and was the highlight of the night. Her openers included crucifixion puns (“Nailed it!”) that left the audience pausing awkwardly; you could hear the tick-ticking of the gears as they processed what was said. To her credit, Sinha didn’t rush these pauses, instead letting them hang like a professor’s question on a book nobody has read.
Ultimately, her set felt far too short. For a local act, that’s saying something.
Stewart’s co-host, Grant Parsons, and his set reminded me of Bohlke’s. Starting with a treatise on his drinking, he relied more on storytelling than on a quick, set-up-and-punchline style that can be much easier to write for. Gone was the easy comedy of the “r-word” from last week, this set was much more well-crafted.
On staying with a boyfriend for the first few months of the relationship, Wiles hit the best joke of the night:
“So I would wake up before he did and sneak to the bathroom. Because I didn’t want him to know I was, you know, a regular organism that eats, digests, and poops things out … like some kind of stupid animal.”
Diversity of comics leads to diversity of content, and a joke like this really seemed to resonate with me and the crowd. It wasn’t biting social commentary, but did dig a tiny bit deeper into social commentary, and to things instantly relatable to the audience.
Sunday night wasn’t perfect, and nobody would expect it to be. Every punchline didn’t hit, one comic, nameless here, even forgot his set. And the event was, at times, interrupted Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers filtering in from their practice space upstairs. So it was uneven. That’s a given.
But when the jokes were good, they were really good. And when they weren’t so good, it was clear they just needed a little more time, a little more polish, a little more energy. No cringe-inducing moments, nothing that fell completely flat on the audience. This night showcased mostly local, beginning performers. It also showcased a lot of promise.
I still don’t know what to expect when I go back in two weeks (Zoolarious takes this Sunday off for Zoofest). But I know I’ll be going back.