Last Saturday night, as part of Tulsa’s three-day Blue Whale Comedy Festival, Cain’s Ballroom hosted five stand-up comedians, most notably Eric Andre, in one show. Being a fan of The Eric Andre Show, which doubles as a platform for Andre to make C-list celebrities uncomfortable and a spastic farce of late night talk shows, I was especially interested in seeing how his non-sequitur sense of humor translated to live stand-up. Admittedly, I was also attracted to the event for the chance to see a TV personality, albeit one known only to a niche audience, simply for the celebrity appeal.
I never really stopped being tentative about the collaborative comedians who would be performing before Andre. Opening the event was DJ Dougpound, whose comedic mixes and remix-based humor, such as a version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller with hiccups inserted into the vocals, was very hit or miss, with the hits vastly outnumbered. Really the only reassuring thing about Dougpound was that he wasn’t listed as one of the comedians, just a musician. For this reason, I was mistakenly relieved when he gave the stage to Steven King.
Steven King bombed. Or at least, he should have. Had so much of the audience not been in a drunken stupor, his skits, consisting of cartoonish banana peel slips, exaggerated Spanish singing, and Gilbert Gottfreud impressions, might’ve incited in many the same lukewarm reaction it had in me. King’s ‘wacky’ delivery was so over the top I first mistook it for a persona he would soon drop in favor of a more genuine interaction with the audience.
The first comedian who seemed to actually understand he had an audience in the room was Ryan O’Flanagan. Flanagan broke the pattern of the night with the absence of sound effects or blaring music. Rather, the LA-based comedian told uncomfortable stories from his own life, like his experiences talking to foreign mechanics, or his attempts to interact with his cute deaf neighbor. I vastly preferred his stand-up over his two predecessors because of his ability to gauge his listeners. When somebody in the audience yelled something unintelligible, he announced his paranoia that they’d been heckling him, to the audience’s amusement.
Next up was Byron Bowers, who thankfully continued the trend of each comedian being better than the last. Byron dove headfirst into racial tensions in America, applauding Tulsa for being a city that “doesn’t shoot its cops” and continuing on to proclaim that no one can be racist while they hold a mixed-race baby, even if that child is not quite their own. Among Byron’s less controversial gags was his fear of dying in any way that might embarrass his parents, or his mocking of straight people’s desire to play frisbee, a game without score-keeping or a definitive end.
Finally, Eric Andre took the stage. He looked like the usual unkempt mess that smashes desks and sustains horrible and often self-inflicted injuries on TV, but here he was a bit out-of-character relating real-life experiences in favor of his usual tone-deaf, oblivious and spontaneously violent TV character.
He read a poorly-translated souvenir from Cuba as if it was slam poetry. He divulged directly off his phone a supposed conversation he’d had with an ex’s new overprotective, “cartoonishly sinister” boyfriend. It was jarring to see Andre do stand-up, even if it was untraditional in its own right. Maybe the truest this was all night was when the hecklers behind me (believe me, they weren’t the only ones) reached such a volume so as to cause even Eric to falter in his delivery. After seeing Eric phase, disturb, and revile so many unsuspecting guests, I guess I’d figured he was immune to any moment of sincere discomfort himself.
I wasn’t disappointed by the show, but I wasn’t thrilled either. The decision to open with their weakest acts was probably an unfortunately conscious one, but it worked to the show’s benefit, ending the night with three solid stand-ups as opposed to a mediocre DJ and a cringeworthy impressionist. I’m still more of a fan of Eric Andre’s show than I ever will be his standup, but I came to appreciate the effect of being part of a live audience, even if it mostly consisted of drunkards.