Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fringe Review - I'm Making This Up As I Go - Samuel Spadino - 4-1/2 stars

Go see I'm Making This Up As I Go.

They have one more show, tomorrow, Friday 8/12, at 10pm.

"I told my dad about the gang shootings in my neighborhood and his advice was, 'just remember that they're more scared of you than you are of them.' No, dad, I think that's bears."

I'm Making This Up As I Go is funny, and it's good, but it's struggling. It needs an audience, and deserves an audience.

"I'd hate to wake up some morning and think, now, 'I'm gay.' Realizing you're gay in your 40s is like discovering you like skateboarding in your 30s. 'Aw man, that seems really cool, but I can't do it now.'"

Last night I was part of an audience of 8.

In a house that seats 115.

And three of those audience members were volunteers that the house manager allowed to sit in on the show because, well, if she hadn't, there would have been 5 people in the audience.

"I used to be a movie critic. Everybody hates movie critics so much that I started telling people I had a different job so they'd hate me less. I said I performed abortions on unicorns. Now before you go getting all indignant just remember that unicorns don't exist... until the third trimester."

Now normally what I call the pain threshold for audience attendance is "at least more people in the audience than there are on stage."

But that's for regular theater.

"Is that sandwich for me? No, I didn't spit in this one. Next one, that one's for you."

For stand-up, like I'm Making This Up As I Go, the pain threshold is a lot higher. You need a critical mass of people willing to laugh. Who can feed off each other's energy, and then feed a little of that energy back to the comedian at the microphone.

"So I'm cuddling with my girlfriend. She says, 'I feel so safe in your arms' and I'm thinking, 'Really? What about this spindly little body of mine screams Safety to you?' If Justin Bieber mated with a tree frog, their kid would look come out looking something like me. I'm not going to be very good in a crisis."

And though I love my adopted people of Minnesota, you're not always the most demonstrative folks to have in an audience. I could see around me that there were a lot of smiles, chuckles, etc. But audible response was largely wanting in a tiny crowd of 8. (I myself can laugh out loud only so much before people start to question my mental health. I crossed that line here, but hell, somebody had to.)

Thus, though each comedian in I'm Making This Up As I Go - John Conroy, Trevor Anderson, Josh Florhaug, and Bryan Miller - was working his ass off, I got the distinct impression that every one of them thought they were dying up there.

"No, I'm not affecting a lisp, this is the way I normally talk. Dating was hard, until the internet, when I could hit the "S" key instead of the TH."

Maybe if the house lights had been up, so the comedian would not have had the barrier of darkness between them and us. Maybe if they could have seen the smiles, directly engaged each of us, throwing a few jokes to that woman, or this guy.

"My roommate pees in the shower, which I wouldn't mind so much, except that always ends up getting it on my leg. I'm like, 'Dude, come on, I know you can aim.'"

Maybe if, like storytellers working in a group, they could have hung out onstage and provided more audience backup for their compatriots. Maybe it wouldn't have seemed so, well, sad as well as funny.

Because they were funny. They were all very funny.

"Yes, my last name is Anderson, and some of you may think that's a boring last name. I like to think of it as a genetically successful last name. The Bakers got their name from baking, the Schumakers from shoe-making, but the Andersons, they just kept making more Andersons."

I can't speak to the line-ups of other comedians or their material in the previous three performances (every show has a different line-up). Maybe those folks earned the one, two and three kitties the audience was throwing at them online, maybe not. I can't say.

"My parents got me that existential set of children's books - Why's Waldo."

What I can say is that the only reason I'm Making This Up As I Go isn't getting a five star review from me is I can't really vouch for the final line-up of comedians sight unseen. And honestly, I'm Making This Up As I Go needs an audience to complete the theatrical circle of life and give birth to an honest to God show up there onstage. Right now, I'm evaluating it in a vacuum. For me, good stuff all around. Your mileage may vary.

"My friends all know I'm an alcoholic and one of them still sent me an invitation to a Beer Pong tournament. That's just wrong. You don't see me challenging my Grandma to a game of Memory."

This had to have been one of the toughest rooms any of those guys have worked since they first started doing stand-up. I think the first guy actually gave up and left, because he didn't hang around for the curtain call at the end. Or maybe he just had to report back to the halfway house (his routine was all about involuntary rehab, after all). Either way it's a shame, because he deserved a final round of applause from us just like all the other guys.

"I took a job as a bartender. That's the natural progression for a music student. Yeah, my mother didn't find that joke nearly as funny as you all did."

So go see I'm Making This Up As I Go.

They have one more show, tomorrow, Friday 8/12, at 10pm.

Stand-up comedy is a great way to spend a late Friday night.

And yes, there are 15 other shows going on at the same time.

But trust me when I say to you, none of those shows needs the audience love nearly as badly as I'm Making This Up As I Go does.

And Sam Spadino is a great host. He is taking all of this in stride. (He's a stand-up comedian, he's survived worse).

"I think we're honing in on that encore slot," he good-naturedly joked. "Our audiences have been... well, declining in number actually but I feel like we're about to crest again. It's coming."

The guy's already losing his shirt on this. Don't take his pants, too.

I know that with most reviews I'm basically saying all the time, "Go see this show." That's nearly always my subtext (unless it's stinker, and the Fringe has a surprisingly low percentage of stinkers this year. I'm normally not this lucky, quality overall is delightfully high).

I write about theater because I want people to see theater. I know firsthand how hard it is to create theater. Even people who end up making bad shows aren't trying to make bad shows (unless they're psychotic). I won't lie and say a show is great if it sucks (even if my friends are in it). I don't want people to waste their time, have a bad time, and then think less of theater as a whole because of it. Defeats the purpose of what I do.

I want people to see good theater. Because if they see good theater, they'll hopefully come back and see more theater. And I really want people to see Fringey theater because it expands the boundaries of what you thought you liked and opens you up to appreciation of things which might not otherwise cross your path (I am a fan of dance and improv comedy because of the Fringe, just for starters, and I'm even gaining a grudging respect for musicals). Fringe exposes you to a variety of different types of entertainment and live performance, and that's a very good thing. Fringe just makes smarter, better audiences.

Samuel Spadino crossed my path when Mom and I stopped in for some Galactic Pizza over the weekend. When we mentioned we were Fringers, he mentioned that he had a show. Just up the street, at Intermedia Arts. They'd gotten in with just a couple of weeks' notice, so getting the word out (not being in the program that everyone refers to so assiduously) had been a challenge. It's a stand-up comedy showcase, every performance has a different line-up of four comedians, plus Samuel as the master of ceremonies. Stand-up and Fringe don't have a lot of immediate audience crossover, so that's another challenge (just ask Ben San Del - and look where he is now, top of the Fringe heap.). Even when you have all the time in the world, it's easy to forget that in addition to making the art, you have to also market the hell out of the art so your audience knows you're out there. Audience reviews on the Fringe site can help, unless they're less than kind.

Sam has been a relentless campaigner not just for his show but for SCOTUS (written by his friend Brandi Brown), a show I also highly recommend. He even mentioned it when Mom and I first met him and he was trying to talk up his own show at the same time. So he's embraced the spirit of Fringe. I'd like the Fringe to embrace him back just a little.

So if you weren't already committed, by family and friends actually in the cast of other shows, to see one of the other 15 shows on Friday night, 8/12 at 10pm, go see I'm Making This Up As I Go.

It's a funny show, a great capper to the evening, and you can take comfort in the fact that nobody needs you more.

Very Highly Recommended

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