Beth Lapides Presents: Say the Word: The New America (Skirball Center)
Let me be upfront about this: I am no girl racer. I’m used to people asking if I got lost on the way over. Friends refuse to take road trips with me unless they drive – the whole way. I cruise through this great semi-tropolis to the tinkling soundtrack of honking horns. But driving down Sepulveda to the Skirball on a rainy Los Angeles evening was a hazard taken in the line of comedy duty which I prayed didn’t deliver a cream-pie medal in the ER later. Scattered raindrops smeared my dust-encrusted windscreen, as I battled through the mysterious, ever-transforming roadworks, and displayed my yellow belly to every entitled Westside driver who sailed by in their entirely redundant off-road leisure vehicle, while, ever the multi-tasker, I cursed comedy down to the last fiber of my public-transport-loving being. As the Skirball finally appeared on my left, a suburban mall fever-dream of a high art fortress, I slunk into the underground parking spot near the elevators with that chill cascade of relief you got as a kid when your sister cracked an imaginary egg on your head. Maybe that’s how 007 felt, as he entered Dr. No’s secret lair. Because I, too, was on a mission: to observe some of the best minds in TV and film comedy, live and face to face.
Beth Lapides’ Uncabaret has long established itself on the LA scene as a haven for comedy hipsters in the know. In the Cotsen Auditorium, designed with a deco-burlesque-palace-meets-Star-Wars-intergalactic-mothership-with-a-cousin-in-corporate-events theme, the mostly over-30 crowd forsook the bar, shuffling back to their faux-candle lit tables with good strong coffee and chunky low-fat sandwiches in time to the 80s pre-show music. Ms. Lapides, ever the good host as a self-identified “silver lining girl”, squeezed her multi-layered, evocative story of personal despair in the shadow of “Hollywood double-speak” and “DWC’s” (Driving While Crying’s), into the “New America” theme, discounting that fantasy of a perfect life where we “only choose rainbows” in favor of one in which we view happiness, and the experience of life, as a continuous spectrum. Watching her, one is reminded that good writing is gender blind.
Kevin Rooney, veteran of Politically Incorrect, My Wife and Kids, and Til Death, to name a few, makes it look so effortless. As he masterfully guided us through his potted whistle-stop tour of American history, his dazzling ability to conjure startling, crystalline images prevailed. His coolly sardonic demeanor belies the fury of the talent beneath: his images of Republican “heads so full of holes” they whistle “Onward Christian Soldiers” when accelerating; or the image of a fat kid “like a pond in a pair of sweatpants” inventing the internet, are observations which will shift your perception forever, and force your frontal cortex to work a little while you smile. Moshe Kasher was a welcome revelation to me, but not to the multitude who have seen him on Conan, Chelsea Lately, Jimmy Fallon,or, in short, own a TV screen. His surreal story about a white “Aunt Tom”, an Occupy Oakland protester known as the “Camp Creeper”, with Malcolm X tracts caught in her dreadlocked hair, culminated in a sweetly salacious finale, which critiqued the American pursuit of self-invention succinctly, and not without a little venom beneath the boyish grin. Unmissable. Cindy Chupack’s (Modern Family) straight-from-the-uterus story about re-defining motherhood offered us a poignant picture of true relatedness, while giving us some uncanny impersonations of too-old-to-party eggs and sperm (“You kids go on”) and their Hollywood agents.
Crowd favorite Taylor Negron(Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Last Boyscout, Call Me Claus), recent New York transplant and self-proclaimed “Che Guevara of vegetables”, fresh from the hurricane-torn East Coast, didn’t disappoint with his election year story about generational identity politics, in which he fantasizes about “slave angels who park and sometimes even vote” for him. His charisma and personal connection with the audience are as matchless, as his advice: “If America’s going to survive, America must make a sex tape. If America does not make a sex tape, the terrorists have won!”. Brian Finklestein, (UCB, The Ellen Degeneres Show, The Moth) served up arguably the most ambitious piece of writing of the evening, a dual-world comparison of his life as a “revolting” young man juxtaposed with that of a Tiananmen Square revolutionary. Somehow or other we end up in Tijuana watching donkey sex. How? We don’t know, and we don’t care. We’re just enjoying the ride. Compelling, thought-provoking, and twisted. What more could you ask for?
So, listen up, young comedy hipsters. Those over-30s may be on to something – after all, only smart people survive long enough to achieve oldster status. Don’t let them keep this venue their personal secret. Go to the UnCabaret at the Skirball in February for their next star-studded line-up. You’ll get great cheap coffee, a nice healthy sandwich, and you will definitely learn something about unparalleled comedic writing in all its styles and manifestations. Just get your granny to drive. And check uncabaret.com weekly for show schedule at Uncab’s regular weekly downtown venue.
I give Uncab at The Skirball 8 out of 8 menorahs!