Last night's stand-up show 50 First Jokes didn't rely on the normal comic-audience relationship. Hosted by John F. O'Donnell and produced by Loud Village's Jeremy Burke (Comedy Night at Best Fish Taco, Holy F*ck), the fourth annual L.A. show, featuring 50 local comics telling the first joke they wrote since New Year's Day, was as much for the talent as for those facing them from the Downtown Independent seats.
Rarely are so many members of the comedy community gathered in one room, let alone given the opportunity to cheer on, harangue or gain a new respect for others just as sheepish as themselves about delivering a new and unpolished effort in a semicircle of peers. For the audience, half the fun is seeing all their reactions.
Following O'Donnell's initial bit -- or rather, "a couple more 'cause it's my show" -- highlights of the congenial, loopy evening included these first jokes of the year:
- "One of the things I'm working on more this year," offered Alex Hooper, "is trying to use the word 'we' as much as I can" to describe the experiences he and his girlfriend undertake. "So if you ask me what I did this weekend, we went to the downtown flower market for three hours, just to look. We tried on every color of nail polish at Sephora, 'cause that's what we want to do. But I'm learning how to turn this around. Like today, we wanted to sit around and watch football all day. We want to make beef jerky casserole three times a week for dinner. We would like to start experimenting with anal. Because we think if we tried it, we might really enjoy it. We don't think it will hurt as bad as we think it will. We can start with just the tip and ease it in as we feel more comfortable. It would be a shame if we never even tried it. No, we explained, that time was an accident. It was dark! We apologized like a thousand times. We also said we would stop bringing that up. We never meant to disrespect us. Fine, we love sleeping on the couch!"
- Baron Vaughn, gauging a tepid response to a bit concerning therapists versus pastors, earned applause with the over-exaggerated apology, "The thing about my first jokes is it takes me a really long time to figure out what they are about!"
- Mike Bridenstine may have read from a notebook, but he received the most vocal response of the first half-hour, bellowing, "People always say to me that Clark Kent is the worst disguise ever. Really? Is it worse than Ben Kenobi? Ben Kenobi isn't even trying. Obi-Wan Kenobi changes his name to Ben Kenobi. Same beard, same Jedi clothes -- he's wearing fucking Jedi clothes! ... It's so bad, I wouldn't be pissed if George Lucas went back and digitally re-enhanced his name to be not Ben Kenobi. That wouldn't work in real life. What if Seal Team 6 surrounded Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, and they said, 'We've got a big problem. Turns out it's not him. Turns out it's O-Ben bin Laden!'"
- Having thoroughly explored the geographical inconsistencies of brunch, Kurt Braunohler pivoted with the succinct announcement, "Here is my joke dedicated to Andy Kindler: Did you guys hear about Hitler's terrible defense? He said, 'I said let's do a juice cleanse!'"
- Emily Heller followed, drawing a spot in the lineup few others would have been able to shoulder. "I feel fucking ridiculous buying medical marijuana," she said. "I don't have health insurance right now, so that's my only doctor. ... I also just don't want to be reminded every time I buy drugs of what I should be spending the money on. I should be going to the doctor, and not buying drugs. That would be like if every time I watched reality TV, I had to throw a book in the garbage. That would be like if every time I ordered a cheeseburger at a restaurant, it was delivered to me by a salad."
- Jim Hamilton flexed his writing muscles with a joke that was perhaps the tightest and most indistinguishable from tested material: "Occasionally somebody will review my stand-up comedy. The two words that most often come up are 'intellectual' and 'misanthropic.' I wouldn't say I was intellectual. I did have to look up the word misanthropic. A misanthrope is somebody who hates other people. Is that what you guys think of me? Man, people suck."
- Howard Kremer opted to go the riffing route, defiantly confessing, "I don't have any new jokes! Five days? Yeah, I usually do come up with a joke every five days. But not when I'm supposed to! 'It's your first joke! Let's hear your first joke!' I have no idea what it is!"
- In the spirit of New Year's resoluteness, Beth Stelling kicked off her time thus: "I was walking to my women's workout class this morning, just to warm up, and also to stay in shape. I'm not always the best about putting good things into my body. I'm kind of like my own single dad who's like, 'Eh, eat whatever you want!' So I was walking to the class that's about six pounds southeast of my house...."
- A theaterwide standing ovation spread for Allen Strickland Williams's candidly succinct "I'm going to tell you one joke. A lot of people don't know this, but I just got commissioned to ghostwrite Beyoncé's memoirs. The first line, it's perfect: 'Beyonce upon a time...'"
- Similarly forthright, Andrès du Bouchet boomed, "I have come prepared with a single joke this evening. It is literally the first joke I have written in 2014. I shall overcompensate for the poor quality of said joke with staaage presence. Here is the joke: Why did the chicken double-cross the road? Because the road made the chicken swallow its pride one time too many. There's only so much shit a chicken's willing to take, especially from an emotionally abusive, sentient road the chicken stupidly decided to partner with for bank-robbing purposes. The anger and resentment in that chicken's soul burns white-hot, and the chicken decides, 'You know what? Fuck the road! I do all the fucking work. He's a road! He can't walk or pick stuff up. He habitually uses passive-aggressiveness to make me doubt myself. I do all the work because I have legs. Time to set things right. Chicken gonna get his in 2014!'"
- Byron Bowers kept the energy high by manning two microphones and climbing down into the crowd ... but may have taken things a bit far when he started inching a hand down a woman's top.
- As the show began drawing to a close, Josh Haness quipped, "I'm 42! I feel like the Eddie Pepitone of the evening!" tossing out an inside joke about the seniority of the Bitter Buddha star tailor-made for a room full of inside jokers.
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