By Chris Martins
By the time headlining “Kids in the Hall” alum Bruce McCulloch took the stage on Saturday night, October 18, the Steve Allen Theater was filled up with funny—so much so that it'd have to spill into the street sooner or later. The small building was packed to the gills for McCulloch’s closing night (after a month-long residency), with a healthy handful of S.R.O. tickets going to the faithful who’d lined up outside to see a bill that also promised to deliver fellow “Kid” Kevin McDonald. Lucky them, they got a high-profile surprise as well.
“Best Week Ever” pop pundit Doug Benson eased the show open, albeit awkwardly, with 12 minutes of standard stand-up fodder and mild crowd harassment. Unfortunately, his self-deprecating setups were funnier than his jokes, which were literally read to the audience from his personal crib sheet (for instance: “According to this napkin, I’m supposed to tell you about…”). He landed a solid one-liner late in his set—the Headbergian observation that, considering the troubled economy, B of A should change its name to “B Very of A” (say aloud for effect)—but Benson went flat when he could neither make out his own handwriting, nor make a good joke out of the flub.
Nevertheless, the audience seemed no worse for wear, and when Kevin McDonald came out backed by Gin Blossoms guitarist Jesse Valenzuela, the light comedic ether hovering around the attendees’ toes grew to a giddy, knee-high fog. In a loud lounge shirt and that familiar screech, McDonald sung of, well, Kevin McDonald (in third person) and the daily dilemma with which the curly-haired must contend: hairbrush or afro-pick? During the bridge he attacked his mane with both devices, looking typically more tightly wound than his tresses and singing through a forced grin. He followed with a song he claimed was new—“three-quarters written” after he realized he had 12 minutes to fill—but savvy show-goers knew it to be a reprise from the last “Kids in the Hall” tour. And if they didn’t, a perturbed McCulloch would drive the point home later (“In Denver it was three-quarters written, in Milwaukee it was three-quarters written…”). The gag, of course, is that all of the key lyrics are omitted. His third song, an anthem for the passive aggressive, was probably funnier on paper.
Next guest Jeff Garlin (Larry David’s manager in “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) received a very warm welcome, and returned the favor with a homey, anecdotal set. What began as tangential rambling with a handful of chuckles became a hysterical story about Garlin’s last trip to the masseuse. She’d stepped out momentarily, and as the naked actor hoisted his 270 pounds onto the massage table, it collapsed. Furthermore, he farted on his way to the ground. Something clicked with the crowd (perhaps subconscious images of Garlin as Peter Griffin?), and the hysterics set in.
From there, Garlin tripped through a “Living XL” catalogue that had come unwanted to his house, wisely eschewing any actual “fat jokes” in favor of sheer disbelief at the outrageous contraptions therein (a toilet that bears a 1000-pound load?!). “The sad thing,” he reasoned, “is every one of these things encourages you to stay fat.” Except for the “Cabin Comfort Inflatable Pillow,” which is modeled by a man that could be Garlin’s twin. It was an epiphany moment for him, and an uproarious one for the audience.
And then, a surprise: Janeane Garofalo graced the stage, commenting that she wasn’t “properly lit.” But as her stream-of-consciousness stroll through the many facets of over-the-hilldom (she’s only 44) would prove, being lit is more a state of mind than an issue of fixtures (one could almost see green wafting off of her person). Though she held cue cards, she didn’t refer to them once, and no symptom of self-loathing was left out of her associative hurricane: home shopping, Rachael Ray-isms, body-shaping spandex, generalized depression, and irrepressible body odor. She referred to her particular “stench” as “hummus meets vinyl meets something from the periodic table—maybe one of the noble gases.” Naturally, the Steve Allen was smitten.
But no one worked the crowd like the man they had truly come for. As he took the mic, Bruce McCulloch thanked Janeane for “giving us a lot to think about,” introduced himself as a “wee little man” and followed with a fittingly impish dance around the stage. He reassured the audience that they’d chosen the best show of the four, likening last week’s performance to “watching Joe Piscopo shit a bowling trophy,” then launched into a set replete with his inimitable, energetic weirdness. He listed off the things that he finds gross (kids selling lemonade and elderly twins among them), proffered that he’d need to “explain to [us] what happiness is,” waxed nostalgic for the days when women grew their bushes “big and proud like cabbage farmers,” and read a poem called “Popcorn Colon” which ended with, “And that is how I found out I have bowel cancer.”
“You might wonder what happens to one of my jokes if you don’t ‘get’ it,” McCulloch said, looking far beyond the crowd. “Well, it goes over your head and out to the end of the universe. And it waits for me there.” His delivery was impeccably matched to his brimming irreverence. He’d consult an invisible friend named “Binky the Wonder Dog,” spin on his heels, pace the stage and skip like a school girl before launching into a dramatic monologue, the last of which was prefaced with, “Oh lordy gordy… I did it again. I went and fucked a crazy chick.” “Little Brucey,” as he was wont to refer to himself, closed with an epic folk tune (accompanied by Valenzuela) about Angie, a unicorn who contracts HIV after a sordid night with the Hamburglar. McCulloch was as strong as ever—and, in fact, exponentially more honed than on opening night.
And yet, this night wasn’t over. McCulloch indeed stole the show, but the Killsonic Marching Gang walked away with it under their arms. Swathed in red scarves and homemade insignias, the local jazz-punk 20-piece soon sold the captive audience on their brand of highly technical and freewheeling bombast. With no fewer than five vintage squeezeboxes and a horn section blessed with a handful of virtuosos, Killsonic marched their final song out of the venue and finished as they hit the street. At a mere ten bucks, the show might’ve been the best deal in town.