Comedy is Dead, the excellent comedy and music revue which brightens up Hollywood Forever Cemetery's hallowed Masonic hall from time to time, was back in full force on Thursday night, and Duncan Trussell – one of the comics performing as well as one of the organizers of the show – had some questions about the mysteries of freemasonry.
“Number one, why did you build it in a graveyard? That seems a little odd. Why then, like, why did they abandon it, too? But I mean really… what's that?!” he laughs, pointing at the upside-down, rainbow-paneled pentagram hanging in the middle of the room.
Minor wears and tears aside, the hall is still a remarkable space for a comedy show (it was designed for public speaking, after all), as well as the occasional musical interlude, which this time was provided by the one and only Lou Barlow. Prepping a new project, he's been someone the Comedy is Dead team wanted on their bill for a while.
“I'm playing SXSW (soon),” he said, “and Duncan has been emailing me for ages asking me if I'd play one of these. Then he e-mailed me like the day before I started rehearsing with my partner, Amad, and I thought, 'Oh, that timing would actually work out.' [Then they] showed me the room and I thought, 'Wow, yeah… I'd love to play there. That's awesome'.”
After the serene, lilting beauty of Barlow's acoustic set, it helped to have a brief break smoke 'n' drink break before the comics hit the spotlight like a freight train, headed up by emcee Brody Stevens' near-maniacal energy. It didn't let up, either, through a somewhat rare standup slot from Mr. Show's Bob Odenkirk, whose gentle ribbing on Barlow's “minstrelly” sound was a perfect launching pad for a bit about taking his kids to a Renaissance faire; Melinda Hill, whose bubbly, adorable persona belies some pretty outlandish funny; and the always terrific Natasha Leggero, brought a little old-Hollywood glamour to the proceedings in arm-length formal gloves. (Though halfway through she admitted, “I really have no idea why I'm wearing [these],” and proceeded to shuck them and finish her set with them hanging over her shoulder.)
Further laughs ensued courtesy of Trussell and his riotous climax involving a shabby ventriloquists' puppet named Little Hobo. (We'd be remiss to give away the gag, but suffice to say… the dummy's got a mind of his own. And Trussell's is his playground.) Hard 'n' Phirm's Mike Phirman ended the night with a dead-on impression of Louis Armstrong's “What A Wonderful World.” (Dead-on except for trying to get the right transitions on the guitar… therein lies the comedy.) There'd be no Reno 911!-style shenanigans from Thomas Lennon this night, but the man known best for sketch brought his standup A-game with hilarious jabs at the room's décor (“Welcome to another yeaahr at Hogwarts!”) before proceeding to grill the hoodie-wearing lads in the front row (or as we soon came to know them, Harry and Ron) and a bitterly funny diatribe on Angelenos' willingness to stand in line for anything, especially a greasy Pink's hot dog. (His plan? Build a stand next door that sells punches in the nuts from a midget, pay people to stand in line at first… and eventually, they'll all follow. He's probably not wrong.)
The headliner of the night, though he took the stage third, was the inimitable Patton Oswalt, who we honestly don't think is capable of landing a weak punchline and didn't disappoint, especially a keenly observed rant against the evils of “douche rock.” (If only, he imagined sitting in one of the throney Masonic chairs, he could be in charge of deciding who is allowed to make music and who isn't. Sorry, Nickelback, it's back to manual labor for you…)
We spoke to Oswalt briefly before the show who noted that in a room like the Masonic hall “where there's tapestries and chandeliers, you'd better be fucking funny. Because if you're not, you're basically an amusement attraction, haunted house host.” Oswalt has an album coming out in the fall, and recently played his first dramatic lead in Robert (The Wrestler) Siegel's directorial debut, Big Fan, which was a hit at Sundance. He's also got his first child on the way very soon. Is there more pressure to carry a film than to, say, pick the color of your child's nursery?
“Oh, the color definitely!” Oswalt smiles. “If I fuck up a feature film, it's two hours out of someone's life. If I pick the wrong color, I could be creating the next serial killer.”