Thursday, March 30, 2017

Boldt Words & Images: The Bronze Age of Comedy

Three golden anomalies

By Bob Boldt

Bert Kreischer (aka The Machine) is a comic I just discovered (I don’t get out much) who does his routine without his shirt covering his beer belly. In what I call “The Bronze Age of Comedy,” he now stands alone with my other two anomalies, Puddles Pity Party (Mike Geier) and Louis C.K. You can keep the tapes of all the MSC’s (mainstream comics) in the Carson vault awaiting the Alien Apocalypse: Colbert, Silverman, Fallon, Kimmel, etc. – boring. All the Progressive Left have to keep themselves amused are the hyperbolic Jimmy Dore and Lee Camp. (Also very boring.)
    For me, the thing that thrusts Louis C.K., Puddles Pity Party, and Bert Kreischer to the top of the contemporary comic heap is that they are counter-intuitive. In other words, they use gimmicks that actually would seem to work against their material. It reminds me of the old magician’s trick. I call it stealth diversions.

Let me explain. Louis C.K. is the most interesting and complex. He approaches the audience as the average-Joe, next-door guy. After developing rapport, which he can do faster than any comic I have seen, he begins to take them into material so strange, so politically incorrect, and occasionally so salacious that the audience has no idea how they got from there to here and why they are laughing at pedophilia, misogyny, race, and child abuse.

Puddles Pity Party’s approach is completely different. He renders poignant ballads and standard songs with brilliance and a serious demeanor that completely belies his clown costume. His vocal renditions are part of an elaborate performance art that must be experienced live to get the full impact. Adding to this, except for his lyrics, Puddles does not, never will, say a word.

Bert Kreischer delivers his seemingly standard, beautifully timed, comedy routines naked from his low-slung pants up. You have to believe this would be a tremendously irrelevant distraction from his material, which has nothing to do with a half-naked man. As with C.K. and Puddles Pity Party, it is the very tension between the appearance and the material that makes the material so funny.

I still haven’t figured out the exact comic mechanisms employed or how they are used so effectively. When I do figure it out, you all will be the first to know. My ideas on comedy are a work in progress. Ever since Lenny Bruce, I have always taken comedy very seriously. Most comics today are pretty predictable. What intrigues me about these three is the ineffable quality of their effect.
    Back in the ’eighties, I had a chance to work up close and personal with a number of comics doing publicity and promotion for HBO comedy specials. I had a chance to meet and film many popular comics of that time. As a result, I developed more than a mere passing interest in the craft. Here is one of the little clip samples of the stuff I was producing back then. (Notice the tricky camera work – tracking 180 degrees around the subject is not an easy feat!)

Copyright © 2017 by Bob Boldt


  1. Bob, Robert Klein was a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert this week (March 29 or 30), and he and Stephen reminisced about Chicago's Second City. I bet that you have met Mr. Klein. I found him delightful, and if you have met him, I envy you. Six-minute Late Show clip here.

  2. It's hard for me to consider Puddles Pity Party a comedian, or comic. I have a young friend who used to do children's parties with a clown act, including magic tricks, but the magic tricks grew to such an extent he just started doing the parties as a magician (without the clown costume). Puddles's clown costume seems to me to be the only joke he tells, but, as you say, you need to experience his performance live. Maybe his singing is one laugh after another.

  3. I think if you concentrate on the clown visage it is like concentrating on Bert Kreischer's beer belly. Each is a shtick. A kind of a medium that takes the performance into a different dimension. If you want to see something really savage with clown make-up try Martyn Jacques and the Tiger Lillies. They are a little like Three Penny Opera meets Beetlejuice. And quite brilliant. The perfect performance warm up for the apocalypse!

    Yes. I was "with" Second City from the start and even used to hang out with its director Paul Sills. The two companies I worked on shared space with Second City for a while. My experience producing and performing in the halcyon days of Chicago Theater in the sixties and seventies is something I will never forget. Never met Klein though. In later years Second City Cabaret became a mere shadow of its former self, content simply to distract and entertain the exurbanite gentry. The founders thought of theater as a vehicle to bring in the Revolution. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “So it goes.”

  4. Bob, thanks for trying to help me. I say "trying," because the effort didn't seem to succeed. I watched and listened to Tiger Lillies, but...nada. I may be incapable of sensing, or entering, this "different dimension" – or unwilling (I admit the possibility)?
        I haven't yet performed the experiment of "concentrating on Kreischer's beer belly," but I'd have to work myself up to it.
        This actually reminds me of my performance in the Southeast Regional Toasmasters Humorous Speech Contest in June 1995 (during the OJ Simpson trial). I came on stage with my hair puffed up and brushed back, sporting a happy-face tie specially prepared for the occasion, and carrying a bag with a large happy-face image on both sides matching the smaller images on my tie. A competitor in the District contest I won to get to the Regionals summed it up by commenting to me, "You're a showman!" Well, "being a showman" may have helped me win the District contest (or it might have been my wife in the audience, who laughed at all of my jokes - or I might actually have had the best speech), but it didn't help me at the Regionals, where I didn't even place. (Of course, I've always thought it was because there were nine contestants, it was a very long evening, and I was the last speaker, a spot that might have been advantageous with an audience that was still awake and with a really good speech, which I didn't have.)

  5. Bob, I can well believe that your experiences with Second City in those early days were unforgettable. I felt some of the frisson just watching Robert Klein on The Late Show and hearing him (and Colbert) talk about it. And I remember Mike Nichols & Elaine May....You were blessed.