Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Gallery and Review: Eugene Mirman's Pretty Good Friends At the Paradise

Reggie Watts, Kumail Nanjiani, Tom Allen, and
Eugene Mirman at the Pretty Good Friends show
Tuesday at the Paradise
There is an amazing consistency to Eugene Mirman’s shows. Mirman kicked off his Pretty Good Friends tour at the Paradise in Boston last night, but it could have been a show at The Comedy Studio or the Green Street Grill, both places he used to host when he was here. That is to say, it was a night of comics who shared an obvious familiarity and comfort with each other, and a crowd that was up for whatever they presented.

Mirman hosts a version of Pretty Good Friends regularly in New York, and this is a brief, one-week tour before Mirman heads out to the SXSW festival in Austin. His guests are Reggie Watts, whom Mirman called a “vocal trapeze artist,” Kumail Nanjiani, and Tom Allen. The group started the show with a kind of informal, onstage conversation, during which Nanjiani noted that there isn’t really any reason the four of them should even know each other. Nanjiani is of Pakistani descent, Watts is black, and Allen is English and gay (double minority!). Mirman noted they almost called it the “Accidentally Diverse Tour.”

All four were different personalities, but there was a sort of shared sensibility of being something other, or outside. They apparently had a fun time walking around Harvard Square together yesterday afternoon, drawing some strange looks. Didn’t help that Watts had decided to lumber around hunched over, his knuckles close to dragging on the ground, and surprise people by hiding in bushes.

Allen talked about bringing a monogrammed briefcase to school as a child, which only added to his sense of being different from his schoolmates. One kid said he would knock him to the ground. Allen’s solution? Just lay down before he had to take a punch, and no one can knock you down. Kumail spoke of being called “Kumar” as a slur, which is unfortunately close to his real name. He wants to become famous enough that his name becomes the thing the racists use to yell at other people, then he can be happy when they recognize him. Mirman said he always wanted to be the kind of comic who could toss out one-liners while playing guitar or piano, but has no musical ability. His solution? Read some Tweets while playing theremin.

Watts is the most obviously strange of the bunch. His comedy was less about the meaning of his words and more about keeping the audience off balance using mainly the sound of his voice. He took on the voice of a professor giving a conference lecture, launching into convincing sounding scientific gibberish. Then, just when the audience was comfortable with that cadence, Watts changed into some harder-sounding accent (New York? New Jersey?), changing back and forth seamlessly. That was before he went to his music rig, a couple of boxes on a stool that allowed him to record loops of his own voice and play them back on the fly. With those, he was able to build a strikingly accurate parody of a Radiohead song. It’s more about the breath than the voice, he explained.

As odd as any comedian might have gotten, it never felt like the audience was being held at a distance. Mirman had a volunteer up onstage for a bit where he pretended to be an alien and made her explain speed dating. He gave fake mustaches to everyone in the crowd so he could take a photo of it from the stage. Whenever anyone shouted, it was acknowledged by the comic and the set moved on. Other than one woman who seemed a bit confused about why she had yelled in the first place, no one seemed interested in interrupting the kind of apartment party atmosphere. Which is a nice feat to pull off in a club that holds several hundred people.

A few images from the evening:

Nanjiani, Allen, and Mirman discuss their day walking
around Harvard Square.

Tom Allen describes his experience with
playground bullies.

Tom Allen, star of The Cut and The Correspondent,
whom Mirman introduced with his U.K. credits.

Nanjiani, puzzled by Freddy Kruger's racism.

Nanjiani thinks Harry Potter is the best case scenario
for a transfer student.

Mirman Tweets and theremins.

The crowd wearing their new mustaches.

Reggie Watts grooves.

Watts improvises Radiohead.

Watts and his effects rig.

Watts riffs from behind the curtain
for no apparent reason.

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Unknown said...

Thanks for the review - thinking of trekking up for the show in Harrisburg, PA tonight. Did the show start on time, or did some local act open?

Unknown said...


I think the show started around twenty after eight. There was no opening act.