Sketchfest Review: Maximum Volume! with Greg Behrendt and Matt Nathanson at Cobb’s, 1/21/2011

by Gordon Elgart on January 22, 2011

Not top billed, but definitely the star of the show.

At Cobb’s on Friday night was a show called Maximum Volume!, a definite misnomer. For while the volume was never turned up — the electric guitar and amplifier sat on the stage like a tease — the one thing turned to the maximum was the length of the show. This was definitely the longest comedy show I’ve ever been to, and in comedy, like a lot of things, longer isn’t necessarily better. Lots of people, myself included, surely came expecting something similar to last year’s Bring the Rock! show, and got something completely different. So how did it all go?

First up on stage were our hosts for the evening, Greg Behrendt, author of He’s Just Not That Into You, a book I’ve never read, though I’ve watched the movie 6 times, including 4 times on airplanes, and Matt Nathanson, a singer/songwriter who’s known for good music and being really really funny between songs. So this was to be a musical comedy night, full of song and laughs, right?

Well, no. After an introduction in which we were welcomed to the “Spider-Man on Broadway of comedy shows”, we were treated to a long conversation that spent a little too much time talking about Black Swan (Matt hated it) and prison sex, and finally the conversation drifted to cold cuts, and how their plate backstage was full of little turkey circles. This then became an ongoing joke of the evening. We were all invited to the cult of the turkey circle, and told that we could say anything inside of it. (If they’d looked in the Urban Dictionary previously for this term, they didn’t say.)

Greg Behrendt finished off the intro set with a winning bit about how the people who know nothing, and aren’t connected, are the next cool people. “Write letters and don’t know about anything. Uninformed is the new informed,” he concluded. And then we were introduced to Brody Stevens.

Mr. Stevens comes out and immediately starts in with his bit, which is basically telling the audience to stop hating him because he’s more famous than they are, and how he’s not going to do jokes, so get over it. It’s a new kind of act: he’s an insult comic that simply insults the audience as a whole. As a concept, I thought “ha, how clever,” but he didn’t seem to go over very well in the room.

Matt and Greg came back out afterward, and Matt talked about a time in college when the janitor just walked in on him while he was wrapped in a towel. This led to a conversation about what the weirdest thing this janitor had ever seen. The janitor said it was this time he saw two naked guys: one had a camera and the other had a toilet. And they were jumping from building to building taking pictures of each other on the toilet.

“That was me,” Matt said. Sure enough, as an art project, he and his friend decided to take pictures of each other, on top of buildings, sitting on the toilet.

Awesome story, and it’s why Matt Nathanson was on this bill in the first place. And then the two of them introduced Marc Maron. Maron did a pretty standard comedy routine, talking about cats and dogs, until finally he called something “retarded.” This led him to go off a rant about how this word should be ok to use, and although I liked it, the audience seemed to turn on him, and then he was told he had two minutes left, and he spent the last two minutes hitting on an 18-year-old girl in the front row. The ending of his set was odd, like something sent him off the rails. My guess is that it was his prepared material was kinda bombing.

This something-like-bombing would continue, as Brendon Small took the stage. Known by most as “the guy from Metalocalypse,” I figured that this was finally when that guitar would be played. Instead, he did a fairly routine stand-up set, and he was fidgeting uncomfortably as he lost the room. But thankfully, he saved his best material for last, as he did “impressions,” where the impression is to say the name of the celebrity you’re impersonating AS the impression. I still think most people assumed he was going to play some guitar. I know I did.

For the next intro, Greg came out by himself, to speed things along. For now it was 12:30, last call was half-an-hour ago, some folks had left to catch public transit, and we still had a lot more to go. Then he introduced Bobcat Goldthwait.

And he fucking killed. I’m pretty sure the entire two-hour-and-forty-minute comedy journey was worth the ten minutes of Bobcat Goldthwait we experienced. He talked about being big in the 80s, made fun of his dumb voice, told stories of his kids (“A comedian doing stories about his kids! What a concept!”), and ended with a story he’s told many times now, one about being in a plane (“A comedian doing a bit about air travel! Never heard that before!”) that’s engine explodes when he’s on it. This had the room in belly laughs and tears. He showed that when you have it, you have it, and I really hope his stand-up becomes a regular part of the San Francisco comedy scene.

Now Matt came back on stage to introduce Greg Behrendt’s short stand-up set (which he claimed to be practicing for an appearance on Conan, but a plethora of swearing makes that hard to believe), which had some pretty solid material about losing weight despite the existence of Tim Tams, and a more-than-sold bit about the douchebaggery of magicians (especially Criss Angel).

Finally, Matt Nathanson came out with a guitar to screams of fans of his that had waited far too long for this moment, threw off his indoor scarf to end comparisons to John Mayer before launching into a brief Mayer bashing session. “Our genre sucks already, and you bring this into it?” referring to his controversial interview comments of the previous year. He played two songs: a new number called “Faster” and then Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” wanting to end a nearly-three-hour comedy show with the most serious musician he could find.

Our time in the turkey circle had ended. Off we went, into the late night of San Francisco, having witnessed a long and unorganized comedy show. When they edit down the highlights into the 50-minute HBO special, it’ll be amazing. My memory will do that work for me, so while this morning I’m tired, in a few days, I’ll only remember the genius of the Bobcat, and most of the ladies and some of the men will surely remember a naked Matt Nathanson sitting on rooftop toilet getting his picture taken.

And that seems like it ought to be enough.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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