Sketchfest Review: Will Durst’s Big Fat Year End Kiss Off Comedy Show at Eureka Theatre

by Joel Edelman on February 7, 2012

Will Durst doesn’t shy away from political humor, and with 2012 bringing us one of the most entertaining lineups in Republican presidential primary history, it didn’t matter which one was chocolate and which one was peanut butter. Johnny Steele and four other comics made sure that both got all over each other.

That’s a positive spin. And I’ll write about the highlights of the evening, but as any comic will tell you, sometimes you’re just off. Will Durst did all he could to make the evening palatable, but when you’re playing to a two-thirds-full theater on a Tuesday night, it’s not going to be as satisfying as a candy bar. More on that later.

The show started about 10 minutes late and began with the six stars on stage: Will Durst, his wife Debi Durst, Steele, Michael Bossier, Mari Magaloni, and Arthur Gaus. They took turns discussing memorable moments of 2011, and Steele, in his best effort of being topical, ripped San Francisco 49ers kick returner and wide receiver Kyle Williams a new one. It’s hard to believe it’s only been 48 hours since Williams decided to have a contest on Twitter to see who could leave him the most creative death threat, but I don’t want to risk being funnier than the performers were. (This was intentionally written to make it easier to berate me in the comments field. Have at it.)

Otherwise, the highlights were occasionally funny, but mostly newsy. Already recognizing the smaller crowd and the nervously quiet reaction offered up, the comics encouraged each other to speak into the “funny mic,” which at the time was the only one of the four on stage that worked. If nothing else, this helped showcase which of the performers were best at surprises.

After the warmup, everyone went off stage, and Debi Durst and Bossier engaged the crowd with some improv. The mime of comedy, they did showcase their improve strength nonetheless, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought of the Family Guy episode with Quagmire leading the guys in improv training. If you liked improv, you liked their performance.

Some of the performances fell a bit flat. Steele and Magaloni did a sketch about if marriage were like a Republican-controlled Congress. There’s one obvious joke there, and they did it. The rest was filler. However, I spend way too much time reading political blogs so just because it is old hat to me doesn’t mean it isn’t funny. Maybe a little more rehearsal could have improved it, but it was satisfactory.

Also supporting the “best of 2011″ theme, Bossier and Will Durst did a bit on Siri, the voice of the Apple iPhone 4S. However, it was under the guise of an I’m a Mac. I’m a PC.” sendup, which just isn’t as topical as it once was. Still, if you like to make fun of the questions Siri won’t answer, you got what you were looking for here.

Generally, the political stuff worked better, and out came Magaloni, Bossier, and Steele to answer the question: What if those 1960s protest songs were written for the 1%? The performance stood on its own merit but did feel a bit lazy. This is such an easy topic, changing the lyrics of songs of the era to appeal to the rich. They did hit the nail on the head with their take on Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which even had Gaus coming out and flipping through a stack of cards. This was well done.

The first act ended with Johnny Steele doing a standup routine. This was alarming to me, because he has second billing in the playbill and was the last comic Will Durst introduced at the beginning. Usually you start with the bottom comic and work your way up.

After hearing Steele’s, Gaus’s and Will Durst’s routines, however, it was clear why Steele went on first. It’s the same routine he’s been using for decades, which although funny, is disappointing. I’ve never understood comics who don’t write new material. At least we got all of his Bay Area city callouts, and he did say “hopped up on goofballs,” which isn’t “hopped up on the goofer,” but I’ll take it.

I was sad he didn’t call anyone a mook, though. For those of us who remember him from his days as the morning show host and heir apparent to Alex Bennett on Live 105, it would have been nice to acknowledge the phrases associated with him most. And considering the evening’s theme was 2011, it was a shame to get this prepackaged routine of shtick from the 1990s.

After the intermission, perhaps half a dozen people didn’t return, but the theater still looked about 60 percent full. Yes, I counted. That’s why sitting in the back row is the bomb, yo.

There were a few more sketches, such as Bossier doing a Mal Sharpe “Man on the Street” bit. The topic was who passersby would vote for president in 2012, and the questioned included such luminaries as Sarah Palin (a very convincing Magaloni) and Bill Clinton (Will Durst), who gave the classic answer that he’d vote for whomever sent Hillary out of the country as much as possible.

Gaus was introduced as the young guy in a “merry band of pranksters,” but his standup was also dated. He opened with a PedEgg joke, for chrissake. Somewhere, Krusty the Clown is proud. However, he at least threw some new material in here and there, including a Kim Jong Il reference that was pretty good. Most comics tend to replace individual bits with topical stuff, and really that’s all one can expect. As long as Gaus keeps writing new gags, he’ll be fine.

There was some sort of trailer park gag with Debi Durst and Magaloni that was OK but went a little long. I couldn’t take notes in a dark theater, so unfortunately I’m leaving some stuff out.

Finally, Will Durst came out for about a 20-minute routine. It was dominated by a rundown of most of the GOP contenders for the presidential nomination. Most of it was pretty clever. When he got to Ron Paul, someone walked out, and the door closed loudly behind, although this didn’t rattle him. To be fair, the patron reentered a few minutes later. Must have just needed a potty break.

Overall, Will Durst didn’t disappoint, and it was nice to see him with his wife onstage. Magaloni has amazing stage presence and was an absolute delight to watch. Bossier has done this long enough that he can go through the motions and still entertain. Gaus has a chance to be something with a little effort. And sadly for me Steele just seemed washed up, as much as it pains me to say. I’ll give him another chance the next time I see him perform. Hopefully he’ll replace his Indian casino lines and find one of many other ways to make fun of Reno instead.

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