At Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club on Thursday, January 24. Continues on January 25 and 26
In the grand tradition of down-on-their luck celebrities putting together a standup-comedy tour to make a quick buck, Tom Green is miles ahead of such luminaries as Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men), Dustin Diamond (aka Screech from Saved by the Bell), and Alison Arngrim (aka Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie). Then again, he’s no Marc Price (Skippy from Family Ties) or Jon Lovitz (Saturday Night Live). But does it really matter?
Folks dishing out the money to see Green doing standup don’t really care how good the act is; they just want to bask in the presence of a star. Fair enough. Judging from the reaction of the crowd at Yuk Yuk’s on Thursday night, they got what they came for: a few decent jokes, plenty of his patented mugging, and a ton of references to his former career. So it’s not really fair to review his act in comparison to those of professional standup comics.
While people who have dedicated their lives to the art form have worked out and fine-tuned their material through constant tweaking and repetition in small rooms, gradually building up to a headlining set, the celebrity-come-latelies have a tougher go of it. There’s an immediate buzz whenever they step on-stage and audiences are less willing to listen to jokes. They’d rather rehash the good old days. And since fans will dole out the money to see the former famous person regardless of their talent, standing alone on a stage being funny, there’s not much incentive to develop a top-notch act.
To be fair, Green started out in standup at the age of 15, but he quickly moved on from it. Perhaps that’s what gives him the stage presence to carry off weak or nonexistent material. He’s able to get through his hour on-stage with about 20 minutes of decent jokes. His bits on funeral homes, Ethiopian restaurants, and Walt Disney’s cryogenically frozen head were clever, but they were dwarfed by filler. If he stumbled on a phrase that got a big laugh, he’d repeat it several times, squeezing every laugh out of it. Or he would do crowd work, which only served to permit the punters to yell out every line from Freddy Got Fingered, written and directed by, and starring, Green, which many critics considered one of the worst films of all time. And Green complied by repeating each line as he delivered it in the movie. It also set him off on a mini-rant. To prove his point that the picture couldn’t have been all that bad, he said: “Fucking mainstream media. People know every goddamn line. Somebody shout out a line from the English Patient.” Silence. Case closed.
Considering Green has lived his life in public, the theme of his show—that technology is bad and that things were better in the old days—rings a little hollow. This is a guy who filmed his testicular-cancer surgery telling us to get off Facebook. His ideas were solid (one-phone homes save marriages) but could have used more acknowledgment of the seeming inconsistencies with his own life. It’s a celebrity comic’s double-edged sword: his status in show biz sells tickets, but his jokes have to jibe with what we already know about him.