all words: Robert Winship
all photos: Stephanie Breijo
I’ve spent nearly all my life attending church and occupying the pews between stained glass and communion rituals. The church building has held a myriad of meanings and housed many roles. Truthfully, I spent most of my Sundays daydreaming of anything I could be doing instead of trudging through the Old Testament. Escapism is key to surviving a religious upbringing…escapism and repression.
Even so, I never quite imagined a scenario where a mustachioed actor would, before the Star of David and Torah, recount shit-stories and the quality of “upside-down pussy” at a strip club.
Still, Michael Ian Black’s performance was more comfortable than ironic, perhaps due to the reputation the Sixth & I Synagogue has carved out as a venue–a place where Lewis Black, Devendra Banhart, and Yo-Yo Ma are each fitting performances. So, the foul-mouthed slacker-intellectual was the perfect storyteller for the Synagogue, continuing to acknowledge that he “should not be 40 and performing in front of the Torah.” He cracks a joke about Anne Frank, then turns around, expecting to be struck down by the cosmic lightning bolt, “That’s why I’m an atheist!”
If you’re familiar with Stella or Michael and Michael Have Issues, the humor of the evening was in that vein; he balanced his stories between the scatological and the parental. It’s hard to believe he’s 40, a point which he spent the latter half of the evening musing, as a husband and father. “I don’t want to be the kind of dad that inspires art,” he says and then describes the emasculating feeling of crying while listening to “With Arms Wide Open”, complete with Scott Stapp impersonation
I wanted to hear a bit more on the fatherhood angle, with which he would bait you in a soft moment about getting a birthday card from his kids, only to curse at them for their lack of effort and writing ability. That brought about the most vulnerable moment of the show, though. After ranting about fatherhood, he held up the card and sighed, “I still kept it though.”
At length and center stage he holds his own, where I worried he might just fall awkwardly back onto a character. Early on, he addressed the recent death of comedian Patrice O’Neal as a segue into the comedian’s crisis of either finding success or dropping dead at a young age. He discussed the prominent rise in popularity funnymen Louis C.K. (“successful”) and Marc Maron (“asshole”). The whole evening was more a series of stories than routines, so the intimacy of the venue complimented the style. The audience never got too comfortable in either awkward quiet or uproarious laughter.