Eugene Mirman, Kristen Schaal and John Hodgman @ The Pabst Theater
Oct. 18, 2013
While the Pabst Foundation has done a brilliant job
bringing more standup comedy to the city, Milwaukee sadly lacks some of the
basic infrastructure that would draw in even more of the cutting edge. It takes
a pretty big name to justify booking the Riverside Theater, or even Turner Hall
Ballroom, and if you’re not a well-established headliner, there aren’t a lot of
mid-size theaters as an alternative, just smaller clubs, most of which fall
beneath your station. One route for well-known, but niche, comics trying to
punch above their weight is to band together, as Eugene Mirman, Kristen Schaal
and John Hodgman, all extremely funny but by no means household names, did for
this particular tour.
The show opened with a collection of Hodgman’s cellphone videos of the trio exploring Milwaukee, after which the co-headliners emerged for some collective crowd work, finding plenty of unexpected inspiration at the expense of a presumptuous, seat-hopping audience member, who for some reason wasn’t wearing any shoes. Dubbed the “Sandwich to Go” tour, the only justification for the title is a tradition wherein an audience member presents a sandwich unique to the city that’s hosting them. Representing Milwaukee, oddly, was a Sheboygan steak sandwich, whatever the hell that is, which largely failed to leave any noticeable impression. After sharing the stage for a while, they broke off for individual standup sets, starting with Eugene Mirman.
Mirman, who at age of four emigrated from the USSR
to Boston, a standup town if there ever was one, is probably best known for
parts on “Flight of the Conchords,” Adult Swim’s "Delocated” and the criminally underrated “Bob’s Burgers.” His material is drawn
from his own life, but not in your usual observational mode; instead something mundane
like getting a parking ticket spins off into him placing a deranged, vengeful
ad in a small town tourist guide, and a trip to Mexico ends with him and R.E.M.
frontman Michael Stipe being robbed by the local police. It’s easy to point out
the trivial absurdities of life, but Mirman takes them all to the extreme.
Next up was Mirman’s “Flight of the Conchords” and “Bob’s Burgers” co-star Kristen Schaal, who also left a big impression as the psychotic NBC page Hazel Wassername on “30 Rock.” On her own she’s a bright, sly standup, who’s voice is all at once self-deprecating, silly and utterly fearless. She warned the audience at the outset that there would be a lot of vagina jokes, and she definitely followed through on that, which isn’t to say she was going for easy laughs. As blue as it got, any nasty language, even the extended “taint-ologues” speech, wasn’t just shock, but part of a larger skewering of sex and celebrity, delivered with her disarming Gracie Allen awkwardness.
The third headliner was John Hodgman, regular “Daily Show” contributor and author of an indispensable three-volume set of fake encyclopedias. The last time he was in town, Hodgman was in the midst of his apocalyptic “Deranged Millionaire” phase, but here he embraced a more classical standup approach, which proved a very natural transition as he related anecdotes about his newfound taste for marijuana and a humiliating college tour. He did, however, make time to enthusiastically perform some of the satirical “Ask Ayn” (as in Rand) advice columns he’s been writing recently, complete with old-lady dress and ukulele accompaniment. Individually, all three of tonight’s comics would be worth seeing, but together they’re not to be missed.