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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Recap: Comedy Workhorse Michael Ian Black Shares Uproarious Stories at Turner Hall

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Photo credit: Sara Bill
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It’s far from fair, but Michael Ian Black seems to be forever stuck at “that one guy” level of comedy stardom, at least as far as the general public is concerned. His resume is packed with comedy dork classics, from the pioneering MTV sketch show “The State” to “Stella” and movies like Wet Hot American Summer, but without a successful sitcom or a smash hit standup special to his name, you’re just as likely to find him paying the bills serving as by far the funniest talking head on any number of basic cable clip shows. There’s certainly no shame in it, he’s in good company with a plethora of other cult-favorite comedians, but he deserves a whole lot more in terms of mainstream success, as evidenced by last night’s uproarious performance at the Turner Hall Ballroom.

After a short but entertaining warm-up set from Milwaukee-bred funnyman Johnny Beehner, who wrung a few new laughs out of well-worn topics like car salesmen, office work and being a new dad, Black took the stage, immediately jumping into a segment about his terrible luck with having TV shows canceled, mostly centered around his recent experiences working on a Jim Gaffigan pilot that will, sadly, probably never see the light of day. With a knack for making drastic segues feel entirely natural, Black went on to cover a variety of eclectic subjects, from recalling embarrassing personal stories, like when he dizzily lost his shit on a Tilt-A-Whirl, in front of his son no less, to skewering American culture, as with his level-headed, insightful and, of course, wildly offensive take on the abortion debate.

Part of his appeal does come from his ability to deliver something shocking, or just completely ludicrous, like his closer, a prolonged and demented bit about meeting the eponymous “pizza” restaurateur Papa John in a men’s locker room, with a straight face and an effortless nonchalance, but behind every outrageous line is a well thought-out comedic idea. As funny as the show was, you couldn’t help but notice that it was a little under-attended, with the comedy club-style tables placed suspiciously far apart, which is a damn shame, but, on the other hand, that also translated into getting to see a standup show with real fans instead of the usual motley crew of drunken Milwaukee hecklers. Even if Black didn’t draw a huge crowd, it was a good crowd, and a damn good show.