Altar Boyz

theSet NYC at Le Poisson Rouge

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A month ago, I posted about a wonderful weekend that included catching Altar Boyz at New World Stages. As a result (I assume) I received an email from Pim, a member of the team that founded theSet NYC.

theSet NYC is a great idea. Collect a group of talented performers and promote a show featuring a bunch of them on the same night. The idea is to give these people an alternative to the grind of a pure open mic night. Pim used to do standup comedy (and might again in the future), so he was well aware of the difficulties of getting the appropriate breaks.

For the performers, it typically means a slightly longer set (roughly 15 minutes each) and a (hopefully) friendlier crowd. For the audience, it typically means a (slightly) more vetted group of performers (no one who just mustered up the courage five minutes ago to get up on the stage), and also a friendlier atmosphere (not oriented toward heckling, etc.).

theSet NYC aims to put on a show once a month. They use a number of venues, one of which is the lounge at New World Stages, which is how I guess Pim ended up finding me.

One of Pim’s roles is blogger outreach. Once he connected with me via email, he invited me to attend their next show, which was last night, at Le Poisson Rouge (LPR), in the Gallery Bar (downstairs, they also have a more traditional club upstairs). The show fit with our schedule, so we decided to attend.

Pim

Pim

Most of the shows have been free to date (including last night), though there’s no guarantee of that in the future. We arrived at 7pm (the show started at 8pm) because we intended to eat (and drink) at Gallery Bar first.

You can check out the menu to see the eclectic range of food and drink offered there. Lois had the Edamame. She raved non-stop while she was eating them. I had the Spicy Tuna Roll (absolutely incredible), and the Sloppy Kobe Joes. Folks, I do believe that this is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Not quite a hamburger (because it’s not pressed together in a patty, since it’s a sloppy joe), and with a sauce that’s spicy (not hot, flavorful!) and fantastic.

If theSet NYC did nothing else for us, it introduced us to a place that we will return to for the food alone, no doubt! In addition, the lovely bartender made me a perfect Chocolate Martini. Thanks!

Gallery Bar Bartender

Gallery Bar Bartender

On to the show. Lois asked me to cover the performers in the order that we liked them, rather than in the order that they appeared. Seems fair enough to me, so here goes (I think we are in basic agreement on the order, but I’m not double checking with her, so technically, this is my personal order):

Evon Campbell was the most consistently funny of the comedians (which dominated last night’s show). He has a very relaxed style which relaxes the audience. He is then easily able to catch the audience off guard with very clever jokes that aren’t easy to predict (the best kind). Here’s a three minute video of him from a previous theSet NYC show (he didn’t repeat a single line from this clip last night!).

Evon Campbell

Evon Campbell

Arthur Carlson had the most professional delivery of the group last night. Here’s a clip of a bit he did last night as well. He was more in control of the audience than the rest, and appeared more comfortable and self-assured on stage than the rest. I’ll have a more general note at the end, in which I’ll have some more to say about Arthur.

Arthur Carlson

Arthur Carlson

Kai Raziq hosted the evening. He didn’t actually do any specific routines, but his style on stage was engaging, and we all chuckled at nearly everything he said, even though he wasn’t telling any jokes per se.

Kai Raziq

Kai Raziq

Alec Sobel held his own reasonably well. He too has a professional quality to his delivery. Here is a link to a five minute video that will give you a good sense of his style and genre. At the bottom of the page is a link to a different video that is a little less adult in nature (not much, but perhaps a little cursing removed).

Alec Sobel

Alec Sobel

Matt Rittberg was close behind Alec in my opinion. While he too has a pretty good command of the stage, he relied a bit too much on sexual jokes, and isn’t quite expert enough to walk that kind of tight rope. Here is a page with a variety of videos of Matt’s routines which includes stuff the seems cleverer than most of the material he did last night.

Matt Rittberg

Matt Rittberg

I’m going to present the next two performers (the only musical ones last night) in the order that Lois preferred them. For my taste, I would swap them, but I’ll predict and respect Lois’ choice.

Adontay sang two songs last night. The first was a cappella and we both enjoyed it more than we thought we would when he first started. Adontay has a very nice voice, and the song was pretty good too. Unfortunately, he didn’t carry that through to the second number. In that one, he had a soundtrack (played off of a laptop). The song wasn’t as good (in our opinion) and was a little too long. When the soundtrack ended, he continued a cappella, and to our ears, rambled off key and out of tune. He has a lot of talent, but he needs significantly more polish and practice.

Adontay

Adontay

Stephanie Carlin sang and played acoustic guitar. I think she has an excellent voice, plays the guitar well enough, and has a reasonable amount of stage presence. Unfortunately, neither of us was drawn to her two original songs. They brought her back on stage at the end because two of the scheduled performers didn’t show up, and we somewhat preferred the two covers she did then (a medley of Hit the Road Jack and Moondance). The raw talent (at least in the voice) is most definitely there, but the performance and musical selection isn’t our personal cup of tea.

Stephanie Carlin

Stephanie Carlin

Ranked last in both of our opinions, but opening the show (which made for a tense few minutes when we thought the rest of the night would be like this) was April Brucker. Her delivery last night was completely flat (close to zero energy). She started with very crude sexual jokes about her roommate, and then brought out the roommate (from a suitcase), a puppet called May.

April Brucker

April Brucker

April describes herself as an Inappropriate Ventriloquist. That’s an incredibly apt description. She’s a reasonably talented ventriloquist, and she’s beyond inappropriate. I’m sure that the college boys laugh like hell at that kind of shock you humor.

I can’t reconcile her lack of energy last night with this video. In the video, she has tremendous energy, but the same crude humor. At the four minute mark, she introduces May, so you can get a sense of that part of the act last night as well.

I have explained in a number of posts how much I love comedy (and laughing) in all forms, even crude ones. Lois isn’t as forgiving of pure crudeness, which she (correctly) equates with comic laziness. In other words, it’s easier to get a laugh by shocking your audience (especially if you’re female) than by actually being clever.

Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most successful comedians of all time, and he never resorts to cursing. He doesn’t resort to much sexual innuendo either, and when he does, it’s high level enough to be acceptable even if kids are in the room.

If I wasn’t sitting with Lois, and analyzing in my head the fact that a crude joke probably just rubbed her the wrong way, I would enjoy the crudeness a bit more myself. Still, fundamentally, I agree with her that it’s a cheap way to get a laugh.

That said, I mentioned above that I would circle back to Arthur Carlson. He had two routines that were 100% sexual in nature. One was actually gross (if you attempted to visualize it). Yet, I laughed like hell at both (even the gross one), and even Lois chuckled at the gross one, and liked the other one a lot.

There were three things that made us/Lois react differently to Arthur’s sexual jokes than to most other such references:

  1. His delivery is so professional that you’re listening to a true joke teller, not someone just trying to deliver a crude one-liner.
  2. Both jokes were very inventive. The punch lines weren’t predictable, so it wasn’t shock value that made you laugh, it was the imagery and the comedic absurdity of what he was saying.
  3. It was a change of pace for him. Since he was able to tell a bunch of clean jokes too, telling a clever sexual joke caught the audience more off guard than when they are coming at you one after another.

While this isn’t really Lois’ idea of a perfect night out, we both had a really good time, and would recommend catching a theSet NYC show to anyone who is interested in seeing fresh talent, in good quantity, in reasonably contained sets (in case any one performer isn’t to your liking), in a very pleasant and supportive atmosphere. If it’s in the Gallery Bar at Le Poisson Rouge, then we can recommend the food and drink very highly as well!

Thanks again to Pim for reaching out, and to Leo (the producer of the show) for making it happen!

Leo

Leo

Wes and Hadar’s Excellent Adventure

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Many more people participated in one or more of the activities I’m about to list. Only Wes and I enjoyed every single one of them, hence the accurate title. 🙂

Wes flew up on Thursday morning and I picked him up at Newark Airport. We headed straight to the city and met Lois and two friends for lunch at Westville. We met there at 11:30am because the place is tiny and fills up fast. Only one of the five of us had ever eaten there, so it was a new experience for the three four of us. The food was fantastic! I had the Caesar Salad with grilled chicken. Here are pics of three of the dishes, starting with mine:

Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

Hot Dogs

Hot Dogs

After lunch, Lois, Wes and I relaxed and caught up with work/email, etc. Then we headed for our night at the Highline Ballroom to see our favorite group, Girlyman. That evening was covered extensively in this post.

The next morning, after breakfast, we headed up to the house. Wes had never seen it. We logged on there and all did our own thing until lunch. After lunch, Wes and I headed to see the new Star Trek movie. Lois was intending to come as well, but we had a problem with the dampers again, and she called the HVAC people and waited for an emergency technician to arrive. Sorry Lois!

Wes Hadar Living Room

Wes Hadar Living Room

Wes and I both enjoyed the movie. I would be lying if I said it was great in any way (other than the special effects, which were stunning), but it’s action-packed, moves at a very quick pace, is an inventive story, etc. I agree with the comments I had heard about the movie before I saw it, that you don’t need to be a trekkie to appreciate the movie, but that it pays homage to the original in so many ways that it’s extra satisfying to a real trekkie. Kudos to JJ Abrams and the entire creative staff of the movie for pulling off that difficult balancing act!

When we got home, we both logged on again, and  I finally got the blog post about Girlyman published. We then headed for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Tarrytown (that we had never eaten at before). It wasn’t our original destination for dinner, but the two places we wanted to eat at were 30+ minute waits (you know, in this economy, where supposedly no one can afford to eat out any longer…). We were quite disappointed in our meals, so this place won’t be visited again by us. Oh well…

After dinner, we walked 200 feet to our real destination for the evening, Tarrytown Music Hall. We had 10th row seats to see Steven Wright, one of my all-time favorite standup comics. This was my first time seeing him live, but I’ve been a fan ever since he burst on the scene (probably longer ago than many of you are alive). 😉

Steven Wright

Steven Wright

As is typical of most shows at Tarrytown Music Hall, he didn’t come on the stage until 8:25pm (scheduled time, 8pm). It’s annoying, but otherwise, we really love Tarrytown Music Hall. He was fantastic. He did his routine non-stop for 85 minutes.

For those of you don’t know, he’s the king of dead-pan one liners. For the most part, they are based on word play. He never (OK, rarely) smiles, except for specific effect. In other words, his own jokes don’t appear to make him laugh (and that works really well for his type of material). He only told one vulgar joke, and I’d bet that none of the kids that were in the audience had a clue that it was vulgar!

He used the F-word perhaps 10 times, so in general, his act is pretty clean. He speaks softly, so the audience trained themselves (incredibly quickly) to come to a dead silence seconds after laughing hysterically, for fear of missing the next joke!

Here are but two (of hundreds of) examples of the style of humor that no one masters quite like Steven Wright:

I have a friend who has a stained glass eye.

24-Hour Banking. I don’t have that kind of time.

No two jokes are connected. Topics fly all over the place. It’s really funny to hear delayed laughter around you, when you realize that people are trying hard to process a joke, and finally get it, a few seconds too late. 😉

We had a great time there. Afterward, we drove back to the city and watched a bit of Conan O’Brien in his new gig as host of the Tonight Show. I also watched the first two nights on Hulu, and I think Conan is doing a marvelous job in his new time slot. Congrats Conan!

On Saturday, after breakfast and the obligatory emailing, Wes and I met Laura in the lobby and went on one of my patented long walks up the East River. It was the nicest day of 2009 in NYC (so far), and our walk was spectacular in every regard. It took us two hours and 10 minutes, and we loved every second of it (or at least I did!).

After a shower, Wes, Laura, Lois and I grabbed a cab and headed to Five Napkin Burger for lunch. None of us had ever been there before. So, what made me pick it for lunch? I subscribe to Fred Wilson’s blog (one of the top VC’s in NYC) and read every one of his posts religiously. He often writes about his wife, who blogs under the moniker The Gotham Gal. For whatever reason, I had never clicked through to her site.

The other day, Fred blogged that The Gothan Gal had updated the design of her site, and he was very pleased with the result. That’s the first time I clicked through. I liked her writing style and started reading a bunch of her posts. Then I came to this one about Five Napkin Burger! I decided to give it a shot. I’m very glad I did, as all four of us really enjoyed our burgers (all different kinds). Mine was an Italian Turkey Burger. Yum!

From there, the four of us walked back to Times Square, and went to see Angels and Demons. Thoroughly enjoyable. Substantially better movie than The DaVinci Code. We walked back to the apartment after that.

While I caught up on some email, Laura and Wes walked the few blocks to Red Mango and picked up frozen yogurt for a light dinner for the four of us. It was my first taste of it, and I liked it a lot. Chris (Laura’s husband), who was at the dentist while we were lunching and enjoying Angels and Demons, joined us for dinner, which he picked up for himself from the brand new Just Salad a block away from the apartment.

After dinner, the five of us grabbed two cabs and went to see the show Altar Boys at New World Stages. New World Stages is a fantastic space/building, a block off Broadway, that houses seven smaller theaters (Altar Boyz can seat 363 people). All of the shows are quirky (or at least have very quirky and provocative titles and posters). Wes picked this one.

Altar Boyz

Altar Boyz

Wes, Lois and I really loved the show. I caught Laura and Chris chuckling a few times, but I suspect (strongly) that they didn’t like it as much as the rest of us did. It’s very borderline whether any audience member will consider the show one of the following:

  1. Irreverent, but still uplifting and respectful of Christianity
  2. Blasphemous
  3. Some mixture of the two

Personally, I choose #1, with no hesitation, though I have no trouble accepting and understanding that many people could legitimately believe #2 is more accurate. Without a doubt, it’s blasphemous in it’s caricature of Boy Bands. But, in getting you to laugh at that, I believe it still very effectively gets across a message of the best of Christianity’s teachings. It turns out that Laura and her family made the show a birthday present for Lois, and Lois loved and appreciated every second of it!

Thanks M&M’s. 😉

We walked home from the show. When we reached the apartment building, I made the scandalous suggestion that Wes and I go across the street to my favorite Mexican restaurant, El Rio Grande, for a nightcap. Laura and Chris decided to join us as well. Technically, the outside was closed already, but we’re regulars there, and they were kind enough to sneak us in. The inside was still officially open, but it was the most beautiful night, so we were glad to sit outside.

Three of us enjoyed frozen margaritas, and the fourth wisely picked a Banana Pinata for dessert, that the rest of us got to taste (and swoon over!). We then sat on our deck for another 40 minutes, soaking in the remainder of a perfect day.

This morning, we dropped Wes off at Newark Airport and headed down for our usual road trip down I95. Memories of a perfect weekend (uh, I mean, excellent adventure) still linger!

Wes, thanks so much for making the trek up from NC to spend such quality time with us! 🙂