“Here come the kid-fucking jokes.”
Sure, why not? In the course of his set last Thursday night at Helium, Dave Attell discussed just about every other uncomfortable subject imaginable—masturbation, ejaculation, pubic hairstyling, homosexuals, Mexicans, midgets...especially midgets—so really, it was only a matter of time before he got to the pedophilia nyuks. While that might sound vile, it wasn't that bad: Sure, he mentioned that watching Toddlers and Tiaras (one of many TLC reality shows he referenced throughout the night) gives him an erection, but it's not caused by the little girls preening around on stage in outfits that'd be considered too revealing for women three times their age. He just gets aroused by competition. “Same thing happens during Storage Wars,” he explained.
If you're going to see Dave Attell, this is the sort of stuff you're coming to hear. A standup veteran, Attell—perhaps still most recognizable to the general public from his stint hosting the underrated Comedy Central program Insomniac—specializes in a brand of vulgarity that's smartly executed yet totally unintellectualized. His comedy isn't about exposing the ugliness of the world or the cliché “saying the horrible things everyone is thinking” (because really, nobody thinks about midgets as much as he apparently does). He just says offensive shit purely because he finds it hilarious. You can try to parse sociopolitical meaning from a joke that goes, “I support gay marriage, as long as it's between two people of the same race,” but the humor is on the surface: It's funny because confused bigotry is funny.
Leaning against the Portland skyline mural that serves as Helium's backdrop, dressed slovenly with unkempt hair tumbling out from underneath a backward cap, Attell looked the part of a racist drunk slumped against the wall outside a convenience store yelling epithets at costumers, lighting a cigarette at one point to complete the image. His set mimicked that kind of stream-of-consciousness rambling as well. Attell doesn't do bits as much as he strings together non-sequiturs that appear to pop into his mind at random. He started by talking about Helium itself and the odd choice of building a comedy club in the most “rapeable” part of the city; he later commented that the club is so dark, it's like it was designed by Chilean miners. Over the course of an hour-plus, he touched on all the topics mentioned above, making recurring characters out of members of the audience, including one he referred to only as “Mexican” and the other as “Indian.” He returned often to his favorite subject: midgets. “If midgets want to be considered people, then the rest of us should be bumped up to Gods,” he said. He mused on the hilarity of seeing a little person wearing a sombrero. And I don't even want to type the alternate slur he suggested for them.
It was all in good fun, though. That's the thing with Attell: Unlike former girlfriend Sarah Silverman, whose “pretty Jewish girl saying nasty things” act has courted as much controversy as admirers, there's something about Attell that doesn't cause as much kneejerk liberal outrage. It could be that there's a gender component, that “an ugly Jewish guy saying nasty things” is somehow more acceptable than a woman doing the same schtick. Mostly, though, I think it's just because we all naturally find the racist drunk outside the 7-11 who's unhealthily obsessed with midgets hilarious.