So, this is embarrassing—Matthew Singer attended a VIP night at Helium Comedy for us last Thursday and immediately turned around the following eloquent and insightful review, which I promptly forgot about until today. So, y'know, enjoy the belated commentary. And sorry, Matt. -Ben Waterhouse.
It didn't take long into Bill Burr
's set at Helium Comedy Club
for Portland to prove that it is lacking in its knowledge of standup audience etiquette. Not two minutes after he stepped on stage in front of an illustration of the Portland skyline, Burr spotted somebody texting only a few rows away. That led the 42-year-old comic to launch into a tirade against this generation's inability to live in the moment, “because you're documenting it for a paper you don't work for.”
“You're all gonna die of thumb cancer!” he added.
Little did he know that the altercation said as much about Portland's inexperience with standup comedy as it did about the nature of oversharing in contemporary culture
. And how appropriate, coming on the day of what was essentially Helium's coming out party. Although many members of the local media were apparently tied up with covering Lady Gaga's spectacle at the Rose Garden, prior to the start of the show VIP guests were invited to enjoy free hors d'oeuvres and an open bar at the newly opened club on Southeast Hawthorne. Despite the fact that live comedy seems to fit perfectly with Stumptown's “weirdo” culture, Helium is the only venue in town to host touring standups whose names aren't exactly familiar but are well known within the cult of comedy connoisseurs who've made the Bridgetown Comedy Festival such a success. It only got up and running in July but has already played host to the likes of Maria Bamford and local heavyweight Auggie Smith.
Burr fits the mold of the comics Helium is looking to accommodate
—those who aren't big enough to play a place the size of the Schnitz or the Aladdin (unlike Louis CK and Aziz Ansari) but don't deserve to be waiting their turn to hit the open mic at Suki's. And he delivered a performance that proves why comedy nerds were so elated to hear a place like Helium was coming to town. Irreverent, crass and more than willing to go off the cuff, Burr—whose had specials on Comedy Central and roles on Chappelle's Show (you might remember him from Season 2's “racial draft” sketch
)—endeared himself to a crowd that for the most part, he admitted, probably didn't know who he was.
Actually, “endear” probably isn't the best word to use for a guy who said that witnessing a man hit a woman is “98 percent terrifying and 2 percent hilarious,” claimed Tiger Woods' wife “has a lot of nerve” and declared, “I like whores” (“not literally,” he was sure to add). In spite of his efforts to prove his assertion that being comfortable with the knowledge that you're going to hell makes life easier, Burr did throw a few bones to Portland's peccadilloes, talking about the difficulties of training a dog (“I don't want to be known as the guy who was on Comedy Central and David Letterman and whose dog ate a dude”) and empathizing with Blazers fans over “the curse of Sam Bowie.” He even agreed to redistribute sales of his DVD after the show to the Portland economy, “one dollar at a time.”
But even after chastising an audience member for using his cell phone, some people just couldn't figure out how to behave. At one point, he spotted a guy directly in front of him holding up his phone. The man assured Burr he wasn't texting, just filming the show. “I have a new special coming out. If you put the new shit up [on YouTube], it's not new anymore,” he explained. That would be obvious to anyone accustomed to attending a standup gig. Perhaps in a few months, once Helium becomes more of an institution, these kind of incidents won't happen. Then again, that would be a bit of a shame, since in this case, it led to some of the funniest moments of the night, such as when that same guy in the front row stood up and headed for the bathroom, and Burr stopped to yell, “What? Is it your editor?”
Photo by Flickr user Zoofest