United We Stand glasses
Sunday, December 2 2001
This evening I had plans with that guy Evan who I know through Jacob who I know through Gretchen, who was in turn beget by Aron and Karen and raised in the land of my birthplace. The plans were to go to a place in Chelsea called the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre and see a performance by the improvisational theatre group known as Asssscat 3000. On the subway ride there, an enormously fat hippie dude dressed in a tentlike tie dye was talking in a gravely voice about his many medical difficulties to a blond woman seated beside me. He also mentioned something about a Bob Weir concert he'd recently been to. It would have been so much better had his musical interests been in a little less agreement with his appearance.
When I rounded the corner on 7th Avenue onto 22nd Street, I stumbled directly into the line waiting to get into the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre, a good 150 feet away. Evidently tonight's show was a popular one. Evan wasn't difficult to find, since he was the tallest person in line. We thought perhaps another guy in line in front of him might actually be taller, but when they were both briefly stopped stooping to talk to others Evan maintained a slight altitudinal advantage. "What's it like being the tallest guy in most crowds?" I asked Evan. He said he didn't much like it. I don't think I'd like it either. In the rare crowd, you see, even I can occasionally be the tallest, especially in Chinatown or in largely Hispanic business districts. Being the tallest can make you feel vulnerable. Just ask the World Trade Center.
Evan had called in reservations for us, but the theatre answering machine hadn't been working so now we were dubious as to whether we'd even get in. We milled around for awhile complaining about the sudden attention Asssscat 3000 is getting now that it occasionally features guest appearances of people from Saturday Night Live. Of course, I myself had never been to this theatre before, but I could already see the signs of decay. You can always tell the late comers to a scene by their backwards baseball caps, a mold on the bread of gritty authenticity.
Suddenly the line started moving and just like that, we were inside, in the standing-only back of a small hundred seat theatre. The intro music was a burst of properly-hip Yo La Tengo, and then things got going.
As you know, I'd recently seen a performance of Gretchen's brother's improv comedy group in Pittsburgh, so it was against this that I judged Asssscat 3000. There were some similarities, of course, but overall it was apparent that the Upright Citizens spent more of their time working on their comedy and less on their day jobs than the improv performers I'd seen in Pittsburgh. The Upright Citizens had a more practiced familiarity with their craft and this allowed them to come across as casual and slackerly, sliding easily across the partitions used to frame their subroutines. By contrast, the performance I'd seen in Pittsburgh had been pervaded with an anxious geeky quality that had drawn nearly as much attention to the rules framing the skits as to the humor in the skits themselves.
Highlights from tonight's show included a little sketch about someone who comes up with inane advertising jingles targeting the 25-35 year old market, followed quickly by a hilarious piece in which an easy-going, pot-smoking guidance counselor, in an effort to "lay everything out on the table," admits that he wants to "get with" his blond 17 year old counselee. Later it turned out that this 17 year old girl was herself one quarter guidance counselor, the product of an ancient dalliance with her grandmother. Still later, it seemed that this girl had contracted "baby fever" and was in need of some aversion therapy, being locked in a room for a week with a shitting, screaming newborn. The only catch was that this newborn was actually a screaming, shitting, self-spanking adult baby with a massive lollipop and bedsheet for a diaper. At first the performers took their improve cues by asking the audience in a manner not unlike what the Pittsburgh improvisers had done. But later they decided to take most of their cues from the youngest person in the audience, a little boy named Isaac who claimed to be "four and half" years old when they interviewed him on stage. Asked about the holiday season, he expressed the view that one had to have a Christmas tree in order to for Santa to deliver presents. So, taking this as their cue, Asssscat 3000 did a marvelous skit opening with the father figure announcing that he'd accidentally taken the tree down a day early and, um, well, Santa hadn't brought presents this year. "But we left out cookies and milk," one of the children protested. "Yes, but they only help ensure the arrival of presents in the presence of a tree, which is the basic essential required for the entire process," the dad responded.
After the show, Evan and I rode the F train back to Park Slope, Brooklyn and ate dinner at Two Boots, the restaurant named after the two boot-shaped geographical areas of Louisiana and Italy. I'd actually already eaten a dinner of curry that Gretchen had cooked earlier, but since it had mostly consisted of variations on the cabbage theme (broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts), it seemed I might now find room for some calamari and maybe a slice of pizza. We also drank some Anchor Steam beers, initially served in repulsive flag-bedecked United We Stand glasses. Evan and I shared the view that many people going through the motions of being publicly patriotic secretly hate themselves for being peer-pressured into quasi-fascistic displays. For our second round of beers, Evan specifically requested that his come in a plain glass, eliciting a knowing look from our waitress, as if this hadn't been the first time she'd received this request. Later the other waitress came up to us and said "I thought it was great" that Evan had made this request.
Gretchen and I had a couple of shots of whiskey this evening before bed.
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