The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts February 22, 2008

Carload of Comics Offend Obie Sensibilities

Something about comedy is inherently uncomfortable. For one thing, mutual performer-audience heckling during piano recitals, plays or dance performances is less common than during a comedy show. So perhaps it is no surprise that when a carload of four comics from New York blew into the Cat in the Cream this past Saturday, Feb. 16, the audience began to bristle.

Benjamin Whatley, a College senior who works at the Cat, organized the show by contacting David Minsky, an Oberlin alum, who invited comics Jack Carter, Ben Kissel and Sue Funke along for the drive to Ohio.

Minsky and Whatley were hallmates in South their freshman year, but Minsky experienced a “mutual separation” with Oberlin two years ago and, according to Whatley, went to work in “New Orleans with restoration, rebuilding stuff for one or two years, and now he’s been in New York doing comedy.”

Whatley added, “I invited him to come to do performance comedy cause I’ve seen it before and I really liked it — and also to support young artists.”

The comedians were introduced over the PA system, and Jack Carter was the first to take the stage. He launched right into the raunch with ten straight minutes of sex jokes that elicited light snickers and expectant silences from the audience, though Carter garnered some guffaws with his impression of James Earl Jones and Stephen Hawking telling ‘your momma’ jokes.

If Carter’s bawdy bids for laughs fell a bit flat, Kissel, who followed him, fell flatter than the late Mount Oberlin. The boisterous redhead had commendable energy and stage presence, but his sense of humor didn’t jive with the Oberlin audience. He poked fun at gay people, the homeless and whites guys with dreadlocks — all understandably sensitive topics. When he received sparse laughter, he took to insulting the audience and dropping asides such as, “That usually kills.” Some students stood up and left the performance.

Whatley provided the performers’ take on their lack of political correctness, saying, “I spoke to them about it afterwards and, basically, the way that they justify it is that in New York, political correctness… doesn’t really have much weight, especially not in the comedy world. [In a] pluralistic super-megalopolis like New York, everybody is making fun of each other — gay comics are making fun of straight comics and vice versa, so when they come in then with all of their gay jokes they just didn’t anticipate well that people just don’t really laugh about that at Oberlin.”

Thankfully, Funke and Minsky pulled the evening out of the morass of lewdity and gay bashing. Funke related personal anecdotes with charming self-deprecation on topics such as online dating, office work and her devoutly Christian family.

Minsky, who closed out the evening, was more in tune with the crowd and attacked equally ad hominem issues — including the age old vegan dilemma of whether to spit or swallow — as the prior comedians, but with more finesse and less cruelty. On February 29, the Cat will be hosting another carload of comics, this time from Washington, D.C.


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