Sweaty, crowded concert festivals may be the usual at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater, but last night's big event brought a different sort of riffage — from some of showbiz's top names in comedy.
The Funny or Die and Live Nation Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival kicked off its second annual tour in Tampa — its first ever gig in Tampa Bay — with a mainstage show emceed by a delightfully crass and unfiltered Jeffrey Ross, anchored by A-listers Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari, Chris Hardwick and Marc Maron. The four may have the most face recognition, but underrated vet Hannibal Buress got the most laughs from us, competing with thunder as a brief storm passed over. Not a typical challenge on the club grind.
With a giant afro and outer-limits sparkle, Reggie Watts fetched audience honors for most entertainingly unusual set, bringing us into the night with nonsensical, stream-of-conscious raps and R&B sendups. Marc Maron told some relatable road rage jokes and endorsed cars as "a sanctuary of personal anger."
Brent Morin (pictured above) waxed self-deprecatingly about his alcohol problems, admitting to drunk texting. He made me silent-laugh when he proposed blowing up Instagram with penis photos: "hard dick photo, soft, hard, soft, Brannan dick photo, black-and-white dick photo, 1977, Hefe — what the hell is Hefe?"
Despite the night's slew of drawbacks and oddities (top of the list: a weirdly Nazi no-cellphone rule with creepy neon fliers papering the premises), Oddball offered a first for seeing so many big guns of comedy in one setting.
The big headliners, funny enough, were oblivious to the no-cellphone rule (which were in place to protect their sets from leaking to the net), and urged us to hashtag this and that throughout the night.
The event started with entertainment from a second stage, emceed by Brody Stevens (The Hangover, Due Date), whose manic, punctuated delivery got more laughs than half the comics he introduced. Trying-too-hard machismo aside, the warm-up show was a successful overall with edgy, attitude-fueled humor from local/regional comics. Headliners included Ken Miller ("voted funniest man in Florida"), Grant Cotter, Matt Fernandez and Maurice Jovan.
Babyfaced Cotter and smooth operator Miller were the most animated and charismatic of the opener set. Miller had swagger but knew to temper it with some honest vulnerability, sharing what it's like to be a divorced dad. Cotter had a mischievous charm, musing on a marijuana Chia Pet ("Ch-Ch-Ch-chronic!") and showing off sound effects talents a la Gabriel Iglesias. The others ably solicited chuckles throughout. All of the openers touched on three topics — pot smoking, exes and the heat. Fernandez and Jovan pandered to the men with a misogynistic bro down (as if the conspicuous absence of female headliners didn't give them a big enough boner). The dreadlocked Jovan ended his set with a cheap shot about his ex, boasting that she asked him to pick out a bra from the Victoria's Secret catalog, to which he replied with a recommendation to find something to stuff it with first. [Quick disclaimer: The ex is a Facebook friend and I was aware of the context so the joke stood out.] Fernandez poked fun at plus-size women ("If you're sassy and you're over 30, you're fat").
Fortunately for us, the headliners didn't resort to bashing the unrepresented women in the crowd (for the most part).
Stevens introduced the mainstage show with an enthusiastic "We're bringing you members of SAG." Ross said of Stevens after he left the stage, "Give it up for the eagle from The Muppet Show."
Ross was completely disgusting but pulled it off. He admitted that yoga for him meant going an hour without farting. "Namaste means 'It wasn't me,'" he said.
You'd think with Hardwick's pretty face he couldn't bring it, but he was in the top 3 for most laughs of the night. His literate but relatable delivery included some heartfelt yet irreverent bits about his recently deceased dad, who embarrassed him in a restaurant with a detailed tutorial on oral sex. He gave a shout to Fetish Con and the "Scarface scene about to happen that you call Ybor City."
Ross and the comics he introduced offset the challenges of performing comedy in an outdoor arena by charging their sets with booming vocalizations and over-the-top physical comedy. Ansari amusingly paid tribute to his immigrant parents (Imagine me going to Brooklyn with only $20. Oh no! I blew it all on fresh-pressed juice!") and demonstrated relationships over the course of a lifetime by flailing his arm up and down dramatically to demonstrate a bar graph. Companion/photographer Nicole Abbett commented that she was disappointed in his set, but my reaction was the opposite. I, a bigger fan of his Tom Haverford role on Parks and Recreation than his stand-up, thought he commanded the stage better than I'd ever seen before. Goes to show how expectations can influece enjoyment of a show.
I myself looked forward most to C.K.'s set, but he didn't make me laugh as hard as Burress, who emerged after Watts, a tough act to follow, which he dutifully acknowledged. Louis was a little too weary from the heat ("Does this fat make me look fat?") but got laughs nonetheless. He experimented a bit and went out of his comfort zone, which deserves kudos — perhaps because of some insecurities about the venue. He ended the show with an impression of Ray Bolger in the Wizard of Oz. Before that, he busted out a funny King Solomon tale ("This is so going to be in the Bible!"). Interesting side note: Comedian John Mulaney includes an equally humorous bit about King Solomon, here recorded in 2009. Their renditions were different, but still ...
The outdoor setting for C.K., as with Maron, didn't work with his conversational delivery. Buress, also casually assured, knew how to be heard and project. He shared that he had Lasik, so he looked less like Al Roker's son than before. He talked about his love of sports and disdain for baseball, admitting he didn't know the name of our stadium: "What is it, the Tampa Bay Fish Tank? It's probably named after a bank like this shit."
There was a little sideshow entertainment between shows — I spotted a juggler — but the type of entertainers referenced by the "Curiosity" portion of the festival were seriously lacking. Plus, long lines for food and beverages didn't give people time to wander leisurely without missing portions of the acts. Food options included Taco Bus and some concessions; a few more beer and liquor concessions sold pricy, albeit large-sized, drinks. The overly corporate-driven event could have benefitted from food trucks both in front of and inside the venue. More food might have alleviated the drunken loud talking over comics and puke-on-lap episode behind our row, which happened to the loudest drunk in our area.
CL comedy beat writer/comedian Michael Murillo had his own stand-up gig the night of the fest and couldn't attend. He commented on the show beforehand, foretelling the evening's biggest challenge: "Normally you get a reaction from the crowd a split second after your punch line. With an outdoor theater, it might be two seconds or more. That's a big difference. It has to affect their timing, and crowd work would be nearly impossible. And no matter how well a joke does, you'll never hear the audience on the lawn. They'll just be staring at you."
Perhaps my favorite gag of the night: Reggie Watts' rambling, inaccurate repetition of "Stick around for Dave Chappelle and a special guest star."