Sunday, January 4, 2009

50 First Jokes

For a few years, I've gone and checked out the Poetry Project's New Year's Day poetry marathon, but this year I guess I just wasn't up to it. But a good repeat from last year was the 3rd annual 50 First Jokes performance on January 3 produced by Claudia Cogan, Jiwon Lee and John F. O'Donnell, upgraded from the Creek and the Cave venue in Astoria, Queens, to the downstairs room at Webster Hall in Manhattan this year.

With 50 comedians each delivering the first joke they wrote for the new year (the rules ostensibly are that their bit has to be written only after the stroke of midnight on January 1), naturally there's a wide range of types of performers, but one that truly stood out, yet again, is Kumail Nanjiani, last seen just a few weeks ago opening for Zach Galifianakis at 92Y Tribeca (see Similar to a bit abut horror movieshe delivered then, Nanjiani now had his take on the new movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

Referring to the fact that Cate Blanchett's character in the movie is only telling the story finally from her deathbed to her granddaughter, about Benjamin Button, the character who aged backward, being the love of her life, Nanjiani exclaimed, "And she's waited till she's dying to tell anybody about this? I would tell everyone I met, all the time! 'Hey, I'm Kumail. ... I know this guy who ages backward! Look at this Polaroid from 10 years ago! And this is him now!' "

I don't think I'm alone in appreciating his stand-up either. Nanjiani got one of the strongest reactions from the audience of any of the comics. Others certainly are accomplished and made their own marks on the show -- Livia Scott (see interview from 6/18/07: debut a new character, a vapid pop singer; Tom Shillue had his own take on "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus;" Matt McCarthy got physical in acting out rock music he thought would be a better score for conspiracy theory videos; and Sara Benincasa told a short story joke about a dying gay uncle who worked in a diaphragm factory (only in New Jersey could that happen, possibly).

But the "takeaway" from the night is definitely that Nanjiani has got something special. The kid is going places.