Courting Barbary: Day One (8/9/2013)

There’s too much pressure to have fun at Outside Lands. It’s is ground zero for art, culture, and astounding prices, celebrated over three days, currently in its sixth year. Many musicians and exhibitions litter the Golden Gate Park glens, but none are as important — for the purposes of this blog — as the Barbary tent. Ostensibly a comedy club, co-curated by SF Sketchfest, the parlor amplifies glade giggles like the historic Comedy Day, hopped up on steroids and Aderall.

Rustic, husky, evocative of smokey moonshining, brazen in old-timey sepia, housed in a proper Spiegeltent (shorthand for “wood and mirrors”). All around, a heavy magenta loom mutes the chill and clang of the outside bombast; The Barbary is a womb for the indoor kids

Kate Berlant casted off on the weekend’s proceedings, opening for alt-comedy maestros, Maria Bamford and Eugene Mirman. The pluckster performed with inverse kinetics, disjointed and free associating. Her earnest yet spacy whimsy played against her holistic, positive affectation, weaving buzzwords like “community” and “family” into an off-center, postmodern seminar. Bright-eyed and wandering, self-narrating and pondering, Kate Berlant’s effervescence splayed a poignant darkness akin to a support group superstar.

Who doesn’t know about Maria Bamford by now? She’s a comedy demigod. She’s an universally beloved, unparalleled force. She’s on the Mount Rushmore of modern comedy. A meticulous wordsmith, peopling a stage with a Roladex of impersonations, an indomitable spirit as sweetly off-putting as candied SPAM. As a 10-plus-year fan, it was fun to see a melody of freshness. “Paula Dean”, pertinent through unfortunate happenstance, never gets old, aided by the clarity of in-room fidelity. Bamford’s parental parody returned, her mother and father bickering as old people do, exuded as only Bamford can. With unflinching nerve and involuntary hilarity, Maria Bamford is the rawest comedian since Richard Pryor. It’s important to note that — much like many belittled mental disorders — depression is not ‘chicken wings and consensual sex.’ In the wrong hands, especially on a Friday afternoon in a ‘Happy Good Vibes’ context, mental illness can be a terrible tool of ignorance, masked in a shitty joke. It was tense, delightful to watch a crowd of homogenous, Anglo youth, laugh against recoil due to the comic’s candid, can-do resolve. Maria Bamford’s artistic acumen had frightening transcendence, gracefully illuminating and defanging the monsters swept under the rug.

Eugene Mirman stood in stark contrast to his co-headlining compatriot. Sure, he’s also neurotic, but the raspy-voiced, self-made everyman subscribed to lighthearted storytelling: Dulcet groggy tones; wild, celebrity-laden surrealism; powerless PowerPoint presentations; rakish money spending practice. Mirman’s sly confidence and hyperbolic knack afforded awesome payoffs, like an equestrian plodding forward, suddenly taking flight on Pegasus wing. Oh, there was a wedding! In a stunt that will surely echo for two people forever, Mirman fished out two loving audience members for a ceremony that included lurid vows and a blushing bride (for all the right reasons).

Getting into the next show was a proverbial nightmare; Jeff Ross is a popular man. Practically FUBarbary, even with “media clearance”, the misleading ticketing system, long queued reserves and previously packed show inspired as much hope as cattle on thin ice.

Inside the Barbary’s warm, viscera-tinged womb, the walls breathed. They couldn’t shoehorn another soul, standing-sitting-straining room only. Jeff Ross is a popular man. “What a diverse group of white people,” remarked Moshe Kasher, Oakland through and through, warming the bloated mass. Wild and acerbic, the urbane comedian spooled lyrically against a visage of ironic arrogance. A deft storyteller, Kasher do-what-he-do, incorporating apt tales of Parrotheads (Jimmy Buffet enthusiasts) and Brodioheads (Radiohead’s bro contingent) with his typical erudite shtickiness, a mocking mixtape of debauch and def.

Jeff Ross is a popular man. His tasteless ballbustery is an acquired flavor; his unique ability to crank cruelty at the correct frequency for “funny” is paramount. Ross has charisma in deluge, only outmatched by his heart. “Lets make a human contact moment,” the smarmy comedian proclaimed, defusing a recording adorer’s attempt at making the show a “Kodak moment”. The sardonic champion attracted a coalition of volunteer lambs, eccentric if not overzealous. Connection, attention, these were as coveted as a Groucho Marx insult was in the 1940s. Even if offered outrage, out of Ross’ hands the audience ate. A triumph revealed itself when Bryant Kellison, a Humboldt comedian (Savage Henry!) with a disability binding him to crutches, bounded the stage for a public roasting. So impressed by his fortitude, Ross gave the upstart a few minutes of stage time, a well-received aside and veritable victory.

Then Jeffrey Ross introduced Bob Saget and John Stamos and the place fucking exploded!

For acting in a Hollywood sitcom, set in San Francisco, the real life counterparts to Danny Tanner and Uncle Jesse Katsopolis received a hero’s welcome. “[Jeff Ross] is one of the sweetest, most beautiful men in the world,” exclaimed Bob Saget, slathering on the bromance before blasting his friend with a gay joke. Part-riffing, part-jamming, proper pandering from trio a pals, palling around, an assumed facsimile of a living room in somebody’s mansion. Stamos played piano (surprisingly well), Saget strummed a guitar tepidly, Ross recited bad poetry: blissful cool-dad corniness wrapped in the allure of celebrity. We all sang “Happy Birthday” to the celebrating John Stamos, and applauded the affable indulgence of three lewd dudes.