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Invite Them Up: The Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival Finale

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Eugene Mirman, Demetri Martin, John Oliver and more closed out the annual comedy festival at Bell House.

Sunday night at the Bell House, a capacity crowd filled the lovely Brooklyn venue..  There were so many people there, in fact, that the standing room quota was pushed to its limits.  It was a struggle for fans to move around, but the patrons would have put up with anything to be in the house for Invite Them Up, the final installment of the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival.

With any comedy festival, the mood and atmosphere is expected to be jovial and light.  But the time I spent at this festival over the weekend gave me a different impression.  On top of the joviality and friendliness, there was just this sense of community during the proceedings.  Everyone seemed connected in a way, from the comedians to the audience members.  The mood invited you in to have a great night, and that wasn't difficult to do.

Everything about the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival is meant to be ironic.  It's a parody of festivals, but in doing so, it's created a real, sustainable format for this four-day event.  From the titles of each show (This is the Night These Comics Get Discovered and Become Stars!, Comedians Two to Five Years Away From Their Own TV Shows, etc.), to the mock red carpet/paparazzi spot outside the venue (littered with hilarious fake sponsors), to the program itself (written by Mirman, who gave his own hilarious descriptions of the comedians and even listed things to do near the venues and where the nearest Lowes was), the irony is obvious.  But there is also genuineness there, and when you get down to it, the genuine performances are usually the best ones.

The evening began with Mirman coming on stage and announcing the free pig roast that would take place after the show (for Rosh Hashanah, of course) and introduced his good friend, comedian, and host for the evening Bobby Tisdale.  He brought out two large zucchinis from his garden upstate, the product of not tending your garden, and everyone knew what was coming.  At the end of a bit, he ended up pretending that the zucchini was his penis.  It was still hilarious, because large vegetables as penises is never not funny.

After that, Tisdale introduced Dave O'Doherty, an Irish comedian who also played music on a tiny keyboard.  His first song, "Life," was about how shitty life really is, and it absolutely killed.  He then talked about Ireland and having to get a visa, and told the joke that got him over to America: Why cant the cell phones get married at my house?  Because the reception would be shitty.  Again, it killed.  O'Doherty has an infectious energy about him, and he became immediately endearing with his performance.

Next, the Bell House got a drop-in from none other than John Oliver, correspondent for The Daily Show among other things.  Oliver's set was surprisingly sports heavy, as he talked about the man who threw a hot dog at Tiger Woods (which you can watch below), the South Atlantic League home run derby as the most American thing to ever happen, and even NBA Champion Jason Terry's tattoo choices.  His irrational bouts of yelling and his well-constructed tales are such a delight to listen to, and he even showed off his lovely singing voice in his revised version of the Star-Spangled Banner.

After Oliver, the crowd was treated to some new, experimental music from two surrealist groups: Beyond the Wall and Lane Pryce's Jaguar.  The groups weren't real, but were the creation of comedians H. Jon Benjamin (the star voice for the shows Archer and Bob's Burgers) and Larry Murphy.  For Beyond the Wall, the two men took the stage and began their a capella rendition of the theme song from "Game of Thrones."  Seeing Benjamin in a bronze chest plate and Murphy in a fur cape would have been enough of a treat, but then a nude man donning a shield over his genitalia took the stage.  He danced and spun and gyrated, then finally flashed the audience.

The premise behind next group, Lane Pryce's Jaguar, was obvious to anyone familiar with the "Mad Men" character Lane Pryce.  Benjamin and Murphy again took the stage, only this time they made a costume change.  Benjamin swapped the chest plate for a fedora and Murphy swapped his cape for a trench coat and fedora.  And our favorite streaker showed up again, this time covering himself up with a briefcase before dropping it and finishing his routine completely in the buff.  Even though I didn't attend all the shows, I'd bet this was the most unique and surreal performance of the whole weekend.

Eugene Mirman was next, and during his time on stage he practiced his marriage officiating on a willing couple from the audience.  His fake vows for the participants were tremendous, and they elicited plenty of laughs from the audience.  He ended his set by showing us the latest trailer for the upcoming film Lincoln, which turned out to be Mirman in a Lincoln mask complaining about the Civil War.  

The next segment was part of tradition (I guess) where Tisdale times a comedian for exactly 30 seconds of stand-up.  The evening's comic was Jena Friedman, who had taken part in one of Saturday's shows at Union Hall for the Festival (according to the show she took part in, she's 2-5 years away from getting a TV show).  She performed a joke about going to a club with a girl in a wheelchair, and even though she wasn't held strictly to the 30 second limit, the joke was pretty solid.

Another drop-in was next on the schedule, and that was one Demetri Martin.  He was working out new material and commented on some of it (as you'll see in the video below after the first joke) but most of his one-liners and short jokes were on point.  Would it have been awesome if he had brought out the old sketch pad?  Of course it would have.  But beggars can't be choosers, and I was immensely pleased with his set.  His fast-paced style is so fun to see in person, and 

The final comedian to perform was Daniel Kitson, who took part in the Talent Show the night before.  Kitson didn't even really need jokes (although he told plenty) as his personality and ability to riff on almost anything kept the crowd in stitches for his lengthy closing set.  He frequently asked for the audience's opinion on how his new trousers looked, and cursed a woman out who told him that they matched the color of his shoes too closely, calling her a Hitler and going off about how out of line she was to be making those comments "on today of all days."  Perhaps the funniest part of his set was his tag-team crowd work with John Oliver, who was standing off to the side.  Taking advice from a pro who knows how to work Yankee crowds, Kitson talked to people in the audience and then sought Oliver's advice on who to talk to.  He kicked over the stools and mic stands and walked off stage to a gigantic applause.

Mirman and Tisdale came out and thanked everyone for making the festival so great.  Judging by the crowd response and just how good of a time everyone had, I think this is a festival that has serious legs, no matter how ironic it was when it began.

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