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Review: Big Terrific's 5-Year Anniversary Show

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Max Silvestri, Gabe Liedman and video Jenny Slate brought plenty of laughs to ring in five years.

Big Terrific, the weekly comedy show that takes place at Cameo Gallery in Brooklyn, has been doing a lot of celebratory shows lately. A few weeks ago they celebrated host Max Silvestri's 30th birthday party with comedians Hannibal Buress, Greg Johnson and Reggie Watts. Last week they had an even bigger celebration: Five years of Big Terrific comedy. The only proper way to celebrate was to really blow things out, and they certainly did so at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday with a great lineup of performers.

The anniversary show saw the return of co-hosts Gabe Liedman and Jenny Slate. Sort of. The show was started by Slate, Liedman and Silvestri five years prior and the three had hosted the show together. When Liedman and Slate both headed out to California, hosting duties were left solely Silvestri. Liedman was able to come back to NYC, but unfortunately Slate couldn't work it into her schedule. She's got a decent excuse, though, with the recent news about her new ABC pilot Pulling with Kristen Schaal and June Diane Rapheal. That's pretty important, I guess.

But Slate was able to appear in video form, having recorded a video message that consisted of her talking into bananas and rolling pins while also eating trash and typing into her computer with her dog. It was a wildly funny video that ended with Slate asleep on her laptop and a loving message to her co-hosts, then Slate popping up from her sleep shouting "SIMBA!" before fading to black. The video didn't last more than a minute or so, but man did Slate make that minute count.

And while Slate wasn't there, it was great to see Silvestri and Liedman work off each other hosting the show. It was like the two had never been apart. They riffed about the first jokes they ever told, the various places where Big Terrific had been held and more. They also did some solo material between acts, and it was great hearing Liedman for the first time. His material about Grindr, his frustrations with fantasies like Game of Thrones and more was hilarious and it made me lament not seeing him before he headed out west. 

And even though I heard Silvestri's birthday message joke for the third time on Friday, it was great to watch other people around me hearing it for the first time. People enjoyed it just as much as I did, and he was still able to throw in new wrinkles with his riffing style that I hadn't heard and only made the joke better. The new info was about how much he had disappointed his mother in the past with things like getting a call from the nursing home about his grandparent and not relaying the message. It was added so subtly and unexpectedly, but it fit in so perfectly with the premise of the joke and only made the punchline better. 

Silvestri and Liedman both did a great job of hosting/performing amazing lineup of performers assembled: Nick Turner, Greg Johnson, Mike Birbiglia and headliner Pete Holmes. Turner was the first act introduced by the hosts, and the New York comic brought a lot of energy to his set. He commented on the large, open stage with the staircase leading up to the backstage area and noted that it looked like the setting from the musical Rent. This led to an impromptu performance of the lyric "And it's beginning to snow," with a couple callbacks to the joke throughout his set. My favorite bit was his weight loss advice: eat with people who order less food, since they will judge you for how much food you are going to order. That way when ordering pizza, you won't order the usual four slices: three slices to get full and then one more slice.

Greg Johnson was next, and even though I had heard a lot of his material from seeing him during Silvestri's birthday show, his delivery and commitment is really what sells the jokes. His bit about women who get upset when you get the gender of their dogs wrong had me in hysterics. "Oh that's such a cute dog, what's his name?" "Ugh. Her name, is JEREMY." Sorry, man." "I'M A WOMAN!" The little touches of emphasis he adds to his voice really raise the level of his jokes. Johnson is a hilarious performer and really is a must-see for any fans of New York comedy.

Mike Birbiglia followed Johnson, and the director/star of Sleepwalk With Me as well as an acclaimed stand-up came out to thunderous applause. He got things going with some topical Pope jokes, considering Birbiglia and Bergoglio are so close in spelling. That led to him starting a last-second push for his candidacy as pope on Twitter using the hash tag #PopeBirbiglia, including: shortening church to a maximum 30 minutes including to-go cups for wine, sending all of the Cardinals to St. Louis for opening day, and freezing the wine to make "popecicles." 

Since he's getting ready to travel to Australia and England, he told some jokes about cultural differences which were outstanding, like how cotton candy is referred to as "fairy floss" in Australia. He also intended to record the set to keep track of how long he had been on stage, but failed to do so. That led to him seeking Silvestri's counsel to find out how much time he had left. Silvestri told him about three minutes and change, so he told a great bit about never re-watching movies you loved as a kid with your significant other as an adult. When he re-watched Top Gun because he was "all about it" when he was a kid, he ended up having to explain to his wife that he wasn't gay. It also gave him a great excuse to yell about how ridiculous it is that Goose dies during a film that takes place during peace time.

Wrapping up the show was Pete Holmes, a man that I know primarily through his podcast "You Made It Weird." Holmes certainly made things weird on stage with his riffing, ranting ways but couldn't have been funnier. It was almost impossible to stay still taking while taking pictures because I was laughing too hard. Holmes riffed about a wide variety of things: sex, a long, strange bit about sexting that includes the phrase "I everywhered," thinking about how everyone in history, including President Obama, has had diarrhea (which he misspelled on his little sheet) and a story about being called a "devil" by an old woman at the grocery that absolutely made his day.

He declared the primary reason humans eat pigs, a more intelligent species, over dogs, is because they have "evil hooves" that just make them look like things that should be eaten. He also touched on aliens and how when they eventually invade the Earth, they are going to want to eat us like we eat everything here. It was a set that went very long (he noted that he had been given the light to wrap it up twice but just ignored it), but it was so hilariously weird that nobody minded it in the slightest.

Big Terrific's five-year Anniversary show was really a microcosm of what makes the show so great and has enabled it to run this long. No matter if it's just Silvestri or Silvestri with Liedman and Slate, they bring a familial and inviting feel to the proceedings as hosts. The talent that they bring in to perform runs the gamut from people you would most likely know (Birbiglia and Holmes) and lesser-known but terrific acts (Turner and Johnson). That's a winning formula and one that hopefully keeps Big Terrific around in New York City for a long time. 

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