I loved Janeane Garofalo's disaffected Gap girl in the 1990s film Reality Bites. She was always a bit of a hero but I have never seen her perform her own material, either recorded or in person. So it was a big treat to see her show at the Rio Theatre.
The fact that the show appeared to be (and I think was) unpolished and imperfect was a large part of its charm. Garofalo didn't go for easy laughs and she seemed comfortable on stage without seeking adulation.
Her undisciplined and casual approach was seen as instrumental to inventing "alternative comedy" in the 1990s and she continues it today. This extremely loose show (in a good way!) circled round and round certain memes and phrases and issues. It didn't matter that she sometimes brought up a topic (like Selena Gomez) without ever making a point before getting seemingly sidetracked. There wasn't a punchline, just an accumulation of layers. A larger point of contention, gluten (wheat is murder), she returned to often and yet never quite reached a final point of the story. But it worked.
There were a lot of funny bits - outing herself as a toilet paper thief, admonishing us for letting the Queen down by axing the penny, discouraging checking for counterfeit cash (just keep it moving!)."I'm risk averse," she proclaimed, and encouraged us to live every day like it was our first. When she was a kid, she said, you didn't even know anyone who knew anyone with a food allergy. Sure maybe you'd heard of some kid from a few towns over who was allergic to bee stings. But these days you aren't allowed within twenty five feet of a school with a peanut butter sandwich, A gun, sure, not no tree nuts! She spent quite a long time describing her fantasy business, a laid-back bead store where everyone is civilized and all are welcome. There were a lot of great observations, but the idea of the bead store did represent a desire for a just, civil society and as a metaphor it was effective.
One of the most interesting elements of the show was the structure. I tend to be drawn to the larger, structural aspects of comedy than to individual jokes or laughs. I'm impressed by excellent performers who can deliver a stand up routine which is very scripted and yet make it seem fresh and off-the-cuff. I also like comedians who actually draw attention to the act of writing comedy and talk about which jokes are working and why certain parts of the show have failed. Garofalo didn't do either of these things but her structure was just as remarkable. Every part of the show seemed genuine and honest, even the slight sloppiness. This was an example of how to craft a very different comedy narrative which is spontaneous but still sophisticated.
I recognized a lot of my opinions in her gentle mockery and I'm sure that's part of why I enjoyed the show. But I also really appreciated the less mannered and more natural performance, the impression that every show is actually different and the feeling that each rant or digression could take up on journeys wild and unforeseen.
JFL NorthWest is on until February 27th. Try to see some of this great stuff.