What began with raincoat-covered man jazzing up the crowd to some generic, hilariously out-of-place pop song ended with that same man undressing onstage to don an old purple dress and impersonate a 76-year old Ayn Rand, expressing Objectivist sentiments to the readers of her fictional newspaper column. This was the alpha and omega of John Hodgman’s Saturday show at the Barrymore Theatre.
Going into the theater expecting a more traditional style of stand-up comedy, one might have been a little let down. Some of Hodgman’s stories were a bit unpolished and ramble-y than a more conventional comedian, but Hodgman isn’t an average comedian. His performance played more like a variety show than a stand-up act, with Hodgman creatively and seamlessly mixing together jokes, songs, anecdotes and even a couple of costume changes.
The show kicked things off with TV writer/performer Bill Corbett (voice of Crow T. Robot from “Mystery Science Theater 3000”) riffing with the audience and singing a couple parody songs while playing the acoustic guitar. He then beckoned Hodgman onstage to provide back-up vocals to the “Game of Thrones” opening theme song, injecting his own parody lyrics. Hodgman then retreated off stage and after a couple more songs, Corbett followed suit. Then came Hodgman’s introduction, where he enthusiastically blared a poppy dubstep beat and began to jump around and run up and down the aisles, high fiving everyone and working the crowd into a frenzy.
One of John Hodgman’s strongest attributes as a comedic performer is his quick, dry wit, so it comes as no surprise that some of the most memorable highlights of the night come from Hodgman’s improvised engagement with audience members. Right after his introduction, he immediately asked for all of the lights in the theater to be turned off, so that he and the audience could “observe the heavens together,” because the Barrymore’s ceiling is covered in tiny lights that twinkle like stars. He then listed off a series of fake constellations that sounded real, a great example of Hodgman’s comedic style — intellectual yet silly.
A highlight of the show came when Hodgman explained why he was completely bundled up in a rain-jacket and several layers. He proceeded to strip down and toss each piece aside, telling the audience how he acquired each piece of clothing. He had received each article of clothing as gifts from working on some of his favorite TV shows and projects. It was a great reminder of his comedic contributions to a vast list of projects, ranging from the Mac vs. PC ads to his correspondence on “The Daily Show” to his roles on cult-hit shows like “Bored To Death” and “Delocated.”
The night ended with a solid but rather lengthy story about Hodgman flying out to a college to give a speech about Mark Twain, only for it to turn into an attempt to rekindle an old bromance between two college professors. He then brought out a ukulele and sang a rather touching rendition of an old Tennessee Bluegrass song, peppered with some jokes from the Mark Twain story. Bill Corbett then came back onstage with an old purple dress, which Hodgman put on, before once again undressing. He then explained to everyone that he was going to do an impression of Ayn Rand giving out Objectivist advice through her fictional weekly cooking advice column.
While one doesn’t have to be a sophisticated intellectual to understand Hodgman’s sense of humor, an appreciation of academia and the arts is certainly helpful in enjoying a show like this one. Although the show was far from a traditional comedy show, Hodgman’s unique style and dry wit certainly pushed the boundaries of live performance and provided more than enough laughter and enjoyment.