Mosaic / Reviews / April 1, 2010

Playing to his audience

Comedian Pete Holmes kicked off the term in Union Board events last Saturday with a familiar but fun performance. Holmes’ strong point was his ability to riff off the audience. The comedian even took on the rather sinister whiskers of TKS music critic senior Dan Dyrda, much to the delight of all TKS staff in attendance. Finding the funny in everything from facial hair to the unconventional architectural quirks of his performance space, Kresge Recital Hall, won Holmes the audience’s affection early on.

But as he began to stray from this off-the-cuff form, the caliber of his performance dwindled. Much of his material seemed outdated and a trifle stale. That is not to say that jokes about Facebook, Twitter and cell-phones aren’t funny. They are; in fact, it seems that technology will never catch up with humor (undershirt clad men fiddling with TV antennas are still funny). The comedian recycled some of his material from his last Knox appearance two years ago, but delivered it with much less gusto.

The audience had the most fun when it was clear that their entertainer was having fun and much of Holmes’ actual act seemed a chore for both.

With predictable “punch-lines,” some of Holmes’ jokes fell flat. The material was less punch-line oriented, taking on more of a nebulous form which only occasionally built up to a satisfying end. More frequently, the ideas were extrapolated to a degree just bordering on “too far” after the point had already been exhausted. However, when such elaboration did expand into less rehearsed content, Holmes’ humor aligned most with Knox’s preferred absurdist tastes.

What was most appealing about Holmes’ humor was that it was extremely relatable. He captured a slew of situations familiar to his audience with an endearing level of self-deprecation and delicate outrage.

Holmes’ best work brought him to the level of the audience or created a new persona. When the comedian did slip into the part of a caricature, it provided a third party for him to play off of in the same way that he played off the audience. These were his most genuinely effective moments. It seemed that the rest of the time, Holmes was playing the part of a comedian rather than delivering earnest jokes to his audience—giving what he expected an audience to want rather than what he wanted to give. But far be it from this review to play therapist to a comedian featured on VH1 and Comedy Central.

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