GRAND RAPIDS — By Saturday night’s end here at Gilda’s LaughFest I was happily bathed in classically executed musical comedy theatrics set inside a gorgeous 1,500-seat venue and alternatively a persistent stream of dick-and-fart jokes delivered from a stage housed in a gritty, few-hundred-seat rock club. The experience proved that, regardless of subject matter and presentation, comedy of any shape — so long as it’s in a master’s hands — can birth deserved laughs. The former description, of course, belongs to Bo Burnham, who, armed with a set full of songs, one-man sketches and a few well-placed one-liners, absolutely crushed a packed crowd inside the Fountain Street Church.
The latter show summary belongs to comedy’s metal-obsessed, comic-book-reading-and-writing nerd god Brian Posehn, who, after a well-received opening set from veteran Grand Rapids comedian Stu McCallister, gifted his late night sold-out crowd at the Pyramid Scheme with the news that he’s returned to smoking pot (with a vengeance) after a two-year hiatus. But the bulk of the 48-year-old comedian’s attention that night was placed firmly on aging.
Married for a decade now and father to a five-year old boy (who once accidentally tea-bagged the comedian awake), Posehn bemoaned the formation of his ample man tits caused, by his own admission, decades of terrible diet choices. “I eat like a rich old ladies’ dog. Lots of treats,” Posehn, outfitted in an Amon Amarth t-shirt and baby blue hoodie, said. “I have sweaty tits all the time.” And by “bemoaned,” I mean he created an entire persona for his tits– a rough and tough broad who’s seen some Sturgis-style action (Think this).
Before his set’s closing moments, Posehn had taken fans to a clogged toilet in Times Square, an airport interrogation room, near Dumpsters where he got high with strangers and beyond. And while Burnham took his decidedly younger crowd on a few journeys, almost all of them played out in the 24-year-old’s mind. Burnham’s new show — the Make Happy Tour (A Night of Laughing and Smiling and Not Dying Yet) — is jammed with slick sound cues, well-placed backing tracks and a light show that would rival most rock shows. And while he served up crowd favorites “From God’s Perspective” and “Oh Bo” from his 2010 special and album Words Words Words, which served as the show’s encore, Burnham also challenged the eager crowd. Following up on his ambitious special and album What. from two years ago, the Massachusetts native has obviously been busy penning a new crop of ditties. Sonically, Burnham’s newer material touches on Country (in a song that blasts new musicians who have sullied the name of old-school Country), piano pop and hip-hop, most notably during the comedian’s intense Kanye West-inspired closing number.
Historically, however, Burnham doesn’t extract the piss from his objects of ridicule only for quick laughs. The laughs came loudly and frequently for sure, but the deeper value in Burnham’s work comes from his commentary on the big things– religion, white privilege, guilt, fame, love. At one point during the Fountain Street Church show Burnham poked fun at his own youth as it relates to knowing fuck all about any of those topics. But we know better. Burnham’s got a big brain, big ideas and a big voice and, at just a quarter-century old, he’s learned to expertly harness the powers contained within those things.