The appearance of sociopathic dreamboat Anthony Jeselnik at the University of Denver's Newman Center Saturday was filled with unthinkable rape jokes and reverse-pandering to the backward-hat bros and "Woo!" women who populate the college campus. Despite the fact that nearly half his set was recycled material from his standup special and Comedy Central show, The Jeselnik Offensive, this charming deviant was a hit among the outrage-aficionados who showed up in cultish masses (enough to justify a second show, which also quickly sold out), many of whom seemed delighted to hear familiar material in the way classic-rock fans would their favorite radio hits.
See also: - Anthony Jeselnik's five most deliciously offensive moments - Offended: Why Anthony Jeselnik will never be Joan Rivers, or The Onion - Anthony Jeselnik on his jerk persona, Comedy Central roasts, and why he likes hecklers
Local comic Ben Roy also dusted off seasoned material for his opening set, relating old drinking stories and venting his rage against crotch-rocket douchebags and vegan fixed-gear hipsters -- at one point acknowledging that the college crowd was most likely filled with the former. And while few in the audience were familiar with Roy's set, most seemed delighted to laugh at jokes that were at times somewhat at their expense.
The cultural divide became more apparent during Roy's bit on how disappointing it is to meet a stripper is after she's finished her act. "Onstage, she looks like Scarlett Johansson," he related. "Then they turn the lights on, and she looks like David Johansen." Silence. Apparently there aren't too many New York Dolls fans at the University of Denver.
As an opener, Ben Roy's explosive tension made for a nice contrast to Jeselnik's James-Dean-on-Xanax cool. When introducing the headliner, Roy broke the news to the crowd that Comedy Central had just decided to renew The Jeselnik Offensive for a second season, which clearly delighted the audience, driving a few to give Jeselnik a standing ovation when he entered the stage to the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army."
"Thanks for coming out for my tour of the whitest cities in America," Jeselnik said, exuding the patient confidence required of an insult comic. "I have heavy security now, because I get death threats like a motherfucker. So try and come up on this stage. Just try it. You will be tackled by all the black people in Denver."
Jeselnik relied heavily on crowd work throughout his set, which worked well since he was blessed with a very geriatric front row. (Why do old people always insist on sitting up front at comedy shows? Or do the staff of clubs intentionally place them up there like a cowering mouse before a pet snake?) Crowd work is necessary with someone like Jeselnik: His jokes are short -- typically under thirty seconds -- with a repeated structure (cold set-up, with unexpected left turn) that can get predictable and detract from the shock value after ten or twenty rapid-fire assaults.
"People always say the worst thing about flying is having a baby on the airplane -- nothing worse. I disagree. I could give you guys four examples of when having a baby on a plane was awesome. Although, they were all on 9/11."
"I like to play pranks on my girlfriend. Keeps things fresh -- for me. Like the other night, after dinner, I put Saran Wrap over the toilet seat. It doesn't sound that original, but she's bulimic."
"I used to have a son. He died. The same way Eric Clapton's son died -- for inspiration." And so on, for an hour.
At one point, Jeselnik broke from his micro-joke routine to deliver a few stories that gave the audience an interesting glimpse into the roadblocks he encounters while trying to offend every human being on earth. "I almost lost my job a few times," he said, smiling with unrestrained glee. "After the Aurora shooting -- you guys heard about that, right? -- I sent out a tweet that said 'Other than that, how was the movie?'"
After a big laugh from audience, he continued: "Right? Knocked it out of the park. I didn't get into much trouble for that, but the day of the Boston Marathon I thought I'd work that Jeselnik magic again and I tweeted, 'Guys, today there are just some lines you shouldn't cross. Especially the finish line.' Everyone got upset. When you have your own TV show -- and this doesn't apply to any of you -- you learn that some people are real pussies.
"They say it's easy to make fun of retarded people," he continued. "But let me tell you guys something: It is not. You have really gotta explain it to them .... People get really mad at that one. I once had a guy stand up in the back of the room and shout, 'Hey, I've got a retarded son!' And I said 'What the fuck are you doing at a comedy show? You should be at home, laughing at your kid.'"
By this point in the evening, he had pretty much covered every socio-cultural, political or ethnic demographic left to insult. Toward the close of his set, Jeselnik ended strong by injecting a little local flavor into the act (even if that flavor was a bit past its expiration date), which stirred the dripping-with-hormones college boys into hysterics that resembled caged monkeys in a gang fight. "I'm an atheist, but sometimes I really hope there is a heaven...so I can go up there and fuck JonBenét Ramsey."
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For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.