If Baby Boomer Baby, the one-man show written and now being performed by Tommy Koenig at the Dairy Arts Center, could be trimmed from a hundred minutes to about seventy — with each right-on-the nose moment given a little more space and attention while the just-miss bits were ruthlessly cut — and if Koenig spent more of the evening demonstrating his undeniable gift for mimicry, then you might find this a cool, funny after-dinner diversion. (Especially if you had a beer or glass of wine from the lobby bar.) But as it is, too many of the jokes fall flat, leaching energy from others that hit; too many parodies of famous singers lack juice; and after a while, the production feels shapeless and, even worse, rather pointless.
An actor, stand-up comic and impersonator, Koenig was born in 1953, making him an authentic baby boomer. He describes his coming of age and, ultimately, his aging, by leading us through the music of each decade since the year of his birth from the Everly Brothers to Lady Gaga, and also tossing out various nonmusical cultural references. These references are sometimes really pointed, bringing laughs of recognition from his audience. He reminds us of the effect of the Beatles’ mop tops on the tight-assed, crew-cut culture of the early ‘60s, and impersonates all four of the moptops in turn as they perform on The Ed Sullivan Show (he also does Sullivan), switching deftly from one Beatle to another. He explains how MTV changed the face of popular music by making it visual as well as aural, so that artists had to worry not just about their sound, but the marketability of their image.
Important dates and events swirl by. It’s sort of funny that Koenig was in the general vicinity during the wild days of Woodstock — but serving as a day camp counselor at a Borscht Belt camp — and it might have been funnier if he’d told us how he reacted when he learned of the drug-, mud-, music- and sex-soaked experience he’d missed. He mentions several serious milestones, including the killing of students at Kent State by the National Guard in 1970, the Vietnam War and the draft, the 1971 Attica prison uprising, the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, without giving any of them even a few lines of real attention. Since this show is something of a packaged, commercial project, perhaps Koenig doesn’t want to alienate anyone by saying anything that could be seen as political — but surely the essence of good comedy is transgression and breaking boundaries.
Some bits definitely work, including the one on the mail-order Columbia Record Club, which enticed members to join with absurdly low-priced discs and then saddled them with all kinds of music they’d never wanted. There are knowing laughs from the audience as Koenig talks about hippies transitioning into yuppies, wearing their sweaters around their shoulders and sunglasses on the tops of their heads. His Edith Bunker imitation draws fond chuckles. He remembers when everyone discovered the g-spot and started desperately looking for it, and makes a clever comparison with the elusive parking spot. He leads us through the advent of the comedy club scene, where he met George Carlin and encountered Jerry Seinfeld, and provides a brief, but spot-on, imitation.
Moving to the present, he gives a hilarious riff on the inane repetitiveness of cable news, showing how commentators deliver the same pieces of information again and again, before and after commercials, from show to show and deep into the night — since there’s not a moment when the television screen goes dark these days. Also very funny: a rendition of the ABC song every child knows, with the names of the ubiquitous drugs pushed on commercials used for each letter of the alphabet.
Some of his observations carry a thoughtful heft: for instance, that people who used to listen to music together are now firmly attached to their private devices. But there are a couple of questionable choices, too: a Chinese waiter complete with buck teeth and a stereotypical accent created in service to I-forget-what gag; a transformation of Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” to “Black Cleaning Woman.” These jokes might have flown once in the Borscht Belt, but they’re groaners now. And doesn’t Willie Nelson deserve better than an incontinence lament titled “On the Commode Again”?
Baby Boomer Baby, presented by Playhouse Productions through July 23 at the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, 303-444-7328, tickets.thedairy.org.
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