While he's definitely a throwback to another era of standup comedy, Dave Attell's debased style of humor still resonated with the crowd at Comedy Works South Saturday night. Deadpanning about vegan strip clubs, Chinese youth assembling sex toys, and what illegal Mexicans can bring to the game of baseball, Attell delivered a solid hour of shameless jokes and antagonistic crowd work, proving that even in the absence of a hit show, this New York original can still press buttons we didn't even know we had.
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With Chuck Roy, Deacon Gray and Hippieman opening up the show, there was no shortage of ganja humor for the first half hour of the night. Gray shared his idea for a vagina-shaped bong with a clitoris-carb, and Hippieman noted that he "could tell that medicinal marijuana was a big hit in Denver, because it knocked the hookers right out of the back of Westword."
I was somewhat taken aback when a weathered, slump-shouldered Attell came on the stage. I'd interviewed the Insomniac host a few weeks earlier, but that was over the phone, and now the image of late-'90s Comedy Central party-bro was replaced by what appeared to be a grumpy Judd Hirsch waiting for his bus ride to be over. "A lot of you younger people are asking, 'This guy's old and he still masturbates?'" Attell said following a joke about the faces of his presidential shower curtain watching him during intimate moments. "I do, but I have to take an aspirin first."
And while he was pulling from some familiar material, Attell was still razor sharp in his delivery, connecting with the middle-aged audience on the universal topic of sex in the modern age. "There's a lot of couples here tonight," he said. 'Let me ask you: What's your lube? I'm a spit-and-gravy man myself. A lot of guys like to pull out lube, and that makes the lady think: If he can afford lube he can afford breakfast! Then she winks to her teddy bear. A lot of these sex jokes are old. And I'm old, so I like sex with the girl on top. Which is cool for about a minute, then it's a lot of leaning in and whispering, which is weird. It makes me feel like a special-needs kid in a timeout."
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It wasn't just aging suburbanites at the Denver Tech Center venue that night. More than a few hipsters made the light-rail trip down from the Capitol Hill and Baker neighborhoods, and Attell had some Fred Armisen-style humor for them as well.
"I went to this strip club in Portland called The Double Chin. The kind of place that costs ten bucks to get in, twenty to get out. They are so crunchy there. You know, Game of Thrones, faggot, blacksmithy winter people," Attell recounted. "I went to a vegan strip club, and the girls were so weak they were hanging on the poles like koala bears. They were licking the pole for iron."
This was not the first -- or last -- casual use of "faggot" during the set. Attell dropped the twenty-first century f-bomb a handful of times, and each moment made him appear slightly more antiquated and out of touch. This is not really a PC issue, considering that the term was never used to address openly gay people -- instead, it was always directed at men who weren't gay but should be ashamed of being mistaken for gay.
"Even wearing a scarf I find a little too 'metro,'" Attell said. "If you wear a scarf and someone howls at you, you're like, 'Well, I have to keep my throat warm. I have a cock-sucking competition later.' A lot of you are laughing, but some of you are afraid to laugh."
Jokes like this really date Attell's set, revealing him as a holdover from another time when teasing a boy for being limp-in-the-wrist worked with college audiences. Today, you really can't get away with using that word without some kind of self-awareness. These jokes worked great in the '80s and '90s, but standup comedy has grown up a bit since then. And somehow, even marijuana got roped into this routine, as Attell randomly stated, "I'm not a pot guy -- that I consider a faggot, coward drug."
You'd have to be a hysterically thin-skinned liberal to let something like this ruin an otherwise excellent set. Attell's jokes also included one about shitting blood being a rite of passage for a young drunk, why fisting is not a sport, and how going down on a woman is like a bank robbery for him ("I get low, I shake, and wait for instructions"); they absolutely crushed with the audience. While he didn't end very strong, the handful of jokes that came toward the finale of Attell's set left me reeling with vivid images circling through my head for the rest of the night.
Particularly when he shared his thrifty alternative for swimming with exotic sea-life: "I've never rode a dolphin before. In this economy? It's expensive. You gotta go with the poor man's dolphin ride: A bottle of Jager, a baby pool and a wet-dog."
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For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.