The first time I saw comedian Ben Kronberg, he pulled a rabbit out of his hat, scaled Everest with a Sherpa on his back, and split a molecule of hydrogen with a karate chop so imperceptible the action could only be noted by the explosion that destroyed Denver, leaving a smoking crater in its wake. Satire, kids. Actually it was the Squire, and he did something I thought just as impossible, he held a room full of cynical hipsters and Colfax-swilling bottle rocketeers rapt between the blue lines of his little notebook. It is against the laws of physics for a body that size to exert such a gravitational pull.
The dude drops mad science.
And then there was last night. Kronberg took the stage at the Orange Cat as headliner of Los Comicos Super Hilariosos (a monthly show organized by Westword's own Adam Cayton-Holland). It seemed a perfect fit. Sure, Tig Notaro absolutely destroyed the show with a perfect set performed over the din of the ancient space heater, fighting off the cold of the drafty joint with a down-filled parka, but it was Ben who grew up, comedically speaking, in the Wrist Deep Productions nursery, and whose return marked his first trip back to the nurturing square state since his big move to Los Angeles, back into the arms of an audience already won over by the man's quirky charm.
He could have performed dental surgery and it would have been less painful.
No anti-doping policy would ban whatever Kronberg was on last night as performance enhancing. His dulled senses (and sensibilities) turned his schtick of deadpan, drawn-out delivery into a tedious torture tool for an audience that still wants so badly to adore the man.
Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, and the audience last night was willing to sit through the rumbling, rambling ruminations of the man as he eased his way into, we all hoped, a nice little set of one-liners. After attempting a failed crash course in the philosophy of funny, Kronberg dug into his notebook of jokes and stumbled over one punch line after the next. As each joke unraveled, the set spiraled out off control and, instead of sparing the audience, he just ran with it, telling the audience they were allowed to leave at any point or stick around to hear him “ramble off into oblivion.”
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Some stuck around to hear him do just that, chuckling at the attempts of his fellow comics to get him off the stage. Everybody likes to watch a train wreck.
As he talked and talked and talked and talked about nothing, the audience seemed to stumble into understanding that what we were watching was not only not funny, it was kind of sad. He held onto that mic like the little comic that could, clutching to an identity he's created for himself as the eccentric funny man. You could almost see him thinking, “If I let go of this set, I let go of myself.” Taking turns between berating the host of the show and admitting to the crowd that he thinks he'll never make it in L.A., the audience watched a man refusing to give up on something he has already declared dead.
And what choice did he have? What happens after he drops the mic and heads into the crowd to deal with the people who just witnessed such a fantastic failure? And what does he say to the friends he just threw under the bus? I didn't stick around to find out. As I headed to the door, I heard Kronberg turn colder, sarcastically wishing everyone headed out to the bars, “Go on, have another night at the bar just like the last one. Go on everyone, go have a rerun.”
I haven't seen Ben Kronberg be funny in months. His act, the thing that brought him notoriety, has devolved into a self-indulgent and self-destructive display of his own insecurities. When he takes the stage these days, he dares people to stick around. I hope he makes it out in L.A., and I hope he finds his voice again. But at this point, I'd rather stay home and watch another episode of M.A.S.H. -- Sean Cronin