Posted May 17, 2010, 1:06 pm MT
Live review: Bruce Vilanch @ Lannieâ€™s Clocktower Cabaret
By RAY MARK RINALDI
When Bruce Vilanch walks on stage itâ€™s as if Edna Turnblad never left.
Vilanch shares a certain something with the louder-than-life â€œHairsprayâ€ character he played on Broadway and in the touring production that was wildly popular in Denver a few years back. Both carry around a sort of lumpy androgyny and a natural charm that depends on anything but looks.
Certainly Vilanch, in the comedy persona he brought to Lannieâ€™s Clocktower Cabaret Saturday, is more self-aware than Edna, more purposefully odd to look at in his floppy, pleated trousers and school bus yellow â€œJewbaccaâ€ T-shirt. Edna just wanted to fit in, but Bruce likes to stand out, with his the bowl of blonde bangs and trademark red-frame glasses.
Still, both are sincere to a fault and match their exterior brashness with an interior generosity. Theyâ€™d each be trailer trash if they werenâ€™t so nice, and fundamentally sure of themselves underneath it all.
Vilanchâ€™s act â€” itâ€™s really a chat rather than stand-up â€” is more polite than any comedianâ€™s out there. He gossips a little as he tells long stories about the years he spent as a writer for comedians and television specials, (including two decades with the Academy Awards broadcast). He pokes a bit of fun at the famous, jabs at pop culture in general.
But nothing stings or feels mean. His humor is all about being an insider and sharing anecdotes about the foibles of working in show business. Edna Turnblad, who appreciated a good variety show, would have found him amusing.
As a woman of the early 60â€™s though, she probably would not have appreciated his cultural references. Vilanch mines a very particular, somewhat limited era of American history for his material, roughly post-Lyndon Johnson, pre-Janet Jackson.
The man tells Cher jokes and shares tales starring Bette Midler and Dolly Parton, but thatâ€™s about as current as it gets. He name drops George Burns and does a long, long riff on Pia Zadora. He ends his act with 10 minutes of Sophie Tucker jokes.
To say itâ€™s a specialized humor would be generous; To say itâ€™s dated, or at least terribly middle-aged, would be more honest. That doesnâ€™t mean it isnâ€™t funny, because it is, but itâ€™s a lot funnier if the person next to you doesnâ€™t have to whisper an explanation of who Pia or Sophie are, or were.
Mostly Vilanch gets through the evening by simply being himself. Heâ€™s got the resume to talk Hollywood and the good sense not to update his act insincerely; nothing worse that Jay or Dave or Regis telling Jon & Kate jokes when itâ€™s clear they donâ€™t even know who those people are.
Thereâ€™s room for this niche, especially in a small, underground room like Lannieâ€™s, which is finally coming into its own as one of the most interesting presenters in Denver.
If Vilanch is your cup of tea, the schedule there bears watching.