AUSTIN — As you may have heard, Austin’s motto is “Keep Austin Weird,” referring to the fun eccentricities of its most colorful people and places. But the same could have been said for one of the oddest performances I can remember seeing in the past three years of covering SXSW: Brett Gelman’s Gelmania.
Allow me to set the stage: Gelman stands front and center amid smoke, flashing lights, and a screeching guitar – like real 80s rock show style. He berates (jokingly, anyway) the audience for the scattered empty seats throughout the theater, he performs a fairly solid rap, he takes requests for impressions, the most disturbing of which being a take on “the dark lord” that left yours truly more than a little unnerved. We’re talking some super weird comedy stylin’, y’all.
The eccentric duo of guests that joined Gelman onstage – Dame Judy Doody Stench and a conceptual artist named the Cream Master – played to a mostly perplexed (albeit good-natured) crowd. But I’ll be damned if I wasn’t impressed with Gelman’s willingness to riff off of his partner’s improvised musical cues and to engage wholly with the continually escalating conversation unfolding onstage. And I do mean escalating: the shtick ended with Stench killing herself onstage – it was a performance art piece, natch – as the crowd chanted “DIE!”
Needless to say, the shift to my second show of the night, The Super Serious Show (brought to you by our good friends at Team Coco, Funny or Die, and – oddly – Gears of War), starring Jay Larson (pictured above), Andy Peters, Reggie Watts, Jon Dore, Andrés du Bouchet, Aparna Nancharla and Rory Scovel.
And I must say, the show got real. Watts freestyled a song designed to dispel the “flames of fear” about the chupacabra that SXSW exacerbates. Peters asked why no one thought to shoot Robocop in the mouth, a fair point that has rocked the foundation of science fiction itself (SERIOUSLY. ED 209, eat your heart out, there’s a weakness in the battle station!). And we heard some beautiful, emotionally fraught, and occasionally crude and hilarious poetry from du Bouchet (like, imagine juxtaposing wistful memories of one’s late father with “the shockwave of my cockplay” – lovely, lovely stuff).
But the highlight of the evening was the host Jay Larson, a good-natured Zach Galifianakis-lookalike with a Boston accent. Larson closed the show with a story about receiving a call from a wrong number that had the audience in stitches. I impart his lesson onto you, dear readers: if a caller asks for Bruce, you are Bruce. Embody Bruce.
Tonight is the final night of the interactive segment of SXSW, which means that hipster music kids will be replacing the nerds in droves. Say goodbye to start-up founders and hello to barely-employed baristas who are soooooo into this one band you’ve never heard of.