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The Tighten Up

Web video auteur Paul Thomas stretches out live in New York Fringe Festival performance.

Note: this is Paul Thomas, not Kurt Cobain.

Character comedian Paul Thomas gained attention in the Just For Laughs Montreal Comedy Festival with his short video “My Tighty Whiteys,” (see Jester's Blog, 7/25/09) yet his full-length solo show, “Comedogenic,” seen Aug. 22 in the New York Fringe Festival, contained only small doses of that brilliance.

Thomas’ show was comprised of 13 different short character pieces in the space of an hour. Some slipped too much into mere repetition as their means to try to drive home the comedic point, such as a eulogy to a friend who was clearly “not a fighter” against a fatal disease, or a couple different lecturer/motivational speaker characters in separate pieces.

The better bits in the show succeeded because they were either more concise, like his Internet-illiterate father character who nonetheless finds his way to porn online, or had surprising enough premises to overcome Thomas’ tendency to repeat the themes or lines too much. A good example of this was his obnoxious neighbor character -- very reminiscent of Will Ferrell’s early SNL sketch where he kept yelling at his kids to “get off the shed!” Here, with Thomas, it was a repeated yell of “get your own recycle bin,” oblivious to the fact that the neighbor just returned from a funeral.

The sharpest, but most problematic piece of the whole show, however, was an extended rap profanely dismissing, in turn, women of religions other than Christian. Thomas seemed to be going for a “Bob Roberts” style send-up of the type of person who would earnestly put such sentiments into song, but his tone and presentation didn’t contain enough of the knowing wink to it that Tim Robbins had in that movie to keep the performance from sounding like he really meant it.

Still, this might have been the strongest piece to close the show, and it was followed by an anti-climactic, softer character bit. In fact, another piece with racism as a topic, earlier in the show, worked a little better because its tone wasn’t so strident -- and that was one where a guy is trying to pick up a girl he realizes is racist, so he tries to paint himself as being that way, despite his black roommate also being with him at the party where he meets her.

Thomas has some interesting character ideas, and a clear command of a stage, but could stand to tighten the material and in some cases, adjust the tone of his performance. It will be interesting to watch what he develops in the future. 



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