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Addled Son

Rick Shapiro could claim the mantle of Carlin, save for his less-controlled insanity.

By Michael Shashoua / Editor in Chief; photo: Steven Polatnick

George Carlin has an heir.

His name is Rick Shapiro. He works on a very high level -- highly offensive -- but high nonetheless.

Seen at the UCB Theatre on July 3, Shapiro seems incapable of working in the safer realms that even more conceptual or intellectual comedians like Patton Oswalt -- or a more blatantly blue and insulting comedian like Lisa Lampanelli -- can stay within so they can be accepted performing in a club setting like Caroline’s where they must be sure to entertain.

With a similar drug-ravaged thin build as Carlin’s, Shapiro employs similar physical mannerisms, stalking from end to end of the stage to emphasize his points and stretching his facial expressions in extreme contortions, but will go even further, standing on top of the front row of seats, extending the boundaries of the stage. He will, to the dismay of most of the women in the audience on this night, animatedly mime fisting at length while he has a soulful Dusty Springfield song play for absurd contrast.

But right alongside all of this, Shapiro slips in still-obscene satire that is definitely Carlin-worthy. He will turn on a dime from sexually-engaged roaring and yelling to the squeaky voice of a girl saying “OK you have rock-hard abs, keep going!” or thoughts of “green apple martinis,” “Sex and the City“ and “Starbucks double-shot lattes.”

Like Carlin, Shapiro loves cutting into “yuppie-fication” of society, making frequent reference to “Republican khaki pants” and in a brief bit about the presidential race, deconstructing both McCain’s and Obama’s physical characteristics -- such as McCain’s “tightly screwed on” smile and Obama’s beatific countenance (like that of a “six-year-old white boy”) being able to make a direct plea to God to fix the economy.

For all his New Jersey gas station attendant dirtball by way of the East Village appearance, Shapiro slips in a surprising love for language a la Carlin. In a tour de force story called “Cabdriver,” during which a cabdriver goes off with an obscene question about whether Shapiro would engage in, well, activity, with a rabbit, the cabdriver confesses that “rabbit” is the only word he knows, and Shapiro, narrating this experience now, asks the cabbie, “Don’t you know a synonym, or an antonym, or” … various other 20-cent vocabulary words.

“Cabdriver” itself is emblematic of Shapiro’s performances and material … sprawling and ragged at its edges, at times venturing into Lenny Bruce-esque free association, but more like the downward spiraling and intoxicated Bruce than Bruce when he was at the top of his form and faculties. Shapiro’s verbal and storytelling contortions -- conjuring a whole other world of occurrences inside a penis during a sex act with said rabbit -- are like hearing the perceptions of someone having an acid trip, no longer doing anything that could even be called stand-up comedy.

All the same, you have to admire that he’s working on a level no one else can or even dares to. Amid it all, Shapiro can make parenthetical reference to exactly when certain psychiatric medication might be “kicking in” and how.

However, as when Carlin first moved away from his straight-laced persona and toward counter-culture friendly material in the late 1960s and early 1970s (see Jester's blog entry) and ran afoul of some club owners with his material, Shapiro does seem to encounter difficulty getting more “mainstream” bookings to perform. But just as the rest of the world eventually caught up to Carlin, so it should to Shapiro. His is a talent that should not be playing to a half-full UCB Theatre; he deserves to be heard. Carlin would be proud.

Rick Shapiro returns to the UCB Theatre on July 17.




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