Last Saturday night, comedian Barry Rothbart coolly stepped on stage in Lower Farinon. An audience gathered to watch the esteemed performer who had appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, on Conan, and who had been ranked in the “Top Ten Comics to Watch” by Variety magazine in 2013.
While performing, Barry Rothbart leaned against the microphone stand. He took out his cell phone and searched for notes. These things are typically considered mannerisms of an amateur comic, but I considered these tactics ingenious. I never realized that the key to comedy might be making the audience feel at ease. Laughing requires an environment where one feels comfortable enough to be silly and laugh at immature and conventionally inappropriate things. Barry’s casual approach to comedy immediately created an atmosphere where I felt uninhibited to have a laugh.
Rothbart began his act by bantering back and forth with Lafayette Activities Forum (LAF) Director of Comedy, Emma Luu Van Lang ‘16, and continued making connections with the students and college by poking fun at Upper and Lower Farinon. He sassily described Lower as a “side cafeteria” which he could not grasp the function of.
Rothbart remained brutally honest and at times crude throughout his act. He was not afraid to reveal uncomfortable moments in his own life that he hoped the audience would find comical. But not everything was hilarious. Rothbart did joke about some pretty serious topics like drunk driving (which he admits he does frequently), date rape, and autism. What made Rothbart respectable, though, was his ability to acknowledge when a joke rendered no audience response. He would say, “that one wasn’t that funny, was it?” and move on.
Throughout the act, Rothbart maintained the persona of a struggling artist that was laid back, cynical, and disheveled as if he were suffering from a small hangover. His dry humor focused on vignettes of strange recent events he had experienced or something he found interesting. One joke he made centered on a fact he learned that “14 people in the United States report rape by dolphins.” The punch line to this joke was not his disbelief in the actual crime, but disbelief that “14 people believed the police could do something about it.” Rothbart’s way to get an audience response seemed to be the repetition of punch lines and I have to admit that the more he repeated them, the funnier they were.
If you were not able to catch his performance, there is more Rothbart to come in the media in the near future, including an appearance in The Wolf of Wall Street, a Martin Scorsese film where Rothbart will act alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, and Jonah Hill. It will remain to be seen if his likeability, sass, and humor come across on the big screen. Hopefully it translates better than the uneven performance he gave at Lafayette.