David Lee, Kenny Z, and Tom Shillue
The Physician’s Auditorium felt a bit warm as the eager audience strolled in and found their seats for the first Skinny White Comics show of this Piccolo Spoleto festival. The elevated temperature didn’t appear to dampen anyone’s spirits (this is, after all, Charleston) but did cast a drowsy haze that even the pop and hip-hop playing before the show couldn’t really dissipate. It took Kenny Zimlinhaus’ first question, “Warm in here?,” to focus our attention deficit disorder-laden minds on the stage. “Then shut up about it!,” greeted the answer, prompting a switch on the AC unit to click on, and the Skinny White Comics to kick off their run.
Kenny Z. (that’s the way I remember him from his 96 WAVE days) has a shuffling and wry style that incongruously comes from a permanently smiling face, as if to say, “I’m keeping you in on this joke...” But he isn’t. He’s merely letting one think they know where he’s headed until it’s far too late and the bait has been taken. Then, the pacing stops, the smile faces the audience, and well, I’m glad that I now know CNN’s definition of the word “party!” There is a speed in his approach that points to great skill in improvisation, wish we’d seen more of it. He even supplied his own critique of his act, “no segues, and made no sense.” But it did make sense, and the audience let him know that even though the AC was now pumping at a good clip, they were ready for more.
College of Charleston graduate David Lee Nelson bopped out on stage next, looking like a picture in the dictionary next to the entry for “skinny white comic.” The crowd was now fairly warmed up, and his more animated, slightly darker observations found a welcoming audience. His style roves between Southern sun (finding things he didn’t know about his wife on myspace), to northern snark (a very cogent argument that people over 65 should be allowed to sell pot), that works best when he’s in motion and his facial expressions supply an exclamation point. And now we know what the Republican Party really does have in common with rappers!
Comedy Central’s Tom Shillue then floated on stage, a post-preppy every man with such an affable nature, it’s easy to miss how he can deftly turn a joke in on itself, providing a kicker that lets one take his humor at face value, or apply a subtext that, well, may or may not really be there. “I’m cool,” he states with assurance, quickly followed by the question, “Right?” A happily spiralling feedback loop of intentionally dated references mixes with the here and now, creating the sense that he could be cool, if he’d stop asking the question. But it’s the question that permeates his entire act, masterfully building tension with even the most prosaic events of modern life.
The audience was very receptive to all three comedians, and as the show progressed, so did the laughs. Nothing fell flat, and it’s quite refreshing to hear good comedians who don’t rely on being jaded as a primary source of material, but nothing knocked the breath out either.
SKINNY WHITE COMICS • Piccolo Spoleto’s Stelle de Domani series • $15 • June 5, 6, 7, 9 at 8:30 p.m.; June 9 at 3 p.m. • Physicians Auditorium • 554-6060