David Lee Nelson has perfected the telling of his life’s tales, down to every word. Take the time, at age four, when the girls he lived with on an American compound in Saudi Arabia dressed him up like a little lady, lipstick and all, for Halloween. His on-point descriptions of memories like the moment his father saw him when he entered the room that night are nothing short of hysterical. (All Hallow’s Eve is now his least favorite holiday.)
But is it theater? Nelson advertised Lucky as a hybrid of stand-up and theater, but the show seems more like a display of different stand-up techniques. It begins as a Mitch Hedberg-style list of (hilarious) one-liners, progresses into videos of himself in increasingly drunken situations around his apartment, telling one self-deprecating story after another from his life, and then rounds out with a very David Sedaris-like account of buying VHS tapes in a porn shop. (The comparisons, made before, are indeed deserved.)
There is certainly a script, and segments like his slide show of 100 years of Chicago Cub-fandom best convey the sense of “acting” rather than joke-telling. But don’t expect any physical acting, breaking into song, or multi-character discourse. It is undoubtedly comedy and a very good one at that.
Nelson’s most impressive moment came during a segment in which he was telling the story of how, as a College of Charleston student, he was recruited to drive to Columbia for a small, well-paying part in a gospel production highlighting the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Video played as he told the tale: He arrived at a hotel room where he met some of the African American cast. They were smoking blunts. Nelson joined them. And then, when the comedian was stoned as bejeezus, they told him his role was to step on stage, shoot a black character, and say, “That’s one less of them on the street.” As fate would have it, halfway through the segment, the video went kaput, a blue screen appeared, along with the words, “No Input Signal Detected.”
While it soon became evident that the “No Input” screen was indeed a technical mistake, at the moment it occurred, however, Nelson’s quick entrance and excited continuation of the story made it seem fully intentional. That’s a mark of both a skilled actor and comedian.
As Nelson’s first foray into a long-form stand-up/play hybrid, Lucky is a success. He’s consistently funny throughout, and however he decides to categorize the format, it appears he’s found his niche.
Silence of Lucky • Piccolo’s Stelle Di Domani Series • $12-$15 • May 30, 31, and June 5, 6, 7 at 10:30 p.m. • Theatre 220, Simons Centers for the Arts, • 54 St. Philip Street, Downtown Charleston • (888) 374-2656