One observation not made on stage Monday at the Irvine Improvisation, where Home Box Office taped "The 11th Annual HBO Young Comedians Special," is that at HBO, age is apparently just a state of mind.
For example, anyone who has followed Bobby Slayton's lengthy career since anywhere near the beginning would be pretty long in the tooth by now. Slayton used to be host at "The Other Cafe," a stand-up showcase that aired on a pay TV outlet years ago, and generally you aren't named host of such a show unless you're already a veteran.
So whether looking at careers or actual ages, one guesses the process by which HBO figured Slayton and some of his comedy compatriots were "young" was something like the reverse of calculating dog years.
But if HBO has a shaky concept of time, the cable network once again displayed impeccable taste in selecting five funnyfolk. As host John Larroquette pointed out--he's won two Emmy awards for portraying Dan Fielding, the smarmy, womanizing prosecutor on NBC's hit sitcom "Night Court"--the "illustrious roster" of comics who have appeared in past specials include Robin Williams, Jay Leno and Steven Wright.
Monday's comedians--who performed two shows--represented quite a cross-section of contemporary stand-up:
--Slayton lived up to his motto ("If you can't laugh at yourself, make fun of other people"), racing through biting material about everything from the perils of buying pets at department stores to the cultural and communication conflicts of a party of Jewish people dining at a Chinese restaurant.
--Allan Havey constructed clean, inventive bits about the stressful, hurried lives of those pursuing a yup-scale existence--often aided by such time-saving appliances as microwave ovens ("Our parents had to wait 45 minutes, an hour for a baked potato; not \o7 us\f7 .") He also voiced concerns about clumsy altar boys helping with Communion.
--Geoff Bolt demonstrated the most distinctive style and took the most chances on stage. He initially came across as some kind of young, nervous descendant of Jimmy Stewart, stuttering and forgetting his kids' names. He recounted taking his children to Disneyland, becoming flustered when he got a chance to talk to Mickey Mouse, and resorting to questions such as: "So what's it like being a mouse in the industry?" He also revealed his jagged career path, starting with the period when he quit college to become a pirate. His set-closing bit with a puppet defies description, but was enormously imaginative--and \o7 funny\f7 .
--Margaret Smith's snoozy, deadpan delivery and off-kilter point of view is an acquired taste. Unfortunately, in both shows she followed Slayton, whose witty venom is delivered with such energetic force that it was even harder for the audiences to acquire that taste--and viewers of the special may pick up on the room's sudden energy shortage. Too bad, because she had some of the best-written material, from otherworldly anecdotes about her unusual family to the bad mood she's been in lately about human beings. ("People make me pro-nuclear.")
--Rick Ducommun was both the most conventional, and most blue, monologuist of the evening. As with Slayton, his vision is fueled by anger. But rather than insult, say, entire ethnic groups, Duccomon tends to aim his barbs at specific--and often topical--targets. Monday this ranged from bad drivers and the Bakkers to the key figures in the Iran-\o7 contra\f7 hearings and Delta pilots ("Rule No. 1: Leave the engines on!"). He's a sufficiently engaging performer that even when his material wasn't particularly strong, his set still was. (He headlines at the Irvine Improvisation Sept. 8-13.)
"The 11th Annual HBO Young Comedians Special" will premiere on HBO Oct. 10 at 10 p.m. and then repeat on various dates and times.