Watching Bill Maher’s “Real Time” on HBO a couple of weeks ago, I saw Fred Armisen (writer/actor, SNL, Portlandia) come on toward the end of the show. Both he and Bill agreed that they did not like one-man shows. (They did not mention if they minded one-woman shows, which leads me, in turn, to believe that they do love them, because they must have seen Mary Dimino’s brilliant “Scared Skinny” .)
Why do Bill and Fred not like one-man shows? They did not get deeply into it, but what I brought away from the conversation was that they believe these shows are too self-indulgent, and far too numerous. I tend to agree, but there are exceptions.
I have to admit, I’ve been astounded by how many one-person shows I’ve seen running in NYC. And for as many one-person shows that there are in the city, there are even more people who instruct people on how to create their one-person shows. Who, then, is left in the city to attend the shows if everyone is either doing a one-person show, or training someone to do one? I know we all have a story in us (or a series of stories), but is it all meant for the stage? I see this current self-indulgent trend as tying in with the present “look at me, look at me” phenomena found on Facebook, Twitter, etc., as well as on the plethora of idiotic reality TV shows in this country. (Boy, Seinfeld’s Super did not know how much trouble he was setting this country up for with that classic line, “Look At Me, Look At Me.” Sean Hannity would probably say it was because he was a foreigner.)
A performer named Mike Daisy was on Real Time a few weeks ago, talking about his one-man show, which centers on horrible factory conditions in China. He couldn’t talk directly about China on Bill Maher’s show, of course, because that would cut out publicity for his one-man show, which soon would be disgraced because we learned Mikey made some stuff up. What do you expect from a creative guy who feels the need to report basic and even unpleasant data from the stage? How can you make tales of Asian workers toppling over due to exhaustion fodder for entertainment? It seemed for awhile that Mikey could, but now, apparently, he cannot.
(For whatever reason, I’m now reminded of a line Kyle said to Stan in a South Park episode about a video Stan made exposing bullying (I may paraphrase a bit here): “If you really wanted to help the world, why wouldn’t you just put your video on the internet for free?”)
I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, though, because there are one-person shows that are truly compelling. We all know the story of how Whoopi Goldberg was discovered. (Or do we? FYI, she had a one-person show where she demonstrated her acting gifts, and eventually she was noticed, and given her big break in “The Color Purple”.) And, a one-person show I’ve actually seen and reviewed (and had the pleasure of having the star of the show as the teacher in my current comedy class) is “Scared Skinny”, written and performed by the amazing Mary Dimino. This is a person who is a born performer – it’s instinctive, and yet she’s serious about her craft and has honed it over many years through study, practice and performing.
This essay did not start out as a plug for Mary’s show, but I’ll plug it anyway. The show is wonderful (and true), and though I agree with Bill and Fred that there are too many one-person shows, I don’t think we can overlook that there are some people who are really meant to do that one-person show thing. They can command the stage with their charisma, acting and writing abilities, as well as the actual content of what they’re saying (remember content?).
I’ve never been to a “bad” one-person show, but I imagine if I’m ever in that situation, I’ll be quite miserable. Perhaps the ordeal will inspire my own one-person show, “Surviving the American Onslaught of One-Person Shows”, a one-person show starring Joanna Rapoza.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Don’t worry. There will be plenty of seating. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~