Poor sound system mars triumphant return of comedy's king of one-liners
HENNY AND LENNY MIX IT UP
HENNY AND LENNY -- THE OLD AND THE NEW
POOR SOUND SYSTEM MARS RETURN OF COMEDY'S ONE-LINER KING
HENNY YOUNGMAN AND
Sanders Theatre, Saturday, April 1.
By DAVID M. J. SASLAV
[gfT]HERE ISN'T MUCH TO SAY ABOUT Henny Youngman that hasn't been said at least a thousand times before. He never quits. He tells the same one-liners he was telling fifty years ago. He still plays a mean (that is to say, cruel) violin. And he still carries himself with the same stage presence he always has. Granted, he now requires assistance in getting on and off the stage, but so what? Performers should be judged by what they are on stage, not how they get there.
And once behind the mike, it's impossible to stop Henny Youngman. His comic timing is impeccable, his material is eternal (and most of it still works!), and he knows how to milk a joke for all it's worth. "Take my wife, please!" may no longer be funny, but it brought tumultuous applause from an appreciative Sanders Theater crowd Saturday night. He may not have been the first comic to deliver the joke "I went to my psychiatrist. He said `You're crazy'. I said, `I want a second opinion.' `Okay, you're ugly, too!' " but he must surely have been one of the first. And there's always somebody out there who hasn't heard it yet!
In all fairness, it's equally impossible to stop Lenny Clarke. True, he too has not updated his material much over the years. He still champs at the bit whenever he finds himself in a "keep it clean" setting. But something about his grass roots origins seems to serve him highly successfully; one always gets that feeling of identification with his anecdotal humor: "The people who win the lottery and then say, `Yeah, I'm gonna keep my job at the shoelace factory'? Shoot them. Shoot them now. Take the money away and give it to somebody else!' "
Clarke touched upon such diverse subjects as Vietnam ("I never go anywhere I can't find on a map. 'Cause then if you go and it sucks, you don't know how to get back!"), Catholic school ("Nuns are just these old ladies who decided to never get married, dress up like penguins, and beat the hell out of little kids!"), and the History of Man ("Let's face it, folks; Eve was a bitch."). But despite the lack of thematic unity, Clarke never lost touch with that breezy, conversational style that is his trademark. A fine set, taken all in all.
One final note about Saturday's show: comedy at Sanders is not pretty. The hall is built for music, reverberation, and sonic dispersion, not for listening to the spoken voice amplified a dozen times. From both of the seating positions I sampled, I had to ask my neighbor what the punchline had been for one joke in three. Given such poor sound, the discomfort of nearly all of Sanders' seating, and the expensive nature of the tickets, one can hardly call this the ideal setting for a show such as this. Nevertheless, the sight of one of modern stand-up comedy's grandfathers, the veritable "King of the One-Liners," playing "Hava Nagila" as though he thought he was Itzhak Perlman, made it all worth it.