There’s certainly no shortage of live comedy in the Bay Area, but you have to hand it to Club Chuckles for keeping it weird. Avoiding line-ups packed with middle-aged men whining about their therapy bills, or cosmonaut princesses with pubic hair obsessions, Club Chuckles can often be found lurking in the rock-saturated shadows of the Hemlock Tavern’s back room performance space, infused with the kind of punk rock vibes you’ll never pick up at the buttoned-down, two-drink minimum comedy clubs. The sold out, eight-year anniversary show at the considerably swankier digs of the Verdi Club might have been better lit, but the rowdy element still prevailed, as an entire line-up devoted to the comedy of the awkward braved the hecklers to bring the laffs.
Imagine if you will an idiot savant of the yo-yo who turns out to just be an idiot, and you’ve got a good idea of what to expect when Kenny “K-Strass” Strasser takes the stage. The befuddled alter-ego of Mark Proksch, “K-strass” is a yo-yo wielding man-child out to save the environment from the ill-effects of too much toilet flushing. Determined to wow the crowd with one of his patented yo-yo tricks, The William Tell, Strasser put a bucket and an apple on the head of his first of two volunteers, who quipped, “is this like Guantanamo?” “I don’t know him,” Strasser responded immediately, nervously readying his yo-yo to fly, uncontrolled, in the general direction of the apple.
The most traditional comic of the evening, affable Duncan Trussell delivered a stand-up set filled with references to medical marijuana, tripping at Great America, and the embarrassment of being human. But then he veered into prop comedy territory with a long rambling story about his Wiccan parents and The Book of Shadows, which culminated in an impromptu séance and an appearance by ventriloquist dummy “L’il Hobo”. A classic, hinge-jawed variant, L’il Hobo became apparently possessed by Lucifer halfway through the otherwise standard dummy/ventriloquist act, culminating in an eerie duet of “Wish You Were Here,” and the devil’s gruff demand for worship.
Dressed like a turn-of-the-nineteenth-century butterfly collector, Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric Awesome Show fame, launched into his bumbling act clutching a cheat sheet like a lifeline, dropping his punchlines as often as he dropped the mic. Declining to indulge in any of his recently released Herman Cain-inspired anthems (“Cainthology: Songs in the Key of Cain”), he instead turned his affection to Newt Gingrich’s presidential aspirations, and introduced an ambitious high-speed rail project dubbed “Zazz Rent-a-Train.” “Why own when you can rent?” intoned the movietone narrator of the video-screened infomercial on the rail project designed to connect all the continents by rail.
Kicking the emotionally tone-deaf dial to eleven, headliner Neil Hamburger emerged at last, his trademark greasy comb-over and bow-tie suggesting the desperation of the small-time Vaudeville circuit. “Get some drinks up here asshole,” he snarled at booker Anthony Bedard, before launching into a series of dead-weight knock-knock jokes, a lengthy segment focused on the dubious “talents” of Britney Spears, embittered rants against various oddience members (“laugh your fool head off…this is fun. Everyone else is having fun…with your girlfriend”), and “an award-winning tribute to ice cream” which segued into a ribald joke about Ben and Jerry’s and prostitutes.
Like Kenny “K-Strass” Strasser, the Hamburger character is a long-inhabited alter ego, whose public appearances often appear more painful for the character than for his cringing fans, who really ought to have some kind of convenient moniker by which to call themselves, like “Hamburger-heads,” or “total masochists.” And indeed, by the show’s end only the true total masochists remained, each empty seat in the rows attesting to that peculiar comedic format of anti-success that Hamburger wields so well.