Comedy Review: ‘Weekend Laughs’ at Main Street Cabaret

Late Friday night, somewhere between, say, 11:15 and midnight, the Metro Rail rolled and clanged down Main Street in front of the Alleyway Theatre, and someone inside the theater’s Main Street Cabaret yelled “Look out, don’t hit that train!”  

It didn’t make the late news, but it made a lot of people crack up.  

. . .the comedy is overall engaging, laugh out loud and snort-through-your-nostrils funny stuff.

Let me explain.  This month, Alleyway Theater’s Main Street Cabaret is the setting for a night of comedy hosted by local stand-up comedian, Billy Whelan.  On the face of it, “Weekend Laughs” as it’s billed, looks to bring pure comedy to the Theater District.  Because who couldn’t use a good laugh during the month of March in Western New York.

There’s a slight disconnect here.  The venue, being at least temporarily billed as Main Street Comedy Cabaret and at the same time a late night comedy club doesn’t seem to fit.  If you’re expecting cabaret and its trappings of tables and cocktails and gaudy vaudevillian humor — this isn’t it.  If you’re expecting a typical comedy club atmosphere, it does not exactly deliver on that, either.  But the idea and the endeavor is,  transformative.  And if you’re in Western New York and not accustomed or open to transformation in progress, then perhaps you’re visiting from out of town.   

Whalen, a local stand-up comedian who’s done some stints at comedy clubs outside Western New York, starts off the show with some off with his style of stand-up, kind of laid back and matter-of-fact with some profanity thrown in.  But this is late night comedy, so if you’re thinking of bringing the kids, you’re likely visiting from out of town, and have no place to stay.  Whalen seems at home with his style and delivery.

Next up, Comic Sans, a group of four performers (three men and a lady) practice a method of short-form improvisational comedy, that is, often asking for and taking their subject matter from the audience, and playing out brief skits based on the situations presented.  They’re engaging and enthusiastic, and the audience responded in kind.  Think a Whose Line is it Anyway style of Improv.  

And the local duo, Babushka (Todd Benjin and Don Gervasi)  bring their exceptional brand of long-form comedy improvisation.  Here Benjin and Gervasi, both professional actors, grab a slice-of-life situation from the audience and make it one continuous improv, taking on multiple characters while playing it out.  A sort of narrative on steroids, held together by a single slice-of-life thread, weaving and fraying off into the funny and even absurdly funny.  These guys are good.

The atmosphere is loose, the interactions with the audience frequent, engaging and, at times, enthusiastically received.  If you’re the type who wants to have a say in what the performers are doing, the opportunities are many.  The “set” was a stage with a brick back wall and two boxes.  The lighting was, well, powered by electricity.  

Regardless, the comedy is overall engaging, laugh out loud and snort-through-your-nostrils funny stuff.   You could call this theater in the raw.  Here, the details don’t matter, the narratives have no script, the players work their craft, act out what the moment brings, and the audience is engaged.   Time passing tells where it all goes, how it all plays out, and whether weekly comedy has a niche at this cabaret, this club, or the Alleyway’s front room.

“Weekend Laughs” is slated to run from 10 p.m. to Midnight, every Friday in March.  At this time, it’s unclear whether the same acts will be playing every week.  Regardless, it’s guaranteed to be different every week.

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