Quick, blurt out the first word that springs to mind if I say “standup comedy about sex.”
“Warmhearted!” exclaims nobody…except maybe those who’ve seen Bri Pruett‘s Stellar.
Let’s face it: when recounting their sexual escapades onstage, standup comics have a reputation for being anything but kind. It’s a longstanding comic tradition to be crass, describing former lovers’ body parts and acts in unflattering detail; to be callous, claiming you never liked ’em anyway; to be sexist, generalizing their performance to apply to their entire gender; and to be cutting, trying your best to eviscerate with wit anyone you failed to conquer between the sheets.
Pruett’s not about to play it like that. While she’s definitely using her sex life as material (the solo show relies heavily on a list she’s kept of the names, star signs, and a few distinctive details about each of her many lovers), she doesn’t throw any of them under the bus. With benevolence toward her younger self (“I would tell that little nugget, ‘You’re fine! There’s nothing wrong with you!'”) and acceptance of her current self, a confident self-declared “BBW,” Pruett extends her goodwill toward the bodies and souls of all of her past partners. “How many? As many as I wanted.”
While the experiences she recounts range from eccentric to universal, Pruett’s jokes consistently ring true, and she fills the room with a lightness-of-being. Everyone’s metaphorically naked and no one’s ashamed.
Why is this working? And what’s happening to comedy’s more timeworn “My lovers suck” schtick?
Quite simply, sneering’s going out of style, thanks largely to a growing group of internet-emboldened amateurs giving old-school humor tactics a bad name. Trolls have stripped the art out of insults. Trump has blunted and twisted the instrument of sarcasm. And so-called MRA’s and their supremacist ilk, in an attempt to do so to others, have also torn the head off their own sense of righteous indignation and flung it into a ditch to die.
What’s left, then, for comedians, once insults, sarcasm and ire get wrecked by hacks? Whatever’s the opposite! You heard it here: the new currency of pro comedy is compassion.
[A note to Portland’s comedians, for whom my trend-spotting is probably no revelation: Fair enough, but you’re not my audience; comedy audiences are my audience. What’s that you say? At least during the winter, comedy audiences are largely comprised of other comedians? To that I say both “Touché,” and “For shame,” and I guess keep reading.]
Whether or not you consider Stellar a groundbreaker for softer-edged sex comedy or a demonstration of standup’s emerging kinder/gentler trend, it’s undeniably a launchpad for the next phase of Pruett’s career. Portland comedians have a pattern of honing their craft locally until they’re in high demand, then leveling up in New York or L.A. After acts like Ian Karmel, Ron Funches, Amy Miller and others have followed that trajectory, it’s been widely whispered that Pruett was next to fledge. Increasingly ubiquitous on the scene with projects like Action/Adventure Theatre (a theater she cofounded) Friends With Benedicts (a comedy brunch she hosts) Let’s Do It with Bri Pruett (a column she sometimes pens for The Mercury) and many more, Pruett’s clearly running fast enough for liftoff. After this month at the Funhouse Lounge, she’ll tour a bit, then resettle in L.A.
Directed by Jason Rouse and choreographed by Diana Schultz, Stellar also combines more of Pruett’s talents than she’s previously shown off at once. Her standup stylings that include crowd interaction and storytelling are aided here by a slide show and background music, and offset by theatrical interludes where she sings a touching Bonnie Raitt cover, works the stage with some blocking and props, and even closes with a dance number that starts out tentative but finishes fierce. Not only does this variety enrich the show, but Pruett’s demonstration of a “triple threat” persona may come in handy for picking up new gigs in a bigger market.
Fans of other solo shows this season, like Adrienne Truscott’s One Trick Pony or Anthony Hudson’s Looking for Tiger Lily, should definitely also catch Stellar, but without the expectation of a confrontational vibe. While performance artists like Hudson and Truscott bask in their audiences’ discomfort, Pruett helps her fans snuggle into the assurance that it’s all gonna be okay. Her own “epic quest for love” well under way, she’s ready to spread it around.
Catch Stellar at the Funhouse Lounge for two more Thursdays in January. Doors open at 8:30, show at 9pm. Tickets at MercTickets.com.