Free Speech Zone

Free Speech Zone

U nder pink and blue lights on a rainy Thursday, The State House hosted a standup comedy marathon featuring a dozen acts. First up was recent Connecticut transplant Kate Clancy, followed by Stosh Mikita, Mo Green, Ish Gupta, Denver Sproul, Mega Harrison, Nick Grunerud, Young Southpaw, Josh Levinson, Brooke Louellen, Alex Tomaselli and Cliff Mula.

Together, they led a subtle, crass, intellectual, guttural safari through the standard, the strange and the very personal. Harrison’s talk of overly liquid bowel movements managed to turn both stomachs and brains. Grunerud’s gonzo impression of Billy Joel involved shoes on hands and liberties with lyrics. Levinson—who also runs the funny local blog Between Two Rocks—crystallized the emotional distance of Dad into a single penetrating anecdote. Verboten confessions of humiliating experiences, taboo desires, even rank prejudices connected and alienated. When real pain lurked behind the words, it was palpable.

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And when there was pain in front of the words—among the small audience, that is—it was palpable, too. Some material didn’t deserve a bigger crowd. Awkward silences were frequent, though even those were usually peppered with a quiet laugh or two, as if to acknowledge the fine and shifting line between what works and what doesn’t. Some performers seemed unsure whether to appreciate the modest crowd that did turn out or shame it for not being larger and more enthusiastic. A few spectators—particularly at my table, since we had dared to sit up front—were roasted to about a medium-rare, the danger seeming greater just after a joke had fallen flat.

Fortunately, we could take the heat. In fact, at some point in the show’s middle—call it the eye—I realized I was loving every second of the insane human tornado that was the second edition of the Bat Soup comedy series. Organized and emceed by local surrealist comedian Young Southpaw, the lineup and its jostling forces—braggadocio and vulnerability, irony and candor, buoyancy and cynicism—attracted and repelled, and sure enough, I was magnetized.

The free-association rantings of Young Southpaw, an alter ego of real person Aug Stone, were especially polar, amounting to a zany delirium that had also clearly been carefully planned. By the end of his main set late in the bill, Southpaw, evoking the ’70s with gold-rimmed aviators, oversized lapels and cultural references galore, had crescendoed into a rant so intense it was mantric. I can’t tell you what he discussed during his final minutes—in part because the associations were very, very free—but I do remember what it felt like to absorb a barrage of words basted in faux southern drawl and fired out in the manner of an acid-tripping drill sergeant. I wasn’t laughing much, but I was entranced by the spectacle. At some point I had to remember to reengage my dropped jaw.

Even the show’s least impactful material maintained a subversive, heterodox current more refreshing than the cool and tangy Headway I was drinking. Despite appearances of a more liberal civilization than has ever graced what is, in the meantime, a planet hurtling towards uninhabitability, we’ve become more prone to social acceptability handwringing than a Victorian comedy of manners. So it was invigorating to experience people in a public arena staking an honest claim to their very individual thoughts and choices—even, perhaps especially, when the material was unpleasant, offensive or just plain TMI.

Listening to words doesn’t amount to endorsing them, after all. Speaking those words isn’t even necessarily endorsing them, as the comics themselves demonstrated when they followed declarations with hedges, switchbacks and the other flotsam attending genuine introspection. In a time when getting someone to earnestly and rationally contend with a view they don’t already hold seems less likely than nuclear armageddon—the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have their famous Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight, as close as it’s ever been—Bat Soup was a breath of fresh, un-radiated air.

Young Southpaw presents Bat Soup
Next Soup: Thurs 9/5, exact time TBD, with special headliner Dave Hill
Location: The State House – 310 State St, New Haven (map)

Written by Dan Mims. Image—featuring (from left) Mo Green, Denver Sproul, Ish Gupta, Cliff Mula, Brooke Louellen, Mega Harrison, Alex Tomaselli and Young Southpaw—provided courtesy of Young Southpaw.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories.

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