Live review: George Lopez @ Comedy WorksBy John Wenzel | December 17th, 2007 | 7 comments
The prisms through which we view entertainers always seem to determine their hue, as I learned last week with George Lopez. I’d never been a fan of the L.A.-born-and-based comic, but in the process of researching him for a Denver Post piece I gained a new respect for what he’s done for other Latino entertainers, whether highlighting their lack of representation in the media or making it safe for others to follow.
Lopez is inarguably the most visible, popular Latino comedian in the U.S., and even in clowning about his own ethnicity he paves the way for many more (including, unfortunately, irritating hacks like Carlos Mencia). Still, Lopez’s Friday night set at Comedy Works tossed me right back in the “non-fan” category. My initial instincts about his humor, gained from brief viewings of his eponymous ABC sitcom, turned out to be fairly accurate.
Lopez’s sitcom was canceled in May after a five-year run on ABC, an unceremonious end to one of the only TV programs in U.S. history to feature a Chicano character in the lead role — and most of the supporting ones (it was replaced with the spectacularly awful “Cavemen.”) I didn’t shed any tears, as the few times I caught the show left me feeling limp. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t terrible, it was just there. Regardless of the ethnicity or show-to-show subject matter, its mind-numbing, generic suburban humor seemed suited for people that think “According to Jim” and its tepid ilk constitutes “funny.”
Give Lopez credit for sticking around for so long, but don’t mistake his humor for anything close to groundbreaking, especially compared with comedy’s current fecund underbelly (David Cross, Comedians of Comedy, SuperDeluxe.com, Adult Swim, etc.) The overall tenor of the early show on Friday was hinted at with opener Bryan Kellen, an incredibly limber, kinetic performer that somehow managed to squander much of that likeability within about 10 minutes of hitting the stage. It was easy to see why Lopez is using him as warm-up: Kellen overplayed his gawky energy to painful extremes, making Lopez look like the grittiest, most authentic dude on the planet. The difference between funny and merely amusing rarely seemed more clear.
Lopez’s sets mixed material from his Grammy-nominated stand-up CDs and TV specials.
After Kellen’s hyperactive appearance, Lopez greeted the mostly-white, tightly-packed crowd with a hearty, “Hello, white people!” before launching into a mash of material from his sitcom, stand-up CDs (“Alien Nation,” “Team Leader,” “America’s Mexican”) and TV specials. It was funny enough at times, but I was only occasionally moved to laugh out loud, even as the audience ate up every word. I was left particularly cold when he beat female and gay stereotypes into the ground with a near-jackhammer force. Yeah, comedy’s supposed to be offensive sometimes, but the jokes felt mean-spirited and lacking in irony that allows “edgier” comedians to legitimately distance themselves from claims of misogyny or homophobia.
Whatever — the crowd loved it. The few audience members that didn’t immediately respond to Kellen’s luke-warmups (“Hey, isn’t techno music weird? Aren’t I dorky-looking? Getting drunk is crazy, isn’t it? Am I right? Hi ladies! I’m white as hell!”) were won over by Lopez’s remembrances of childhood experiences, Spanglish asides and generally airtight timing. And a few of his jokes were laugh-out-loud funny, especially when he referenced dirtier material (I couldn’t even begin to get into it here), but they were a precious few.
Subject matter be damned, Lopez’s timing and inflection were professional all the way, only occasionally deviating from the loose script, as when an overweight woman booed a joke about Muhammed Ali’s current condition. Lopez shot back with, “Hey, lady, if you don’t like it you can leave. I know what I’m doing up here. I’ve been doing this since you were thin.” The harshness quieted the woman and injected a juicy, nervous energy into the room.
That incident may have reminded a few audience members of Lopez’s prickly June 2004 performance at Magness Arena, in which a hostile crowd caused him to walk off stage and vow never to play Denver again (his publicist, Ann Gurrola, blamed drunks for the brouhaha and lauded Lopez’s general kindness as a person). What really happened? I don’t know, but at the time several Denver Post readers put it this way: Lopez berated the house for booing him after he mentioned the L.A. Lakers. They claimed he cut the show short and left the stage, vowing never to play our fair city in the future. His publicist said he was on his last joke anyway.
Fans of Lopez can be glad he got over it, becuase he’ll be here again in February headlining the much-larger Wells Fargo Theatre (where Dane Cook, appropriately, played a couple weeks ago). Lopez is a superstar in the comedy world and a beacon for legions of Latino performers that have a tough time breaking through to the media mainstream. As for us non-fans… well… not so much.
John Wenzel is an arts and entertainment reporter for The Denver Post.