Rick Shapiro Review / November 1998 

The Anti-Seinfeld 

  by Gordon Polatnick

I  was in the East Village last night and saw a comedian (sic) at The Fort behind the Sidewalk Café on Avenue A.  He calls himself Rick Shapiro but you can call him a doctor.  His show consists of a blood and guts hour and a half of manic characterizations bouncing off each other as pinballs.  My initial response to this onslaught was akin to watching a runaway Dodge Dart smashing its way through Times Square after the theaters let out.  Innocent victims seemed to be hurled about in violent death throes  with the driver gaining more speed and accuracy as he zeroed in on his targets-- feeding his frenzy.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of Rick, waiting for him to finally crash and burn.  And wondering what fueled this rampage. 

Although he never slowed down, he did roll down the window and invite us to jump in and join him on this race through his personal hell.  This hell is very deceptive though, because on the surface it looks like everyday life in a thriving city which values book stores and coffee joints, yoga and fruit smoothies.  The problem seems to be that it doesn’t value Rick’s ability to really eat pussy well.  And it doesn’t value his penis and everywhere it wants to go.    

After I got this theme I was able to ignore the invitation to jump in and chose instead to detach myself from his vision enough to watch and enjoy his genius at work.  I started to see that it was pure work.  Rick was running a performance marathon of his own design, and his goal was to cross the finish line after an hour and a half of searing stream of consciousness with the throbbing audience in tact and applauding.  And every Wednesday night starting at 10:30 Rick uncages his crippled cast of characters to help propel him toward that end.  

To get a clearer picture of his mindset you’d have to sit down in Barnes and Noble and read Steppenwolf and Catcher in the Rye at the same time on twenty cups of espresso from Starbucks, while stunning objects of desire parade around you singing You Can Look But You Better Not Touch.  If you did that within the subtext of having arrived in New York from South Jersey to pursue an acting career and ended up enduring years of sucking cock for heroin and many more years of AA meetings to finally becoming clean and sober then finding yourself Rip Van Winkeled into Gapland, USA, you’d get the picture.  

Or at least you’d start to get the picture.  During the hour and a half show he had only one one-liner.  Rattling some anti-depressant pills in his jacket pocket he realized, "I’m on more drugs now than when I was on drugs."  

Rick, as a comedian, eschews punch lines and bits preferring to work with the moment. Even when he’d begin a bit from his recent live CD, (Unconditional Love on Fortified Records) his brain would sidetrack him with a more pertinent observation and that would be that.  Next thing you know he’d be careening down a whole new path sometimes fighting his way back to the bit, sometimes leaving it in his dust.

Ultimately, it’s his audience that is his prey and his muse.  He has the ability to see through everyone’s mask including his own, letting his characters give voice to the audience members experiencing his artless art.  Beginning to absorb him, I was able to marvel at Rick’s bare synapses popping as he fixed on every nuance in the room and attempted to address each one.  His frames of reference seemed unlimited.  I got the feeling that whatever your background and livelihood, Rick would have a way of reeling you in to what initially seemed to be his cloistered and narrowly defined world of pussy and pussy.

As the show blammed onward passed the hour mark, I found that I was no longer detached.  I was involved, I was indicted, I was inspired and I was becoming exhausted—for Rick as well as myself.  There was a strong sense of relief and release in the room when Lach, Rick’s producer/soundman and manager of the Fort, broke up the show to pass around the tip jar, announcing, "It’s free to get in, but it costs to get out."  As the jar got stuffed and the CD’s got sold, Rick continued onstage for his closing fifteen minutes.  He once again tried to cater to a linear-minded world, by performing one of his best bits, The Irish Bartender, from beginning to end.  He pulled it off magnificently, showing a great talent for comic writing.

Exhausted but amped up, Rick Shapiro grudgingly left the stage to galloping applause.  I left with the feeling that I had finally witnessed a performance and entertainer worthy of being touted as the man to fill Richard Pryor’s shoes.   Fearless and funny.  Experiencing his genius is just what I needed to give me faith in the post-Seinfeld world.  There is a lot more to laugh at than Seinfeld ever imagined. 

Gordon Polatnick is a New York City tour guide specializing in jazz tours.
(718) 606-8442.  gordon@elvispelvis.com


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