I got to see Jeremy Piven at the Irvine Improv last night. Although I’ve always been a fan, and no doubt Ari Gold is a serious piece of American television history for kingdom come, I didn’t really expect much out of him as a stand-up. Over the years at The Comedy Store, I have seen at least three dozen people who were actors on a hit sitcom or well known for this and for that come in and get up and try to make magic happen in the form of an act that could maybe make them a bucket full of dough on the side.
It never ever happens.
For one thing, just because you’re a good actor doesn’t mean you have the chops, guts, brains, balls, or foolishness to make it in stand-up. It’s like Michael Jordan playing baseball. Yeah, ….but, no. The other thing, and maybe more important, is they realize very quickly, not only how hard it is, but how long it will take to get good. Invariably, over the years, they all came and went. Either they didn’t intrinsically have it, or they turned and ran after they realize the dedication it takes to be even a ‘good’ stand-up.
Jeremy Piven is a great stand-up.
That really blows my mind to write that. I would have bet against it. I thought he’d be, okay, tell some funny celeb stories, and get over. Fine. I was dead wrong. (As usual.) First off, he’s put the time in. He’s worked it. Banged it out in nightclub dates for a good four years. Done the time. Note; Comics reading this will think, no way. Four years isn’t enough time to be great. Agree. It probably takes more like ten to twelve years. It wouldn’t happen in four for most of you, or myself. Even if the core talent was off the charts. This guy is different though. He’s been on stage since like nine years old. He’s been doing comedy and telling stories forever. He’s trained, seasoned, and has been blessed with so many long marianating performing skills, that he’s been able to easily cut the line to the head of the class.
There’s more to it though. If you’ve read enough of my essays you know that I’ve come to believe that the number one thing that makes the great great and the not so great, not so great but good, is authenticity. That sense that’s sure and solid in the mind of an audience that the person onstage doing an act, may well be doing an act, but offstage he’s exactly the person we’re watching onstage. There’s no artifice to their comedic personality. That’s them up there, one hundred percent. That’s who they are, what they think, what they believe. There’s a sincere bond that gives audiences a reason to really love a stand-up, and I have to say, Jeremy is, or feels, (since I don’t really know him.) hyper authentic. You’re seeing him up there, exactly as he is. Hook, Line, and sinker.
He’s exactly what you’d expect, and more because, again, he brings all of his tools from all of the years up there with him. At the same time he’s readily bearing himself, showing his craziness, sharing his bitterness, and his ego-driven insanity. You know damn well that that’s who he is, the guy up there. There’s no air being put on. He’s telling stories and doing routines, breaking into perfectly pitched characters, and not so much impressions, but renditions on people he’s met. Mike Tyson done in a way only a razor-sharp comic actor can do him. Not what you see from a Rich Little or even younger performers doing celebrity Mike Tyson. There’s something about his innate acting talent that seems to be perfect for stand-up comedy. It sure seemed perfect to the two sold-out crowds last night. I’ve seen very few people make a room laugh that hard as I saw him do twice last night.
Having fun being onstage.
There’s the other secret. You have to succumb to the hard work, you have to be absolutely, undeniably yourself up there, but just as important, you have to love being on stage. It has to be a warm bath for you. That seems to be the easiest bell for Jeremy to ring. It so apparent that he adores being up there making folks laugh. Getting laughs. He’s taking it in, lapping up the laughs and the love like a beagle in a warm soapy bathtub. He’s happy up there, and that makes the act a lot of fun to watch. It’s not a one-way deal either, as much as he loves to be on stage, as much as the crowds that come in and line up afterward to have their photo taken with him love him, Jeremy loves his audience too. His roots are thick. The midwestern penchant to see people as for the most part, pretty damn great is right there in his aura. Baked into his DNA.
This isn’t always what I see and feel by the way from a lot of other stand-ups. I often sense, even some of the stand-ups I work with who have become mega-stars, arena acts, truly do not like the cut of the jib of the people that pay to see them. May even detest them. It isn’t this way here. This Chicago fuck likes his crowd. They feel it. That’s the final ingredient that I think makes him so good.
Go see this guy in a club, soon. You’ll be as surprised as I was, maybe even more.
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