Robin Williams was at the Orpheum just before Thanksgiving, and Cheech and Chong were there last week. But neither of those shows made me laugh as much as the Greater Boston Alternative Comedy Festival did Wednesday night.
There were no stars on the lineup at the Paradise, unless you count the very funny Shane Mauss, who's appeared on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" three times, and the Walsh Brothers, now trying to make a go of it in LA. And thank goodness for the unfamous. The nine comedians who took the stage clearly wanted to make their mark, and they did just that with sets that were smart, silly, surprising, and, praise be, original.
"Combat-dancing" was the name of the game for one of Chris Coxen's many characters, Danny Morsel, a mustachioed macho man with a "war doll" who destroys pictures of things he doesn't like instead of fighting. He grooved to Gloria Estefan's "Conga" as he tore apart a picture of a solar-powered calculator - "because sometimes the war doll and I like to compute in the dark."
The husky-voiced Bethany Van Delft got a lot of mileage out of her black/Dutch heritage and her small chest. "I got my height from my mom's side of the family," she said. "And I got my boobs from my dad." Mehran, a gay man of Iranian descent, also mined his ethnicity for humor: "Like you weren't voted most likely to kill, behead, and restyle someone's hair."
They were tough acts to follow, and an amped-up Robby Roadsteamer could not overcome. He croaked out a few songs, but the overall effect was anger. What ever happened to the pudgy guy with the fanny pack who used to stuff his mouth with Kashi and sing "Heavy Metal With a Mouthful of Cereal"?
Host Shane Webb wandered around between sets, talking about nothing in particular in a nervous voice. "This is alternative comedy - I just gotta be weird, right?" she said. Not really, actually. The "alternative" label seems to encompass just about everything these days - from traditional standup to men in suit jackets and tighty whities singing "I'm Not Wearing Pants for Christmas." And judging from the array of talent onstage at the Paradise, I'd take local alternative acts over mainstream stars any day of the week.
Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.