Grand Prairie — “How can you review comedy? It’s so subjective.” It’s a matter of chops. Are they trying something different? Are they pushing their material? Was the set a jumbled mess or did it have a sense of cohesion? Are they giving it their all or just walking through the set?
Wayne Brady has got chops. He’s an improvisational maestro. It’s been his raison d'être since college (though of late his acting and singing gigs are greatly on the increase). He’s been in one form or another of Whose Line Is It Anyway? since the late ‘90s, winning a Primetime Emmy Award in 2003 for his work on the series, an accolade that almost always goes to a single episode or special. He’s just that consistently good.
All that was on display Sunday night at Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie in Wayne Brady: Making %@it Up. With commendable assist from improv partner Jonathan Mangum, a frequent player on Whose Line, and keyboardist Cat Grey, musical director for Let's Make A Deal, Brady created characters, fashioned stories, and made up songs on the spot.
Before Brady took the stage, Mangum gave a wonderful little rap about a willingness to engage and participate being the key to the show and life in general. He prompted the audience to shout out words, the more complicated the better, for Brady to weave into a tune. They were rewarded with “transubstantiation,” “supercilious,”and “extemporaneous,” to name the top ones. We were deemed “smarter than Houston.”
The trio managed to make a warped song from the suggestion of “unicorn,” and created a movie from the suggestion “zombie gangster,” which prompted a hilarious impersonation of Godfather characters from Brady and the gleeful sight of Mangum cracking Brady up by chasing him around on stage. The best parts of the show came from their interactions. Skits requiring the participation on stage from recruited audience members were less successful; many did not possess the mental snap required.
The final sketch brought the energy back up, with Brady improvising songs from titles suggested by the audience while impersonating musicians and celebrities. The mash-up included Justin Bieber warbling about farts. Best of all was the Rolling Stones performing “Failed Colonoscopy,” with Brady prancing like Jagger and Mangum as Keith Richards dangling a faux cigarette from his sneering lips. Between songs, a surprisingly erudite and thoughtful wispy-voiced Mike Tyson imparted commentary and gave relationship advice about love songs.
But the show, which had a long run at the Venetian in Las Vegas, did not translate well to the cavernous Verizon Theatre. Without an assist from video screens, the comedians’ facial expressions, so core to comedy, were unseen by all but the first tier of seats. Audience laughter was muted and sometimes delayed as people further back struggled to figure out what was said. Combined with muddy audio and botched lighting cues throughout, the tech difficulties mangled the rhythm and momentum comedy requires. Brady and company managed to rise above it, though it was a hard slog.
VIDEO: A very young Justin Timberlake and Brian McKnight improvises a song with Wayne Brady on his self-titled variety show that aired several years ago.