Fort Worth — Jacqueline Novak knows who she is. She knows what her style is, and that style is meandering and rambling, with a lot of asides, doubling back, and dropped subjects. She tells us that a friend of hers says that there’s a lot of conversational rock to mine through to get to the veins of gold with her.
She owns her talkative style and won’t apologize for it, nor should she. Ultimately, the viewer of her show, How Embarrassing For Her at Amphibian Stage Productions, comes to understand that what we’re getting out of Novak’s loquaciousness is her unalloyed self, and isn’t that what we should want out of our comedians?
The theme of embarrassment is an anchor that she builds her show around (as you might’ve guessed from the title). While she relates her own embarrassing stories — don’t we all have a drawer full of them? — she is more concerned with the unconscious ways other people’s embarrassments can have a taxing effect on the people around them.
Example: she says she’s mistaken for being pregnant a lot. But she’s less flummoxed by the mistaken assumption as she is by the furious backpedaling the assumer does once they find out they’re wrong. It becomes her responsibility to assuage the mistake-maker when SHE’S the one who suffered the indignity of being mistaken for pregnant. It’s a double punishment.
Her one-woman show if full of insights like that, which is more quote-worthy than it is joke-worthy. That’s really saying something, because this is how good she is as a straightforward comedian.
Highlights from the show, in terms of straight laughter, include how plumber’s crack (she prefers plumber’s butt) should be known as “busy body butt” because the only reason people know it exists is because they see plumbers hard at work, and hence the term is a slander on the yeomen’s work ethic of plumbers. There’s also a great bit about how penises, far from being avatars of toughness, actually have the souls of poets, as inspired as they are by what they see.
In the end though, I think Novak would get bored just playing the jokester, and she has too much to say to limit herself to the confines of stand-up (and indeed, she’s written a book, hosted a podcast, and done a bunch of other stuff).
Somewhere near the end of her show, she asserts that the difference between guilt and embarrassment is that one gets the sense that perhaps in embarrassment we find a place we should stay. Maybe if Novak (this is her example) would theoretically be embarrassed to be wearing a bikini with her pregnant-appearing belly, but instead lets herself have a good time, then maybe other pudgy peeps can see her and find inspiration to let it all hang out more themselves.
It’s these sort of insights, punctuated by the jokes, that makes Novak’s act well worth seeing.