Not the god. But a god. To quote the great Bill Murray.
And not just because of his godly beard.
In any event. I just saw Jason Mantzoukas do a one-man, silent monoscene.
That’s right. 20 minutes. On the UCB LA stage. By himself. And it was genius. Pure, hilarious, genius.
For one night only, Skinny Business Will Not Apologize became Jason Mantzoukas Will Never Apologize.
As a UCB devotee, this was one of those moments where I can say, “I was there.” You know, when a Londoner in 1969 looked at the sky and saw the Beatles playing on the rooftop, or when a young White House intern sees George Bush choke on a pretzel. In one of those shocking moments of glorious serendipity, I can say, “I was there.”
I usually save hyperbole for screaming matches with my television during American Idol performance nights, and this is no exception, as there is no hyperbole when I say his performance was pure genius.
The suggestion from the crowd was “hermit,” like a smile from a god. He looked nervous, as if he genuinely didn’t know what he was going to do, and there was an energy in the crowd, as we didn’t know either.
Then he pulled up a chair, and resumed the usual position: hands at 7 and 5 o’clock, cutting a steak. HUGE laugh. A genuine break in tension, as an entire room realizes we’re in good hands.
He spends the early part of his twenty minute set in elaborate spacework, which isn’t usually what he does, but it’s hilarious. He games the ordinary. The game becomes, “How monotonous will this be?” Per his usual style, it’s a meta-game, where the audience is simultaneously in the moment and aware of the moment.
Microwaving his food. Eating some more. Flipping channels on his tv. Microwaving his food again. Waiting. Microwaving it again. Waiting. Flipping channels. Remote not working. Changing the batteries. Utter monotony. Which doesn’t sound hilarious, but in the moment it kills.
We’re all right there with him. We’re rooting for him. We want it to kill, and he plays off the moment itself and feeds off the audience, course-correcting in real time, extending the moments and repeating the spacework as needed, milking each moment for maximum impact.
He moves on to the meat of his scene soon thereafter: a phone call he needs to make, but he’s afraid to make. He dials. Hangs up. Dials hangs up. At first, it seems like he’s gaming the monotony, as before, but his character is actually being revealed. It’s a call he has to make but can’t. We develop empathy for him.
From then on, everything is in place to ride the last ten minutes to greatness. He begins composing a suicide note. Washes his dishes. Cries. Watches some TV. Goes back to the note. Cries some more. Watches some TV. Watches some porn. Cleans up. He wants to make the call again but can’t.
Until finally, it’s the last moment… and he puts a gun in his mouth and kills himself.
20 minutes. Not a single word spoken. One man, alone on a stage. Silent. Completely improvised.
HUGE APPLAUSE. Standing O was inevitable, but he runs off stage before the crowd can fully rise to their feet.