In third grade, my dad took me and my brother to the Second City Comedy Club, a theater in Chicago where a handful of Saturday Night Live stars were discovered. “Watch this,” he told us as we sat down shoulder-to-shoulder in the small room. “This is real life.”
Comedy, as an entertainment genre, comes from the tragedy of real life. I learned this from spending time at comedy clubs and by watching Saturday Night Live every weekend since I was young. This past Saturday night, three comedians brought the spirit of stand-up to Strong Auditorium as a part of the annual Winterfest Weekend, spitting straight humor about true things that happened to them.
All of them were a little silly, a little quirky, and had a lot to share.
Anna Drezen took the stage first, walking out timidly with a can of Diet Coke. “I’m Anna, and I’m not like other girls,” she told us. “I’m a feminist, my astrological sign is nervous, and I look like Brendan Fraser if he was a teen mom.”
An Emmy-nominated writer for SNL from Long Island, she touched on hot college topics like dating, mental health, and constant exhaustion. “I’m tired. I can’t be cute, I can’t be fun,” she said with a shrug, but her soft voice and blond bangs drew the warmest cheers from the crowd. She made fun of us a little, too, sharing that a student backstage told her Rochester “doesn’t have sports and is known for being elitist, but our squash team is nationally ranked.”
Drezen and Moffat told us they were given a ride from the airport to campus by a kind chemical engineering student. They both catered to their audience, talking about their college experiences and asking why the hell we liked garbage plates. “You guys only eat those to boost the hospital economy here, right?” Moffat asked us after Drezen introduced him as “your sweet nephew if he was an internet troll.”
Alex Moffat, a funny guy from Illinois who started his career at the Second City, took the stage as his character “Max Brenner: one of the top 25 stand up comedians touring in Northwest Germany.” Through a broken German accent, he cracked jokes about DILF Donald Trump and Florian Jaeger, the professor who went on leave last year after a report of sexual harassment. Moffat had a smooth routine, moving to a bit he called “Daditation” — a meditation guided by his dad — to slamming wrong keys on the piano and singing “Piano Man” because “there’s nothing more beautiful than an auditorium full of Crotchesterinos belting along to the same tune.”
Melissa Villaseñor’s act was the choppiest but the most sincere. She giggled through her impressions of Owen Wilson, Sandra Bullock, Steve Buscemi, Nickelback, and Björk. “You are correct,” she said at the beginning of her act, “I do have a cat.” She moved with the energy of a cartoon character, dancing to NSYNC and mock stripping to The Sims theme song. She reenacted scenes from her childhood home in L.A., family birthday parties, and uncomfortable dates with past boyfriends.
Halfway through her performance, she struck a serious chord with the audience. “Last night, I was crying thinking about how hard it is to be funny when I’m in so much pain,” she told us, and we laughed with her because we weren’t sure how to respond. She made fun of herself and her voice, telling us that “the more days I have, the more I crack myself up.” She kept pausing to think about her next joke and wrapped it up by shrugging and saying, “I guess I’m all out of material. Thanks so much for making me feel good, too.”
The most honest part of the show was the awkwardness of the comedians themselves. Saturday Night Live has been broadcasting comedy for the common man since 1975, showcasing a cast of iconic characters — Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna, Dana Carvey’s Church Lady, Rachel Dratch’s Debbie Downer, Chris Farley’s Matt Foley. But, as seen in Strong on Saturday night, these TV legends are just sketches that came from awkward artists fumbling for their next bit.
Drezen, Moffat, and Villaseñor all seemed to feel unsure if they were actually funny, and they guided their material forward by gauging the the audience’s reactions. Humor is a field continuously turned around by the cultural environment. “Whether it’s your last night on earth or your first,” Moffat said at the end of his act, “I hope you laughed at least a little.”