The digital clock is an interesting thing.
I like its no-bullshit simplicity. It doesn’t try to be anything more than it is. It’s there to tell time. It doesn’t look nice, it only features only two colors (red-on-black or black-on-mucus-green), and it doesn’t give you the weather or anything.
When you see a red-on-black digital clock in a dark room, it looks like a lonely spirit, nobly espousing the man-made quantification of experience into an interstellar void.
Maybe that’s why I couldn’t stop looking at the one in Goergen Athletic Center through most of Vanessa Bayer’s Mel Weekend comedy performance on Saturday. Or maybe it’s because I was bored.
I should be fair. There was good stuff in the performance. It came about as easily as extracting a penny from silly putty in winter with no gloves on, but good stuff was there. Like her note-perfect impersonation of a drama camp kid, or a bit on how “you can name your kid Christian, but not Jew.” (Bayer made clear that she was Jewish afterwards.)
And there was definitely something interesting, and sometimes funny, about her stories of being a high school student with leukemia. “Just because you have cancer does not make you a good person,” Bayer quipped, which was funny, but if there was a point beyond that, I missed it.
The performance felt non-committal, like Bayer was too afraid to stick with one story, theme, or character for long enough to extract a satisfying set from any of them. It felt like a poorly assembled playlist — some parts good (her Miley Cyrus impersonation), some bad (a hypothetical “Friends” scenario), but none of them succeeding or interconnecting enough to justify their presence.
Before Bayer was Meg Stalter, whose main objective seemed to be to make the audience squirm and then laugh at their squirming. At times, it worked really well. Like when she confronted audience members. (“Don’t start coughing. You shouldn’t come to the show if you’re sick.”) The best point of her set was when she walked into the audience, asking one member questions and never letting them answer.
Other times, Stalter just seemed to bask in collective discomfort, and it was just unpleasant. Maybe that was the point and I’m missing the bigger joke or something, but people paid to go to this.
But Stalter had an objective. I’m not sure if Bayer did. It seemed like she was trying to fill time, like when she walked offstage to play a web series episode she made.
I got bored, so I looked at the clock.