Audience gives Damon Wayans love, as live comedy opens back up

Audience gives Damon Wayans love, as live comedy opens back up

GUILDERLAND — Damon Wayans, one of the first national comedians to perform on a local stage before a paying audience in more than 13 months, has figured out how to get more white people to feel compassion for their Black fellow citizens subject to brutality and worse by police: substitute a dog as the victim in the story.

This strategy, said Wayans on Saturday night, during the middle of a soldout, three-day Funny Bone stand, would get the message across better to a wider audience. And frankly, he said, “I’m tired of trying to explain Black people’s pain to white people. They just don’t understand it.”

On the other hand, how much do white people love their dogs, asked Wayans? So much so that they think nothing of “walking down the street with a bag of dog poop and a cup of coffee in the same hand.”

He then launched into the most audacious, original and culturally relevant part of his 75-minute set, in which he acted out what it would look like, and the reaction of passersby and people nationwide viewing a video of the encounter, if a black Labrador retriever named George Floyd were dragged from the back seat of a car, and “the cop throws him on the ground and puts all of his weight on neck” for nearly 10 minutes. His eyes moist with grief and outrage, his voice rising to a shriek, Wayans said, “Make them stop!!!”

Wayans, now 60 and part of a multigenerational entertainment family with at least seven members working as comedians, actors, writers, directors and producers, clearly relished being in front of an audience, and the crowd, which had snapped up all available tickets for Wayans’ six Funny Bone shows within hours of them going on sale two weeks ago, loved him right back. Gales of laughter greeted an impression of Bill Cosby’s prison protestations (“I don’t want no puddin’ pop in my poop-a-doop”), while church-like affirmations reinforced observations about Black lives in America today.

Dark since March of 2020, Funny Bone had reopened a week earlier with shows by “Last Comic Standing” winner Josh Blue, also to sellout crowds. Blue and Wayans were on an opening slate of 13 acts, with more being added, that the Crossgates Mall comedy club will host through the end of the year. Among the other big names are Dave Attell, Tom Green and Brian Regan, whose Capital Region visits in recent years have been to full-capacity audiences at the 2,800-seat Palace Theatre in Albany.

Funny Bone management has configured the venue, normally able to hold more than 400, to accommodate 150, according to an initial statement from a representative, and the club stresses mandatory face coverings for patrons unless seated and a six-foot minimum distance between tables of separate groups. At Saturday’s late show, more than 100 were in seats, according to a Times Union count on site and later examination of a photo taken before the performance.

State guidelines issued early this month, which govern live arts and entertainment performances at indoor venues with a capacity of 1,500 or smaller, say the largest crowd allowed is 33 percent of original capacity or 100 people, whichever is less, meaning Funny Bone appeared to be over the limit. Club management said in reply to a follow-up inquiry that the venue is “at around half capacity which maxes out at 100,” but, “With the six foot rule we can accommodate 150 once approved.”

Opening act Matt Bergman started with 25 minutes of competent, forgettable material, the best of which was a story about short tempers on family vacations with young kids. It capped with his father, after criticism from Bergman’s mother while driving around a Disney theme park, stopping the car and storming off, so agitated that he didn’t realize he was walking in the wrong direction. 

Damon Wayans
With Matt Bergman

When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Funny Bone Comedy Club, Crossgates Mall, Guilderland

Length: Wayans: 75 minutes; Bergman, 25 minutes

The crowd: Sold out, at a limited-capacity 100-plus, and joyfully appreciative

Continues: 6 and 8:45 p.m. Sunday (4/25), but sold out


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