Marching off step 

Peter Berman
Morty’s Comedy Joint
Saturday, Sept. 30

Sometimes you pack an enthusiastic crowd into a good room and push a quality comic on stage and it all feeds off each other. Other times, like Saturday at Morty’s Comedy Joint, you just scratch your head.

Peter Berman (whose balding, leather-jacket-wearing, tough-guy persona screams New York no matter how many times he says he lives in Los Angeles) threw down a seriously funny set, hit his marks and connected with the audience that, although not capacity, was hungry for humor and giving up lots of energy. The opening act, Erik Griffin, laid down some solid prep work and his goofy, slacker style seems destined to headline, and soon. And still, something was out of kilter.

A table full of dressed to the nines 20-somethings on a girls night out became a focus of Griffin’s set, as he playfully admonished them about their inability to flirt fair, teasing them with valley girl accents. Griffin and the audience hit a groove, but when Berman opened the mic, “It’s good to be in Indy … that’s sarcasm,” the beat changed and try as they might, the audience never fell back into full step with him.

Berman’s got a hard edge on his humor that seems more Denis Leary than Timothy Leary and his stage presence is aggressive, way more speedy than weedy, but he went for the pot jokes nonetheless. Still adjusting after Griffin’s act, the audience was feeling Berman out and his stoner joke swam against the physical current of his act just enough to fall flat. It seemed to catch Berman off guard and he swerved hard.

“OK, so I guess nobody in Indianapolis smokes pot.” C’mon. By the end of the set a bachelorette party was claiming to have a backpack full of the stuff, but the point is Berman abandoned his planned script early and even though he kept the audience laughing there was never any flow to his set. He’s a truly funny comedian and although nobody goes to comedy clubs to see professionalism, the way he toughed it through a sometimes difficult night, salvaging a good but not great show from potential disaster, was admirable.

“Hey, everybody, I will be selling CDs of this very show called The Audience was Indifferent.” They weren’t actually. They had a really good time, they just had to work a little harder at it than they expected.

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