Review: Phil van Hest's 'Funny About That'

Phil van Hest, at a hairier time.

IndyFringe Building; monthly shows Dec. 14, Jan. 18, Feb. 15

I'm a sucker for this sort of live talk show/Chautauqua gathering; hell, I even did something like it during my college years, ages ago. (Couldn't be more surprised/embarrassed there's a Google trail, but here's this hoary IDS article concerning the Phoenix Society for Gentlemen and Ladies.) Phil van Hest styles his 'Funny About That' after a radio talk show, with more than a touch of The Daily Show/The Colbert Report; contrast that with his Spalding Gray-inspired monologue work, a taste of which worked into his opening monologue for this second installment of the show, which concerned the state of education in our city, as seen through the lens of van Hest's own educational background. It's a unique one: He was born in Santa Barbara, Calif., to graduate students (as all progressives are, according to van Hest); then he spent some formative years in Indonesia, where his only exposure to American culture was via the one sitcom broadcast on Indonesian TV (one year it was Small Wonder; the next, Alf). He eventually made his way back to the States, where he was asked not to come back to one college (not "kicked out"; there's a legal difference, says Phil), and he was working as a shop teacher before his move to Indianapolis this year (on his final day at work, he managed to embed a splinter into his eye, cosmic punishment for making his last day April 1). His memoir/monologue (with Powerpoint presentation) transitioned into an examination of education in Indianapolis, including a few lessons to be learned; for instance, if you talk to your kids, they will turn out smarter; hence, Phil's proposed onesie, which reads "Don't Talk To Me Like I'm a Fucking Idiot," because baby talk doesn't do anyone any good.

Phil's monologue — at turns hilarious and insightful; inspired by The Daily Show and monologuists who have come before him, but not derivative — gave way to a live talk show interview with Christina Lear, one-time NUVO intern/freelancer and now a teacher at an IPS high school that's destined (doomed?) for takeover by a private company because of its low test scores. The live interview was a little rockier. Just how do Stewart and Colbert walk the line between being funny and substantial? It can be tough to be both funny and thoughtful in an interview, but at least van Hest's talk show format is a hell of a lot more interesting than the rehearsed Q&A format that occupies the hours of network talk shows. This is, to be sure, an alternate vision that should occupy more of our time and airwaves. Live questions from "first-time callers" were accepted; would that any of the mics worked, but the packed house kept noise to a minimum to try to hear everyone.

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