Mecurio Rising

Paul Mecurio has been stomping around the comedy scene for well over a decade. If you’ve been a fan of The Daily Show — the Jon Stewart years in particular, because he set the bar so high — you’ll probably recognize the comic’s contributions to the show. He’s made television appearances, especially in regard to the late night circuit, whether he is on stage or in the background and writing.

Let’s Be Seated

Don’t call it a comeback, spits LL Cool J. Mecurio has been a comedic staple for years. Yet, I was not prepared for his valiant and energetic return to Auburn Public Theater (APT) on April 23. Expectations were met and exceeded, and after a last-minute seating dilemma with my two purchased tickets everything came together and was resolved by Jess at APT with no sweat.

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Paul Mecurio | Promotional photo

We were simply placed in the front row. If you haven’t ever been to a comedy show, this is for your information, the front row is the best seat for risk takers.

“Oh, no,” said Lyndsay. This wasn’t the first time she and I were seated front row. The last time was at an improv show, where no one normally called up to the staged, but the magician who closed the show felt I was a perfect fit for the act. Should luck have it, it would be me called to the stage rather than her.

As the two of us entered the theater, the woman taking our tickets greeted us with a smile. “Oh, your seats are A-3 and A-4. You’re in the front row. Good luck.”

Because I Cannot

Mecurio’s success and ability should be applauded, aside his having an Emmy and a Peabody. His writing is great, and his delivery is precise. As any great comedian can do, the jokes and stories are tied in a bow and knotted at their tails and heads; the loops of the bow represent the time it takes and the thought processes of the audience to see what he had just done. Just like reality: Some people can tie knots faster than others.

These sentences are also constructed on the screen: They are blanketed in that kind of awe a person feels when someone does a great job they themselves are not capable of doing or could fathom doing.

There is a difference between performing improv and stand-up comedy. There are similarities, and the darkened section of the intersecting circles is where sketch comedy sits. All of these take a great deal of patience, listening and observing. There is an art with finding what’s so funny about life or what is going on in a scene, what strange aspect or notion to what the game may be, and your material — improvised or written — will be propelled into comedic cosmos.

Mecurio’s jokes are stories. Unlike Steven Writght or the late Mitch Hedberg, both masters in deadpan one-liners, the featured comedian’s tact includes a beginning, middle, climax and quick end. To relate long-form improv: It’s in similar fashion to swiping a scene right after a boisterous laugh erupts from the crowd.

Or, if you’re performing a monologue or monoscene, you keep riding that wave, which brings me to…

Heightening

Heightening is moving the scene along and keeping that momentum going. You can start off like a firecracker’s explosion, but where does the scene go from there? How far or how crazy can the joke or scene go from there? This does not solely pertain to increasing the energy of what you’re trying to get across. Heightening can occur in the opposite direction: increasing sadness or increasing terror. It’s about making what you have already going bolder.

In terms of food: The more jalapeño seeds you add to a dish, the hotter it will be. It just depends on how crazy you want to get with it, and there has to be some validation.

Alas, no matter what decision you have to be, you have to rub your face in it.

Mecurio’s decision to call on person-after-person at APT’s sold out show not only proved his abilities, but it explained why he warms up audiences for Stephen Colbert.

Going for the Jugular

Mecurio was is relentless. At one point he checked his watch to see more than a half hour had passed. “I haven’t even told a joke. I probably should start doing that,” he told the audience. Yet, the 30 minutes of audience interaction was just as hysterical as his material.

Source: Auburn Public Theater | Photo by Carey Eidel

Source: Auburn Public Theater | Photo by Carey Eidel

He began to pick on the stocky guys in the audience, rhetorically asking why people in Auburn didn’t have any necks. After three guys took the stage, he pointed at me: “You. Come up here.”

I stood in line.

“You see this?” he asked the audience and pointed at my throat. “He has all the necks.” It was shortly after when Executive Director Carey Eidel took the photo where Mecurio asked me to scrunch down and pretend as if I was one with the rest of them.

He mixed in old with new material, of course. It’s just as fun hearing the jokes and stories he told me in the interview, and some are featured on his CDs, as he stood under the lights.

The Long Drive

He called on me a couple times, unbeknownst to him that I interviewed him days before. After introducing myself at the post-show, he asked me to stick around to talk, thanked me for being a good sport. The conversation was short since we were both going in different directions — he to join APT staff and patrons to the pub, and I had to drive.

I was simply happy to shake his hand.

To Rochester and back, I was able to listen to It’s Not Me, It’s the World a couple times. I tried to pull out the skeleton of the jokes to analyze how they were constructed, why this was funny and how — when told a different way — it would not be funny. Mental exercises of personal situations were ran through, dissected and pieced together for potential material; this is why there are so many open mics — to try something new.

Jay Leno paid Mecurio $50 for a joke. They kept in touch, and the now-comedian and former broker went on to continue a path of passion. Now, he has a frequently updated podcast “2 Chairs and a Microphone,” and he has interviewed a plethora of names: Paul McCartney, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Colbert; on May 21, he’ll be interviewing John Batiste and John Fugelsang.

I don’t have the gall or ability to be a stand up comedian. I’m not too funny, but I’m definitely more awkward — this could be a platform.

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