A comedian, actor, and author, Loni Love is probably best known as a panelist on television’s talk fest The Real. Her brand of stand-up may not necessarily stick out in a crowd—she trades in traditional comic staples: race and ethnicity, politics, religion, sex, the misbehavior of celebrities. And she embraces, with seemingly no hesitation, the role of Big Black Funny Lady that many other entertainers have adopted over the years.
She has predictable cadences down pat. She’ll begin a comic bit by speaking in a low and mellow voice. Then she’ll raise the volume and pitch as the story builds. And at last she’ll erupt with amusing blasts of cacophony. When she’s finished venting, she’ll pipe down for a while until the cycle begins again—at a slightly altered pace, sometimes, and with different embellishments.
Perhaps the reason she succeeds so fully without establishing her own discrete brand can be found in her surname. At her recent 8pm Friday show at Gotham Comedy Club, Love had plenty of love to bestow, even when she was cataloguing racial stereotypes. For instance, there was her tribute to white ladies of a certain variety: no-nonsense women who manage to take charge in unruly supermarket lines and bring fellow shoppers to order. Love took aim at the type with deadly precision, yet showed clear admiration for her target. Soon after, she was off on a tangent about Chinese restaurateurs’ penchant for offering customers menus with endless combinations of ingredients. The voices of the characters in the routine were crude and borderline offensive—and at one point, Love stopped herself, turned upstage and murmured in mock mortification: “To the two Asians in the audience, I am sorry. This is so racist.” Maybe. But central to the bit was respect for the characters’ resourcefulness: an appreciation of their unembarrassed knack for culinary improvisation.
Her political humor was similarly benign—some might say defanged. She included an extended sequence on three of this year’s contenders for the U.S. presidency: Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump. But instead of rehashing the trio’s often-cited faults and peculiarities, Love focused on a striking commonality. All three of them, she insisted (and illustrated with wicked detail), were simply too damn old to be running for president. Yet while the ageist humor might have been alienating to some, she never came off as downright nasty about senior citizens either.
Love has a way of grounding the most far-fetched narratives, making them almost plausible. One of her best bits had to do with a family reunion in which one older relative grew maudlin, the younger ones got into a physical fight (with one another and with the police), and she found herself bailing them all out of jail while attempting to recall the actual names of weirdly nicknamed cousins. Silly stuff, but I had the sneaking suspicion that the story had been inspired by an actual family gathering.
Toward the end of the set, Love began interacting more personally with various audience members, including one young couple out on their second date together and another couple who were celebrating the husband’s 80th birthday. She took time also to kibitz with and kid those “two Asians in the audience” along with a group of young gay men (whom she addressed, fondly, as her “sugar sticks”). During this portion of the show, she came off both as emotionally warm and cheekily quick-witted. “If I’d known there were gonna be 80-year-olds, I wouldn’t have been talkin’ about dicks,” she quipped. The chumminess culminated in a sing-along of “I Will Always Love You,” and it was clear that the feeling between performer and audience was mutual.
Warming up the crowd before Love’s set were emcee Buddy Fitzpatrick and two other comics: Mike James, a fairly laid-back fellow from Nashville, and Ophira Eisenberg, a Canadian performer now living in New York. I was most taken with Eisenberg, who demonstrated a bright, assertive style and some funny bits about being an older first-time mother and coping with artisanal ice-cream shops in Brooklyn. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more performances from her.
Gotham Comedy Club – August 12, 13
About the Author
Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for BistroAwards.com in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is currently literary manager for Broad Horizons Theatre Company.