Pandemic? What pandemic?
I attended seven comedy shows over seven nights last week and heard less than 10 total minutes about COVID-19, even as infections forced the cancellations of at least two stand-up performances. Inflation and Donald Trump were barely mentioned. I don't recall hearing Joe Biden's name even once.
The eclectic lineup, most of which were participating in the second Minneapolis Comedy Festival, focused more on mundane, manageable annoyances than terrorizing headlines. Forget your troubles, people. C'mon, get happy.
Four different comedians did routines on their dogs. Both Donnell Rawlings and his opener, Minneapolis-based Adrian Washington, had eerily similar routines on the outrageous costs of going to the veterinarian.
Rawlings, a member of Dave Chappelle's posse, was one of the few comics who touched on the former president. While mocking Trumpsters, he knocked over a stool, one of several times he abused stage equipment. But his most memorable bit was an impression of a boneless chicken wing.
He was a lot more physical — at least onstage at the Assembly at the Woman's Club — than daredevil Steve-O who barely broke a sweat introducing clips of "Jackass" behavior too outrageous for movies or TV. Much of the 90-minute act felt like an infomercial for his deep cache of products. The real entertainment was watching your seatmates hide their eyes or momentarily escape to the lobby. When one audience member appeared to faint, Steve-O chuckled.
The comic that used her body — and voice — best was Duluth's own Maria Bamford, a sensation who gets more laughs with a high kick than most of her peers do with a page full of one liners. She rarely referenced the quarantine, but her act revolving around forever being on the verge of a nervous breakdown certainly hit home with everyone cooped up for the last couple of years.
Erica Rhodes has a lot in common with Bamford. They both trick you into thinking they have the dispositions of morning-show hosts, then slowly reveal their deviant thoughts.
Rhodes scrapped her plans to record her album, using her four nights at Acme Comedy Company to test some new material, including a bit about accidentally becoming a Marilyn Manson fan.
"All my friends are having kids now and I haven't even had an abortion," she said. "That's my edgy material. Didn't think I had it in me, did you?"
It was no surprise that Bamford and Rhodes had fans in the palms of their hands; they're among the best in the business. But only regular patrons of local comedy could have been prepared for Elle Hino, who opened for both social-media star Pinky Patel and Bamford.
The Twin Cities stand-up's bit on visiting the gynecologist was a gem, earning some of the festival's biggest laughs. Bamford was so blown away she insisted that someone with power in the audience get her a record deal. Amen to that.
But Hino's act is far from topical. It would have slayed just as easily in 1982 as it does today.
For political comedy, the best hope was Hari Kondabolu. He didn't disappoint — for the most part. Saturday's set at Cedar Cultural Center included sharp observations on hate crimes, Tucker Carlson, the invasion of Ukraine and, yes, the pandemic.
"I was an anti-vaxxer at one point," he said. "And then I turned seven."
But the NPR favorite seemed to sense that folks aren't quite ready for lots of heady material. He focused much of his act on being a first-time father.
After a scathing comment on the rise of Asian hate-crimes, he turned half his back to the audience.
"Let me get back to the baby material," he said. "I don't want to lose some of you people."