Wes & Eugene's Cabinet of Wonders - Thurs. May 21, 2009 - World Cafe Life
New York comic Eugene Mirman seems to be on tour constantly. Just in the past few years he's performed live with The Flight of the Conchords (stopping off at the Tower Theatre), with the Comedians of Comedy (The TLA), and with the sketch trio Stella (Keswick Theatre). Each time, of course, with other comedy acts. Makes sense, right?
Yesterday he was back in the area, but this time as part of "Wes & Eugene's Cabinet of Wonders" at World Cafe Live in West Philadelphia. "Wes" is the British folk singer and writer John Wesley Harding that started the Cabinet to bring together literary, comedy, musical and even ventriloquial worlds in a variety show format. World Cafe Live was a perfect fit for the show as the venue is a partner with the public radio "adult alternative" radio station WXPN which currently plays Harding's songs on the air. Judging by the reaction from the sit down and eat audience, almost everyone was there because of Harding.
The rule, for the most part, is that live music and comedy don't mix well, but this wasn't the case with Mirman. While the crowd was probably a little, well, older than most comedy show crowds, it didn't matter. What should you do if bears attack, elevators in Russia, hotel in Fargo with a weird view, how to nab a husband, everything got a great response. He also took time to mention that the last time he was in Philadelphia was for a Democratic Primary debate last year that had 12 anti-abortion protestors. Mirman joked that the protestors held up signs and screamed things like "this fetus never learned Skype!" He also workshopped a part of the commencement speech that he will give to the graduates of his former high school in Lexington, Massachusetts in which he congratulates the graduates on escaping the "knowledge prison" that is school.
Later there were readings by writers Ken Kalfus and David Morse and singer/songwriters Chris Mills and Jonatha Brooke played a few songs. The underlying theme for the evening seemed to be light-hearted material with a dark edge that didn't take itself too seriously. Mills' songs included some pretty violent themes, Kalfus read a fictional tale of an American that straps on a suicide bomb after 9/11 and Brooke played a song based on lyrics by Woody Guthrie that she described as "sexy" by the name of "My Sweet and Bitter Bowl."
Mirman came back on stage to sing "Mrs. Robinson" with Harding and while I'm not much of a music critic, I thought his baritone singing voice was pretty dead-on and complimentary to Harding's. Then later Mirman came up on stage again to recount a recent tale in which Delta Airlines lost his luggage. It was good to see the comic known for jumping from topic to topic to do something more long-form and the story ended with an act of revenge that pleased the audience and Mirman alike.
And finally the eclectic evening ended with a singalong by all of the performing again touching on the crappiness that is Delta Airlines with a rousing, catchy chorus.