After a five-year hiatus, comedy returned to Summerfest on Friday night as Lewis Black headlined a night of stand up at the BMO Harris Pavilion on Day 8 of the Big Gig.
Rather than re-introducing comedy to festival goers by putting the acts in a tent off a side stage – or on a side stage itself where the surrounding sound would really bleed over – Summerfest hoped the pavilion’s lakefront location would allow for a good setting.
For the most part, it worked. Sound did bleed over from the Tim McGraw show at the Marcus Amphitheater, but the music turned into white noise once it got going consistently. The fact that it was not an act that had hard-charging and changing basslines probably helped, too.
Mike Wilmot, Black’s second opener after John Bowman, acknowledged the music at a couple points during his 24-minute set, and Black did, as well, but it shouldn’t have been that distracting for those who purchased tickets in the lower bowl.
The three comedic veterans were perfect choices for the re-introduction of the genre to Summerfest. Less experienced comics might have been rattled by the music, as well as the flock of bugs that swarmed the spotlight around their heads, yet all handled it professionally and, naturally, with humor. As Black thanked the crowd on the way out, he quipped "The opportunity to do a duet with Tim McGraw for an hour is something I’ll never forget."
Black worked through a cough and some new material, so there were some fits and starts during his 60-minute set, but his sometimes manic, hesitant style helped ease the audience through any unplanned pauses.
The 64-year-old social satirist was enthusiastic about returning to Summerfest and Milwaukee and the audience was just as happy about having him back – he entered to a rousing standing ovation – and he opened with some standard fare ("You are the people who taught me how to drink") and early Summerfest memories of dying on stage and dealing with an over-active crowd willing to let him know about it.
He only had to pause to address the audience twice during his routine – both times within the first six minutes – and did so with enough vigor that he was allowed to continue uninterrupted.
Known for his oft-politicized guest spots on "The Daily Show," it was inevitable he would rub the raw nerve of someone near the front of the stage, and he did – something he cut down before it could get too out of hand: "Let’s get this on the table right now – if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, as far as I’m concerned, you’re a douchebag."
Black riffed on how bad the 21st century has been – due in large part to his generation – who only ever wanted to hang out and make stuff up rather than actually do anything.
"We were supposed to change the world. And we did. We fucked it up," he said.
He them moved into routines you might expect - social security, the national healthcare system and alternative energy.
But he also dipped back to his youth for some observational humor about then and now, harkening back to a time of three TV channels (and free television), the fact that there was no diagnosis for attention deficit disorder and the "horrific" invention that was Facebook before bringing it back to Congress.
His set ended sort of meekly as he worked through a Girl Scouts bit, but he managed to get a few solid laughs. The sizable crowd (though not a sellout) wanted to love him and they did – and when he asked to have the crowd let Summerfest know comedy should be back in 2014 he received a tremendous standing ovation.
From the moment Black came on to the BMO Harris Pavilion stage at 8:55 to introduce his longtime friend Bowman to the time he bid adieu just a few minutes shy of two hours later, the audience was in to it, ready to laugh, and willing to push the music to the side. Black, Bowman and Wilmot were funny, handled a difficult atmosphere beautifully, and the crowd responded. Summerfest would do well to bring the laughs back again.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Jim Owczarski
Published April 27, 2015
Tyler Thornburg has been pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers since 2012, but last year was to be his first as a full-time reliever. He started well, but was then lost for the year with an elbow injury. He is back and healthy at the start of 2015 and hopes to prove, again, that he belongs in the majors.
Published April 23, 2015
Some many call him a question mark in the Milwaukee Brewers lineup, but Khris Davis was feeling confident about himself and the team as the 2015 campaign got underway.
Published April 21, 2015
As the Milwaukee Bucks attempt to lock up a playoff berth in the final few games of the year, second-year forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is proving to many that he can be a force to be reckoned with. You see the action on the court, now, but it was the lonely hours in the gym before his family arrived from Greece last year that laid the foundation.
Published April 17, 2015
It was one year ago today that former Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl introduced Wes Edens and Marc Lasry to the city of Milwaukee as the new owners of the Bucks franchise. The pair would not, formally, be considered the owners by the league for a few weeks yet - but the press conference on April 16, 2014 signaled the start of a new era. A lot has happened in 365 days. Read on for some of the big moments.
Published April 15, 2015
Jabari Parker hasn't played a game for the Milwaukee Bucks since Dec. 15, 2014, and he may not play another one until that date later this year. Or maybe slightly before. Or after. It's the great on-court unknown for the franchise. But what if he didn't get hurt? It's possible that his injury affected more than just the team - it could've swayed public sentiment regarding the arena.
Published April 13, 2015
As the spotlight widens on the ownership of the Milwaukee Bucks and politicians around the state regarding the construction of a new Downtown arena, the Milwaukee Admirals have been left in the shadows. As of now, there are no plans to have the Admirals as a part of the new multi-purpose arena.
Published April 10, 2015
OnMilwaukee.com Sports Editor Jim Owczarski is taking off on a new adventure, leaving the Cream City after over three years. It's been fun, very memorable, and full of fun people, places, drinks and food. On his way out, he shares with you some of his favorites in all of those categories.
Published April 9, 2015
Believe it or not, we are now closer to a decade removed from Tiger Woods' last major championship than we are to his last run of sustained dominance in the game. The greats, always, lose their edge and become shadows of what they were. But Woods' decline was so sudden, the game hasn't quite yet recovered.
Published April 8, 2015
The Milwaukee Bucks aim to create a true urban plan around its new Downtown arena, and the billion dollar concept could have far reaching effects. Read on to see how some in the community feel about the project.
Published April 8, 2015
The ownership of the Milwaukee Bucks officially unveiled the images and the plans for not only a new arena, but for an entertainment district just north of the BMO Harris Bradley Center.