Music isn’t what it used to be. Men aren’t asking Barbra Ann to hold their hands and quartets of women no longer beg the postman to deliver letters from their boyfriends so far away. Instead, music has permeated into comedy and the “musician/comedian” performers are taking the stage. These artists, like Matt Griffo, have created new songs with lyrics along the lines of “sit on my face and tell me you love me” and “let’s all drink our bottled water and put the Earth aslaughter”; equally funny as they are universal.
On March 14, Chicago transplant Matt Griffo returned home to Rochester for a performance at the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre’s Windsor location. Griffo’s show is a one-hour mashup of music and comedy, with a dash of standup and healthy dose of informality. Griffo’s comedy appeals to the universal plights of his audience. The set list included songs about doing laundry naked to get every piece of clothing, the struggles of being in a non-relationship relationship and loving, yet obscenely racist grandfathers.
The audience, consisting of no more than 30 people, spanned three generations. The youngest audience member appeared to be about 20, the oldest pushing 90 and the bulk of the members between 40 and 50. Groups of two to five sat at round tables, set up with a hodge podge of plastic and folding chairs. Each group was segregated according to their age range, but that was the only obvious generational gap. The tables of 80-something-year-olds howled just as loudly as the tables 20-somethings at nearly every line Griffo sang. At some points, parts of Griffo’s songs couldn’t be heard due to the disproportionately loud laughter.
Griffo was joined on stage by two cellists, Marilynn and Leyla. The cello parts of Griffo’s comedic songs added an ironically formal element to the show, which was juxtaposed with Leyla’s interpretive dancing. Leyla, with dark blue lipstick, striped tights and heavy black eyeliner, looked like an off-brand Wednesday Addams character. She served as the visual spectacle in the performance. At any moment, she could be seen contorting her face, throwing her sweater over her head, or flailing her arms, all the while playing along on her cello.
Nearly every one of Griffo’s songs was a hit. Griffo’s music is catchy and clever, and encourages audience engagement. For one song, Griffo asked an audience member to share his name, occupation and a hobby; his name was Brian, he works in a warehouse and plays jazz guitar. Griffo improvised an entire song with these three details, “Brian plays sexy jazz rock and works in a warehouse.” Other songs required audience members to sing the chorus of a song about how love can make people “stop being assholes.” Songs like these kept most of the audience members active and engrossed. The exception was an elderly woman sitting near the stage, who was slowing tipping over for the span of five minutes before she caught herself. The audience yelling “love” back at Griffo may have jerked her back awake.
Only one song seemed out of place—a Halloween-eqsue song about “ghosts, ghouls, goblins and some guy named Gary Greg.” The message of the song wasn’t nearly as clear as Griffo’s other songs (like the one about country music only being about “Jesus, beer, old friends and Jesus”). An unplanned, almost awkward conversation about the Gary Greg song’s music video began on stage between Griffo and Leyla. Unlike the rest of the show, this did not seem planned, nor was Griffo able to turn it into part of the show’s comedy, like when he yelled a profanity at his mandolin. The conversation was jumbled and halted the show for a brief moment. Griffo fully recovered, though, and the show rebounded.
The connection to Griffo’s songs felt by audience members was clear in their laughter, applause and frequent audible comments. In the middle of a song about “goddamn flaky friends” who never show up, an audience member said, “Hey! That’s all of our friends!” Too bad for those
flaky friends; they missed out on seeing Rochester’s funnier version of Bo Burnham.