Often in the course of stand-up comedy, there develops a barrier between the comedian and the audience, and that barrier is typically left uncrossed. The comedian prepares a recipe of well-rehearsed jokes and presents them in their predetermined order, and then the show is over.
This is not the case for comedian and writer Keith Alberstadt, who possesses the unique ability to lower this barrier and makes use of the unique community that is a stand-up audience.
Alberstadt’s resume is long and impressive. He has written for “Saturday Night Live”’s Weekend Update and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” and has been featured on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.” Additionally, Alberstadt performs regularly for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. He can regularly be heard on “The Bob and Tom Show” on SiriusXM radio and is currently a writer for National Lampoon’s “Sports Minute or So” and “The Complete Sheet.”
This past weekend, the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase hosted Alberstadt for a night of stand-up comedy.
Alberstadt’s style of stand-up comedy is the typical observational routine, based on Alberstadt’s life experiences as a professional comedian. He possesses a smart, relatable, dry sense of humor that makes for a hilarious set of jokes.
What impressed me most about Alberstadt, however, was not his collection of accolades or his content, but his ability to level himself with the audience and establish a more relaxed relationship between the performer and the consumer.
Alberstadt made the audience feel like they were part of a conversation with a truly funny person. His cadence and demeanor on stage breaks the fourth wall of the stand-up performance, and invites the audience into his wonderfully comical world.
He asked questions of his audience early on and throughout his set, but these questions were not cuts at whoever the comedian was singling out. Instead, Alberstadt’s audience-calls felt like casual conversations that he used to move his set forward. He was able to re-incorporate the singled-out audience members later on in the show; audience questions were not isolated interjections. This is no easy task — it is not uncommon to see a comedian remark on a particular audience member to simply fill time. This clearly was not the tactic employed by Alberstadt, which came to be important in establishing that relaxed performer-consumer relationship.
That said, Alberstadt’s set was not immune to the unwarranted audience interjections that are common at any stand-up performance. Even so, he was not visually frustrated or upset at these interjections, something that I have never seen before. Instead of being upset, Alberstadt used audience outbursts as part of his routine — they weren’t planned, but that didn’t matter.
Frequently, stand-up sets are treated as routines or functional formulas in which the comedian works through all the material without interruption, and then the show is over. The ability to flow with the audience in a way that is neither careless nor damaging to one’s material is a mark of true comedy, and Alberstadt possesses that mark.