It has been four years since writer/comedian Rick Reynolds burst on the local scene with Only the Truth is Funny, a one-man tour de force that propelled him to New York and Los Angeles and seemed destined to make him a superstart. Now he's back home in Petaluma, somewhat chastened and presumably wiser. He's hit some pretty major psychic and emotional bumps, many of which he details in his new show, All Grown Up and No Place to Go, which I saw in preview.
So, what's been happening in Reynold's life? Most conspicuously, his once-blissful marriage has run out of emotional gas. He has learned that love ends, that “forever” doesn't exist. The baby son who enchanted him in Truth is now 4. There's also a 2-year-old, and he would gladly die for both of them – even though, he adds, in his characteristically candid way, they have ruined his marriage, which was the best thing in his life. As he hastens to assure us that he and his wife, Lisa, are working hard to repair the damage – “The problem is that I'm an asshole” – and have made a good deal of progress, I found myself remembering nostalgically how funny and wise that earlier show was.
Which is not to say that All Grown Up isn't terrific a lot of the time. Reynolds hasn't changed his mind about how funny the truth is, and this conviction skews what what are otherwise fairly standard jokes. His unique point of view, when it surfaces, puts a much-needed spin on typical fare about women, men, sex, marriage, and life. For instance, on that which distinguishes us from the animals: “We can reflect on our lives, but animals can lick themselves. It's a trade-off.” On his wife: “She's the most politically correct person I know – a lesbian who likes men.” On his real-life house, which differs from the ideal seen on old sitcoms (Leave It to Beaver in particular): “It looks like a Fellini day-care center.”
He launches his comedic self-reflection with an anecdote about finding an old photograph of himself as a smiling kid. What really amazed him about the face in the picture was how happy he was. Which caused him to pose the question, “Which would you rather be, the kid you once were ot the grown-up you are now?” Well, he decides, the kid, of course. This is because kids know how to have fun without a daily planner.
He traces his troubles with Lisa to four years ago, when the ascendancy of his career intersected with the birth of his older son. She was “raining on his parade,” he felt, when she complained about his leaving all the work of raising the baby to her. A pattern of arguments started, and soon, he reports, they hated each other.
In the midst of this passionate antagonism, he tells of finding the first letter he ever wrote her, in which he promises to love her forever. As an audience, we want to be moved as he reads it, but whatever effect he might have earned was lost when, during the preview I attended (maybe the gimmick is gone by now), the stage lights dimmed melodramatically. It make us think the tears that appear genuine are crocodile tears.
He makes very funy hash of the couple counseling he and Lisa have been undergoing, illustrating the correct way to argue. He finally diagnoses their difficulties by crediting everything to the differences between men and women. Men will take, take, take, he says, while women need to hold the line.
If all this sounds less like comedy and more like a marriage seminar, well, that's because it is. Reynolds doesn't come up with anything that hasn't been trotted out in any number venues before, and he hasn't (as of this writing) found a way to keep the hilariously personal comedic spin that made Only the Truth such a winner.
Not that he's unaware of this. He prefaces All Grown Up with a list of his shortcomings, or, to be accurate, “a list of the ways I suck.” This includes (but is not limited to) triteness and aloack of knowledge of anything at all beyond Rick Reynolds.
He adds that he also whines and rants a lot. Since I'm a sometime whiner and a constant ranter, I thought it would be helpful if I did something similar. Sort of an all-purpose list of Things I Find Problematic in Shows I'm Reviewing.
Such as parenthood. I don't have kids, so I don't find them utterly mesmerizing as a topic. I know, I know: What could possibly be more important, etc., etc.? It's not that I don't think chlidren are important; it's that I'm sick of middle-aged people (men mostly) who have finally become parents and who are so amazed, so swept away by the wonder of it all, they seem convinced that they are the very first people to have done it.
Another item is comedians who insist that every word is the Gospel truth, and who then tell what sound like suspiciously apocryphal stories I've heard from other comedians on talk shows. It makes me cranky. It makes me want to whine and rant even louder than usual. It makes me disbelieve all that good, from-the-heart stuff I've been listening to and getting misty-eyed about. Worse, it reminds me of just how funny the story was when Steve Martin told it. (It was about entertaining at a maximum-security prison and charming rapists and muderers by pointing out – humorously, of course – that they are a bunch of rapists and muderers.) It makes me want to suggest that Reynolds add “borrowing” to his list of shortcomings.
Along with using occasional chestnuts like the tired old joke about seeing a nude woman and determining that she dyes her hair. You were right the first time, Rick. Only the truth is funny.