Sean Carey, Lucas Molandes, Rob Nash

Arts Review

Sean Carey, Lucas Molandes, Rob Nash

The Velveeta Room, March 18

I just got back from the Velveeta Room and, boy, are my legs tired.

It was SXSW, as you may be aware, and I was checking out one of the few nonmusical (and nonaffiliated) shows available in the swarm of activity that the streets of Downtown Austin had become. Comedy. Stand-up comedy. Not only in the midst of SXSW, but in the midst of a sort of improv-comedy renaissance occurring all over the River City.

Stand-up comedy: It's still a good thing.

Of course, that depends on the comedians performing; and this past Saturday the venerable Cheese Palace (as it's aka) was host to Sean Carey, Lucas Molandes, and Rob Nash. And that, too, it turns out, is a good thing.

Walk with me into the Velv. Enter off Sixth Street after elbowing through the throngs of frat boys and townies and transients and hipsters and hipster-manques. Hand a fivespot to the barker stationed outside the door, and enter into the smallish, comfortably rundown and shadowy confines of the venue – a venue attached to the greater, more glorious body of Esther's Pool the way an appendix is attached to the interior of, say, Kate Winslet. A waitress will seat you at a table, in a chair, or on one of the small and ratty couches, and she'll take your drink orders. Go ahead, pretend you're Lebowski and get a White Russian: It will only enhance your experience.

And now here's your drink and there's Sean Carey on the small, well-lighted stage. He's a young white guy, this Carey, and he's tonight's emcee. He does a short set before introducing the feature act, and the set's perfectly suited for opening. Carey has a friendly delivery, welcoming and encouraging without dipping into the well of phony gung-ho. It's like your kid brother's up there, doing his bits about dating and living in Austin, and he's not blowing you away, but he's putting you at ease with the idea of seeing live stand-up and, oh ha ha ha, who knew the kid had such a clever way with an anecdote?

The feature act's Lucas Molandes, another relative newcomer to the local scene. This guy's destined for some kinda stardom. He's up there, pacing back and forth, wetting his whistle on a cold Shiner, rattling out joke after joke, a short Hispanic machine gun of yucks. Some of the jokes are connected, others are all over the proverbial map. He's testing the audience, he says, trying to get a bead on what type of material will work best for this crowd. He's self-referential throughout his enjoyable set, but not in a faux postmodern way; more like a young craftsman publicly exploring his process while he builds. Molandes is funny enough now, but, watching him, you get the idea that, a few years down the road, a few chops earned, a few patterns focused, this guy's gonna be hecklerbane. This guy's gonna be all HBO.

And the night's headliner? Rob Nash, better known for his theatre work, his one-man, multiple-character shows about growing up Catholic and gay and so on. The man's been off-Broadway recently, and his productions always merit a rave or three. And here he is onstage as a comic, grinning at you while you drain your White Russian.

Nash works the gay material as only a gay man can. He works it, evoking minor laughter, until he wonders aloud if the audience would prefer jokes about heterosexual relations instead – then launches into a series of that flavor. He's got a music stand, holding pages of notes, which he glances at between barrages of humor. He's fast, he's very theatrical with his impersonations and inflections and movements, and he's trying, relentlessly, to coax a laugh out of the unsmiling couple sitting near the wall. He focuses on them, worrying them like a tongue at a tooth-hole. Nada, though the rest of the audience is amused. The clock ticks while Nash searches his notes for material. He shrugs, says, "How about a few impersonations?" and offers: Michael Bublé singing Nine Inch Nails, Fred Schneider of the B-52s attempting to fit into a chorus, a 120-second version of the claymation Christmas show Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This is pretty good stuff, and it ends with Nash channelling Sesame Street's Grover defining "near" and "far," everyone smiling and awash with nostalgia.

Lights, curtain. It's been about an hour and a half of live stand-up in a storied dive off Sixth, and it's been a decent time for five bucks and a few drinks. This review's here all week, tip your waitress.

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