AUTHOR’S NOTE: Kurt has been a fan of Mr. Gregory since the 1990s; the show on Friday, Jan. 20th, however, was Pam’s “first time.”
It was 1982 when James Gregory started doing comedy. It was on a certain open mic night at The Punchline in Atlanta, GA. He and his pals were regulars, and they talked him into giving it a whirl that night. The club soon offered him a regular job as emcee, and soon thereafter he made comedy his career. He was 36, and that was half a lifetime ago.
Now it’s Inauguration Day 2017, and the Garner Performing Arts Center is presenting James Gregory: The Funniest Man in America. Gregory was greeted by a roar of cheers and applause. This audience came expecting first-class entertainment, and they were not disappointed.
His style is relaxed; he makes you feel like he’s engaging you in a casual conversation. There is nothing abrasive or in-you-face about James Gregory’s act. And he doesn’t rely on serving up one-liners, riddles, and wisecracks. Rather, he entertains by sharing stories, opinions, and perspectives. His onstage persona is, indeed, larger than life, and spending 90 minutes getting to know this persona is a real treat.
The characters in his stories are familiar to all of us, and it is fun to picture the actual people that we know experiencing these often ridiculous circumstances. Some of the funniest moments come from the facial expressions and gestures with which Gregory punctuates these stories. And in case we fail to realize when he finds something particularly out-of-order, he treats us to his signature expression: “ah damn!” (Note: in his thick Georgia accent, “damn” is a two syllable word pronounced as though it were spelled “da-yum.”)
His opinions? We don’t have to agree with them, but we do have to appreciate his comical insights.
According to James Gregory, Americans nowadays worry way too much. Previous generations didn’t worry about tomorrow or next week or next month like we do. Previous generations were not as inclined to be immersed in TV news with its predictions, and they were content simply to “worry in the moment.”
Global warming or climate change? “It’s just weather. Damn weather.”
Is obesity a disease? “If it is, how do you catch it? By getting too close to a fat person?”
And he shared an extended routine in which he totally debunks the myth that McDonald’s TV commercials cause obesity.
His perspectives? He spoke at length about funeral practices. He had a hilarious explanation of why Baptists don’t believe in cremation. And he shared some insights on the practice of bringing food to the household of the family of the deceased. What you bring is directly related to your relationship to the deceased — the closer you are, the better the dish you bring. We howled with laughter as he gave us examples.
And then there’s the extended family in which everybody chipped in to buy a cousin a chainsaw. Two hundred people each donated $1.85. James Gregory managed to bring us to raucous laughter over the fact that the man died as a result of “the chainsaw incident.”
And don’t forget the family dinner where everyone overeats, but one member really wins the prize.
His threefold reason for avoiding flying had us all in stitches. But he does fly once a year — “to catch up on my drinkin’ and my prayin’.”
Other targets of his included: our fascination with gadgetry (i.e. GPS), vegetarians, endangered species, UFOs, and on-and-on.
A bonus that comes with a James Gregory show: you get to watch other people reacting to the material. When one of his routines hits home, wives and husbands (and various other couples) are nudging each other and grinning (sheepishly or otherwise).
Garner Performing Arts Center is a great venue for a comedy show like James Gregory’s. There is not a bad seat in the house — and they allow concessions in the theater.
Friday night’s show ended much as it had begun — with thunderous cheering and applause. The main difference was, most of the audience was standing. Mr. Gregory walked up the aisle, shaking hands and nodding, and he manned a table in the lobby, selling memorabilia, posing for pictures, and just generally hobnobbing with his fans.
JAMES GREGORY: THE FUNNIEST MAN IN AMERICA (Garner Performing Arts Center, Jan. 20).
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://funniestman.com/videos-watch-now/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.garnernc.gov/departments/parks-recreation-and-cultural-resources/garner-performing-arts-center, https://www.facebook.com/GarnerPerformingArtsCenter/, https://www.facebook.com/GarnerHistoricAuditorium, and https://twitter.com/gpacgarner.
James Gregory (Atlanta, GA-based stand-up comedian): https://funniestman.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/funniestman/ (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/funniestman (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Gregory_%28comedian%29 (Wikipedia).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.