“At this point in comedy, it’s not enough to be funny,” Ben Wasserman said in the Brooklyn funeral parlor where he staged his vaudevillian “Live After Death,” which explores the death of his father and grandfather (not to mention his tragic lack of an agent). “You have to make people feel.”
MAYBE THAT WAS SAID with tongue in cheek, maybe not. Either way, there’s no question that in certain quarters of comedy, jokes are not enough.
For instance, at shows around New York, the quirky, swaggering Gastor Almonte has been performing a hilarious 10 to 15 minutes about his hatred of oatmeal. In a previous era that might have added up to a debut special that resembled the work of Jim Gaffigan. But when Almonte turned it into an hourlong solo show, “The Sugar,” that material was beefed up with a soul-searching story about his diabetes diagnosis and how the prospect of mortality changed his family. Watching it, I confess I wondered what the Gaffigan version of this show would look like.
“The Sugar” was staged downtown at Soho Playhouse, which has developed into a hub of weighty theatrical stand-up shows, many of which are transfers from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. One of that theater’s biggest hits of the year was Sam Morrison’s breakthrough, “Sugar Daddy.”
Quick-witted and charismatic, Morrison delivered a tightly honed work about the pain of losing his boyfriend that is both a love letter to his partner and a self-deprecating satire of a culture of mourning, one that spoofs well-intentioned condolences and support groups. He argued that the difference between comedy and tragedy was thin, saying that in the plays of Shakespeare, “comedy is only tragedy with a marriage at the end.” He explained that grief was lonely and impossible and “nothing helps as much as this show,” before a pinpoint pause, “because you guys can’t talk.” And he flat out played the vain millennial fool. “What is trauma but unmonetized content?” he asks, echoing a line from “WandaVision,” a series that itself is a grief narrative.
In contrast to Drew Michael, Morrison is uncomfortable going long without a laugh. I saw the show twice, and the second time the punchlines had become faster, more insistent, almost as if the best argument he came up with was to keep you laughing.