Rick Shapiro could claim the mantle of Carlin, save for his
Michael Shashoua / Editor in Chief; photo: Steven Polatnick
Carlin has an heir.
His name is Rick Shapiro. He works on a very high level -- highly
offensive -- but high nonetheless.
Seen at the UCB Theatre on July 3, Shapiro seems incapable of working in
the safer realms that even more conceptual or intellectual comedians
like Patton Oswalt -- or a more blatantly blue and insulting comedian
like Lisa Lampanelli -- can stay within so they can be accepted
performing in a club setting like Caroline’s where they must be sure to
With a similar drug-ravaged thin build as Carlin’s, Shapiro employs
similar physical mannerisms, stalking from end to end of the stage to
emphasize his points and stretching his facial expressions in extreme
contortions, but will go even further, standing on top of the front row
of seats, extending the boundaries of the stage. He will, to the dismay
of most of the women in the audience on this night, animatedly mime
fisting at length while he has a soulful Dusty Springfield song play for
But right alongside all of this, Shapiro slips in still-obscene satire
that is definitely Carlin-worthy. He will turn on a dime from
sexually-engaged roaring and yelling to the squeaky voice of a girl
saying “OK you have rock-hard abs, keep going!” or thoughts of “green
apple martinis,” “Sex and the City“ and “Starbucks double-shot lattes.”
Like Carlin, Shapiro loves cutting into “yuppie-fication” of society,
making frequent reference to “Republican khaki pants” and in a brief bit
about the presidential race, deconstructing both McCain’s and Obama’s
physical characteristics -- such as McCain’s “tightly screwed on” smile
and Obama’s beatific countenance (like that of a “six-year-old white
boy”) being able to make a direct plea to God to fix the economy.
For all his New Jersey gas station attendant dirtball by way of the East
Village appearance, Shapiro slips in a surprising love for language a la
Carlin. In a tour de force story called “Cabdriver,” during which a
cabdriver goes off with an obscene question about whether Shapiro would
engage in, well, activity, with a rabbit, the cabdriver confesses that
“rabbit” is the only word he knows, and Shapiro, narrating this
experience now, asks the cabbie, “Don’t you know a synonym, or an
antonym, or” … various other 20-cent vocabulary words.
“Cabdriver” itself is emblematic of Shapiro’s performances and material
… sprawling and ragged at its edges, at times venturing into Lenny
Bruce-esque free association, but more like the downward spiraling and
intoxicated Bruce than Bruce when he was at the top of his form and
faculties. Shapiro’s verbal and storytelling contortions -- conjuring a
whole other world of occurrences inside a penis during a sex act with
said rabbit -- are like hearing the perceptions of someone having an
acid trip, no longer doing anything that could even be called stand-up
All the same, you have to admire that he’s working on a level no one
else can or even dares to. Amid it all, Shapiro can make parenthetical
reference to exactly when certain psychiatric medication might be
“kicking in” and how.
However, as when Carlin first moved away from his straight-laced persona
and toward counter-culture friendly material in the late 1960s and early
Jester's blog entry) and ran afoul of some club owners with his material, Shapiro does
seem to encounter difficulty getting more “mainstream” bookings to
perform. But just as the rest of the world eventually caught up to
Carlin, so it should to Shapiro. His is a talent that should not be
playing to a half-full UCB Theatre; he deserves to be
heard. Carlin would be proud.
Rick Shapiro returns to
the UCB Theatre on July 17.