Last Friday, I had the pleasure of watching Lavell Crawford from front row seats at the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, NJ. To put it lightly, he brought the house down. From the moment he took the stage, it was a rare moment the audience wasn’t laughing.
There aren’t many comics who can make an audience laugh nonstop from start to finish; even the greatest have tame moments amidst their set. Crawford was an exception. His act evoked more laughs than anyone I have ever seen, which includes my favorites Louis C.K., Bill Burr, and Dave Chappelle. I’ve seen them all and none of them got the amount of laughs Lavell got. Admittedly I have seen Reggie Watts destroy on several occasions, but his performance is a different model from stand up altogether, and typically I’m in a different state of mind too.
What all these comics have in common is their ability to “kill”, which is why I am referencing them—and why Lavell, I would argue, “out-killed” them all. If we plotted a graph to measure the laughs at a typical comedy show, it would consist of peaks and valleys respective to where the punchlines and set-ups are. Likewise, a Louie or Chappelle show would yield similar results, with a significant increase in amplitude due to the level of laughter they get. However, with Lavell there would be no peaks and valleys; it would be more like analyzing the seismic chart of an earthquake. The needle would erratically scale the page tracing eruptions of laughter and momentary lapses of people trying to catch their breath. Remarkably, this would continue for the duration of the show. The show started with his opener Tim Murray, an Atlanta-based comic, doing roughly 30 minutes upfront. He had a solid set and performed a lot of great act outs that revolved around topics like smoking weed, crackheads, and voting for Barack vs. T.I. (the rapper) as president. Although he addressed his unfamiliarity with performing at such a large venue, he demonstrated himself a seasoned veteran to the craft. Then, to the cue of hip hop music he introduced the headliner for the evening, whereupon a sharp-dressed Mr. Crawford danced his way to the microphone to an uproar of applause. I can’t remember the last time I saw a huge fat black guy bust some moves in a suit and bowtie and already I was laughing.
Right off the bat, he cracked a joke about the suburban whiteness of Montclair, before breaking into fifteen minutes of material pertaining to how much he hates walking. Needless to say, his weight remained a consistent theme throughout the evening, and at no cost to the quality of his act: his fatness was merely an additional incentive to laugh, rather than a crutch he used to get a laugh. He talked about a whole range of topics including his frustration with his wife purchasing organic food, his sleep apnea, people with bad breath, dealing with cops, and his son soiling his pull-ups. As a huge fan of his, I knew when he delved into an older bit about his mother and the amber alert, but during his hour and twenty minute set this was the only topic not fresh to my ears.
I think it’s important to note that as big as Lavell is, he’s a comic who is so much bigger than this. New viewers of his might instantly be inclined to write him off as “a fat comic doing fat jokes”, but unless you’re willing to fully commit to listening to his act, you cannot truly appreciate him for being the talented performer he is. Sure, he does plenty of fat jokes, but his material bank is even more well-rounded than his body—and he doesn’t leave an ounce of fat on any of his jokes. In fact, he does so many jokes about any single topic it’s impressive how much
material he can squeeze out of it. I never thought I could laugh on so many separate occasions about an obese man’s hatred for walking, whether it be riding the handicapped cart at the airport, waiting for escalator maintenance when it breaks down three steps from the top, or taking Uber to a place someone tells him is “walking distance”.
Yet, this is what makes Lavell Crawford so funny: his ability to place us in his shoes. Where the most successful joke tellers don’t just tell jokes, Lavell doesn’t just joke about being fat. He paints a picture of his plight in this world as an obese man and invites us to join him on the ride along envisioning his experience. At one point, he literally joked about following another fat man around town because he knows where all the best food is: “Where can I get something good to eat? Well, that all depends what you’re in the mood for!” This notion is how you should approach Crawford’s comedy: if you give him a chance he will lead you through one of the most hilarious journeys you’ve ever been on. So long as you’re willing to see beyond the fat content, you can rest assured there will be plenty of comedy to appeal to your palette.
I will admit I was a little surprised to hear he was charging $20 to take a picture with him after the show. But as funny as Lavell is, I think this might have just been a part of his act. Who the hell would be willing to pay $20 to take a picture? It’s almost like saying, “Hey, you know I don’t want to take the f*cking picture, so instead I’ll offer to for such a ridiculous price that hopefully you won’t ask.” After spending $75 a piece on tickets, I can’t say I took the picture—but I did appreciate him giving me one more laugh after the show. Besides, at one point during his set he did mention his son thinks he looks like Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants, so maybe he’s just modeling his business scheme after the morons who dress up as cartoons in Times Square and charge for a picture.
Lavell Crawford is one of the best working comics today and seeing him live only further substantiated this. If you plan on seeing him, you’re in for a great treat. just make sure you come with an insatiable appetite for laughter, because your stomach is sure to be full of plenty of belly laughs.