Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, Tim Allen: all great comedians who have performed hilarious routines about growing up and growing old. Bruce McCulloch? Not so much. Young Drunk Punk is a tired regurgitation of material already performed by better comedians. One may scratch their head wondering why his show was programmed in the Magnetic North Theatre Festival. One hypothesis is that it couldn’t make it into the Just For Laughs Festival down the river.
Probably the best part of the show is the opening, when McCulloch’s musical accompanist, Brian Connelly, plugs in his guitar and gives us an energizing intro. The lights are focused on him, and the strumming of his guitar is invigorating. Then McCulloch swiftly ruins the moment as he dad-dances onstage, spouting a series of cheesy one-liners. Some might say he was making himself vulnerable and likable to the audience; others would say he just wasn’t trying.
From that point on, McCulloch painfully pieces together a narrative about his life. The story jumps from his early years in Alberta and the uncomfortable discussion about the “glorious day when [he] beat up [his] dad” to talking about “trophy children” in Hollywood where he currently lives. As well, he talks simultaneously about his sexual escapades, alongside the great love he has for his wife. Confusion arises, as he does not tell us when one ends and the other begins. Is infidelity what McCulloch wants us to think is funny?
McCulloch’s topical humour does get some laughs, as long as you actually understand the references. For those who don’t know Kate Bush or The Who, or many of the other allusions, the jokes don’t land.
As well, McCulloch stumbles over his improvised pieces, making crude jokes about Evan Solomon, Jian Ghomeshi, and Bill Cosby in a series of one-liners. Admittedly, McCulloch is not the first comedian to capitalize on recent sexual and media scandals, but his delivery, much like the subject matter, is uncomfortable and made some audience members want to leave. The audience members were too polite.
After he comments on his failed attempt to beat up his dad, in a moment of clarity McCulloch observes that when you look at your father, you are really looking at the person you will need to take care of later in life. And after describing a disastrous romantic night with his wife, he continues with a tender moment when they simply cuddled in front of the electric fireplace and just enjoyed the comfort of each other in the moment. Unfortunately, the sensitivity that McCulloch presents in these moments is eclipsed by the rampant vulgarity that he has thrown at the audience for the remainder of the performance. This completely undermines any attempt at sincerity.
The question remains as to how this fits the mandate of the Magnetic North Festival, which this year promised radical lessons for a meaningful life, and productions that offer unique and worthwhile experiences. Yet what was delivered here was a crude white man. Is this what the festival thinks represents Canadian theatre?
Young Drunk Punk
By Mark Harrigan