Last Friday was my favorite night in New York City. It also may have been the best show that I’ve seen (from sports games, other comics, musical performances, and plays). After 1.5 years of consuming perfectly planned streaming tv shows and movies, it felt cathartic to be a part of something natural and messy amongst the crowd.
Two years ago, my sister and I bought tickets to see Jo Koy, one of our favorite comics. The original tour date had been rescheduled twice because of Covid. Now, 16 months later, the day was finally here.
Strolling up the crowded Sixth Avenue towards Radio City Music Hall increased the excitement. The sun had set, the city lights were beaming, and the throng of audience members jostled to get their vaccinations checked and make it inside. I was in awe of the crowd and venue, both of which felt completely new to me. I excitedly took my set, taking in the grandness of the space and palpable buzz of the crowd.
Up until this point, I had been exclusively consuming well refined content because of the pandemic. The only entertainment we could watch was prerecorded, curated, and perfectly assembled into a final polished piece. From streaming theatrical movies with succinct story telling to TV shows with perfectly placed cliff hangers, I was used to being fed this well refined content. To be honest, I love admiring the meticulously crafted pieces of work. But this night reminded me of something sorely missed over the last 16 months of streaming; spontaneity.
I’ve seen comics perform marvelously clean sets; perfectly transitioning, setting up, and delivering the punch. It’s what you seen in the Netflix standup specials; only the most bulletproof well-rehearsed material. But this night took it in another direction; spiraling into a glorious mess of unplanned laughter.
This wasn’t a perfect night; it was a marvelous experimentation. Don’t get me wrong, Koy is into his craft and his planned set was terrific; reminding me of all the reasons I became a fan in the first place. But this night took my level of admiration to another level; beyond anything that a perfect rehearsal could. Whether it was him spontaneously bonding with a woman’s maniacal laugh in the 5th row or ragging on a group that was an hour late to the show, crowd bashing, and in the moment impersonations embraced a go-with-the-flow mindset that I hadn’t experienced in years. How was he able to roll with the punches so easily? The show ended up being incredibly long; well past an hour. I felt like at least 30 or 40 minutes of it was this precious unplanned flow including the night of New York 90s RnB karaoke to end the night, something that Koy noted could only happen in New York. It felt more like a dialogue rather than an isolated individual performing. He was talking with us or just talking to himself. Being a part of that dialogue gave me a sense of presence that I haven’t felt in years.
Being a part of the crowd was also something else. The energy of 5,900 New Yorkers was a refreshing injection of life. From the snickers of the people sitting behind us, to the drunk couple talking too loud in front of us, everyone was having a good time; dancing, throwing their head back as they belted with laughter, and slapping their knees at a hard hitting punch line. My favorite part were the pauses and transitions while the crowd recovered, the few beautifully awkward few who couldn’t keep it in; belting out their laughter to the mostly quiet auditorium, only prompting more to snicker along. Laughter is indeed infectious.
It was a relief to let loose; to surrender your body to respond to the humor, to sweat from heaving air in, and to cry out into the crowd.