Thursday, June 16, 2011

Darren Frost's "Dead Inside"


Some comics have a reputation for being loud when they perform. Sam Kinison. Lewis Black.

Others are known for their soft-spoken approach. Steven Wright. Todd Barry.

On his DVD Dead Inside, Darren Frost works in both modes:

  1. A hushed whisper that draws in the crowd, forcing them to lean in to experience the nuggets of discovery being shared

  2. A full-on scream


Personally, I prefer the former. Maybe it's because I tend to relate to people when they play to where the audience is, like someone getting on their knees to play with their son or daughter on their level, as opposed to being shouted at from above, often with little to no provocation. Or, perhaps it's just because of the simple fact it seems Frost did little to no screaming during the sound check and as a result during the performance the microphone distorts as soon as he raises the decibel level.

Either way, there's no doubt who's in charge as soon as Frost takes to the stage. He commands attention from the first moment and he steers the boat full steam ahead for the next hour without once having to stop and catch his breath.

Frost and his audience are Canadian and although a small handful of the references went over this uncultured American's head, for the most part I was with him every step of the way. Frost takes a sinister pleasure in shocking the audience. He's not here solely to entertain the crowd, but also to entertain himself, and he thrives on making the audience squirm. Frost has designed his own comedic funhouse and he loves watching you make your way through the darkened hallways as he ducks behind a corner, waiting to jump at you when you least expect it. The crowd's reactions only add fuel to his pyre.

This is comedy, though, and Dead Inside is not without its moments of genuine laughter. The laughs sometimes come at the expense of the audience's comfort (he has a strong bit about a tragic bus decapitation accident), but laughs are laughs and if there's one mantra that Frost clings to, it's the fact that comedy is not pretty.

In fact, the project opens with Frost addressing his unconventional physical appearance. He's well aware of how he comes across and he wisely beats us to the punch. Not only does it cut off any would-be hecklers at the pass, it also lets us know that Frost isn't afraid to view himself through the same critical kaleidoscope he views the rest of the world. He's just as hard on himself as he is on everything else. Which, of course, allows him to unleash both barrels.

As much as Frost insists he is a monster (the cover art has him looking his creepiest with the shadowed eyes and the contrast bumped up to its most unflattering), as much as he constantly refers to himself as an "X-rated comic," underneath it all is a human being. He's a regular guy who would drive an hour for the best chicken wings he's ever tasted, despite the seedy reputation of the restaurant's owner. If you look past the exterior and listen to what he's saying (or, sometimes, screaming), you can't help but pick up on the fact that he's a devoted husband who genuinely gets a kick out of his wife and a caring dad who adores his kids.

That may not be the brush with which Frost chooses to paint himself, but there's no denying the subtext, and there's no getting past my favorite moment of the project. Early on, Frost has chosen a man in the audience sitting close to the stage and given him a less-than-flattering nickname. Throughout the entire hour, Frost directs his comedy at him, to him, and for him, constantly referring to him by his newly-sired pseudonym. I've seen comics choose someone in the audience to use as a punching bag throughout their show and then give them a quick thank-you at the end of the show, but I've never seen it done quite as satisfyingly redemptive as Frost.

Beneath the yelling, the ranting and raving, the intimidating package and the scary presentation of it all, there is genuine heart. That's hard to find today, not just in comedy, but anywhere. Frost has taken someone Dead Inside and used him to bring life and laughter.

***

Dead Inside is available at Darren Frost's website.

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