Kyle Dunnigan is a tough sell at the ballroom level. Though the comic’s work is certainly recognizable, the fact that the best known components of his comic catalog come in the form of a little-known character with a different appearance and voice, as the second most famous of a cult comedy podcast’s three hosts, and by way of premises and dialogue written for another comedian’s Comedy Central show surely makes his draw dicey when relying on his name and face alone to sell tickets. Between that and the rainy conditions, only about 100 or so (we counted) comedy nuts came out to fill widely-spaced cabaret-style seats to see the Professor Blastoff co-host, Inside Amy Schumer staff writer and, of course,”Craig” in the vast confines of Turner Hall Ballroom Thursday night. This unfortunately-intimate and under-attended weeknight affair had all the makings of being an “I was there”-type event for the knowledgeable few who braved the elements to see a performer too big (and way too relevant) for Comedy Cafe. After an hour of ultra-specific impressions, hit-and-miss piano gags, and stories with abrupt transitions, Kyle Dunnigan’s set partially entertained the partially-filled ballroom.
Opener Geoffrey Asmus—the reigning Madison’s Funniest Stand-up Comedian titleholder and a regular on Milwaukee independent showcases—set the table wonderfully with his incomparable blend of absurdist intellectualism, complete with reading particularly strange bible verses, wowing the crowd with his ability to name every world capital, and admitting he’s never masturbated (which explains the whole world capital party trick). Partway into his set, Asmus welcomed “Craig” onto the stage, which prompted Dunnigan to come out sporting oversized lenses and a noticeable underbite to read jokes he printed off the Internet and lisp his apparent tag “If you ask me, that’s nuts.” After five minutes—likely done with hopes of limiting “Do Craig!” requests later in the show—on stage, “Craig” gave way to Asmus, who bought time with more biblical randomness and purposely poor piano playing.
Soon, Dunnigan in all his de-Craig’ed glory came back out and wasted little time introducing the patchwork crowd to his strange brand of comedy with a series of impressions of “magicians who (insert weird premise that didn’t involve performing a magic trick).” After his strong opening batch of non-tricks, he made the first of many trips to the piano bench to improvise a song for a forklift driver/illustrator in the audience named Ryan. “Ryan is a total douche!” he bleted out, before abandoning the song a few seconds in. “I thought I could do it. What rhymes with forklift?” Having taken two drastically different approaches just moments apart, Dunnigan eventually settled into a more traditional stand-up delivery. He told the crowd of his celiac disease and that one of the main symptoms of the gluten intolerance was “the inability to thrive.” The inability to thrive, unfortunately, transferred to his set. To be clear, Dunnigan’s performance was by no means bad, but it combined a heft of erratic, at times alienating material with a hollow, enthused delivery that offset the comedic impact of tales about being wheeled into a post-colonoscopy “fart room” and cutting off his Guatemalan sponsor child from her $10 monthly payment because she gained too much weight.
From there, Dunnigan would alternate to playing short joke pieces on the piano (impersonating Michael McDonald and executing one-line songs about famous assassination victims), asking for audience participation in a meditation exercise, and telling stories—all of which was patched together with such clunky transitions as “I’ve been watching a lot of TV lately” and “I’m watching way too much television.” Of course, as scattered an hastily constructed as the set was, there was no shortage of enjoyable moments strewn about the hour. From an utterly hilarious story about acting like his messy place had been robbed when he actually just left the door open (“Oh great! They left my jean jacket out and half bedazzled it?!”) to mourning gay culture stealing the fanny pack and waist-worn sweatshirts, there was more than enough material to ensure nobody regretted their decision to the “that guy from that thing.” Before departing to meet and take photos with audience members, Dunnigan said he’d probably be back in town in two years. With myriad directions to focus his humor and a somewhat unpolished set, it’s tough to say where the ticket-sale ‘tweener’s 2017 Milwaukee show might be and how many of those 100 diehards will come back.