In some ways, Nick Swardson is the comic equivalent of that friend everyone has who’s “a really good guy once you get to know him.” While the backwards hat and Afflication shirt donning party boy can quickly be reduced to simply serving as a misfiring piston helping to propel Adam Sandler’s man-child money machine that’s been bilking moviegoers for the better part of a decade. His participation in You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, Jack And Jill, and his own Happy Madison-financed magnum opus Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star doesn’t exactly refute that.
However, beneath the outward appearance of the Sandler crony who limps through uneasily digested typecast roles in half-hatched blockbusters with characters that range from a gay robot to buck-toothed premature ejaculator, there exists a more-than-capable stand-up comedian with two formidable specials and close to 20 years logged on stage. Friday night, Swardson managed to show a bursting and boisterous Pabst Theater he could still stand-up strong, while appeasing his generally loathsome fan base—who, in turn, bordered on derailing the show altogether.
As just the third stop on his 42-city “Taste It Tour,” Swardson ambled out fresh and energetic. The early going of his 65-minute performance saw the comic relying on region-specific material to hook the audience. He talked about walking around the Grand Avenue Mall earlier in the day, aptly deducing, “That’s where you go to buy a smoothie and crack.” He said he checked into a hotel where the desk clerk proudly disclosed it was the site of an early Jeffrey Dahmer murder. The Minneapolis native continued, with a tale—that would’ve been name-dropping if said on any other tour stop—about going to dinner with Aaron Rodgers the night before a Packers-Vikings game and convincing an elderly woman he was “wide receiver Brad Stevens” then posited her family committing her when she proudly told them about meeting a non-existent Packers wideout.
After some preemptive padding about how he didn’t condone it, the Midwest expat said he missed snow because “it’s the easiest weather to drive drunk in,” which he then transitioned into a universal bit about being the designated driver at a fast food drive thru. The mention of food caused one attendee to stop texting, filming, or contributing to the low-rumble of conversation that was present throughout the show and scream out “BONER SOUP!” (a tangentially-relevant bit from a previous special). Defeated, Swardson rewarded the ass-hattery with a resigned “Yes, boner soup. Cheers,” before tipping the rear of his backward cap to the balcony.
The majority of the set was nestled in the laughably lowbrow, such as his suggested “drink responsibly” tagline for Jack Daniels of “Fuckin’ good luck. I hope you don’t suck your own dick in front of your family.” The alcohol-based material also delved into running errands while day drunk, mimicking what a guy looks like when drinking a daiquiri, and a knee-wobbling reenactment of how women look when drunk. Other set staples saw Swardson touching on how the first brain freeze sufferer felt in his lonely misery, and the distinctly male penchant for putting pubes on the edge of urinals.
As the heft of Swardson’s material dipped to the lower end of the barometer of sophistication, so did the behavior of some in his already annoying audience. Mid-joke, one man yelled “Watch!” (Again, hearkening back to old material.) “Watch?” Swardson asked, quizzically. “Wait, what’s happening now?” He soldiered on, attempting to appease impatient onlookers with a story about his beloved Reno 911! character Terry gets him out of speeding tickets, and a callback to an opining on drunk girls yelling “Kelly!” That wasn’t enough, evidently, as a woman solicited a request to take “a selfie” with him. “This is a weird time. I’m…I’m on a stage,” a visibly frustrated Swardson said.
And it was a weird time. Despite the abject rudeness of the card-carrying
Role Models 2 Grown Ups 2 fan club members, Swardson not only navigated the tumultuous crowd expertly, he owned them. With him pantomiming masturbation and pirouetting whilst making fart noises with his mouth, it wasn’t exactly Ira Glass, but Swardson entertained a wide cross-section of people, and catered to his base (emphasis on base) fans with a performance befitting of guilty pleasure belly laughs reminiscent of that guy from high school you still hang out with who still says the word “retarded” (as he did once in the show). In addition to his undeniable work ethic, perhaps Swardson’s fame is the product of some Twilight Zone-like monkey paw wish, wherein he can fill theaters…with the type of people who nearly ruined an otherwise great show. Good luck on the remaining 39 tour stops, Swards. You’ll need it.