Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The old saw that comedy is "tragedy, plus time" is clearly on display in this new solo show premiering at ACT's Strand Theater in a brief (only five performances) run. Anderson has made a long career with self-deprecating jokes about his weight (his very first, delivered at an open mic night?: "I can't stay longI'm between meals.") and messed-up family, and a friendly, homespun charm that served him well as host of "Family Feud" and creator/producer of an animated Fox hit from the '90s, "Life with Louie".
His hip cred has been given a huge boost in the past couple of years, due to his Emmy-winning role on Zach Galifianakis's cult hit "Baskets," in which he plays Christine Baskets, the lead character's mother.
Dear Dad is based on the book of the same name, Anderson's epistolary memoir in which he deals with the demons of his childhood through a series of letters to his long-deceased father. The 90-minute performance moves more or less smoothly between the tragic elements of Anderson's childhood and the comedy he created as a way of dealing with it.
Anderson is generally unafraid of wielding his comic sword at his family ("Everybody who looks like my mom is fat, everybody who looks like my dad is drunk.") but is somewhat less than willing to turn his critical eye inward much deeper than the fat jokes that began his career. He's clearly not shy about being confessional, fessing up to a teenage career as a fence for stolen goods, but there's very little insight into how Anderson the adult has dealt with the wounds inflicted upon him by his demon of a father. We learn that he has come through, as he happily shows us his psychic scars, but there's no true emotional payoff other than a neatly wrapped package of forgiveness for his father's failings, and appreciation for his mother's lovedespite her clearly enabling behavior. (His role on "Baskets" is based in large part on her, and Anderson takes great pleasure in being able to honor his mother by portraying her in the guise of a fictional character.)
Anderson's stand-up chops are put to good use here, but some of the best bits exhibit a practiced rhythm that is vaguely out of synch with the rest of the material. It's perfectly naturalI imagine he's delivered some of the lines hundreds of timesbut it prevents the show itself from delivering the cohesion it desperately needs.
Dear Dad plays through January 14, 2018, at ACT's Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco. Tickets range from $25-$55, and are available at www.act-sf.org.