Ben Cohn won the comedy improv show, a satire on slide presentations called ‘Speechless’, in the Mission recently with one hand tied behind his back. Wait, make that in a sling and young Ben on pain meds while he waits out his disability being as he put it, funemployed. Ben, and everyone is on a first name basis in this joint, returns to this monthly comedy on June 18 to defend his title. He defends his right to wear the Nintendo Power Glove that works, sometimes. But wait, there’s more. The glove looks not only Silicon Valley chic but it’s also functional as nerdwear must be so. It’s a PowerPoint slide controller with a forward and backward function and a laser pointer any cat would go berserk for. Ah, why does anybody outside the office need a PowerPoint slide controller you ask, eyes and mouth agog.
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As for the larger question, why this show? While there are other shows about shows, the creators of course cite statistics such as, ‘There are 350 PowerPoint presentations given every second around the world (21,000 per minute, 1.26 million per hour) – most of them mind-numbing.’. So. Anybody who has ever sat through a managerial slide presentation would know and this satire brings out the programmers, controllers, data analysts. It brings even on this fine day after hump day a production manager from Al Jazeera America and on her birthday to boot, Dana ‘Magic’ Merwin.
Ben Cohn, who would not just compete with the likes of Magic Whirlin’ Merwin but also become a runaway winner, looks to be a clean cut man under 30, with short cropped hair but a vacation length scruff of red beard. He definitely stood 6’4″ but in casual-Friday, loose fitting cotton pants and a cool mint green shirt. Ben seemed amiable, affable and among friends, showing no fear. Except for when he whined. Just before starting his impromptu presentation using images he’s never even seen but only projected for him by the powers that be, he said:
Be gentle, I’m on a lot of pain pills.
No worries. Ben’s audience of 20-somethings who gathered on this work night Thursday felt no pain either. Ben, one of their own, exudes his peoples’ sense of relaxtion and/or Fridayesque inebriation from the extensive bar that runs the length of the gallery. It’s an art gallery turned nightclub on ‘Speechless’ nights with real improvisationists and on this fine occasion, somebody picked from the audience of techies at Gentrification Central in the Mission by the randy emcee Anthony Veneziale (related to Venice).
Ben said after his victory and the room cleared, he came because of his girlfriend and again, he’s funemployed. He said she and he also go to a south of market club DNA lounge for junior high school diary readings. It’s called ‘Mortified’.
Back to the stage. Veneziale the emcee looks at Ben’s sling. ‘Do you want to talk about the whale in the room’ he asks, playing off of a previous presentation where the improvisationist had to defend whales in a public apology.
Ben tries to make it a teachable moment, as that’s what Powerpoint is all about. ‘Adults aren’t meant to skateboard’. Then he slips in a sales pitch. ‘ If anybody needs a public speaker . . . I’m funemployed’. And so Ben spins the wheel of fortune and his topic selection turns out (get it, wheel turning?) to be the delivery of a lifetime achievement award. Veneziale gives the audience hints on the parameters as fans shout out candidates. Ron Jeremy, Police chief, Justin Bieber. No, says, Veneziale, the candidate must be somebody who doesn’t normally get a lifetime achievement award. So it turns out to be ‘tamale lady’. Kind of like a schoolchild with the only thing to look forward to being lunch.
The first slide pops up on the screen over the stage, behind Ben. It’s a cheesy publicity still from the 1970s, of actress Markie Post. She was the lawyer on Night Court with Harry Anderson as the night court judge, in a vintage sit-com. However this time she’s in a disco roller skating outfit with big hair. Nobody in this crowd has any idea of who the cheesy photo is of, except for me. I am 55, unquestionably the oldest but not necessarily most mature individual in the room. I am however too old to know who Ron Jeremy was, the other candidate proposed. My companion, a male my age, says I–me–just saw Ron Jeremy on a porn DVD cover in the shop I popped into next to Tomasso’s in North Beach, where he–my companion–and I just had dinner. Further, he and I had just walked by the monolithic brick building the size of a Mission city block wherein porn films. The studio offers tours to the public. The company names itself after the former National Guard structure, the Armory.
Back to the gallery. ‘She was a bangin’ lady’ explains Ben respectfully as he turns to see who he is honoring.
Another slide shows the running of the bulls in Spain, suddenly. ‘Arriba!’ he exclaims. ‘Andale!’. This slide he explains to tamale lady fans depicts her spirit.
Then the screen pops up with something graphic. Each candidate got a chart or graph to decipher and prove their point powerfully. Ben noted the peaks and then a long fall, a series of columns that rose only so far. He described the hardship the tamale lady had overcome as it showed in her tamale productivity. He explained the long decline.
Hooked on crack.
‘But she’s sober and steady today thanks to Passages rehab. Dolores you are a strong woman.’
The next slide pops up, a lap top open with a globe emerging. Ben responds to the unlimited potential, the worldwide reference.
‘She will have cart’ he declares, congratulatory.
All that’s left at this point is for the panel of judges to comment.
Jaime said it best. ‘Pretty good for a funemployed fart detective.’
The PowerPoint screen turned to a vote graph showing all the votes the audience members were texting in live, with Ben way in the lead and deservedly so. He will be the affable one in the PowerPoint Glove who won public recognition and the admiration of his peers. Next show June 18, Ben defends his title in a rematch and they will do shows at your job—Salesforce etc.. Tickets $12 advance/$20 at the door. Shows start at 7:30 p.m., doors open at 7 p.m.. Full bar and food.
Public Works, 161 Erie Street, The Mission District, San Francisco. Off Valencia between 13th and 14th Streets. Street parking and strictly no parking in the lot at the gallery. Easy biking from BART. Created by Sammy Wegent, produced by Scott Lifton (Mortified SF) and Anthony Veneziale (Freestyle Love Supreme). 7:30pm on third Thursday of each month, specifically in 2015: May 21, June 18, July 16, August 20, September 17, October 15, November 19, and December 17 at Public Works.
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For more info: www.speechlesslive.com, www.facebook.com/speechlesssf, Twitter: @speechlessshow