Theater review: Funnyman Dave Shirley's one-man brain-rattler
Some people just never grow up. Thank goodness.
Denver comedian Dave Shirley is a grown-up kid who loiters in the lobby of the Avenue Theater before his one-man stage comedy, wearing an old-man sweater, fishing hat, tie and spectacles.
Fooled me. I thought he was the dad of a girl I used to know in high school, so I said hi on the way in. Turns out it was the star of the show, who takes to the stage with a bit about an old man trying to figure out how to work his iPhone and other newfangled electronic gadgets.
And that only serves to launch him on an absurdly comic tangent that might best be described as rapper DJ Grandpa Simpson, working his hacking cough into a beatbox sample, aided by an iPhone app that makes his virtual teeth move to the sound of his voice.
Ridiculous, inventive and yet oddly old-school fun, all at once. That's pretty much been Shirley's MO since he built the Rattlebrain Comedy Theatre out of what is now Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret. In Denver, Shirley is the Super Dave of comedy — I mean, the guy comes with his own glitter cape.
The title of his new show, "Dave Shirley's Rattlebrain," is a nod to the ensemble that exceled at scripted and long-form improv comedy in Denver from 2002 to 2004, but now only re-emerges for an annual holiday sketch comedy at the Avenue Theater, "Santa's Big Red Sack" (returning Nov. 25-Dec. 24).
But who needs 'em? This is Shirley's show, which he promises will only be "the single greatest show on planet Earth." So, you know, keep your expectations modest.
It's all a charming ruse, this feigned arrogance (he brags that he's "sexy, average — and bathes daily!").
Shirley is at heart a multitalented street performer who spent his teen years doing whatever it took to make you stop and laugh — comedy, music, magic, shadow puppetry, juggling, you name it.
Ever since Shirley was 16, he tells us, he's wanted to put on a show that would put all these "useless skills" to use. He may now be 42, but he's very much that lonely kid who's always tugging at your sleeve saying, "Wanna see a trick?"
Shirley's bits draw from Chaplin, vaudeville, Christopher Guest, Monty Python and the early years of "Saturday Night Live." But he has a few super-cool media tools at his disposal here — like a four-square video screen that allows him to bring a blow-up doll to fleshy life. And an old-school ventriloquism act that's not old-school at all — the head atop his merry little marionette is actually a TV screen playing his own recorded voice.
That inherent absurdity runs all the way down into the show's marketing. "Mention this ad, and your ticket is $15," a Web ad says. But, just so you know, it's $15 even if you don't.
Shirley pulls off his breezy and admittedly socially irrelevant act with an acerbic and oblivious charm that puts us all in his living room. "Help yourself to my arms ..." he sings as a cheesy Tom Jones — and he means it. His closing act involves sharp objects and juggling — and, let's just say ... he leaves it all on the floor.