New York Encounter, Day 2: When You Hit Reality
by Ellynore Florendo
At the New York Encounter every year there is a performance on Saturday evening. This year, a roast of 2020 showcased the talent of five comedians. Each comedian brought their own experience, mixed it with the dark humor inevitable at a roast of 2020, and added a twist of optimism. Between each performance, a jazz piece by Julliard-trained pianist Andrea Domenici delighted and cleansed the mind’s palate.
The show began with Tom Shillue, a frequent appeared on The Tonight Show and correspondent on The Daily Show. The only one of the group to physically take the stage at the Sheen Center, Shillue expressed his fully understandable delight at being in front of an audience again. After taking a stab at our cultural sensitivities, he poignantly ended his segment with satire–the humor that is only as "funny" as the sense of irony it generates--telling the story of a couple he read in the newspaper that had been married for 62 years. The wife had gone to a nursing home with dementia where her husband could not see her because he could not go out due to COVID. The story ends with the husband in declining health being offered a vaccine.“Why am I allowed to go out for a vaccine but not to see the woman I love?” he asked. He declined the vaccine and has since died from a non-COVID infection.
Vince Fabra, a stand up comedian in Charleston, South Carolina, followed, and gave a rundown about how “2020” has always been a challenge: 2020 with Barbara Walters. . . The 20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake. . . and of course this peculiar past year. A roast of 2020 could not happen without references to its newfound heroes: toilet paper, elastic waist bands (think of the sweats you’re probably wearing now), and hand sanitizer. Lastly, he mentioned that, thanks to 2020, even time has been transformed. “Concept of time you had a wild year, you were expanding and contracting like Christian Bale getting ready for a movie role--gaining weight, losing weight!”
Next came the talented Jeannie Gaffigan and Greg Iwinski, both Emmy-nominated writers. They presented the seemingly never-ending catastrophes and oddities of 2020 as a skit between two producers reviewing a prospective script that captured the breadth of what happened in 2020 beyond COVID and politics: fires, erupting volcanoes, an Iranian missile, the drama of the British royals, the death of a Supreme Court judge, hurricanes. And then comes the anti-climactic season finale: vaccines are now available.
The pair brainstormed that 2020 would be a fantastic show if each individual disaster occurred on its own different planet: A silent and brooding hero dressed in a helmet and armor with an adorable alien baby in tow would visit each planet and resolve each of the catastrophes.
It all seemed impossible and didn't make any sense. But that’s exactly what happened in 2020!
Jeremy McLellan, an award-winning internationally-touring stand-up comedian was the closing comedic act of the night. While most performers brought up some of their affiliations with Catholicism (e.g. Vince Fabra was raised Catholic and loves the direction of the Church--he thinks JP II is currently doing a wonderful job in the papacy), it was McLellan that brought home the evening, integrating his experience of faith with humor. “I became a Catholic shortly before the bishop said we didn’t have to go to Mass. It was like an introductory offer-- join the Catholic Church, no Masses down and, as always, if in 90 days you’re not happy, then it’s working.”
New converts do invigorate the faithful! He brought up his devotion to the saints (e.g. St. Genesius patron saint of comedians) and referenced the winner of the recent Presidential election: “He is a bad Catholic, but so are we. Finally, some representation.”
McLellan's final jab at 2020, “the long Lent,” and the politics of the day, was a parody of the Encounter.
“On Good Friday, Jesus was arrested, accused by the Chief Priests, found not guilty and acquitted like today (not comparing to Trump). Even though Jesus was found not guilty, the mob still demanded his death anyway and he was crucified in a legal process we now refer to as Twitter […] But 2020, Lent and Holy week: the story is about hope. Two thousand years ago, a poor middle eastern immigrant got murdered by the government, all hope was lost, and three days later he rose again from the dead, as a rich white republican man. It just goes to show, in America you can be anything you want, as long as you have the right Dad.”