Archive for Sunday, March 25, 2001

The unbuttoned mind of Henry Rollins

Henry Rollins at Liberty Hall, Lawrence Kansas - 03/24/2001

March 25, 2001


If you've never seen Henry Rollins in one of his "spoken word" performances, you might come to the event carrying preconceptions about what that phrase might mean. You'll certainly understand that you're not going to see the Rollins Band, the extremely hard rocking unit that Rollins fronts. But you might have the idea that he'll be reciting poetry, or reading from his journal, or performing forensic monologues. What you probably won't be expecting if you've never seen him do this before, is stand up comedy.

Henry Rollins

Henry Rollins

Maybe he should bill himself as "Henny" Rollins. Without question his comedy is rife with personal revelation, insightful observation and political commentary, but there was no denying that this was, through and through comedy.

Rollins doesn't tell jokes; it's observation and story telling with meandering side trips down streams of consciousness. He's charming, articulate, self-effacing with a tongue as sharp as a stiletto. He's a gifted physical actor, capable of rendering moments of truth with his body that are comic, yet recognizably real.

Where most comics that arrive at a style like this get there by starting with, then eschewing joke telling, Rollins has simply skipped over that setup/payoff phase. His style is like latter day Richard Pryor through the filter of a middle-class, white punk rocker.

Rollins is as effective when on "record" as he is when on "play." His powers of observation are as acute as his ability to convey. During a discourse on the physical, facial, and vocal nuances of one-time Kansas newsman, and current host of the A&E; network's "Investigative Reports" Bill Kurtis, his skewerings were dead on and hilarious.

Rollins began his two and a half hour rap with a discussion of the pitfalls and merits of his recently observed fortieth birthday, and the glory of curmudgeonhood. A riff on the change, or lack thereof that takes place as boys become men offered comparison and contrast to the changes that take place in the female of the species. The key difference in Rollins' estimation, hinges on the relative shelf lives of each gender's reproductive raw material.

Some wry observations about the nature of Internet marketing to middle-aged men preceded an extend exploration of presidents, candidates, and the fantasy of the power of the presidency.

Observing that Al Gore moves like a man that wasn't born with the limbs he's got, and surely can't dance, Rollins remarked that Gore "couldn't find the one on a Ramones record." And that as an admittedly macho-leaning guy, Rollins lost all hope for Gore when he accused Dubya of being "snippy." After all, Chuck D never says "snippy."

Rollins can fairly be accused of abusing straw men, and candidly admitted "I operate on plot loss, overreach, and exaggerationit makes me exciting."

Any doubt that Rollins was doing stand up, disappeared when he launched into a rant on driving in L.A. Only a discussion of airline food could be more clich Thankfully Rollins' bent worldview made even this seem a fresh topic.

When Rollins turned his attention to music, his perfunctory targeting of Britney Spears and Yanni as objects of his wrath was a little obvious. But his story about attending the farewell Kiss concert, and his encounters with the mulleted murderers of San Bernardino, their mates and their spawn was joyously entertaining, and his impersonation of Paul Stanley was brutally accurate.

Late in the performance, Rollins succumbed to the temptation to interject some mawkish preachiness during a tale of a recent trip to India. Offering tired platitudes about the spirit of the impoverished and the good fortune we enjoy in this country were a bit beneath the demonstration of respect for his audience's ability to appreciate subtlety without sledgehammer sentiments that Rollins had shown for the preceding couple of hours.

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