Comedy | The Unbookable Lightness of Being: Meet envelope-pushing, crowd-baiting comedian Andy Andrist. | Comedy | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Culture » Comedy

Comedy | The Unbookable Lightness of Being: Meet envelope-pushing, crowd-baiting comedian Andy Andrist.


Andy Andrist is known for cringe humor—that which offends in order to further ideas, like whether there should be limits to political correctness. Others whose humor is rooted in this concept include Lenny Bruce’s battle against what constitutes obscenity, Richard Pryor taking back the “n-word” and Sam Kinison’s red-faced, vulgar rants, however base they appeared at the time. We laugh guiltily but heartily—and eventually not so nervously—because we recognize that it’s not all about shock value. All these comedians taught us that it’s the context, not the word, and that some ideas, while offensive at first blush, have merit.

Andrist, though … he’s special. He’s a boozier version of a Bruce-ian truth-teller. He also gleefully flays belief systems and pushes big red buttons, like when he jokes about Jesus being a lousy carpenter. “It’s not so much about Jesus,” says Andrist. “It’s about substandard contractors.” A drunk Christian once sneaked onstage to brain the comic with a bottle—only to be thwarted by an alert waitress.

Then there’s this, from Andrist’s CD, Dumb It Down for the Masses (Stand Up! Records): “The happiest people in the world are retarded. That’s the key to happiness, right there. Drink yourself retarded … ’Cause shit isn’t gonna improve in this country, so get fuckin’ dumb. You never see a retarded person having a bad day. Oh sure, they might have a bad portion of a day, like when they lose their swim trunks and they’re raving psychotics. But you never hear retarded people gettin’ together and, ‘It’s a war for oil! George Bush is a dummy!’ No, they don’t give a fuck. They’re just fuckin’ happy to have Froot Loops.”

Is it funny ’cause it’s true? Should we be offended because Andrist traipsed into the territory of They Who Can’t Help It? Or is Andrist making a salient point about government? Those are the same thoughts some had when listening to Bruce, Pryor or Kinison—or the late, sainted Bill Hicks, perhaps the Zen master of using shock to convey hard truths and controversial concepts. If you can suspend disbelief, shock and morality to consider these queries before reacting, they’re all valid questions. And the answers are “yes,” “probably” and “I’ll be damned—he’s right.”

That doesn’t mean Andrist won’t take a bottle to the head someday or at least lose a few gigs. Like his predecessors, he’s been fired because someone—who expected a nonthreatening set from Billy Yukstone the Man of 1,000 Voices/Props/Gender Jokes—complained. And sometimes, he finds the first-show crowd “yelling at people in line for the second show about how I sucked.”

Andrist is an Unbookable. The term—and the group of envelope-pushing, hard-drinking, crowd-baiting, outlaw comics it encompasses—originated with kindred spirit Doug Stanhope. After co-hosting The Man Show (post-Kimmel and Carolla), Stanhope became bookable and wanted to help these, his people. The group now numbers 23 American and four U.K. members, including America’s Funnyman Neil Hamburger, Sean Rouse (Dave Attell’s Insomniac Tour) and Lynn Shawcroft (yin to the late Mitch Hedberg’s yang). “[We’re] the reckless drunks of every hometown club that would do a lot better in comedy if they just could get their shit together enough to be able to get the gigs or not say the wrong thing,” Andrist—a former Man Show writer—says.

Most of these mic monkeys lack managers, publicists or business smarts. They book themselves, but fail to make follow-up calls. And money? When Andrist played Salt Lake City last October, he agreed to a door deal—a percentage of paid attendance—instead of a guarantee. Maybe 10 asses filled the seats. Outside after the show, Andrist told City Weekly he’d lose money on the trip, and his wife would be pissed. A last-minute second show the next night at Mo’s fared better, but not by much.

While some Unbookables—Hamburger, Rouse, Tom Rhodes, Auggie Smith—do OK, their plight remains constant. Andrist and Rouse just filmed segments for the HBO Special Down and Dirty with Jim Norton but fear they were too risqué for even that; Andrist worries he and his rape-baby bit may be edited out.

“Norton came up after and said, ‘That’s some sick shit,’” he says, wondering if the proudly obscene Lucky Louie alum and Opie & Anthony fixture meant it as a compliment or a hint. “Since I don’t have a manager, I’m not sure how to [ensure] I stay in.”

At least there’s the movie. Filmmaker Jeff Pearson (Pirate Radio USA) is following Andrist, Rouse and fellow Unbookables Travis Lipski and James Inman around the country, documenting their angst and their antics. The idea is to promote the film via festivals and get it released theatrically. Whether it goes their way or not, Andrist and his fellow Unbookables intend to have a good time doin’ it.

“None of us are trying to get immediate attention from people, unless the situation is on the stage,” he says. “The camera will probably suck a few people who are prone [to crowd-baiting] into stuff, but we’ll all be bustin’ on each other as well. Get somebody too drunk and they’re on camera the most. That’s my plan. Whoever has the biggest meltdown—let’s film that.”

ANDY ANDRIST w/ Travis Lipski @ Mo’s Neighborhood Grill, 358 S. West Temple, 359-0586, Sept. 21-22, 10 p.m.