“Something appealing, something appalling, something for everyone at Comedy Tonight!” The NSO helped kick off the Kennedy Center District of Comedy Festival, taking place over the course of this weekend. Joined by 30 Rock alums Jane Krakowski, Tituss Burgess, and Judah Friedlander, the NSO delivered their usual high-level musical experience, with plenty of laughs to go with it.
The evening started with a stand-up set from Friedlander, best known for his role as TGS writer Frank Rossitano on NBC’s hit comedy “30 Rock.” He has also developed a stand-up persona “The World Champion,” which he uses to lampoon American exceptionalism and provide comedic commentary on topics like gun control, parental leave, and U.S. domestic and foreign policy. In addition to his comedy career, he has appeared in films like “Wet Hot American Summer,” The Wrestler,” and “Star Wars, the Force Awakens.” He also has an upcoming stand-up album and documentary coming out soon, called “America is the Greatest Country in the United States.”
…a fantastic night of laughter and music…
Friedlander impressively based most of his set on questions he put to the audience and riffed on their answers. His first zinger was aimed at a gentleman in the audience who cheered when Friedlander asked who was from D.C. and then when asked which part, said Alexandria (which all of us know is actually in Virginia.) He also had a barb for someone who replied “Texas!” after he asked if there were other countries represented in the audience. “Americans – we’re dumb, but we’re confident,” he said wryly. He also proclaimed Belgium ” the Delaware of Europe.” However, the bulk of Friedlander’s set was around politics, providing comedic punchlines alongside serious commentary. Some highlights were, on the topic of mass-incarceration: 2,220,000 people in prison in the U.S. and Kim Kardashian has 101 million Instagram followers- we are incarcerating the wrong people.” On the topic of parental leave: “we have no parental leave in the U.S. because our mothers actually care about the economy.” He also recommended that if you ever get busted for drugs, you should tell the cops that you are a drug war re-enactor and that climate change won the Cold War. He was a hilarious addition to a great night and I am definitely looking forward to the release of his new comedy album.
The NSO then started the musical portion of the evening with a lively rendition of “Comedy, Tonight!,” the opening number to the comedic musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Led with vigor by Pops conductor Steven Reineke, who impressed in a sharp formal jacket, it was got a night of both music and comedy off on the right foot. The audience was then introduced to Krakowski and Burgess through an “overheard” conversation backstage, where the two worried that they were the best people to kick off the festival since they were not comedians. However, they bucked up their courage and came out to perform a rousing rendition of “Raise the Roof,” from the musical “The Wild Party.” For the rest of the evening, Krakowski and Burgess would take turns doing a few solo numbers a piece, and then coming together for a few memorable duets.
Burgess took the solo spotlight first. His first big break was as Sebastian the crab in the Broadway production of “The Little Mermaid the Musical.” He then showed his comedic chops as D’Fwan on “30 Rock,” which led to his current role starring in “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” on Netflix. He has received 2 Emmy nominations for his role as Titus Andromedon, for his stand out comedic work on “Schmidt.”
His first selection was a beautiful rendition of the Frank Sinatra hit, “The Way You Look Tonight,” which was phenomenal with his soaring tenor. He also chose to do a number from “The Little Mermaid; unfortunately, the musical version of the Disney classic did not last long on Broadway, which Burgess referenced when the audience cheered at his mention of his role in the show: “Oh come on, I know y’all didn’t see that s*&%!” He confessed that he thought he had been cast in the wrong role, and proceeded to perform the song “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” which brought the house down. He put his own, unique take on the number, hilariously changing “yes I do,” to “yes, boo boo” and “your pretty face,” to “your so-so face.” He also took a more serious approach to the Broadway ballad “Someone Like You” and shared a version of a favorite Bette Midler tune, “Do You Wanna Dance” after telling a funny heartfelt story of how he performed the same song at his school’s talent show at age 9. “I didn’t change any of the pronouns – it may have been the start of me coming out.” He also pulled a man out of the audience to dance with, making for a simultaneously touching and funny moment. He also reminded the audience that “What the World Needs Now, Is Love, Sweet Love.”
Jane Krakowski is no slouch herself, with her big break coming as quirky character of Elaine on Fox’s hit “Ally MacBeal.” She also showed off her comedic chops as Jenna Maroney in “30 Rock” and as Jacquline Voorhees on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” She also has professional theater experience, with starring turns on Broadway productions of “Grand Hotel” and “She Loves Me” (amongst others) and as Miss Adelaide in the West End’s 2005 production of “Guys and Dolls.”
Krakowski’s selections reflected her blonde bombshell status, she kicked off her solo set with a slinky rendition of “An Old-Fashioned Millionaire,” popularized by Eartha Kitt, and a hilarious version of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” complete with an original rap section, which was inspired by a comic anecdote Krakowski shared about presenting the “Best Female R&B Performance” at the Grammys years ago. She also performed a number classified as “cold war music from the golden age of homeland security,” originally performed by Hollywood siren and icon Ann Margaret. Krakowski hilariously pointed out that most songs from the 60s had the same beat, and layered “Fever,” “My House,” and “These Boots are Made for Walking” over the same beat. Her performance of “The Only Girl in Town” was a dynamic incarnation of what is a very strange song.
One of the funniest moments of the night was when she proclaimed that she wanted to do a musical about Carol King’s life and was ready to meet the challenges of not having King’s permission, the rights to the songs, and the fact that there already is a musical about the life and music of Carol King “Beautiful.” She only had to make sure that she didn’t use more than 40% of King’s lyrics, so she performed a small snippet of “Decent-Looking: The Constance Kang Situation,” complete with tunes like “Will You Still Buy Me A Sandwich” and “You Make Me Feel (Like A Hamburger Sandwich.”
As funny and impressive as Burgess and Krakowski were on their own, they shone the most when they performed together. They took a song that was already gut-bustingly funny and elevated it to cult status (“Class” from the musical “Chicago”), which apparently is what happens when you combine two superior voices with cuss words and fart jokes. They also did another top-notch version of a “Chicago” tune, with a little comic introduction from conductor Reineke, of “My Own Best Friend.”
The evening ended perfectly with a beautiful mash-up of Krakowski singing “Come On Get Happy” and Tituss singing “Happy Days Are Here Again.” A slightly more serious atmosphere reminded us that while these two are both incredibly funny, they are also top vocalists as well. As dominating as both performers were throughout the concert, we cannot forget that this one-of-a-kind performance wouldn’t have been possible without the immense talent and versatility of the NSO. All told, it was a fantastic night of laughter and music that I, and I am sure, the rest of the audience enjoyed immensely.
While this year’s District of Comedy Festival is over, I would highly recommend checking it out next year – the Kennedy Center did an amazing job putting together a varied and enjoyable program of both free and premium events, highlighting the plethora of mediums where comedy exists today.
For more information on upcoming performances at the Kennedy Center, click here.
For information on upcoming performances by the NSO, please click here.