NIAGARA FALLS – It’s hard to feel bad for Brad Garrett. The three-time Emmy winner, for his role as Robert Barone, Raymond’s brother on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” has what most television comics would die for: a career-defining role, name recognition and enough syndication residuals to finance a small farm.
But as it so happens for many sitcom superstars – and especially supporting stars – their sophomore slump keeps them from establishing new big roles, or ones that break the character mold their name has already been built upon.
Garrett proved this cliche wrong with a hilarious stand-up set in the Seneca Niagara Casino Saturday night. Well before he was grumbling about being Raymond’s lowly, ignored younger brother, he was a stand-up comic, earning big bucks on “Star Search” in the 1980s and nailing a coveted stand-up set on The “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson.
It must still be reiterated to a few folks that Brad Garrett the comic is absolutely nothing like Robert Barone the brother.
Garrett’s act is patently dirty, in the most traditional of stand-up ways. He picks on every stereotype under the sun, skewers anyone and everyone under the ceiling, and bears no regard for decency in any case.
“This is stand-up,” he implies, bypassing the explicit apology. He trusts that you know he’s entitled to be nastier than his prime-time character could ever be. And if you don’t, then he doesn’t much care about it.
Saturday night’s act laid all the blueprints for a fresh display, a breakout turn, after the fact, of a talented comedian. But it would seem he didn’t get to most of it, because the first half of his act was predominantly occupied by would-be comics in the audience. Before he could really dig into his set, which followed a great warm-up by Paul Ogata, Garrett was stopped by a leisurely dressed woman who had approached the stage with her pocket camera.
Herbert, the stage’s lone security guard, was asked to take a photo of the woman with Garrett, who obliged, but hesitantly, telling her he wouldn’t step off the stage and that she wouldn’t be going up on it.
This woman had nerve, but she was also a nuisance, taking a self-indulgent turn that many in the packed ballroom would have liked to have. Garrett teased her for more than a while, insulting her casual (read: trashy) attire and bawdy approach, without being nasty. He took the photo and tried to move on, even when she wouldn’t.
This also spawned a running spin-off on Herbie, as he became known, whose black race was the butt of many typical jabs. Herbie would become a go-to punchline throughout the night, anytime his race or apparent laziness would become relevant.
Soon after, a few couples in the front row became more fodder, including an older white gentleman whose wife, a younger black woman, gave Garrett lots to go on. Race, when combined with sex and age, is his ammo, the many stereotypes of which are his putty. This was a great crowd for his taste.
The jabs were part of the game – this, he reminded us again, is what a stand-up act is, folks – and might have pushed a few octogenarians’ buttons. But with this in mind, and with respect to the fans who came to pay appreciation, he satisfied both contingents: those who wanted the unrecognized Robbie, good for more than anyone realized, and Brad, the self-effacing, surviving funny Jew who knew exactly who he was and didn’t give a damn what you thought.