By Christopher Biddle
RUTLAND — After years of working the road comic circuit, a celebrated stint on Saturday Night Live, and a quoteable Hollywood filmography, Jim Breuer says he loves performing in Rutland, and a packed house at the Paramount theatre Saturday night showed that the feeling was mutual.
Jim Breuer has ascended from lovable middle American stoner-comic to lovable middle American dad-comic with grace, humility, and milk-spewing perfection to become one of the most recognizable faces in the industry.
SNL godfather, Lorne Michaels trusted Breuer’s genius enough to ask his advice on hiring the then undiscovered Marc Maron. He played the iconic stoner Brian from the Dave Chappelle-directed cult classic “Half-Baked.” In that film, his imitation of a famous scene from another film was so good that it actually eclipsed the popularity of the original, leading semi-buzzed college kids across America to believe they were quoting Jim Breuer and not Tom Cruise when they said, “All I want to know is…who’s coming with me, man?”
Breuer charmed the Rutland audience by opening his set by flipping around a commonly known joke about the city of Rutland, taking aim instead at the culturally opposite Stratton, Vt. All he had to do was utter the words “Rut-Vegas” several times as he kicked about the stage, hyperbolizing the imitated effect of ski boots. “Rut-Vegas. Rut-Vegas” He slurped and slurred like the alien villain from a sci-fi flick. He planted an imaginary set of poles and zig-zagged stage left, then right, whiplashing the top of his body so expertly that it felt like it arrived a full second and a half after his feet.
Breuer is good on stage today for the same reasons he was able to rise from road comic obscurity. But he’s also expertly adapted to new material, and transitioned roles smoothly. Where once he was the kid sneaking into the house after a night of mischief now, Breuer’s daughters are the ones misbehaving in his stories. He’s become the befuddled father, standing in the middle of the room with his palms open, saying, “What?”
His skill boils down the simple details, like the timing of a mic trick, the unexpected use of a prop, and a comedically trained muscle structure that all add up to Breuer’s becoming an 800 pound grizzly bear, his best impersonation of his wife in the morning. Done poorly, material like my wife gettin mad at me, teenage girls and cell phones, and stuff happening in airports can be cliché. But done well, it’s genius. By the end of the two hour set, not more than ten seconds had passed when the room wasn’t filled with laughter.
It was a nice sound to Eric Mallete, the program director at the Paramount theatre, who is largely responsible for the strong and varied roster of comedians coming through Rutland this season. “The audience truly chooses who goes on that stage,” Mallete said humbly. He feels as though his title of director can be misleading, and that his job is more about reacting to the market that he sees in Rutland. The result is a lineup that includes comedians on par with Breuer’s credibility but varying drastically in style. From the bombastic Tracy Morgan, to NPR-friendly Paula Poundstone, to living legend Louis Anderson, the caliber of performers at the Paramount is strong.
“People want to see different things in their comedians and we try and make it so everybody can go to the theatre at least once a year,” said Mallete. “I think this comedy series does that.”