Some people find their true calling late in life. Pat Candaras worked in corporate America, has been married twice and widowed, and has children and grandchildren; this might not be your image of a standup comic, but here is a grandmother who has discovered a genuine gift for making people laugh. Candaras has a unique point of view, an engagingly spiky personality, and deliciously eccentric comic timing. Best of all, she has great material. Put all of that together and you get the provocatively titled, long-running standup comedy show Grandmotherfucker at Don't Tell Mama.
There is much to admire in this often funny act, which premiered at the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe Festival under the direction of Tim Fountain (Resident Alien). Candaras segués elegantly from one bit to the next: there is never the feeling that she's finishing one joke and then starting another. When she tells a hilarious story about watching a well-dressed woman wiping the ass of her tiny dog, she describes the dog's horrified face, which seems to be asking that someone step in and stop this outrage; but Candaras demurs, pleading, "I've got enough trouble watching my own ass" -- deftly leading into a comic riff on people and institutions that have authority over our lives.
There are advantages to being an older standup comic, among them the range of topics that can be broached. Candaras's comments about young people, in particular, are refreshingly brash. With a winning and often withering honesty, she brings her age and wisdom to bear on subjects ranging from sex (her attitude is flip in more ways than one) to religion ("The Virgin Mother -- now, there's a woman who knew how to wear a scarf!") But she gets most of her laughs simply by cutting through the bullshit: "My doctor told me that exercise helps. I think my doctor is fucking with me."
Candaras writes and delivers her jokes with economy. Occasionally, it appears as if she's wasting words -- but it turns out that she's not. Those words represent clever misdirections that set up her punchlines, which always seem to come as a surprise. She sometimes piles the surprises on top of one another, stacking up jokes with topper after topper. Most impressive, though, is that her humor has a very personal slant; Candaras talks easily about her late husband and her children, never mocking them but eliciting enormous laughter with offhand, laconic admissions about their failings. Essentially a comic monologist, she masks her jokes within stories. The punchlines are found in natural, though unexpected, twists of human behavior.
Candaras's humor works because, however outlandish her gags, they are always rooted in a character that we believe -- her own. When she says that her one desire in life is to be thought of as "a lovely lady with a lovely family and a clean house," we know this woman -- or think we know her. And then the laughter flies.
Pat Candaras can next be seen in Grandmotherfucker at Don't Tell Mama on Wednesday, August 28, at 9:30pm.
[More cabaret reviews by the Siegels can be found at www.cabarethotlineonline.com]