More than any other cabaret room, The Duplex has had a longstanding reputation for comedy. That reputation continues -- and the room flourishes -- thanks to the talent and commitment of master comedian Tommy Koenig. The possessor of an engineering degree in laughter, Koenig has come up with a blueprint for building the better comic mousetrap. His show features inspired skits of his own devising and guest appearances by some of New York's most promising standup artists.
The Tommy Koenig Show started soon after 9/11 as a series of benefit evenings; it has since evolved and has become an anchor of the Duplex schedule. You don't have to think twice: If it's Saturday night at 10pm, it's Tommy Koenig time at The Duplex. (The show even has its own nutty theme song.) In his opening monologue, Koenig displays a quick wit that takes advantage of whatever the evening offers. For instance, upon learning that a couple in his audience had an affiliation with Brooklyn College, he said he was astonished to learn that the words "Brooklyn" and "College" might actually go together.
All of the acts that Koenig presented on the evening we attended had something on the ball. Andy Vastola, uneven but never uninteresting, offered some dryly delivered material. Susan Prekel noted that travel did not help her lack of self-worth: "I can't stop smoking in Prague, either." Poppy Kramer, who also tends bar at The Duplex, was funniest when describing her mother; whenever she imitated mom's voice, she sounded like Harvey Fierstein. Brad Zimmerman was the most intriguing of Koenig's guests, perhaps not the most professional but the most comically inspired. When he hit a riff, as he did in a description of himself as an abject failure, he was hilarious: e.g., "I go to work, essentially, to leave."
In between the performances of his guests, Koenig impressed with a series of inventive sketches in which he played various characters at a video dating service. The setup might not sound very original, but Koenig's layered writing and deft portrayals were often as touching as they were hilarious. The best demonstration of his quicksilver comic acting skills came in a sidesplitting sketch in which he played, almost at once, all four of The Beatles as if they were a standup act rather than a band. Listen -- do you want to know a secret? The Tommy Koenig Show has something very special in Tommy Koenig.
[More cabaret reviews by the Siegels can be found at www.cabarethotlineonline.com]