The Tall Guy
A Chicago comedian wants to introduce you to his pubes

At well over six feet tall, Paul Thomas is a big man for a small place like Buxton’s East Bay Theatre. He’s loud and funny, too, with enough confidence in his abilities to include characters in his act that are more quirky than comedic.

Thomas whips through a slew of monologues, skits, songs, and instrumental interludes. He comes across as likeable and highly talented with a reserve of voices and facial expressions to help hold the audience’s attention. His approach is successful if scattershot — there are no links from one character study to another. So a curmudgeonly coach yelling at fifth graders is followed by a beaming preacher whose sermon is constantly interrupted by his cell phone; an announcer recording radio spots is replaced by Thomas as himself, singing a delightfully twisted ode to pedophile priests.

A few themes recur, including the lure of technology, the contradictory coexistence of base human desire with works of great beauty, and the dangers of ignorant people who want to reach out and help someone.

Thomas opens the show by eliciting sympathy by explaining that puberty avoided him in his early teens (hence the “Late Bloomer” bit in the title). While his peers were busy flashing their “man rugs” in the showers after gym class, he wished desperately for at least enough short and curlies to do a pubic comb over. Now that he’s freakishly tall and adequately hirsute, he can joke about his prepubescent degradation. We laugh, but we feel his pain.

With nary a warning, Thomas slips into a character that has hallmarks of his own personality but enough individuality to move the show forward. This sketch develops a running gag of outlandish euphemisms, sports analogies, and the ironic use of homonyms. Thomas loves ‘em. He indulges in them at every possible opportunity to the audience’s delight.

So what’s not to love? Like Kurt Cobain, Thomas uses a whisper-and-scream structure to hold our attention. In the little space like East Bay, that volume can get cranked too loud for some people — one or two of whom stuck their fingers in their ears during the megawatt voice over/presenter scene.

Some of the scenes are so short that they’d be missed with a blink. They’d make great 30-second commercials for an extended version, but as they stand they’re too short to be really clever but too long to be an amusing one-liner. Other character pieces, like a eulogist who’s brutally honest about his deceased friend or a womanizer who’s an itinerant breeder, could benefit from more development. None of Thomas’ creations outstay their welcome, though; if the audience isn’t enamored with one, they don’t have to wait long for the next.

The three songs are as catchy as Thomas promises, especially a climactic number that he dedicates to himself. He’s had a tough life, after all: unusually tall, late to bloom and unorthodox in his comedy scripting. The show works all the same, because of the tough life, his eagerness to please, and because he allows us to feel his pain.

Paul Thomas: Late Bloomer • Piccolo Spoleto’s Piccolo Fringe • (1 hour) • $15 • May 26 at 8.30 p.m.; May 27 at 7 p.m. • Buxton’s East Bay Theatre, 184 East Bay St. • 554-6060

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