Kickoff night for the sixth annual Charleston Comedy Festival was pretty fun. While many checked out the Charleston Stand-Up Competition at the Music Farm on Wednesday evening, the fest enjoyed a boisterous full house for all three local shows at Theatre 99 on Meeting Street.

Arriving for the 9:30 p.m. performance of the popular one-man set The Banana Monologues, I walked into a foyer full of people who’d just caught the 8 p.m. double-shot of Moral Fixation (the duo of Lee Lewis and Greg Tavares) and Neckprov (a half-dozen Theatre 99 comics in full-on redneck character). The man behind the main “banana” story — actor and musician Jason Cooper (also of Doppelganger and Moral Fixation) — was standing by one entrance, handing out programs and welcoming attendees. On the top of one page, the sheet defined the gig as “a comedy about a relationship where one woman gave one man the best sex of his life … and all the sh*t that came with it.”

The place was completely full when the production guys in the booth dimmed the lights and introduced “Gus.” Dressed in black T-shirt, black trousers, and a foam banana costume, longtime Theatre 99 cast member John Brennan bounded on stage and tossed a dozen bananas around the room. He lost the costume during the first of 12 “chapters,” but Brennan’s animated performance gathered steam as he described the ill-fated, emotional roller-coaster love ’n’ sex story of Gus and Alexis. He played “Darby” —  the hated “other guy” and Alexis’ supposed “best guy friend” — as an exaggeratedly hunched, shit-throwing, Quasimodo-like troll.

Brennan played the main character as a likeable dope — an everyday-dude hero determined to walk a relationship tight rope — a balancing act between the distorted reality of hooking up with a manipulative sex goddess and the harsh reality of emotional and rational dysfunction. His “banana” — a cigar-puffing, cat-eyed dick nicknamed “Sergeant Johnson” — called the shots during most of poor Gus’s tumultuous misadventure — from the early dates and hook-ups with Alexis through the long-distance years, expensive vacations, and the humiliating final moments. Painful stuff, but hilariously presented. From the giddy laughter, uncomfortable looks, and loud guffaws across the room, many in the audience could relate. —T. Ballard Lesemann

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