dosage MAGAZINE and I have written and published much about the public and industry needs met by having and holding a concert-comedy-theater-filmic drive-in scene in and around Philadelphia within the last several weeks. It’s a pandemic thing – you totally understand. People want to be entertained, especially after 5 and a half months of not having live thrills. Previewing all sides of the equation is one thing; living it, though, is quite another. With that, I decided to hit the drive-in at Citizens Bank Park at the Sports Complex in South Philly for Saturday night’s recently-announced show with stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan.
The drive-in live showcase is a simple deal: find a large scale parking lot outside of an entertainment hot spot or sports complex, open it up to parking vehicles every other space, allow masked attendees to stand in the square surrounding their vehicle (or stand up through a sunroof or sit on the back of an open hatchback of a station wagon, van or SUV), make food vending a contact-less system, tune your FM dial to a designated station for the sake of sound (if you have a BlueTooth system in your car and an iPhone app set to “tuner,” you can enhance the sonic experience), turn off your headlights (unless you’re using them as a form of applause or show of appreciation, see below), dim the lights and go.
I’m guessing for drive-in concerts gone by at Citizens Bank Park – say, the recent sold-out show with The Struts – wild applause and audience screams could be better heard by the band on stage, and therefore, something of the usually warm feeling of connectivity and interactivity between artist and audience was there, glowing.
A stand-up comedy gig is a different matter.
Security was heavy (checking for alcohol) getting into the parking lot and through to the Gold area. There was a host of bike police driving through the parking lot to make sure all rules and social distances were enforced. There were large viewing screens on each side of the stage from where the actual performer seemed tin. And then there was the car humor.
“I don’t really have a lot of material for cars,” said stand-up Marina Franklin, one of Gallagher’s opening acts, at the start of her set.
Though I couldn’t mull throughout the crowd and run up to the front of the stage to hear how laughter and applause would hit the comic on-stage (interaction being the true give-and-take pleasure of live comedy; how a joke lands or doesn’t land being of utmost importance to the artist), I did stand outside my car and listen to the crowd. People laughed, a lot, but it seemed to drift off into space. How the stand-up on stage received her or his gratification came when drivers honked their horns and flashed their lights.
“You’re either enjoying a great joke, or your car alarm just went off,” said Franklin, one of three Gaffigan opening acts. New Jersey stand-ups Keith Alberstadt and David Juskow came before her, were funny, and seemed somewhat okay with the quietude that came without the roar of an audience’s usual applause. Juskow did manage to tease that he thought telling jokes to parked cars was an elaborate joke on him.
After all this, Gaffigan came out – looking a bit messier and more bearded than the last time we saw him sell out a Philly venue (The Met, last year) – and bragging about being Twitter’s newest darling after making several anti-Trump remarks just days before this, on August 29. Of the considerable crowds who apparently gave up their tickets due to their love of Trump, Gaffigan said that he couldn’t care less. Gaffigan’s schtick is never a political one, and as a Catholic, and seemingly somewhat conservative, I’m guessing that MAGA hat wearing peeps were a wee bit shocked.
I’m not going to review Gaffigan’s set line-by-line. There’s nothing worse than writing or reading a transcript of stand-up’s work without her or his feeling, timing or vibe. See him for yourself or wait for the Netflix special of this set of drive-in shows to hear what he said.
Addressing the situation of automobile-only applause, before the night’s sole rainstorm began and ended in a flash (clever thinking made it so the car ahead of ours with the open sunroof also used a clear umbrella while peaking their heads up and craning their necks), Gaffigan seemed to get a kick out of playing to a tin and metal crowd. Family, Catholicism, too many kids to put through college, his own foibles Hot Pockets – his usual topics – brought real and genuine applause loud enough to truly hear. Gaffigan seemed not just touched by this, but, proud – like, if you can get a crowd of cars in the rain to guffaw, you’ve really made it.
The Citizens Bank Park drive-in experience? It was easy to navigate, a little spooky (all those cars gathered together and spaced apart felt like something out of a Stephen King novella), but, an all-around cool manner in which to just get the fuck out of the house, and enjoy something live, and not on Netflix. It’s not normal, but it works a treat.