The subtitle of Cambridge, Mass.-bred comedian Jimmy Tingle's lengthy solo stage work is "The Education of an American Comic." Actually, it is a cross between standup and a discourse on socio-political consciousness. Along the way he chronicles every aspect of his 30-year-plus evolution from conservative altar boy to decidedly liberal satirist, including video clips of his 1980s appearances on "Star Search" and "The Tonight Show." He is a highly original, often hilarious monologist who ceases being funny when he stops commenting and starts lecturing the audience on what they should be thinking and doing. Director Larry Arrick would have served the piece better by helping Tingle shape a tauter, more focused satirical throughline, and knowing when it is time to move on.

The subtitle of Cambridge, Mass.-bred comedian Jimmy Tingle’s lengthy solo stage work is “The Education of an American Comic.” Actually, it is a cross between standup and a discourse on socio-political consciousness. Along the way he chronicles every aspect of his 30-year-plus evolution from conservative altar boy to decidedly liberal satirist, including video clips of his 1980s appearances on “Star Search” and “The Tonight Show.” He is a highly original, often hilarious monologist who ceases being funny when he stops commenting and starts lecturing the audience on what they should be thinking and doing. Director Larry Arrick would have served the piece better by helping Tingle shape a tauter, more focused satirical throughline, and knowing when it is time to move on.

His foray into society’s ills and absurdities covers every imaginable topic from alcoholism (his own) to zero population growth (pro-choice vs. pro-life). Despite possessing keen insight and a clear love of humanity, Tingle’s take on every problem facing contemporary civilization borders on ponderous overkill.

Tingle is at his best when following a theme to its illogical conclusion. His personal bout with booze provides excellent fodder as he offers a mantra-like ode to beer commercials and muses on what alcohol warning labels would read like if they told the whole truth. And he asks, “Who helped more people, Betty Ford or Gerald Ford?”

Like Mort Sahl before him, Tingle spends a great deal of his time mining the highly charged fields of partisan politics and big government. While taking the expected shots at Clinton’s current woes, Tingle seems happiest rehashing the conservative years of Reagan and Bush. The comedian juxtaposes the strange realities that the Republican administration had simultaneously declared “a war on drugs” and cut the budget for the Coast Guard. With a sense of awestruck disbelief, Tingle pantomimes boats scurrying along the water and asks, “Couldn’t somebody say, ‘Mr. President, that’s how they get the drugs in’? “

After displaying his taped “Tonight Show” appearance, which was pointedly critical of the political powers that were, Tingle recalls his agent informing him that he is not being invited back because his act was too anti-government. When Tingle informs his agent that Carson did political jokes all the time, his agent replies, “Yes, but Johnny doesn’t mean them.”

The downside of Tingle’s in-depth survey of society’s ills is his spiritually inspired propensity to come up with conclusions to the problems he has been satirizing rather than crediting the audience with the ability to make up their own minds. Obviously his concerns over race relations, gun control, crime, health care, the economy, etc., are deeply heartfelt, but he misses the mark when he dictates the solutions to these concerns in the guise of humor.

Jimmy Tingle's Uncommon Sense

Coast Playhouse; 99 seats; $22 top

Production

Hail Mary Prods. presents a monologue in one act written and performed by Jimmy Tingle. Directed by Larry Arrick.

Cast

Set, Victoria Profitt; lighting, John Cook. Opened, reviewed Feb. 1, 1998; runs through March 22. Running time: 1 hour, 30 min.
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