Scott Carter, comedian and executive producer of ABC’s “Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher,” crafts a gentle, gripping evening of autobiographical monologues about his stint as a writer of pornographic prose and his bouts with severe asthma. Carter’s sensibility is clearly that of a writer rather than performer, which gives the show its refreshing candor and literary flair. He does not act out the events of his life, but relates them with the elegance of a skilled storyteller, carefully choosing his phrases, metaphors and allusions. His wit is suitably dry, as in the caption he wrote under the picture of a naked woman in a particularly compromising pose — “Erica’s favorite philosophers used to be Hume, Kant and Locke, but now she thinks they can’t hold a candle to Plato.” Or he takes great delight in reading the hilariously rough translation of American pornographic slang in a German soft-core magazine. While Carter had dreamed of being a successful New York playwright lured to Los Angeles by vast riches, he finds himself instead churning out purple, passionate prose in a porn factory. But from the experience, Carter gains what he calls “an abiding tolerance for humanity,” concluding that “people don’t choose their fetishes, their fetishes choose them.” Although his adventures in pornland are cleverly related and often quite funny, Carter’s struggles with life-threatening asthma, which he relates in the second half of the evening, are much more riveting. With brief flashes of humor, Carter describes the sensation of suffocating in slow-motion as he desperately tries to get to the telephone or is rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Most powerful, however, are Carter’s experiences after he receives a reprieve from death. His euphoria, which lasts for several weeks, is marked by loving phone calls to his friends and family, and a wondrous appreciation of life. The euphoria is marred only by his nagging doubts about the existence of God, or any higher power that could bring meaning to the meaninglessness of his recovery. In the end, Carter settles for a more secular sense of wonder and appreciation for all that lies beyond — the occasional “holidays” that relieve the burden of the “everydays.” It is in the latter half of the show that Carter shines as an eloquent storyteller, in which the power of his tale and the craft of the telling merge into a strong theatrical experience. While neither powerfully moving nor achingly funny, Carter’s work nevertheless has great strength of character, considerable skill of craft and a genuine honesty than shines past any traditional standard of performance.Directed by Jim Fyfe. Opened and reviewed Sept. 19, 1997. Runs through Oct. 19. Running time: 1 hour, 45 min.
Cast: Scott Carter