Aisha Tyler came out on stage of San Francisco’s Cobb’s Comedy Club on June 8 following an hilarious black and white music video from a show in 2009 at the Fillmore where she walks the streets of San Francisco assuming multiple characters. It is a unique portrait of San Francisco by one of its natives. Flanked by an exorbitantly dressed drag queen from the Castro and a Latino gang member from the Mission, she claims her space in the streets of San Francisco and its annals of history. At Cobb’s she claimed her title as one of the most brilliant stand up comedians today.
The crowd is there to celebrate Aisha Tyler: part Lana Kane “Archer” fans from the FX animated sitcom television series and part Andrea Marino fans from the first season of “Ghost Whisperer”.
Tyler transformed into different personas in an electric and intuitive cascade, a litany of eclectic insights on television, racism, hotels and her husband. What is central to her show is her shrewd perception of how our differences give us our humanity. The talented African American reminds us of Jean-Paul Sartre’s claim that “we are nothing other than what we make ourselves”. Her show also illuminates one of the French philosopher’s central tenets on the human condition by “making us conscious of who we are and that we are solely responsible for our existence”. Tyler takes charge and illuminates how TV does NOT make us feel good and that we should get that. The negative messages from ads are abundant, she extolled: “you’re fat”; you’re a slob – clean your house”. She admonishes us that if we take in those messages it is our responsibility. This is an empowering rant.
The San Francisco native has the experience of growing up in a multicultural environment, after the efforts in the 70’s by Mayor George Moscone to carve up the city into broad based districts, represented by the people who lived there, not just businessmen who represented their own interests. Supervisors got together and hammered out criteria for a harmonious existence in the City. It is because of Moscone’s vision that Harvey Milk got elected. The late Mayor’s legacy is part of the magic of San Francisco and why you can sit in a club in North Beach on a Saturday night and listen to one of its most outspoken artists.
This is the San Francisco Aisha Tyler is born from and she represents this cultivated diversity. “How does that work when you go to the Midwest”, asks Tyler? Things change. Some white people can be patronizing. “On tour, someone came up and said I was so cute, she wanted to bake me a pie”. “Honey I don’t know you that well”, Aishi responded. She described a racially divided town where the white people stare at the black people when things need to be done and take turns asking each other “are you going to do it? until a Mexican comes along who says, “I’ll do it”.
Tyler reveals the intricate layers of multiculturalism in a colorful fashion in her standup and it is clear she is one of the gifted artists that undergoes a phenomenal metamorphosis when speaking to the public, becoming an altered spirit. She can deliver her material full throttle and go ballistic, then slow down, cruise, and smile, in an embodied sense of humor, a humor that genuinely goes home with San Franciscans.
Tyler’s shows are not only successful here but also all across the United States and Canada. Americans are feared in Canada says Tyler, like the Mexicans in California. She admits she hails from “the Great State of Mexico”, and then adds, “they’ll get it back again”, alluding to the dark history of California where Mexico and Native American land was cheaply sold or just appropriated by the U.S. Government. Canadians fear that Americans will come and take advantage of their social democratic programs too, like the Mexicans in California, quips Tyler. Then there was someone Canada, clearly in awe, who asked her if she owned a gun.
Not all of Tyler’s show deals with race and diversity; a lot of material is focused on sex, and the battle between the sexes for sex. She is proud to be married for 19 years to a white man, and he often comes up in the show. For example, she boasts that he is good to have in the car when she is stopped by a policeman, who figures if she is with a white man she is “supervised”, and waves her on.
One unique part of the show is entitled “mysterious injuries”, that freakishly occur walking though your house, explains Tyler especially when you are older. And she illuminates some of the fears of being 40 + and aging (though she claims throughout the show she is 30). She discusses alcohol (mis) use in a way that sounds like the exploits of drinking gone wrong at an AA meeting. (“I am so wasted and am supposed to be at work at 9, and it’s 9.45”.)
Much of Tyler’s material has to do with how repressed men and women are sexually, noting synthetic drugs like Viagra for sustained sexual prowess into the supernatural realm. As proof, when she is in a hotel room with her husband, they, like others, do things they would never do at home and put a glass up to the wall and compare experiences. After a night in a hotel, the bellboy serves breakfast for her and her husband – glass to the wall – “the Cowboy”.
Aisha Tyler is a powerful woman, clearly in command of herself and confident of her abilities. Although this is her commentary, one can’t help wonder why so much attention is given to men when it comes to sexuality and little to women and herself. It is almost as if by discussing male sexuality, she becomes empowered for having the guts to talk about it.This part of the script calls for more ingenuity. Here her material is a little like comedian Margaret Cho, without all the constant accolades to gay men.
In this show, stereotypes are abundant for the gay population and for the heterosexual population in San Francisco from the Mission, to nearby Marin. Diversity is visible. The warm-up act to her show is a gay Iranian man who comes out asking if the audience thought he was a lesbian because of the way he looked: short hair, casual attire – sweatshirt and sweatpants and clearly at least 100 pounds overweight sporting a “Michelin tire”. He then tells the audience he loves lesbians and asks if any are in the house. During one part of Aisha’s routine he comes out dancing when she mentions that she feels like Jennifer Beales in “Flashdance”.
Aisha Tyler defines herself as she chooses to be. The hope is that by pointing out our diversity with humor we are brought together as humanity. The approach seemed to jell with the audience, who were invited to meet her after the show. Judging by sustained applause and hysteria for over an hour, it was obvious that many felt mirrored by her powerful observations.