In Boozo Veritas #45 by Teege Braune
A Review of Greg Proops’s Live at Musso and Frank
If you’re like me and you watched an excessive amount of television in the 90s, you’ll remember Greg Proops as the guy with the signature thick-rimmed glasses who performed alongside Drew Carey in Whose Line Is It Anyway? which was unique in being one of the only improvisation comedy shows to ever make it to primetime. Most likely you’ve heard Proops voice more that you’ve seen his face as he’s provided voiceover work for Star Wars Episode I: Phantom Menace, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and even Bob the Builder and Disney’s Brother Bear. These various and diverse roles aside, Proops is at his best when performing live stand up comedy as proven by his performance at Musso and Frank’s Grill. I stumbled upon the special inadvertently and mentioned it to John King who, it turns out, has been an avid fan of Proops ever since John was a PhD student at Purdue. It was this bit in particular from Proops’s Comedy Central Presents special that clenched the deal for him:
Proops: We’re taught a lot of lies, growing up, about American history.
Proops’s Mock Dudley-Do-Right voice: Really, Greg, which ones?
Proops: All of them.
An In Boozo Veritas review of Live at Musso and Frank seemed the natural conclusion to our common enthusiasm.
Proops begins his special by giving us a little bit of history of the L.A. landmark Musso and Frank’s Grill whose famous regulars include not only the giants of the cinema like Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Charlie Chaplin, but was also loved by the Los Angeles literati including William Faulkner who, Proops points out, used to make his own mint juleps behind the bar. It isn’t often that a standup comedian references and quotes authors like Faulkner, Raymond Chandler, and Charles Bukowski, and it is this unapologetically intelligent slant to his humor that got me hooked on his act. His unapologetic love of drinking was another draw, and the astounding number of martinis the man consumes over the course of his act without ever losing his refined, if not ribald touch, is truly impressive.
Proops carries himself with all the smart-alecky charm of an old school entertainer transitioning seamlessly from the polished, wise-cracking dandy to the hyperactive, self-imitating funny man. Having come to Hollywood from San Francisco, he celebrates Los Angeles in a place that was once an epicenter for the cultural elite, all the while mocking it for its idiosyncrasies. “I’m saying San Francisco is a city,” Proops says. “And Hollywood is an idea held simultaneously by a million assholes.”
Nothing is safe from Proops mockery, and he even lightly teases Musso and Frank’s for continuing to serve humorously out of date items such as jellied consommé and Welsh rarebit, but woe unto the pretentious, the fake, the narcissist for they will be decimated by Proops razor sharp wit. Take for instance his attack of the bored, barely-trying waitress at the uber hip restaurant with a beautiful outdoor patio and inedible food who approaches the table with a casual, “Hey. All right.” If the poor woman’s hilarious beat down comes off a little curmudgeonly, don’t mistake the intent. Proops is a comedian transported from another more formal, more stylish era. A server’s disaffected apathy is as maddening to Proops as it would have been to Don Rickles before him.
This is, of course, the charm not to mention the design. Sitting in a Musso and Frank’s (or if you are like me watching the special on your computer, pretending you’re sitting in Musso and Frank’s), a relic of a golden age of entertainment, and watching a man delightfully misplaced in our modern times, yet all the more capable of critiquing contemporary culture because he doesn’t quite fit in. The result is nostalgia for old Hollywood without sacrificing relevance.
Proops’s cross-generational persona becomes clearest in the second half of the special as he discusses his time working for a restaurant called Chicken Delight where the manager doubled as a drug dealer. Not surprisingly, Proops is as fond of marijuana as he is of alcohol and has even dabbled in less socially accepted chemicals such as crank, or as we call it now, he explains, methamphetamine, pronouncing the final vowel as a short “i” instead of a long “e” like the enduring sophisticate that he is. This sequence, including a celebration of irresponsible child labor, i.e. compensating the adolescent employees of Chicken Delight with weed, is fantastically irreverent and could have never occurred in any time or place but California in the 1970s. That is the nature and joy of Proops; he is a comedian willfully straddling many eras. His ideal audience would probably be a grab bag of upper-crust members of the Mafioso, the Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe, and Faulkner himself, but as these icons are long gone, he’ll give us, his audience, though we are culpable in everything he mocks, the same treatment he would have given his heroes had he been born half a century earlier, and in the end, we find ourselves grateful that he chooses to bless us with his disdain. I know I do.
You can download Live at Musso and Frank for only $4.99 here.
Incidentally, if you have not yet listened to The Drunken Odyssey’s roundtable discussion of Donald Duck, today is his actual 80th birthday. Celebrate the single greatest cartoon character of all time by clicking right here.
Teege Braune (episode 72, episode 75, episode 77, episode 90, episode 102) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.
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