Although he has written funny gags for the Oscars, other shows and a host of stars, Bruce Vilanch can be at his funniest spinning tales from his experiences, as was amply demonstrated in his show that I caught (June 13, 2013) at the nightclub 54 Below. Yes, he can skillfully deliver a punch line, but the most pleasure was derived from his assorted stories.
Of course, as anybody acquainted with his performances know, he is a riot to look at, and he is funny just when he strikes an attitude, makes an attempt at singing or wins audiences over with merely his presence.
An example of him in a gag mode was the joke about a Japanese woman embarrassed by flatulence in a gift shop and a salesman telling her the next stage she would be at when she heard the price of the souvenir she was examining.
But Vilanch reached his peak recounting a story about the Oscars and the effort to get Steve Martin to tell a joke that he didn’t want to do. After much pressure, Martin agreed to come back after his monologue and say that the bad news is that his fly was open but the good news is that the camera puts on ten pounds. At the last minute Martin backed off, which, as Vilanch tells it, led to backstage mayhem after all the effort to get approval from network censorship. You have to hear Vilanch tell it.
He was also utterly hilarious in talking about Dolly Parton trying to sing while a big dog takes a dump on the stage, and Deborah Kerr, being led to the stage for an honorary Oscar, wondering what that smell was. Again, you have to hear how Vilanch spins out an anecdote like that.
His act is filled with inside references to various performers and the world of entertainment. In fact, it is not so much an act that he performs, but a visit in which he talks to the crowd and appears to be informally regaling the audience with stories that reflect his long experience in providing material.
You can readily see why he was able to carve a professionally career out of writing funny stuff for others. 54 Below is the perfect environment for Vilanch, as it has been for the host of performers who have been booked there since it began to gain its reputation as a prime New York entertainment venue. At 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street. Phone: 866-468-7619. Reviewed June 14, 2013.