Craig Robinson @ The Neptune Theatre, Seattle, WA, 01.12.12
Splicing the worlds of comedy and music together is by no means a new idea; plenty of comedians have toured with an acoustic guitar or piano as a bit in their act, but few have taken it to the level of Craig Robinson. Robinson (who you may have seen in The Office or Hot Tub Time Machine, amongst others) has upped the ante, pushing his act farther away from traditional stand-up by bringing a seven piece band (the Chicago-based Nasty Delicious) with him for the entirety of the show.
As far as raw, natural singing talent and having the sort of voice that makes heads turn...well, that's not really Robinson's strong suit. That said, Craig Robinson is a tremendous talent and a natural entertainer. After giving his band some time to warmup and show off their respective chops a bit, Robinson came out like a burly, hibernating bear just waking up and gave a loving nod to Elvis' entrances to the funked out strains of the epic "Also Sprach Zarathustra", revealing a neon green Seahawks jersey at the crescendo. Through the next two hours, Robinson led the audience through a careening succession of rapid fire bits that showed off his scattershot comedy style. Starting out by turning "If You're Happy And You Know It" into an over the top sex jam, Robinson immediately jumped into lovingly mocking R&B styles, eventually getting all of men in the audience to whisper-sing "take your panties off" (making the somewhat convincing argument that every song should have a "take your panties off" subliminally thrown in the mix).
Robinson acted as the ringmaster and band leader of the night, giving incredibly physical and visual cues to the Nasty Delicious to get quieter and louder. When things didn't go exactly how Robinson wanted, he tossed sarcastic hissy fits at the good-natured band, snapping at them once to "Play like y'all wanna get paid tonight". Robinson tossed equally mocking, bratty fits at the typically sluggish Seattle audience, putting one particularly unresponsive audience member on the spot for a long, improv-ed Dating Game segment. After trying to get the audience's pulse through that, he got the band to roll through a loose, locally-sourced song section, doing a ramshackle cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that got the crowd off their feet. Great lesson learned of the night: Nirvana songs have a bit of swing to them and don't sound half bad with a horn arrangement tossed in. He followed up with a quick burst at roughly rehearsed Hendrix songs ("Purple Haze", "Foxy Lady") and ending with Robinson trying to physically act out "Hey Joe"; it worked for a couple minutes and then lost steam, running into "I've seen this in a karaoke bar" territory.
In Robinson's world of equal parts tribute and mockery, though, nothing is sacred or off limits, and even in those moments that flailed, Robinson was as physically committed to his jokes as possible. His childlike enthusiasm and unfiltered, ADD-addled ideas, his genuinely humble nature as well as his genuine love of the spotlight (and his complete mastery of the "I'm Totally Feeling This" face) are what make Robinson's act less of a frat party cash grab and moreso a guy who can finally make an act out of the things he loves to do; tell jokes and play music.