COMEDY REVIEW : Shydner Makes His Own Mark on Familiar Comic Terrain

Ritch Shydner isn't the deepest or most unpredictable comic around, but he knows how to plumb a resource that just about everybody and his uncle (or aunt) can relate to: the trouble between men and women.

Shydner brought his gruff-sounding but generally benign pronouncements to the Improvisation on Tuesday night, showing that while this is pretty familiar terrain for many comedians, few have marked out the territory as personally or thoroughly as he.

He's learned firsthand, usually through his bemused interactions with his spunky wife, about the little wars and peace treaties forged between the sexes. His audience--especially the men--connects with him because they've been in the trenches too, trying to figure out what their mates are up to.

Mainly, Shydner is interested in survival, like when his wife starts coming up with new reasons to celebrate their love. He's had to worry about birthdays, holidays and their wedding anniversary, but now she's reminding him of "the first time we kissed barefoot under the moon."

OK, relax, don't panic. Maybe it'll go away; maybe he can change the topic. But she's persistent. OK, she wants a present, that's it. Shydner finally replies, "Uh, what's the proper gift for that--flip-flops?"

We never do find out what his wife thinks of that response, but it's not hard to imagine her shaking her head and sighing. Shydner really loves his wife but, at least in his husbandly role, he's the doofus running scared. He knows he'll never outsmart her; men will never outsmart women, at least when it comes to domestic stuff.

Shopping, of course, is a major trial. It takes "a triathlete" just to keep up with women in a consumer mood. When his wife wants to buy a new sofa, he goes along, optimistic he can work an angle. There are dozens and dozens of them in the store, but he targets the one nearest the door.

Shydner, all animated now: "See, this one right near the door is good, we can take it right out. They rotate the couches right to here, that's the couch-that-you're-supposed-to-buy place (in the showroom), and that's the one we should buy, right there!" Forget it, Jack.

The man is at a disadvantage even during a fight. Not only does the woman have the answers, sometimes the man doesn't even know the questions. Shydner telephones his buddy who is waiting out an argument in the bathroom. Shydner asks what it's about. His friend replies in a hang-dog voice, "I dunno, she won't tell me."

And when the breakup eventually comes, it's the guy who acts tough but is the least prepared. The woman goes shopping, eats ice cream, commiserates with a friend and bam! he's out of her life. But after a week of denial, "He'll start chasing small animals with a weed-eater, yelling 'She told me she'd love me forever!' "

Shydner started his set talking about aging rock stars and telling a musty joke about that Nike commercial using the Beatles' "Revolution." Not the high point of his act, but he did get off a few zingers at the expense of hunters, especially when he said there should be a law requiring them to eat everything they kill. A few muskrats might be saved and, as Shydner pointed out, it could even lower the murder rate.

Ritch Shydner headlines a bill that continues tonight at 8:30 p.m., Friday at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 and 10 p.m., and Sunday at 8:30 p.m. Tickets: $8 and $10. Information (714) 854-5455. The Improv is at 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine.

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