When good ideas get mind-numbingly depressing

âÄúHey man, howâÄôd you spend your Labor Day weekend?âÄù âÄúWell, woke up late, ate some Chex, puttered around for a while, and then went to a politically themed comedy debate in St. Paul. Jealous?âÄù That conversation never happened. But if it had, surely no one would fault Person No. 1 for being enticed by the prospect of some topical humor realized in an innovative format, all taking place in the RNC-energized city of St. Paul, right? As it turns out, Person No. 1 should have turned tail and bailed like hell on his misguided friend, because âÄúUnconventional Comedy,âÄù featuring Jeff Wayne and Jeff Gerbino was, to say it politely, not the best way to end the summer. Instead of setting up my apartment and opening my beer cabinet, I spent my Saturday night in an off-ramp Holiday Inn, not as a guest of the hotel, but rather of their âÄúComedy Club,âÄù which âÄî apparently âÄî is dubbed the âÄúThis Place is a Joke.âÄù What could have served as a cheeky and ironic name for an actual club treads far too close to a sad reality when itâÄôs a mere offshoot of a hotel bar. Featuring low lighting, stackable chairs and the overall charm of a lounge-lizard dwelling place, it was clear that the Prius and latte crowd would be skipping this one. ThatâÄôs not to say there were no attendees. Quite the contrary. There was one unfortunate five-member bridal party, one ho-hum suburban middle-aged couple and two âÄî count emâÄô âÄî two decidedly white-trash couples flanking the wings of the, umm, crowd. Nestled discreetly between Maplewood and St. Paul (but much closer to Maplewood), this was certainly not the ideal way for an arts journalist to get in on the RNC action. Wayne and Gerbino are not bad comics. TheyâÄôre not great comics, but the mind-boggle of a cultural event that this night proved to be has little to do with their material. The set opened with each comic delivering their individual opening monologues. For what appeared to be a slippery grasp at legitimacy, they were each unnecessarily wielding microphones. Rest assured, the dozen people in attendance heard every word loud and clear. Gerbino took the stage sporting designer jeans and Under Armor. What would have appeared merely douchey on your typical frat guy came off tear-jerkingly sad when donned by a middle-aged white guy. To help Gerbino âÄî and myself âÄî cope, I tried my hardest to muster laughs. His set was filled with a cluster of broad, progressive jokes and some uninspired jabs at the GOP. To his credit, Gerbino has dead-on impersonations of every president of the last 30 years. To his discredit, that uncanny voice mimicry served no purpose other than to prove that he can, in fact, do those impersonations. When a joke wasnâÄôt a hit (which is extraordinarily easy to accomplish with a crowd that couldnâÄôt field two baseball teams), Gerbino would go on a faux-defensive justification of said joke. Intent: Humor. Reality: Frustration and a dented ego. Through all of it, Gerbino relied on shrug-worthy shock value (he even went as far as interjecting âÄúYeah! IâÄôm sayinâÄô it!âÄù between jokes and copious amounts of swearing). The awkward cavalcade rumbled on when Jeff âÄúBig DaddyâÄù Wayne waddled onto the stage. His website praises him as a âÄúmodern day Al Bundy, âÄú but perhaps Archie Bunker is a more apt comparison, from a physical standpoint at least. While he does frequently voice distaste for people in general, itâÄôs his evident fear of most things non-Anglo that really shine through. The Wal-Mart shopper-derived crowd rallied behind WayneâÄôs brand of pro-English, anti-tax and pro-building-a-giant-wall-between-the-United-States-and-Mexico stances and his audience interactions were genuinely entertaining. After the dull-toothed solo satire was complete, the M.C. of the night (a position that could have been ably performed by the one server on staff) moderated the big event: The debate. Much like a real political debate, the predetermined questions only yielded what sounded like predetermined answers and there was no real exchange of idea and/or humor. Gerbino and Wayne are nice guys and their acts are not entirely bad, but the sadness of circumstance trounced all else and âÄî not unlike WayneâÄôs beloved supply-side economics âÄî trickled down to the rest of us.