Known for high-stakes dirty haiku battles, meat hurling contests, and game show parodies in which the host asks you to guess the price of, say, an aborted fetus, Oakland variety show Tourettes Without Regrets has long been the East Bay's best forum for absurdist humor. But there's a cerebral side to it, too. Freestyle rappers and spoken-word poets who take the stage at Tourettes are the type of people who can spit insults in iambic pentameter and quip without having to write their own setups. Tourettes emcee Thesaurus is rumored to have a photographic memory (he's a closet number cruncher who's worked as a casino prop player). Meanwhile, comedian Will Franken is adept at creating characters and inhabiting them. So when postmodernist comedian Brent Weinbach and beatbox champion Infinite grace Tourettes on Thursday, July 3, they should feel right at home.
Like Franken, Weinbach treats comedy more as a sketch form than a series of traditional setup/punchline jokes. He honed his craft by listening intently to other people and capturing their style of speech — most famously with his slangy imitations of students in the Oakland public schools, where he once worked as a substitute teacher. What fascinates Weinbach even more are the vocal modulations that other comedians use when they're trying to parody a different race or cultural stereotype (i.e., the exaggerated, swishy lisp meant to signify a transsexual, or the peppy accent, overly used "my friend," and cheesy Quick-E-Mart references used to caricature someone of East Indian descent). Four years since releasing his uproarious album Tales from the Brown Side, Weinbach went from being a Punchline staple to hosting MTV shows and taking the stage at Coachella.
Thursday's Tourettes also features a modified version of Infinite's one-man play The Tell-Tale Heart, based on the gothic tale by Edgar Allen Poe. Unveiled a couple months ago at Intersection for the Arts, the piece is an epic spoken-word poem that mixes 19th-century elocution with modern hip-hop slang. (Instead of beginning with Poe's line, "TRUE! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am," Infinite raps: Mine starts true, you cats could say I was really nervous/but you can't call me mad, you see my nervousness had a purpose.) Infinite's beatboxed heartbeat rhythm creates an eerie soundscape for the piece, so that watching it, you're meant to feel like Poe's narrator: culpable, shaken, alone with a hideous heart.
Given the caliber of these two performers, Thursday's event will probably stand apart from the lower-brow Tourettes shows of previous years: Don't come expecting to toss a pig heart at the stage, or hear a bunch of indie battle rappers volley "yo momma" jokes at each other. Then again, you never know what to expect at this thing; "Tourettes Without Regrets" is carte blanche for "anything goes." Oakland Metro Opera House (630 3rd St.). 8:30 p.m., $7-$10. MySpace.com/touretteswithoutregrets
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