Nobody knows the rigors of being a topical humorist better than Will Durst, who's been working the social commentary racket since 1974. His daily routine resembles that of a football player running laps or a musician plowing through the major scales — if not in form, then at least in the deliberateness of his approach. Every day after his first jolt of coffee, Durst reads two or three newspapers — up to seven if he's on the road. At night, he'll try to catch the national news on CNN, less to find out what's actually going on than "the perception of what's going on." Then he'll start writing bits about that day's news items, be it the Lewis "Scooter" Libby imbroglio or the death of James Brown. Within two weeks, his material becomes stale and people forget about it.
Though a less assiduous comedian would probably grimace at the thought of it, Durst doesn't mind the pressure of remaining zeitgeist-y and expunging his jokes once they leave the cover of Time Magazine. He likes keeping on top of current events — he knew about Mitt Romney before everyone else, but had to keep those bits in the incubator — and he likes playing off the audience. "They always call it a comedy monologue, but it's not — it's a dialogue," the comedian said in a recent phone interview. "The audience will tell you if you're headed in a direction that they think is funny or you're not." Durst takes pride not only in building rapport with his fans but in recognizing "their shared field of knowledge." Though he reckons it would take a year and a half to write a whole new set from start to finish, Durst doesn't mind testing out new material on a nightly basis: "I say a third of it actually stays."
This week, Durst presents his fifteenth Big Fat Year End Kiss Off Comedy Show, featuring Johnny Steele, Jim Short, Steven Kravitz, Debi Durst, Mike Bossier, and Arthur Gaus. It kicks off Wednesday, Dec. 26 at Berkeley's Julia Morgan Theater (8 p.m., $18-$20), continues Friday, Dec. 28 at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore ($15-$25) and moves on to Dean Lesher Center for the Arts on Saturday, Dec. 29 (8 p.m., $17-$22). WillDurst.com
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