Review: For 'Jack Tucker,' Failure Is the Only Option

In one of his most quotable lyrics, Bob Dylan sings about a woman who knows “there's no success like failure/ And that failure's no success at all.” She clearly never saw the comedy of Jack Tucker.

With sweaty insecurity, Tucker steps on his punchlines and clanks the setups. His tech malfunctions. When he sketches the familiar hourglass shape in the air to draw attention to a woman's figure, he ends up looking like a chicken. His crowd work ends in despair. On the rare occasion when he lands a joke, he celebrates by having a co-worker take a photo, but something always destroys the shot.

As played by Zach Zucker, in a raucously funny portrait of a catastrophically dim stand-up comic, Tucker fails in bunches, in quantity and quality, flopping so fast you might miss some errors. Just when you think he can't stumble again, he does. And it's a triumph.

Not since “The Play That Goes Wrong” have I seen mistakes this meticulous. Zucker, who trained with the French guru Philippe Gaulier, doesn't just pratfall and malaprop. He finds new ways to get laughs from spilled beer, a series of variations on a splash that lead to a drunkenly fun call back.

“Jack Tucker: Comedy's Standup Hour,” written by Zucker and directed with a firm attention to detail by Jonny Woolley, is the latest solo show to emerge out of the burgeoning scene that features comics like Natalie Palamides, Courtney Pauroso, Alexandra Tatarsky and Bill O'Neill. (O'Neill's acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe show “The Amazing Banana Brothers” is onstage at SoHo Playhouse tonight and Wednesday.) As the host of Stamptown, a bicoastal showcase for many of these artists, Zucker has been at the center of this movement. It's a younger generation than the new vaudevillians like Bill Irwin and David Shiner, but this group has the same inventiveness, ambition and dedication to breathing new life into old shtick. But their work is more visceral and topical. (If anyone's moonlighting at Cirque du Soleil, I'd be surprised.)

Clowns and stand-ups tend to operate in different circles, so this show could be seen as a shot from one camp to the other. And in the voice of Tucker, Zucker does float countless hack stand-up premises — some swaggering, others oblivious, like “I guess men and women are different after all.” As satire, this show is toothless. It's far too stylized to mount a stinging critique, and its one-disaster-after-another structure risks becoming repetitive. But the surprises are in the form, not the content.

What makes his show stand out from those by other intentionally bad comics like Gregg Turkington's Neil Hamburger is how its intricate sound design evokes an absurdist nowhere. You can hear the influence of Tim & Eric. Loud, annoying rock songs, gunshots and air horns crowd up nearly every moment. Barely a second pass without a sound effect — not only beefing up a joke, but often working against it. Zucker keeps asking if his microphone works after every joke that flops.

As the show unravels, Zucker begins describing his marriage in a dutiful attempt at getting real. But if anything, he just becomes more abstract. Struggling to align his gags with the music, Jack Tucker starts to seem less like a comic bombing than a character trapped in a broken video game, a person becoming pixels and static.

Jack Tucker: Comedy Standup Hour
Through April 13 at SoHo Playhouse, Manhattan; Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes.

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Written by ezzeddif

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