The First Niagara Rochester International Fringe Festival's second year is here, and it seemed like a fitting way to start it off was with one of my favorite acts from last year, Chicago-based musical comedian Matt Griffo. It's even more fitting given that Fringe is actually a homecoming of sorts for Griffo, who originally hails from Irondequoit.
Griffo has been busy since last year. He comes back to Fringe with a brand new set and some additions to his resume, including having penned "Jersey Shore The Musical." He also released his Fringe set from last year as a live album.
Musical comedy is tricky -- very tricky -- and sadly, Griffo's sophomore showing at the GevaNextstage just wasn't as strong as I had hoped. I applaud him for being determined to come with a full set of new material, but he was facing a true musician's problem here: How do I balance new material with older songs that people enjoy? Making a set is a difficult art, and Griffo's dedication to entirely new material left me disappointed. Some of Griffo's songs that have graced my iPod since last year were missing, and the newer material just wasn't as gut-bustingly funny.
I feel like a grizzled old man chasing kids off my yard and talking about how good music was back in my day, or that person who cringes anytime his favorite band plays stuff off their "newer" and "more popular" albums. But his set on Thursday night just wasn't the best representation of Griffo's work to date.
Of the new batch, the best of the bunch were "Ghosts, Ghouls, Goblins, and some guy named Gary Greg," a Halloween-themed spoof, and "Vagina Monster," an ode to the male fear of giving oral sex. They showcased Griffo's keen sense of combining catchy musical styles with humorously contrasting lyrics. Even Justin Time, Griffo's clown roadie, which I never quite got last year, fit well into the set.
The rest of his set, however, lacked topical variety, and was a little too close thematically (as thematically close as a girlfriend dating your dad and relationships in general can fall, I guess) to let anything else really shine or breathe. The tough crowd didn't help, either (Griffo flubbed one lyric and had to start a song over), nor did the person in the audience that seemed intent on guessing where Griffo was going with each joke, taking away precious comedy momentum.
I'm honestly torn, because I was so impressed with Griffo last year, and he still has all the pieces of an on-the-fringe act just waiting to break out. But sadly, rearranging them this year led to fewer laughs than I know he is capable of bringing.
Justin Time with Matt Griffo also takes place Friday, September 20, 9 p.m. and Saturday, September 21, 5:30 p.m. at GevaNextstage. $16.