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Fringe Fest 2013 Reviews: The Big Vaudeville Hook Comedy Hour 

My first night at the 2013 Rochester Fringe Festival started in the Spiegeltent (in a word: fabulous) for the premiere of Cirque du Fringe. I won't go into detail since Adam Lubitow did a great job reviewing it for us (insider knowledge: I'm the one who didn't care for the emo clowns). All I will say is, I kept thinking, "This is something I would not otherwise be able to see in Rochester." And that, to me, is what Fringe is all about.

Cirque du Fringe ran long, so I ended up missing the first 20 minutes of The Big Vaudeville Hook Comedy Hour Thursday night at the TheatreROCS Stage at Xerox Auditorium. As I entered a very attractive young man from the audience was getting sunscreen squirted on to his hand by the duo Shaddup Zeke, and I wished I had a better understanding of that journey.

From what I saw, the name of the show is slightly misleading. When I hear "vaudeville" I expect something old-timey (although that might be my own unfair assumptions), and when I see "hook" I'm expecting some "Gong Show"-style foolery. This was a more straightforward sampler of local/regional comedy talents, emceed by the likable Anna Hall.

What I caught of the show was a mix of stand-up comedians and improv comedy. The two stand-up comics, Mikey Heller and Jamie Bono, had some decent jokes, but both need to work on their confidence and sharpen their punchlines. There's obvious potential there, but neither one seemed comfortable on the stage. Bono, a college professor from the Buffalo area, got some laughs for his bit on his father's struggles with a smart phone (what did comedians do before technology and old people were invented?) and I personally guffawed at his recounting of a borderline illiterate email from a complaining student. Mine that vein, sir. The children are our future, and they are awful. Let's mock them together.

Heller seemed unsure of his jokes, although his delivery felt more professional. Again, the potential and talent was evident. The closing mom-wife gag was good, as was the bit about his father quitting smoking, and his first experience texting a girl. It's just about refining the material -- and then selling it to the audience. Because if you have less than 10 minutes on stage, you really should not need to consult a paper set list.

The clear star of the show (what I saw of it, at least) was Rochester sketch troupe Canary In A Coal Mine. The trio -- BJ Scanlon, Jeff Andrews, and Angela Prodrick -- took inspiration from Stephen Hawking, those awful Sarah McLachlan SPCA ads, school bullying, and oral sex to deliver a set that was by turns clever and crass, but always funny. Canary In A Coal Mine will be performing three of its own shows during Fringe at The Space on East Main Street. I strongly recommend that you check them out.

The Big Vaudeville Hook Comedy Hour also takes place Friday, September 27, 11 p.m. at the TheatreROCS Stage at Xerox Auditorium. Tickets cost $10.

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