One-man shows are hard to pull off. The talent of the sole performer needs to match up perfectly with compelling content in order to create a show that is interesting for audience members. When these two aspects align just right, a one-man show can be just as memorable as an ensemble show. But for “The Clyde Always Show,” playing at The Marsh in San Francisco, this is not the case.
“The Clyde Always Show” is a series of skits performed by Clyde Always — or “The Bard of the Lower Haight” — who both wrote and directed the performance as well. Most of the skits fall under the category of tall tales; they’re fables filled with extravagant and exaggerated elements, often performed in rhymed verse. The content ranges from an ode to a girl with lavender hair to the story of a tuxedo salesman in love with the men in a catalog. Some of the skits even include Always himself as a character.
When Always made his way onstage he unicycled on, preparing the audience for a night that, while entertaining, was filled with missed potential — one that required a balancing act inarguably more difficult than his one-wheeled transport. Always’ performance tactic of yelling his lines and his skits’ failure to revel in their respective subject matters prevented the show from being entirely unique and engaging.
Always then launched into his string of skits, each fast-paced and quickly followed by the next. Always’ talent as an orator was strikingly evident. He carried his rhyming monologues with precision and speed, never tripping over his words. The rhyming of every skit made for smoothly spoken monologues, but it also allowed for predictability. It was not hard to realize where the end of a spoken line was going, detracting from each joke’s punchline.
His enthusiasm in these monologues was clear, and he went above and beyond in his zeal. But this over-the-top enthusiasm didn’t fully translate. At many points, it felt like he was merely yelling stories at the audience. The content did not require this kind of intensity in oration and, instead of being enhanced by Always’ showmanship, was undermined by it.
While each of the skits was unique in premise, all were unmemorable in retrospect — partially because of the expedited pace. While fast pacing is typically an efficient tactic to keep one’s audience’s attention, this show takes that theory to the extreme. “The Clyde Always Show” feels as if it is being fast-forwarded throughout its entirety. The show would have benefitted from a slowed-down pace, one perhaps achieved by spending more time on fewer skits to allow audience members to absorb the content.
In each skit, Always pinpoints a societal trend to focus the fable upon, ranging from brunch to Tinder dates. But instead of truly exploring the subject, he often moves past it prematurely after mentioning the buzzword, barely leaving room for effective social critique.
The exceptions to this are the two “commercial breaks” of the show. The first was an ad for a hipster yoga studio, the second for “The Vegetarian Bagel Shoppe.” These commercials were easily the highlights of the show. They took those social commentaries to the extent that was needed to be successful. Fully fleshing out the trends of focus, the scenes pointed out exactly why these crazes are so funny under scrutiny. The commercials also highlighted one of the show’s strongest qualities: Always knows how to utilize a prop, whether it was the yoga mat he broke out to do a handstand or the bag of bagels he passed out to the audience.
These two commercials achieved what Clyde Always was striving for with each of his skits: humorous social commentary in the form of orated tall tales. But, lost in the rest of the accelerated content, these commercials didn’t gain the memorability they deserved.
Always’ ambitions and talent are notable, yet they are undermined by his frenzy of enthusiasm. Sometimes, less really is more, and “The Clyde Always Show” would benefit from remembering that.
“The Clyde Always Show” runs through August 29 at The Marsh San Francisco.