H. Jon Benjamin can walk up the spiral staircase of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union without being approached by fans. He can brush past hundreds of waiting college students through the doors of Pauley Ballroom without so much as a few head nods. But as is true for so many other voice actors, get him to talk and the students are suddenly transformed into adoring fans.
ASUC SUPERB’s “An Evening with H. Jon Benjamin” welcomed the comedian, with his distinctly nasally, monotone voice that is better recognized under the names of Bob Belcher (“Bob’s Burgers”) and Sterling Archer (“Archer”). Or as a can of vegetables if you’re into brilliant cult comedy classics. His work as a comedian proper flies under the radar in comparison. With full knowledge of the the performer’s extensive voice acting resume, it was tough to imagine what Friday’s show would constitute.
By the end of the night Benjamin got the crowd to find hilarity in a poster bearing an anti-gay slur and sent a lucky audience member home with a free dildo. He’s certainly no can of vegetables.
First, the comedian had to find his way to the audience.
Brandon Wardell, the night’s opener, was Millennial bait through and through. The Twitter-famous comic performed a shirtless Justin Bieber bit and credits himself with accidentally beginning the “dicks out for Harambe” meme — a morally questionable specimen of the Internet age. With Wardell’s act being a direct appeal to the youngsters in the room, how does a middle-aged voice actor-comedian wearing a baseball cap (with a fish on it) get his audience back?
You fluff their egos. Benjamin read off some comparisons of UC Berkeley’s Getting Your Bearings schedule with that of the University of Texas at Dallas’ appropriately titled Welcome Week. While the comic gave the win to Cal in the mini campus competition, he still poked fun at the self-celebratory or otherwise silly names like GYB (“get your motherfucking bearings”) and the nonstop social awareness workshops.
The room collectively groaned at the mention of the wellness-focused Bear Pact — the immovable hump in every new student’s calendar — and its accompanying, equally heavy program Bear Perspectives. Benjamin asked why there must be such an onslaught of mandatory sexual harassment education. “They keep doing it!” a heckler yelled, because what’s a college comedy show without a heckler? Rather than delve into a rant on what’s wrong with university culture, Benjamin moved on. “Too much of the serious stuff for me,” he said.
Some of Benjamin’s best-received bits put his voicework on display, like when he performed an impression of himself bending over, complete with labored breathing and agitated repetitions of “oh fuck.” He demonstrated the fumbling, shouting-filled downside to having a dildo that straps onto your face, then showed a brief clip of a sketch featuring a couple (with Benjamin playing the dildo-wearer in the relationship) dramatically breaking down in tears over the novelty device’s role in their sex life.
Out of a black plastic bag, he pulled a box containing one of the dildos and tossed it into the crowd, to much applause. Audience members rushed toward the aisle, tumbling over each other to retrieve it.
Dildo aside, Benjamin isn’t particularly raunchy, nor does his monotone define his comedy. He produces a strange hybrid of flippant crowd work and video clips circa 2012, minimalistic impressions and absurd props. A huge closing bit involved posters, one of them reading a horrid turn of phrase made notorious by the Westboro Baptist Church, but he suggested that the better option would be to swap out the word “hate” for “is annoyed by.” Without context, it’s wildly offensive, but the props brought the house down.
The set was all nonspecific, but it’s Benjamin’s voice that reels you in.
Post-show, a group of show attendees gathered at the steps outside the Student Union chatting about how “if you closed your eyes, it was like hearing Archer.” Benjamin is not Archer, but with the ridiculousness of his set, he might as well be.