Published Sep 29, 2019Byron Bowers has the makings of a great one-man show on his hands. He has a number of large set pieces around which to orient his act, a few weighty themes he seems interested in probing and an effortless comfort on stage that puts audiences at ease during long stretches of silence. Performing at the Rivoli on Saturday evening, Bowers appeared to be nurturing the saplings of this show, while strewing a series of more traditional standup bits throughout, leading to a somewhat uneven set.
Early on in the hour, Bowers informed us that his father had passed away just a couple of weeks earlier, and it was evident he was still searching for a way to talk about this experience in a manner that was befitting of a comedy show. The same could be said of the trauma he experienced as a child, which would be difficult for most to unpack through hours of therapy, let alone through the medium of a standup performance. To his credit, Bowers reflected on these topics in a way that was pensive and compelling, but these ruminations were still a rather stark tonal departure from some of the neatly structured jokes he wove around them.
Were he not preoccupied with different ambitions, it's easy to conceive of an alternate scenario where Bowers might have performed an hour of these jokes, one after another, and killed. He is a gifted performer, endowed with an easy charm, a flair for act-outs and a knack for building and releasing tension, not dissimilar to Jerrod Carmichael. With the benefit of time, he's nearly always able to mine emotional subject matter for comedic fodder, demonstrating this skill during the clever bits he performed about his father's schizophrenia, his experiences with psychedelics, the nuances of police brutality and more.
Yet, it's unclear whether Bowers will continue to define success in this way with his newest material. Several times throughout his set, he discussed the importance of duality, reminding the audience that it's impossible to truly experience happiness without first experiencing its contrasting emotions. Thus, it occurs to me that, perhaps, this hour of comedy, which I initially perceived to be uneven, was just Bowers' way of reinforcing this point in real-time.