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Tree House Lounge

Remaining performances (tickets available here):

Thursday July 23 at 8 p.m Saturday, July 25 at 4:45 p.m. Sunday, July 26 at 12 p.m.

They Say: Stand-up comedian Adam Ruben’s hilarious new one-man show explores the pitfalls of a career in comedy, from horrific open mic nights to ill-conceived road gigs to sobbing, offended cafeteria ladies.

Amanda Says: You know how famous comics love to go on Fresh Air or The Daily Show and talk about the rough-and-tumble days before they packed crowds in at the Comedy Cellar or had their own podcast or HBO special? Unappreciative or nonexistent audiences, seedy bars, late nights, etc.? Watching Adam Ruben’s hour-long stand-up show I Feel Funny: True Misadventures in Stand-Up Comedy is a little like that.

Ruben has opened for famous headliners like Jim Gaffigan and Kevin Nealon. He’s written books and been on TV (he currently hosts a show on the Science Channel). He’s a prolific performer and instructor locally, too: a founding member of D.C.’s Story League, a stand-up comedy and storytelling teacher at Johns Hopkins University and SpeakeasyDC, a co-producer of D.C. and Baltimore chapters of Mortified (disclosure: I performed in a show produced by Ruben), and a molecular biologist by day to boot. But despite this extensive resume, Ruben isn’t Comedy Central-famous, which makes the series of stories about his worst stand-up gigs feel more authentic than romanticized.

When Ruben talks about the time he was pelted with “spring-loaded plastic genitals” playing for a bachelorette party, or performing in a gym full of students with no microphone, it is with a sort of Seinfeldian absurdist pathos; you know these anecdotes aren’t too far removed from his current stand-up reality. The show is structured as a list of all Ruben’s best “worst” comedy show stories, making it feel more like an hour-long live storytelling show than a raucous belly laugh of a comedy special.

As Ruben builds up to his final two stories, things take a turn for the existential: this is his personal meditation on comedy and its larger purpose. When he gets to his penultimate anecdote, about a controversial song called “The Holocaust Rag” he wrote for a college comedy troupe, it’s hard not to think of the PC-culture headlines that follow most famous comedians du jour, most recently Amy Schumer (are her jokes too racist or just the stuff of a boundary-pushing comedian?). It’s clear Ruben is thinking about such headlines, too. The show becomes a poignant stump speech on the cosmic purpose of comedy, coming to some needlepoint-worthy conclusions: “You have to make the comedy you want to make.” “Humor heals, consoles, distracts.”

Fringe has given Ruben the room to make the comedy he wants to make, and that makes for a performance that will leave you smiling, if not necessarily in stitches.

See it if: You don’t mind getting a little existential about offensive jokes.

Skip it if: You’d rather hear offensive jokes.

Handout photo courtesy of Adam Ruben