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Outside Shelley Berman

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Album Review

While not as verbally confrontational or politically challenging in his satirical eschewal — at least not to the degree of his contemporaries Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce — Shelley Berman's monologues are equally artistic, if not considerably more conceptual. On Outside, the follow-up to Berman's Grammy-winning debut disc, Inside, the comedian once again utilizes the unique concept of storytelling via the one-sided telephone conversation. He also branches out into a revolutionary bit of audience participation in the form of a game called "P.T.A." Rather than play into the neurosis of his audience — à la Woody Allen or later Steven Wright — Berman's approach incorporates a more natural system of deduction via the somewhat compulsory art of eavesdropping. After some preliminary stage patter, Berman begins Outside by stretching his role as "everyman" a bit farther when conceptualizing — and more importantly, successfully executing — such high-brow scenarios as "Franz Kafka on the Telephone." In this bit, he is able to develop a conversation by incorporating various elements and motifs associated with Kafka's literary style — in particular the short story The Metamorphosis. Utilizing fear and confusion as two central themes, the audience is led through a mental exercise in which the "hero" — as Berman refers to his subject — is "akin to a mouse [being] thrust into a maze [and] obliged to get the cheese at the other end." The "Most Important Booking Agent in the World" is a bit less cerebral and is comprised of listening in on a conversation between this anonymous manager and few of his clients: Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso (who is moonlighting as a house painter), and Albert Schweitzer. Berman switches gears for the final two sketches — which comprised the second side of the original LP. First is the emotive and poignant "Father and Son" monologue. Here a hard-working Jewish deli owner — Berman's own father — is pitted against an 18-year old Berman as he asks his father for the money to join his mates at an acting school. Finally, the previously mentioned game of "P.T.A." allows the audience to improvise along with Berman — who plays Dr. Peter Sprocket, a child psychologist. The audience members yell their unrehearsed questions to Berman, who in turn responds with some equally as challenging answers.


Born: February 3, 1925

Genre: Comedy

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '90s

Years before the emergence of Woody Allen, Garry Shandling, or Janeane Garofalo, there was Shelley Berman, the comic who singlehandedly transformed modern neuroticism into high art. Complete with both a unique, vignette-styled narrative sensibility and a mannered, sophisticated stage presence, Berman introduced a new breed of comedian — raw, intense, and deeply personal, his material reflected...
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Outside Shelley Berman, Shelley Berman
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