FRINGE 2019 CRITIC'S PICK: 'Dave Maher Coma Show'

A struggling comedian lapses into a coma; his health fails to the point that his friends and family say their goodbyes — even penning eulogies on Facebook — and plan to take him off life-support

click to enlarge "Dave Maher Coma Show" - Provided by Cincinnati Fringe Festival
Provided by Cincinnati Fringe Festival
"Dave Maher Coma Show"


So here’s the setup: a struggling Chicago comic has been a diabetic since childhood; he’s smoking too much weed and isn’t taking care of himself and lapses into a coma, which leads to his hospitalization. In critical condition, his health fails to the point that his friends and family say their goodbyes and plan to take him off life-support. At the very last moment, he awakens and begins a slow, painful recovery. Eventually, he's better for the experience and, for the first time in his life, is looking forward. 

Sound funny?  No, it doesn’t.  But the remarkable thing about this one-man performance by Dave Maher is that it is, in fact, really funny. That's not because the show is packed with a lot of jokes, but because he has managed to capture something profound: Life is so scary and unpredictable that sometimes you have to laugh to make it bearable. It was evident that his opening-night audience completely got the message. I suspect that every person in that crowd related to at least some of the experiences that Mr. Maher described — and it felt good to laugh about it rather than being afraid of what life might have in store for you next.

What made Maher's show work was his delivery and the structure of his storytelling. It wasn’t really stand-up and it was beyond what you might hear from a friend telling a story about their medical saga; instead, it was perfectly balanced between the two. Maher was completely engaging, like an old, comfortable friend, but his skill really showed through in his comic beats and rhythm. There wasn’t much tech, but he used the limited lighting to great effect and emphasis, which underscored some of the most dramatic moments.  He had a particularly funny bit when he took questions from the audience but gave each person a piece of paper with a ‘better’ question to ask him. Maher’s comfort level with improv and comedy shone through with this, but, on the other hand, it was one of the few moments that seemed like something you’d have seen in a comedy club or special.

It’s worth noting that some of the publicity for the show mentions how Maher’s friends posted eulogies for him on Facebook around the day that everyone thought he was going to die.  It sounded like a funny bit that a good comic would use as a framework for his routine. But I was surprised that, when that material showed up, it wasn’t funny at all — or intended to be. Rather, Maher used recordings of his friends reading these posts out loud; each was sweet, heartfelt and tremendously moving, most of all because they were real.

And that was the heart of the show. Maher didn’t diminish the crisis that he, his family and friends experienced by making fun of it or using it as a springboard for irreverent jokes; instead, he shared the experience with us but told it through his personal lens of someone who happens to be very, very funny. It was as genuine a piece of theatre that I’ve seen in a very long time and is well worth your time to see.

The Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs through June 15. Find showtimes, tickets and more info here. Check out more reviews from our CityBeat team here. For a comprehensive list click here

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