Photo courtesy of Shane Wynn

REVIEW: When ‘wicked smart Southern liberals’ come to town

What happens when our new favorite local blogger reviews wellRED Comedy’s stop in Akron, featuring an Akron local and two special guests from The Daily Show

by Ted Lehr, special to The Devil Strip; lead image courtesy of Shane Wynn

The Setting

Akron is a city in transition. From the down and out days of the 1970s to the current revitalization of the downtown district, the city is flexing and finally, FINALLY, coming to life.

Amazing bars and restaurants, as well as a major resurgence of the arts, have served to breathe life back into the long-slumbering beast.

Akron is a working class town. There are a number of connotations that can be attached to the phrase “working class.” Perhaps, “lacking sophistication” is one. “Resistant to change or progress” is another. Heck, even “not cool” might apply. Point being, it’s easy to put Akron away on a shelf in a labeled box.

And that right there is the exact reason why Akron was a perfect fit to host a stop of the wellRED Comedy Tour.

The wellRed tour is composed of comedians Trae Crowder, Corey Forrester, and Drew Morgan. All three are from the South. They speak with drawls. One is the son of a Baptist preacher. Another passionately loves college football. The third would be hard-pressed to be separated from his Pabst Blue Ribbon trucker cap.

Think you got them figured out? You’re not even close.

Much like Akron, they are more than they seem. All three are wicked smart Southern liberals. They are talented comedians who have taken to the road to open eyes about both stereotypes and politics.

The Show

The tour stopped at the sold-out Musica on July 16. Musica is a chic, yet unassuming, concert venue. Turns out it was the ideal setting for a chic, yet unassuming, comedy show.

Trae Crowder was the headliner. The Celina, TN native’s career has been white hot the last number of months due to the series of “Liberal Redneck” videos he has produced that have gone viral. By viral, I mean he has accumulated views to the tune of 15-20 MILLION. He has a lot of people’s attention.

His standup is very similar to the videos. He walks the line between “aw, shucks” and New York sophistication with grace. He lures one in with his warm Southern delivery only to whack them over the head with a prescient observation about politics or family.

Early in his set he recalled that had to grow up and leave home before he realized what he was, which was white trash.  This is the type of honesty that makes live comedy so intimate. It reminds me of the writing of heralded essayist David Foster Wallace, who famously struggled with the complications of his roots.

Drew Morgan preceded Crowder. His father is a preacher and his mother an alcoholic. His set consisted of him talking about his early days growing up and playing college ball.

He revealed that he finds no solace in traditional religion and has replaced it with music. He misses the musicians of previous eras because he feels current artist have no aura. Things like social media have pulled back the curtain too far and revealed too much. Musicians are no longer special.  He closed with a bit about Jim Morrison of The Doors that was so tremendous.

If the evening wasn’t already special enough, unannounced sets from Ronny Chieng and Roy Woods Jr., both correspondents on The Daily Show, sealed the evening as a classic. Presumably in town for the upcoming RNC in Cleveland, the two performed short, concise sets. Both men destroyed. Originally from Malaysia, Chieng spoke about how he didn’t know there were Asian stereotypes until he arrived in America. Woods did a blistering set that focused heavily on the addictive nature of sugar.  

Cory Ryan Forrester was the host of the evening. He started the night off hot with material highlighting his hometown. He posited that Chickamauga, GA has yet to figure out that the Civil War is history. He has some great jokes about early balding. He isn’t afraid to get dirty, either.

After introductions by Tony Troppe and Chris Horne, local comedian Sarah Jones performed a short set. Jones came out swinging. She had a particularly great line about former mayor Don Plusquelic. Since she is homegrown, I will certainly make the effort to see her again.

After the show with Corey, Drew, Trae, publisher Chris Horne, his awesome wife Heather Braun and Unbox Akron's Roger Riddle. (courtesy of Shane Wynn Photography)
After the show with Corey, Drew, Trae, publisher Chris Horne, his awesome wife Heather Braun and Unbox Akron’s Roger Riddle. (courtesy of Shane Wynn Photography)

The Point Being…

It seems to me that comedy is about place and time. When and where count when it comes to humor. That’s why the performances not only worked but were great. Trae Crowder has assumed the mission of addressing expectations and perception and flipping them around. Expectations and perception are the very story of this city for the last three decades. As for flipping them around…we’re working on it.