Mario Cantone is a gay comedian with a capital G. Ten minutes into his one-man show, shot during its Broadway run late last year, he's channeling not just Cher, but Cher and Tina Turner doing an Elton John medley. By the time the inevitable Liza Minnelli impersonation rolls around, I was expecting Karen Walker to waddle on stage with a martini, bark at Rosario, and present her rump to Cantone for a brisk smacking.
Like yet another Def comic wannabe declaring Bill Clinton the first black president, Cantone relies far too heavily on Cher, show tunes, downward-spiraling divas, and other gay pride presets without much regard for actual jokes. For a guy who was often the randy, ranting kick in Charlotte's stuffy ass on Sex and the City, Cantone still obsessing over Faye Dunaway and Sunset Boulevard manages to paint homosexuality as painfully unhip. And no sexual orientation of any kind could give purpose or punchline to the tedious Judy Garland tribute that drags down Laugh Whore's last few moments. (The Jim Morrison Christmas special bit, on the other hand, is twice as biting just by dint of its being out of the blue.)
Embracing dulled stereotypes is not Cantone's only creative crutch, unfortunately. His stand-up career dates back to the gimmicky '80s when every comic had a signature vocal delivery, most of them severely time-stamped (see Judy Tenuta, Emo Phillips). And like Gilbert Gottfried and the late Sam Kinison, Cantone is a screamer. His righteous indignation toward post-9/11 paranoids, cabbies on cell phones, and Paris Hilton while valid doesn't benefit from the screeching punctuation he tacks on to every gibe and jest. (If you took it easy on the larynx, Mario, there'd be no need to lip-synch that third musical number.)
But not since the Millennium Falcon roared into Cloud City has a second act been so dark and yet so redemptive. With the appearance of a white leather couch round about the 45-minute mark, Cantone thankfully begins to move into more personal material. He introduces his worlds-apart sisters, his heavy-gambling uncles with pinkie rings like ''potato gnocchis dipped in gold,'' and his relentlessly tacky, dog-dispensing mother.
Oddly, Cantone's recounting of her death, when ''all the secrets come rolling out,'' is the high point of his act. Portraying his flabbergasted siblings as they discover their father's illegitimate child, Cantone's skill as an impressionist finds its ideal application. ''I can't f---in' believe it,'' says Cantone, mimicking his mookish brother's outrage at seeing a picture of the love child. ''Do you think he's better-looking than me?''
For the generation raised on South Park and Farrelly humor, Cantone squeezes in a guilt-and-guffaw-inducing bit about teaching English to deaf inner-city students. Sadly, this twisted fun does not last. Within, literally, seconds, Cantone is waxing on about the joys of some Judy Garland TV series that aired during the '60s. ''It's on DVD,'' he announces, ''go buy it especially some of you straight guys.'' The gay men in the audience, he's assuming, have already seen it.