Paul Mecurio was that guy. You know the one; the agitated, distressed dude standing in the middle of Starbucks yelling about the price of a latte. “The problem is that we’re not talking to one another,” he says at the top of his show, Permission to Speak.
“We’re all nameless and faceless to each other in this city, but we all have a story,” he continues. To combat that frustration, he’s decided to open up–and he wants us to join the conversation. In the 90-ish minutes that follow, he scans his audience and invites individuals onstage. Here, he asks questions ranging from superficial (“What type of work do you do?”) to more personal (“Why didn’t your marriage work out?”)
The Emmy and Peabody Award-winning comedian and writer has created more of a sociological experiment rather than a traditional stand-up act–and that is something to admire. While many comics place the focus solely on themselves, Mecurio is happy to shift the focus in a humorous and genuine manner to us. How refreshing it is to nurture actual human interaction in our dystopian age of social media.
On her final episode, TV personality and cultural icon Oprah Winfrey said, ” I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation. If I could reach through this television and sit on your sofa or sit on a stool in your kitchen right now, I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?'”
Mecurio fully embraces Oprah’s insight. What is so unique is how he interacts with his audience. He is not combative or confrontational. Instead, he equips himself with a genuine curiosity that allows total strangers to share personal details with fellow strangers. He laughs with them rather than at them. Even more impressive is that Mecurio has no idea who he will encounter since the audience changes with every show.
At a recent performance, he asked the gender of a divorcee’s children. She refused to answer, sparking a contentious conversation about gender equality and identity. Mecurio was disarming and handled it with effortless ease. Through it, He made the crucial point that we may disagree but that it is entirely possible to do so without hostility or rage-a lesson that far too many of us are failing in our everyday communication.
Ian Pei and Bravo media add even more gravitas and sincerity with projected images of each audience member (taken before the show).
The late poet Walt Whitman wrote, “I Hear America Singing,” an ode to the diversity of the human landscape. With Mecurio conducting, his is a song that hits all the right notes and is worthy of several encores.
For tickets and information:
Now playing at Actors Temple Theatre 339 West 47th Street Between 8th and 9th Avenue.
Tickets are also available for purchase in person at St. Luke’s Theatre Box Office (308 West 46th Street), 2pm – 6pm daily.