BY ARAM KOUYOUMDJIAN
It’s been five years since Vahe Berberian’s last solo show, “Sagayn” (But), and judging from the sold-out audiences flocking to his latest stand-up comedy routine, “Yeté” (If), he’s been sorely missed. Now playing Thursday nights through August 8 at Beyond the Stars Palace in Glendale, the show unfolds in a relaxed atmosphere created by banquet-style seating, a cash bar, and appetizers available for purchase.
“Yeté” is constructed around the theme of anxiety, vividly described by Berberian as a “400-pound person sitting on your chest and staring into your eyes while eating ice cream.” It features riffs on angst brought on by family, by images of sex and violence in films, and by anything having to do with death. Members of Berberian’s family weave in and out of his stories, but his jokes about them are not mean barbs; rather, they are mirthful celebrations of human behavior and foibles.
There’s a good deal of clever wordplay in “Yeté,” along with tried-and-true topics like “Armenian time” and marriage. Fortunately, the latter are enlivened by surprising twists, such as Berberian’s imagined musings on married life for Mesrob Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet, and for Jesus Christ.
Still, the show is slow to start. The first 20 minutes are needlessly spent on warm-up, even though the audience – full of Berberian fans who’ve already had a drink or two – is primed for laughter. A good deal of the material that follows, while entertaining, is shtick about neurosis, a dated brand of humor associated with – and arguably exhausted by – comedians like Woody Allen, Richard Lewis, and Jackie Mason.
The material gets sharper, although not necessarily funnier, as the show progresses. Berberian does not shy away from sharing his personal convictions about politics and religion. He takes digs at the failings of American democracy, and rails against social media and the obsession with being “liked.” His observations are insightful – but not always uproarious.
Berberian’s comedy comes with a message: Simplify your life to minimize its anxieties. Who needs Ten Commandments to guide one’s life, when a single, perfected commandment – a personalized Golden Rule – will do? His mother has one: “Don’t throw away the leftovers.” I suspect Berberian does as well: “Keep people laughing.”
Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting (“The Farewells”) and directing (“Three Hotels”). His latest work is “Happy Armenians.”