It might be easy to forget that B.J. Novak is a stand-up comedian, because he's still in his 20s and pretty much everyone knows him as the writer/producer/actor from NBC's The Office. At Sunday night's "B.J. Novak and friends" show at Town Hall to close out the 2008 New York Comedy Festival, the biggest applause from the audience came for mere mentions of the sitcom, Novak or his friend from the show, Mindy Kaling. When Paul Rust opened the show with his "solo performance piece," aka "Salvation Through the Ring," aka his mimed tribute to a popular morning children's television program, then promptly disappeared, the crowd didn't quite know what to expect on this night.
Not to worry, though, as Novak's friends also included college chum Dan Mintz, who seemed more at ease in his 15-minutes of absurd one-liners than I'd seen him in a while (perhaps New York City is growing on him), and John Mulaney, who hosted the show and provided more than a half-hour of funny at the start and also in between acts. This could have just as easily had been this year's "Young Comedians" special, if HBO still was in that business. I wish Rust had done more to showcase his talents, and wonder why Simon Rich only performed for a New York minute by reading a very short tale about firehouse dogs. Kaling entered to adoring approval from the crowd, who didn't seem to mind that she read from notes throughout her 13-minute set, even to note that Obama won the election. She recovered nicely with a quip: "I had to look at my cheat sheet to remember that, because I have Memento disease." Her best bit examined how and why people use the phrase "devil's advocate," although Perez Hilton will likely be more eager to learn that Kaling said she her fellow Office writers are regular readers of his gossip site.
As for Novak, a suspicious opening routine about a guy who posted a Craigslist ad looking for a date to that night's show revealed itself to be a true story and therefore more auspicious than suspicious, with the guy arriving to his loge seat solo. (Note: If a friend reads this review and says Novak did this bit elsewhere, revert back to suspiciousness) Novak used him to good comic effect and also displayed his stand-up know-how with a couple of callbacks later in his 45-minute set. His showcase set pieces included a reading from "Wikipedia Brown and The Case of the Missing Bicycle," an alt-ventriloquism routine with "Shy Puppet," which ends with Novak asking the audience to take pictures of him with the puppet to litter the online landscape, and ends with close to 15 minutes of jokes on index cards that he "tries out" on the audience, with keepers going back into his briefcase and losers going into the trash can next to him onstage.
You see what Novak looks like now. Here is what he looked like as an aspiring young stand-up comedian on Comedy Central's Premium Blend more than five years ago, with a version of a bit he told onstage Sunday: