"And your favorite Hannibal bit?" she asked, squinting.
"Pickle juice?" the guy said, referring to Buress' best-known bit — as if there were a right answer.
"OK, fine," she said, not impressed. She pointed the guy and his college-age friends to a row down front but off-center.
"Favorite Hannibal show?" she asked the next person, a sleek-looking woman in a tight gray dress.
"'The Eric Andre Show,'" the woman said, referencing a fairly obscure series on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Black nodded slowly, impressed. That's a deep cut. She led the woman and her date to the front row.
A woman walked up and thanked Black for the seats. "Don't talk, sit," Black said, scanning the remaining empty seats in the front row and looking around for candidates, passing over anyone looked even remotely 40-ish.
The show began.
A boom moved at the back of the main floor and swept impressively under the balcony and toward the stage. And almost immediately, Buress was off, sounding self-conscious, muddled. And the audience, though appreciative, seemed (as Marshall had indeed divined) to lack buzz. It was a muted, just-OK performance. Between the main set and the ballerinas in the encore, a handful of audience members even bolted for the door.
"Well, one under our belt," Marshall said morosely to Raboy in the video village, both of them knowing, as I heard often, that stand-up specials shoot over two shows because the later shows are always the keepers.
Sure enough, backstage, before he went out for the second show, Buress hopped in place between the curtains, stretched, held his arms straight out and loosened up, and results were remarkably different.
There were a few small issues. Raboy said into his headset: "Camera seven, change it up. That guy in the audience is a corpse … No, he's dead. Find someone else out there …"
And at one point, there was a concern about whether a joke in which Buress called out a company would make it past editing. But, generally, a surge of relief hit Marshall and Raboy: "So much improved," Marshall said, and Raboy shrugged, as if to say "Of course." Marshall turned to Harris, sitting in the back of the room: "This is the show, Anne."
Indeed, in the weeks that followed, Marshall and Raboy would edit together several versions very quickly — for broadcast, DVD, uncensored, censored — and, in all instances, "88 percent (of the material) came from the second show," Marshall said. The ballerinas were cut, for time reasons, and because of issues with the copyright of a song that played during the bit. Also, though Black sweated the audience placement, the special itself offers few reaction shots (Raboy said he believes in an old mantra, that the audience is better heard than seen). But in all, as Buress promised, they had a smart, solid hour.
So solid that during the second show, as Marshall could feel the set wrapping, he said to Raboy: "They're going to give him a standing ovation." Raboy nodded and said into his headset, "Cameras, get ready for a standing ovation." Marshal hunched forward in his chair and said, "I can feel it, I can feel it, and hear it …"
Marshall clapped once and stood. All was right in the video village.
Weeks later, when I watched the finished show,
it was funny and looked so
effortless that I briefly forgot that anyone actually made it.
Live From Chicago'
11 p.m. Saturday, Comedy Central