Ari Hoptman: Lon Chaney Does Laughter!

Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 10/29/01


Ari Hoptmanís website: www.arihoptman.com

    Ari Hoptman has a serious problem- not with being serious; & no, itís not cancer, nor malformed gonads, nor the unrequited love of an obsessed obese garlic-lover. Ariís real problem is that he is too good at what he does. By that I mean- well, let me backtrack a bit. Ari Hoptman is a comedian. Heís done standup, sketches, 1-man shows, cabarets, & many festivals. He also is alot  better than most other comedians. His wit is not merely self-deprecating cuts at his own failed love life, nor lack of financial success; rather itís an amalgam of many types of comedy. This is not a man destined for a bland sitcom, or a stint on Saturday Night Live or Mad TV- forfend that stuff! In fact, a variety show would best highlight his skills.
  The 1st time I saw Ari Hoptman was in 1996 when I took in a show at Balls midnight cabaret. It was a total mime performance about a fellow wandering about a town & having a dayís worth of comic escapades. Done in very restrained style, I recall after the show telling Ari he reminded me of famed silent film comedy icon Harold Lloyd. & he does, even to this day. Not only in physical demeanor & movement, but in persona. Were this 80 years ago the man would be a megastar on par with Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, & Buster Keaton. Heís that great! But other comedians of yore exist in Ariís repertoire: a # of his sketches have characters that are at least kissiní cousins to Jackie Gleasonís Lost Soul, Bob Newhartís befuddled telephoner [in fact, not even Newhart could have gotten away with a sketch that has Mahatma Gandhi calling in to a 900 chat line & answering a query as to what he was wearing with, ĎIím in a white toga, what are YOU wearing?í], Woody Allenís Nebbish from Hell, etc. In fact, 1 of the reasons Ari is so GREAT at what he does is because he has no 1 direct progenitor comedically. I could argue a Peter Sellers as easily as I could a Jerry Seinfeld. Even an upscale Andrew Dice Clay crossed with Andy Warhol- witness a sketch where Ari is a Teutonic comedian with contempt for his audience. There are, indeed, so many personae in Ariís repertoire that the most apt comparison is to the father/son duo of horror film actors: Lon Chaney & Lon Chaney, Jr.
  Yet, while I hope Ari is Ďdiscoveredí & can make a ton of $- for he truly is in the Allen/Carrey/Murphy league as far as talent- I hope his talents are utilized to the fullest. It would be criminal for this man to be relegated to a sitcom. Do we really need him as another Ray Romano? Another Tim Allen? Or a male Roseanne Barr or Brett Butler? Do we really need another Woody Allen Ďknockoffí? I mean, after all, what is Jerry Seinfeld but a 3rd rate Garry Shandling, who was a 3rd rate Woody Allen? No, a show in the old variety format would be best- think of Ari as a male answer to Tracy Ullman.
  Hereís a classic Ari premise that works devastatingly as a comic piece with both political & historical overtones: We see a harried public official apparently speaking to a panel of would-be politicos. It seems to be a Zoning Committee for Urban Development- or some such counterpart. The official may indeed be an architect. As the piece develops we see some of the inane comedic aspects of local politics brought to life & are already laughing when it gradually dawns on us that the speaker is proposing building the Pyramids at Giza. Only then do we make the universal connections to human nature. As dying Jewish slavesí mortality is invoked we get some real sharp commentary disguised quite second-naturedly. The point: when, if ever, has television- even Saturday Night Live in its prime, or SCTV, been this wickedly clever?
  As I said, I 1st met Ari at Balls- a local midnight cabaret hosted by local singer Leslie Ball. The cabaret hosts all types of performers at all levels of skill & accomplishment. It has long been the premier place for newbies to the arts to test their chops. An average of 7-10 artists perform in the 90-120 minute shows. Most are mediocre, but there are occasional standouts. In my 3 years as a regular I was the only good poet who regularly read- the rest were usually aging Beatnik retreads or young teenage poetasters. Comedians were a mixed lot- Ari & comic diva Colleen Kruse [another Encomial wunderkind!] being amongst the best comedy had to offer- along with a young kid named Nick Swardson [although Nick was more in the manic Jim Carrey mode of comic, left for New York City, & returned a few times with a swelled head]. Other standouts were illusionist/performance artist Derek Hughes, performance diva Heidi Arneson, drag king Melissa Birch, & musician of the streets, Larry Havluck. Each of these folk almost always could hit a home run with the audience, & some- like Ari, Colleen, Nick, & Derek- also had Possible Superstar written across their faces. But the bulk of artists were likely to be more at home performing on the old Gong Show. Ari used to perform in a comedy duo with his buddy Ben Bakken. The team was called Clitic & Calque- a duo of etymological heroes making the world safe for the linguistically stupid. Which was which did not matter because, although Bakken was a solid straight man, Ari Hoptman was clearly the star- & more talented performer.
  Apparently, Ari always had aspirations in the comic vein- as well the philologic. What little I know of Ari is summarized here: 1) Heís a Michigander Jew. 2) Heís a proud Michigander Jew. 3) His pride is not based in said Michigander Judaica. 4) His pride is based in his having pride- this being a bit of an accomplishment for 1 with as low a self-esteem as Ari. 5) Ari is single, heterosexual, not obese, not gifted with bad body odor, & actively looking to change such- well at least the 1st thing! 6) Ari moved to Minnesota in 1992 & failed in his 1st attempt at comedy. 7) Ari has 7 fingers on his right hand- an observant audience member can usually spot the flesh colored bandages Ari uses to tie his 2 usesless digits to more serviceable ones. 8) Ari has the undying love (professional!) & support of chanteuse Ball, whose favorite words to utter in her inimitably breathy style are, ĎAri, Ari, Ari.í 9) Ari has had a # of sold-out, hit shows in the Twin Cities area. 10) Ari was welcomed in Iceland. 11) Ari was booed in Germany- he is unsure whether it was the Jew thing or the Michigander part. 12) Ari has a secret.
  Of course, I wonít divulge said secret. But hereís a fact for you to chew on: if you are in Minneapolis any time soon, spend a late Saturday night going to the Southern Theater. Ariís often taking tickets there- how much longer this will be true I do not know. If justice prevails it will not be for much longer. Besides, itís cheaper than a movie &, if Ariís performing- no matter any of the other so-so acts- youíll get more than your moneyís worth. I repeat- this man is a GREAT comic talent- I am loath to use the dreaded ĎGí word about him since it is so often abused by being applied to mediocrities. Or just check out www.arihoptman.com for where this excellent artist is next tickling ribs. & if youíre a young babe looking to lay the poor schlub in hopes of getting impregnated, marrying, & subsequently bleeding his pending comic fortune dry, then email me 1st so we can scheme on how to best strip him of said green. Comics, at least, can garner financial reward- poets canít!
  But let me end on a serious note. This man is a GREAT talent. His shows deserve support. For those sick of repetitive, & banal, or dull potty humor, here is a chance to learn, laugh, & witness great art- both studied & on the cuff. I ainít jokiní!

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