The cast and creator of Fox Network’s animated series, Bob’s Burgers, has embarked on an eight-city tour of America called Bob’s Burgers Live, which began in Minneapolis on March 19, 2015. As of now, seven more stops of Bob’s Burgers Live are scheduled for March. The show’s stars, including Dan Mintz (Tina), John Roberts (Linda), Kristen Schaal (Louise), H. Jon Benjamin (Bob) and Eugene Mirman (Gene) were on hand and each performed their own stand-up acts. Although promotional materials listed Larry Murphy (Teddy), he was not with the cast in Minneapolis. Creator and executive producer Loren Bouchard filled in for Murphy when necessary and did a reasonably accurate likeness of his voice.
The State Theatre in Minneapolis was full when the familiar voice of Schaal, in full Louise mode, shouted the introduction to Bob’s Burgers Live. The first to take the stage were Benjamin and Mirman, tasked with introducing the show. They were ill-prepared and had no real set, but rather improvised the opening. There were laughs and both men admitted to not having gotten this part of Bob’s Burgers Live down quite yet. Just hearing the voices of Bob and Gene coming from the men on stage was enough to draw applause and laughter from the audience, who readily forgave the unpreparedness. Taking their leave of the stage, the men introduced the first stand-up routine of Bob’s Burgers Live, and Mintz took the stage.
All it took to get the audience fully behind Mintz was hearing the first few words he spoke, which sounded exactly as if Tina herself was on stage. His deadpan delivery had the audience laughing and cheering at what were random observations, one after another. Mintz is known for delivering his material while looking straight ahead and, true to form, he never looked directly at the audience and seemed to be staring at the doors at the back of the theater. Mintz was very well-received and his set was hysterical as well as enlightening, because Tina’s delivery on the show mirrors his style perfectly. It was clear that this was the first Bob’s Burgers Live of the tour, because after leaving the stage, Mintz came back, saying that he had forgotten to introduce the next cast member, Roberts. Mintz was not the only cast member to forget to introduce the person following.
Unlike Mintz, Roberts’ natural voice bears only shades of his character, Linda, and it is obvious that Linda is a character who had to be invented by Roberts. His set was funny enough and had the audience laughing, but lacked a spark or defining style. His bit about his Brooklyn cousin doing stand-up was the highlight of his set, until he broke into song as Linda, who often sings on the show. Roberts has comedic chops, but it is clear that he is just as good at singing as he is at giving life to Linda. Of all the cast members of Bob’s Burgers Live, it appeared as though it is Roberts who does the most straight-up inventing of his character, and he does it very well.
Schaal is arguably the most famous cast member of Bob’s Burgers. She was a correspondent for The Daily Show and appeared on the HBO series Flight of the Conchords. She currently is also starring in the new Fox comedy The Last Man on Earth, which premiered just this month. Schaal began her set with an extremely funny bit about her recent marriage and her many years of being single. She next performed a scene she had written about Emily Dickinson. Involving hidden poems, audience participation and very good acting on the part of Schaal, the scene was perhaps the funniest part of Bob’s Burgers Live and showcased just how talented – and intelligent – Schaal is, which is frequently hidden in the awkward and klutzy roles plays. The actress had members of the audience doubled over and gasping for air with just one long drawn-in breath she took as Dickinsen.
Unlike Schaal, who raved about Minneapolis and the haircut she had gotten in the city, Benjamin described the audience’s hometown as “depressing” and “apocalyptic.” While not the best way to start a set, the rest of his stand-up was very funny. Again, Benjamin’s comedic style is a perfect fit for his role as Bob. It is clear the cast of Bob’s Burgers genuinely like working with each other, as evidenced by the appearance of Roberts on stage during Benjamin’s set to gather the notes he had left, which he did, but not before telling the Bob’s Burgers Live audience that Benjamin had gone to the bathroom before coming on stage and the stench he left was unbearable. Benjamin was unembarrassed and easily worked it into his set, drawing huge laughs. He capped his routine with a very funny piano bit that, perhaps by accident and perhaps not, turned into a sight gag.
Hearing Mirman do his act was initially startling, as not only is his natural voice the voice of his character, Gene, but he bears a strong resemblance to the character as well. His comedy is slow-burning, but the payoff never failed to deliver. His bit about the rental car accident had everybody screaming with laughter, and his affable delivery balanced nicely with the almost-condescending feel of Benjamin’s set.
After the conclusion of the stand-up routines for Bob’s Burgers Live, Bouchard came on stage to speak about the tour, upcoming Bob’s Burgers music releases and announced that he would be taking the place of Murphy for the night. He introduced and played some clips from upcoming episodes of Bob’s Burgers, including one that had yet to be colored in which the mouths of the characters did not move, which gave the audience the sense that by coming to Bob’s Burgers Live, they were privy to some inside workings of the show. Bouchard also brought out Roberts and accompanied him on banjo as Roberts sang some of Linda’s songs, showcasing once again that he has amazing vocal talents.
The next part of Bob’s Burgers Live was a table read of an upcoming episode. The laughs were not tempered by not being able to see the actual actions of the characters. Most notable here was watching Roberts transform bodily into Linda, all shimmy and sass. The voice talent of the cast is impressive enough to create laughter by just reading an episode aloud. Also interesting to note was that during his time on stage, Bouchard mentioned that he first selected the cast and then created characters around them. He has also done an amazing job matching characters to their stand-up personas; most notably with sarcastic Benjamin as Bob, deadpan Mintz as Tina and kooky Schaal as Louise. Watching the table read during Bob’s Burgers Live, the only two actors who appeared to have had to create their characters were Roberts and Mirman, although Mirman has the voice already and Roberts must give Linda a different voice than his own.
Bob’s Burgers Live ended with a question-and-answer session during which various people tried to sell their own works to the cast and Bouchard, while others requested that the actors recite long-ago and unremembered lines from various shows and appearances from their past. One woman, who failed to sell the cast on her “dream sequence” idea, huffily said that she did not need to waste her time on “D-list celebrities” and marched back up the aisle. Several audience members expressed embarrassment at the way citizens of Minneapolis were represented. For their parts, Schaal was gracious, but the rest of the cast was disdainful and insulting to most of the questioners, although with the quality of the questions being presented, it is hard to fault them much. One man even addressed Benjamin as “Benji.” The only highlight of this part of Bob’s Burgers Live was watching the cast harangue and browbeat one questioner into proposing to his girlfriend on the spot. (She said yes.)
The cast of Bob’s Burgers Live was a little unorganized at their first show in Minneapolis, but the sheer talent of those assembled made it easy to overlook. The highlights of the show were the solo acts by Mintz and Schaal and the table read, although all of the cast members were very funny on their own. The Q&A session was flat-out interminable and an ill-conceived idea which had a large portion of the audience exiting the theater rather than sitting through to the end of the show. Fans of Bob’s Burgers will enjoy the show a great deal, but those who are not regular watchers should probably stay away, as the table read, clips and Q&A session will not resonate as well with them.
Review by Jennifer Pfalz