Adam Sandler Standup Show puts the generation gap in song
Since director-screenwriter Paul Thomas Anderson’s paranoid drama “Punch Drunk Love” in 2002, the beloved comedian-actor Adam Sandler has balanced his movie life between cheerfully dippy comedic fare (“50 First Dates,” “Murder Mystery”), deadly serious roles in often terrible movies (“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” “Uncut Gems”) and movies that balance light and dark like the 2022 basketball comedy-drama “Hustle.”
So it’s easy to forget that Sandler’s career started as a stand-up comedian. It was at a Los Angeles comedy club that Dennis Miller saw and recommended Sandler to “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels and changed his trajectory from a solo act to ensemble work. In the mid to late 1990s, Sandller toured with goofy, crass stand-up tunes mixed with sweet, sing-along songs, such as “The Chanukah Song” and “The Thanksgiving Song.” And he’s injected music into many of his most beloved screen appearances, like “The Wedding Singer.”
Now he’s back with a rare tour of casinos and arenas to remind live audiences young and old – that duality being a big part of his set when Variety caught him Oct. 28 at Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City — that stand-up comedy and silly songs are what he does best. (Even though he made it clear to the AC casino crowd that he was recently robbed for an Oscar nominee for his gritty and poignant acting in Safdie Brothers’ sinister flick, “Uncut Gems.” )
Sporting a beard, wearing an Oakley hoodie, and accompanied by his occasional piano co-songwriter Dan Bulla — not to mention a stage filled with guitars often played by the comedian — Sandler was lit, cunning and hot, though ‘he acts like being 56 and being perpetually tired might take him away from his punchlines. Was it an often crude and crude display of a live-action Peter Pan complex with inappropriate childishness, C-words and pee pants? Yes. You don’t see The Sandman – his affectionate nickname for himself, repeated often – thinking you’ll get right-wing humor a la Shane Gillis, left-leaning rhetoric via Bill Maher or non-binary politicism from Hannah Gadsby. The Sandman is silly, but also with a shrunken mix of emotion, intelligence, reminiscence, coinage and pop culturalism. And cock jokes.
Although the aging process (personally, professionally) was a big part of his stand-up and musical conversation, Sander kept the proceedings smartly unpredictable. Throughout the nearly two-hour set, Sandler offered a balance between long, hypnotically repetitive juvenile stories about Botox-ing his penis for youthful effect, then cleverly short, nonsensical songs with head-scratching, laughter out loud, abrupt finales that, oddly, were tied to real life.
This reality played out in a 12-minute song that evoked the universality of knowing “a bulldog in a Halloween costume” in search of dignity; “a big guy with a short wife”, everyone wondering how this physical relationship is going; and “a grandmother in yoga pants” resembling an ice cream cone. Coming closer to his own life, being married for 25 years (accompanied by oral sex banter) with two teenagers (boring, from his recollection), the (hopefully) fictional stories of daughters, Sadie and Sunny , depicts the raw, yet rich distance from the generation gap of the 2020s. teenagers pretend they don’t know who Sandler is – until they need to know.
Musical numbers that allow Sandler to riff hard and solo are plentiful throughout the set – he’s a skilled guitarist – and the comedian takes his time across different genres (Billy Joel tracks, power ballads, Irish jigs, break-up country ballads) that always have curiously absurd and disconnected conclusions. One of those tracks, “Station 69,” involves space travel and the title-named sex act with helmet-wearing astronaut Rob Schneider, Sandler’s longtime “SNL” friend, contributor to the film and opening act of the evening. While that “69” tune was awkward, what followed was sublimely serious: Sander playing spiky guitar behind Schneider’s Elvis Presley samba opera “It’s Now or Never,” without an ounce of humor or imitation.
After that awe-inspiring musical moment, Sandler’s set ended with two back-to-back songs that blended heartfelt, tearful sentiment with warm, sappy humor in dedication to his best friend, the late comedic actor Chris Farley (“Farley”), and his family for putting up with being the butt of his jokes (“Grow Old with You”), a sentiment he shared with older mob fans who had laughed at his stupidity since 1990 and something.
Although he should never give up his acting day job, Sandler would be well served by making stand-up a more stable part of his repertoire, if Friday’s comedic interaction with the Jersey casino crowd were a indication.