The Ace Hotel in midtown Manhattan is not a place for comedy nerds. At night, the lobby becomes an ultra-trendy lounge with loud, thumpy music and absurdly overpriced drinks, and a clientele that wouldn’t know Comedy Bang! Bang! from Opie & Anthony. Downstairs at Liberty Hall, a bar and theater is filled with a hodgepodge of chairs, tables and couches facing a tiny stage, which sits in front of a wall of vintage speakers and tea candles.
All this setup is necessary to understand why the New York Comedy Festival‘s An Evening with Chelsea Peretti was bound to begin with a good 10 to 15 minutes about the awfulness of the venue. “I hate to bite the hand that feeds me, but I am so uncomfortable here,” Peretti said in a sing-song voice as she described the chaotically hip room and too-cool staff. “I cannot stop. I hate it here.”
It was a fantastic entry point for Peretti’s material, which focused largely on her own social failings. Under other circumstances, it might have been harder to buy Peretti—a fast-rising comedy star with a smoldering headshot and a slew of impressive credits—as an awkward type prone to Facebook stalking and deep-seated insecurity. But as she wandered through stories about her internet addiction and hatred of parties, her clear discomfort within the setting provided an accidental theme of social uneasiness that gave her set a cohesion it might have otherwise lacked.
Despite that theme, Peretti is immensely likeable on stage. When she seems ambivalent about her life choices, she never appears to be complaining, only wondering why she bothered. “I’d love an audience volunteer to come up,” she said halfway through, “and finish my set for me.” Watching the Real Housewives series only made her realize that “housewife” was still an option. “Why are we not all housewives?” she wondered to the women in the crowd. “Is it just pride?”
And while her set had a free-wheeling, conversational feel, her casual demeanor belied her stand-up expertise. She handled a table of girls who were talking and filming without resorting to bullying or whining, and seemed genuinely happy to win them back over a shared love of Channing Tatum.
Surprise opener Pete Holmes was as delightfully bouncy as always, describing himself as the type who gets the airport early “to have a few glasses of white wine and tell old people they still got it.” It would be impossible for anyone to appear to be having more fun on stage than Holmes, and after his endearing admission that he had asked Peretti if he could open for her, only a scrooge wouldn’t be charmed by him.
In the end, the douchiness of the Ace Hotel may have been a blessing in disguise. Tucked away in the basement, Peretti’s show felt like a cozy reprieve from the unpleasantness of the bar and its $8 cans of beer. Peretti’s set might hinge on her lack of social successes, but she clearly made a few friends in the room that night.