As a visually impaired, African-American expatriate, Darryl Lenox’s unique life experiences are the kind of built-in fodder for stand-up premises that many comedians would, under slightly different circumstances, typically envy. Fortunately his comedy extends beyond merely his unorthodox situation, and his personal history colors his viewpoints on a wide range of subjects.
Blind Ambition was recorded at the Vogue Theatre in Lenox’s adopted hometown of Vancouver, Canada, and vast stretches of material reference our neighbors to the North. He opens with “What I Learned In Canada,” subsequently touching on hockey, borders, healthcare and politeness throughout his set. Though he may hit on the clichéd subjects most Americans associate with Canada, Lenox possesses a frank honesty that allows the audience to get to know him beyond a cursory level, that honesty illustrating how life has allowed him to develop distinct observations on otherwise mundane topics.
Lenox isn’t afraid to open up early on about the ocular problems with which he’s struggled. (The album’s title, Blind Ambition, is a nod at these.) He isn’t maudlin, nor does he exhibit the kind of cold nonchalance that many standups do when discussing personal problems. With a vulnerability that is rare and refreshing, Lenox expresses how worried he was about the possibility of going blind. He doesn’t dote or linger on this moment; rather it lays a foundation for a series of bits that ultimately offer a greater comic payoff. When Lenox jokes about bargaining with God so he can be famous on local Canadian television or choosing a Canadian eye surgeon because a New York doctor might not care “if there was one extra blind black dude on the subway,” the specifics resonate to a greater degree because the audience senses how real and frightening this situation was.
Perhaps because of these powerful moments, it’s somewhat of a letdown when Lenox later ventures into “Men Do This, Women Do That” territory. For someone who has just demonstrated such a distinct, authentic point of view, when he starts musing about eating the last Klondike Bar and arguing about oral sex it’s almost like an altogether different comedian’s set. If anybody could breathe life into the tired trope it should be Lenox, but unfortunately this portion resonates about as much as quips about airline food. Given the specificity of the rest of his content, the tonal shift might be a focused effort to perform jokes of a more universal nature, but they comparatively lack the same sophistication established early on.
Perpetuation of gender stereotypes aside, Blind Ambition’s positives far outweigh the negatives. Not everything lands, but Lenox’s material is overwhelmingly clever, strong and original. He reveals to the audience who he is, warts and all, and for the majority of the album his offbeat insights and unique worldview are truly entertaining. Lenox might not have had the easiest life, but instead of wallowing in the tough times he proves that a little perspective can make it possible to find humor in both the high and low points.