There’s a bit of an old-school throwback vibe to Al Lubel that somehow brings to mind the world of Jerry Seinfeld. The vague physical resemblance to Michael Richards doesn’t hurt, nor does the fact that Al Lubel is Mentally Al starts out predominantly clean and seemingly about not much in particular. (The first 12 minutes are literally variations on him repeating his name in different wordplay iterations, including the escalating knock-knock joke “Two Jews named Al Lubel walk into a bar…”)
Then again, with the wild shock of hair, drab décor of black sweatpants, black tee and sneakers, and a decidedly nonplussed demeanor, there’s also a strong comparison to Steven Wright. Though he doesn’t rely solely on one-liners, his absurdism is certainly off the charts. After debating over labeling his Edinburgh Festival Fringe hour a one-man show since he “never felt like a man. Part of me wishes I was gay because I need a man in my life,” Lubel admits, “I’m a lazy person. To give you an example of how lazy I am, I was too lazy to come up with an example.”
Hands on hips, content to project soothing, measured vocal tones without a microphone or traditional spotlight, a touch of Judah Friedlander’s “World Champion” character hangs about him as he notes, “Most comics do what’s known as self-deprecating…and they should.”
He’s even a bit alternative in the same way that Eddie Pepitone has been grandfathered into the Los Angeles scene: respected and just off-kilter enough to defy obvious classification. Lubel’s closer even involves him continuing his running joke of repeating his name, this time via Beat-esque a cappella and featuring the removal of several layers of clothing.
But midway through, Lubel’s mother issues surface, and things become simultaneously clearer and contorted. Between buying her son a king-size bed because “you’re the king in my life,” wiping his ass until he was 12, running his bath until he was 17, etc., Lubel finally grew to understand “My mother was just trying to teach me…to use people until they crack.” The fact that she chided him for being a spoiled brat? “That’s like walking up to someone, stabbing them in the chest, and saying, ‘You’re such a victim!’
Subsequently Lubel drove through the L.A. riots just to get back and her and nowadays prefers to remain single, as he doesn’t particularly care for intercourse: “It’s not so much that I’m entering a woman as I am leaving Al Lubel.” And no, he doesn’t have an Oedipal Complex (he really, really does not, he makes disturbingly clear), nor is he gay. A college roommate only went down on him once…”and those two other times.”
Stylistically the production as a whole remains confoundingly indescribable and delightfully inscrutable, which works to Lubel’s advantage as audience members perk up, lean forward and try to parse exactly what it is they’re witnessing…and why they enjoy it so much. Wholly original, thoroughly unexpected and highly memorable, Mentally is both a madcap surprise and easily one of the great hidden gems of the Fringe.