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A comedian cashes in

Eben Harrell
Aspen Times Staff Writer

One of the less appealing side effects of capitalism is how easy it can be to judge people by the amount of money they possess. The question, “How much is he worth?” is almost always followed by a number.

This is the theme that runs through Patrick Combs’ one-man show, “Man 1, Bank 0,” which played last night at the St. Regis. The story is simple: In the late 1990s, Combs received a promotional check for $95,000 from a junk-mail company. On a mischievous whim, the comic cashed the check ” it cleared.

This really happened, and Combs recounts the ensuing fiasco with great relish. This is every comedian’s fantasy ” life presenting itself as perfectly scripted material. Combs is more storyteller than comedian; his laughs come from charm, not humor. Over the last few years, Combs has made a name and a living retelling one gem of a cocktail party story.

Self-deprecation is essential in keeping an audience’s attention and sympathy through a prolonged story about oneself, and Combs provides plenty of it. But his projected naivete is misleading. He’s very much aware of the larger issues raised by his story. He never pretends to ignore greed ” “I was like golem with this money. I was sick for this money” ” or to miss the chance of playing the everyman up against an all-powerful financial corporation.

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One of the fascinating elements of the show is Combs’ behavior through the ordeal. He learns from a legal expert that because of a series of blunders the money from the check legally belongs to him. Yet he still returns it, on the bizarre condition of a note of apology from the bank and a $5 reimbursement for his trouble.

This borders on the unbelievable. One of the gimmicks Combs uses for his set is a scattering of one- and five-dollar bills in the aisles of the theater. The temptation to reach down and snatch a few strays is almost unbearable. But maybe this is the point. Certainly, it makes it quite clear how difficult it would be to return $95,000, even at the threat of a lawsuit.

Of course another aspect of capitalism is that behind the seemingly ruthless pursuit of money, there is always the very human desire to feel important and noticed. Combs ends his show with an announcement that his actions held up a major merger between his bank and Wells Fargo.

Combs prints the program for his show on the back of a copy of the promotional check he cashed, proof to him of his personal importance and, to us, of a potentially charming comedic career.

[Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com]


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