This series aims to highlight local comedians who will be appearing with nationally touring comedians in Buffalo.
Eric Lingenfelter is a hyperbundle of energy upon first stepping on stage and he has some things to say about the cultural phenomenon known as Fifty Shades of Grey. A group of women sitting nearly front and center in the audience perk up at the mere mention of the book and movie by the same name. Judging by their excited screeches in response, they are very, very big fans of these particular pieces of literature and cinema. Lingenfelter isn’t exactly what you would call an enthusiast of the works, but his jokes keep the women laughing, not screaming for his head.
The 29-year-old, 6’2” Tonawanda native with forearm tattoos and a penchant for bands with names like Carcass and Evil Army, is a sucker for journeying on fantastical flights of fancy whilst talking into a microphone on a stage. His affable demeanor and lopsided, dimpled grin easily smooth over any edges and kindly encourage his audience to be a part of his sometimes (okay, usually) absurdist world, promising all of the riches of laughter and good times.
Lingenfelter was the host of this past Tuesday’s open mic at Helium Comedy Club, where he was preparing for his hosting gig this coming weekend with Last Comic Standing winner Josh Blue. His new Grey material has been evolving, new layers being added seemingly every time he gets on stage. The women are eating it up, recoiling with delight at the gross parts (oof, and are they ever!) and cackling with appreciation at Lingenfelter’s absurd take on the whole thing.
“The first comic I ever really tried to pattern myself after was Patton Oswalt, with all of his elaborate jokes and disgustingly florid language,” Lingenfelter told me over a Molson Light. To illustrate, he described a recent time when he performed at the Helium show Comedy Smackdown – audience members are actually encouraged to taunt and heckle the comics during this particular show. While attempting to address a heckling audience member during his set, Lingenfelter ranted on several obscure topics in a row, prompting fellow Buffalo comedian Brian Herberger to pick up his microphone and say, “No one wants to Google your references.” Great burn, and sometimes, a little too true for Lingenfelter.
“My wife will sometimes pull me aside and say, ‘You have to make sure that some normal people understand what you’re talking about,” Eric says, then bursts into his distinctive, unmistakable laugh, conceding that he can sometimes be a little “out there.”
“I’m off floating in the clouds somewhere and she has the ropes: ‘Come back. You’re too far away again,’” he says.
“I like a more surreal style [of comedy]. I used to watch the Kids in the Hall every day…Mr. Show…I gravitate toward the weirder stuff. My favorite show right now is this show on Cartoon Network called Rick and Morty…I just like stuff that’s different, stuff that I’ve never seen before. I try to do that. A lot of the times it fails,” he laughs. But, here’s the thing: it usually doesn’t. In fact, it’s usually downright, hilariously genius.
In looking back at some moments that stand out in his now almost-six-year comedy career, Lingenfelter recalls one particular favorite memory. It is of the time when he opened for the iconic Maria Bamford at Nietzsche’s in January 2011. It was his first “big show” and he sort of fell into it accidentally. Lingenfelter happened to be standing by when fellow Buffalo comedian Mark Walton had to decline the gig from the show’s producer, Kristen Becker. She then turned to Lingenfelter and said, “Hey, do you want to do it?” His prompt response? “Hell yeah I want to open for Maria Bamford.” Right place, right time.
“I came offstage and Maria said, ‘Eric, you were so good!’ and gave me a big hug. My wife made cookies and Maria ate the cookies, we all hung out upstairs, it was pretty cool,” he said.
Lingenfelter then not-so-fondly recalls the time when he was forced to “go off book” for the first time — his first (but unintentional) “heckler show.” During a show at Nietzsche’s in his first year or two an audience member began to engage him, to the point that Lingenfelter had to address it.
“The guy was relentless. He wouldn’t stop yelling dumb shit at me. I was getting laughs off of it but it was still annoying.” Soon Lingenfelter got the light and had to get off stage without being able to finish his set.
“I stormed out and had to walk around to calm down, I was so mad. Kristen [Becker] leaned her head out of the door and said, ‘I don’t know what that guy said to you, but that’s the best set you ever had, Lingenfelter.’ It was a bad moment at the time, but it sort of taught me that I could sort of handle it if things went awry,” he said.
Lingenfelter is technically the first comedian to have ever performed at Helium Comedy Club. He was the host for the club’s inaugural weekend, which featured Last Comic Standing finalist Rachel Feinstein. He’s also worked with the likes of Brian Posehn, Dave Attell (“a poet of the dick joke,” Lingenfelter fondly says), Kyle Kinane (whom Lingenfelter hugged so hard he inadvertently broke Kinane’s glasses), Orlando Jones, and Doug Stanhope.
“It feels weird to be one of the older people, because I was one of the new guys for so long,” Lingenfelter said, when remarking on the current comedy landscape in Buffalo. “I think [Buffalo comedy] is in a pretty good place; we also just had a good chunk of people leave for New York City. Looking at their pictures it’s cool to see the whole Western New York contingent out there, but it also makes me sad,” he said. Saying goodbye to friends and comedians you’ve loved watching grow and perform is never easy.
As for Lingenfelter, he’s content for the time being to continue pursuing his craft in Buffalo and around Western New York. He plans to tackle more writing projects and get out and about as much as possible in the coming year. For Buffalo denizens even remotely interested in laughing and having a good time, be sure to catch Eric Lingenfelter soon, because the price on this guy’s head is sure to go way, way up soon enough – even higher than the clouds he gets caught playing around in sometimes, maybe.
Catch Eric Lingenfelter all this weekend at Helium Comedy Club. He can also be heard on the Super Friends Super Show podcast on the Buffalo City Life website.