I am trying to figure out the words to describe Pat Shortt, a unique performer I was unfamiliar with until I stepped foot into the Irish Arts Center on West 51st Street in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan. One-man band comes to mind, but this would be doing him a disservice. Pat Shortt is more like an entire philharmonic conducted at a fever pitch: he can play all the instruments, all the parts, compel audience members to play a few if he so chooses and make them laugh to boot. And the conductor? Shortt does that, too.
“Selfie,” part of Origin’s 1st Irish, is a high-energy solo sketch comedy Pat Shortt wrote, directed and stars in. Appropriately, his first character is an aging press photographer, who talks a mile a minute in the heaviest of Irish accents, sporting a nifty Nikon and a bad haircut. He knows everyone, naturally, because when he speaks to audience members, which he does for about 20 minutes, he calls the man Seamus or the woman Sheila; they come from the same place, know the same people, and can talk about such disparate things as showers, the telly, haircuts and premarital sex.
Shortt’s next incarnation (and all of his characters are village-types, not sophisticates) is a singing undertaker in a shiny, black, ill-fitting suit, patent leather shoes and thick white socks, promoting his album,“I’ll Be the Last Man to Let You Down.” He dislikes the Irish attitude towards death, hates euphemisms. Because his father was also an undertaker, a man showed up at his door one day and said, “I’ve lost me mother.” Shortt said, “I’ll just get me coat.” Then the man said, “No, she passed.” Shortt goes on to say, Not by here, she expletive didn’t. We were at the door for an hour.
Shortt’s undertaker offers observations and anecdotes: a doctor whose facial ticks suggest he was “raised by a family of badgers” ; and his father a book snob. When he would tell his father that he had seen a great film, his father would look down at him and an extended “Oh” would escape his lips, followed by a lofty “I read the book.” He describes his father as loving the outdoors but hating traveling, so they camped out in the backyard for two weeks in a leaky tent because his dad was “tight as a duck’s arse” – too cheap to buy a new one.
Shortt got audience members to do the following: switch front row theatre seats for lesser seats in the back; actively participate in a funeral; fetch flowers; heavy coffin lifting. By the end of the first half of the show, it is quite possible he could have gotten the audience to do almost anything.
There is an intermission. I don’t recall many one-man shows having an intermission, but the lead up to this one was fantastic. Then again, I don’t know many performers, and no American equivalent, who does what Shortt does.
In the second part, Shortt comes out as a member of the Garda (national police of Ireland), complains about idiot parking, explains a few crimes in the village that need solving with a series of helpful diagrams and recites an award-winning poem called “You Can’t be Doing That.” This clever, funny poem is segmented into historical rhyming bits starring Hitler, Churchill, The Queen, Caesar, Kennedy, Khrushchev and the like, in costume.
Did I mention Shortt also plays a mean guitar? Composes his own songs and sings? That he is hands-down hilarious? That you won’t see anything like this anywhere else? That this review, though glowing, doesn’t come close to the hilarity this man inspires? Shortt needs a bigger stage, audience, country, continent. For now, he is at The Irish Arts, where you should be queuing up to buy tickets; the show closes 27th September.