© 1991 Los Angeles Times, Sept 17, 1991
By Sylvie Drake
If "Only the Truth Is Funny," why does it hurt so much? Axiomatic, my dear whoever. Ask Rick Reynolds.
Better yet, see his show, written, directed, performed and lived by him. Every living-color moment of it. Who is this Rick Reynolds, you ask? Just a guy who decided to give up stand-up comedy when he'd had it up to here and talk about himself instead. Don't you try it, but it sure is paying off for him.
And for us. Only the Truth Is Funny, which opened, or rather snuck up on us Sunday at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills, starts out innocently enough. A bit of curriculum vitae, a bit of patter, a bit of this, a bit of that and, before you know it, we're involved with this guy who promises solemnly, "I won't lie to you once tonight, not once," and sticks to his word.
Remember the adage, "Don't ask for what you wish because you may get it"? Well, the truth, Reynolds' included, is rarely funny and almost always painful. And when Reynolds refers to his "Kafkaesque childhood," now "a Frank Capra movie," he's not kidding.
This ordinary looking, balding, six-foot-two, 195-pound philosophy major, with transplanted hair, a plain white shirt, gray suit and gray tie, seems the least designed yet best equipped to surprise us.
Sorry for bringing up all the usual suspects, but, yes, Reynolds is another one of those to-the-manner-born Group A monologists, such asyesSpalding Gray and Paul Linke, who can process their pain or their neuroses into fascinating fodder for the masses: Us. Funny? You bet. But what was that again about Reynolds' father dying when he was an infant and his alcoholic stepfather beating up on his alcoholic mother and Reynolds cringing under the bed sheets hoping it would all go away . . . ?
Just another day in the life. What holds us in progressive thrall through Reynolds' 100 minutes of this increasingly disturbing tale of personal trauma (including a brush with suicide) is his ability to lead us through it as a kind of Dysfunctional Atheist's Guide to Life.
He firmly doesn't believe in God and hopes that God won't hold that against him. It follows that he's understandably skeptical about all known accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. "Where," he reasonably asks, "is the teen Jesus?" Reynolds guesses we don't hear about it because Jesus was probably a problem kid who drove his parents crazy.
It is the typical assessment of a man who also declares early on that he hates children, those "little stupid people that don't pay rent." And even though the enormously touching climax of this show consists of Reynolds' kicking-and-screaming conversion to fatherhoodan event that, more than any other, may have helped him finally put his demons behind himhe still refuses to believe in anything but the miraculous power of love.
And surrender. Reynolds claims that at 30 he was living in a room in downtown Portland, Ore., writing a novel and earning next to nothing. At 39, he is tasting success but only after he gave up courting it.
"I didn't slide into a home run," he says slyly, "but I stole third." Married to a woman he adores, disgusted with Los Angeles and the pursuit of fame, he fled to Petaluma, where he lives in a big Victorian house and his wife Lisa cultivates a garden. The first thing Reynolds did on arrival was to throw out all his comedy routines and start writing . . . the truth.
It became this show.
Only the Truth Is Funny can sometimes feel like a long, raw therapy sessionconfessional or confrontational, depending on the"event. "I use humor as my defense mechanism," Reynolds acknowledges. "I make fun of the people I feel sorry for." That can be ruthless. Watch him start on his "big hook" jokes. You will quickly see where this process of debunking euphemism could end up. But let those who choose to, be offended. Not this writer among them.
It tears your heart to see how deeply this grown man loves his mother, and admit to us in distress that he can't tell her so. That's the dark side. But no part of Only the Truth Is Funny is funnier or more hopeful than the blow-by-blow description of the birth of his son Cooper"the pooperman," says Reynolds with a wince. Bound as he is to be honest, he confesses he has fallen prey to as much silly, sappy baby talk as the next guy.
No matter how much Rick Reynolds may protest that "I don't have any truth, I have a lot of questions," don't believe him. At the very least, they are truthful questions. And at their very best, they burn a hole in our minds.