To hear them tell it, the origin story of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, one of our greatest comedy duos, hinges on a moment in 1994 on tour with Second City in Waco, Texas, when they met an Australian woman wearing a sling who spoke “lovingly” about the return of the dead cult leader David Koresh.
The comedians turned to each other and mouthed in unison: “Let’s get out of here,” in coarser language.
“I knew I had a partner for life,” Poehler said with feeling on their new Restless Leg Tour, which has set up shop at the Beacon Theater in New York through Feb 18. “And I knew,” Fey added in a drier, deeper register, “that we would be very evenly matched work friends.”
The comedy double act has been making a comeback. Chris Rock and Kevin Hart just released a documentary about touring together, which ends with them onstage riffing off each other. Jim Gaffigan and Jerry Seinfeld have joined forces. But it was Steve Martin and Martin Short who kicked off this trend, with a long-running live show in which their love for each other comes through in bruising insult comedy.
Poehler and Fey mount a similarly punchy, warmly hilarious variety act that aims directly for the nostalgic pleasure centers of their fans. When Fey asks if there are dads in the crowd who had either of the comics as hall passes two decades ago, many hands shoot up. If the phrase “mom jeans” makes you instantly crack up, you will love this show. Whereas Short and Martin built a roasting antagonistic relationship, this is a more affectionate and fleshed-out portrait of friendship, a study in contrasts (the musical “Wicked” is referenced more than once). Fey is all sharp edges and slashing wit, her deadpan unshakable, keeping the audience and her partner at a distance. Poehler is more vulnerable, even a bit fragile, discussing kids, trauma or aging. “My memory is like a cat: It will not come when called.”
The show itself is a throw-everything-at-the-wall mess, a visually indifferent collection of parts, some that probably would have been cut or honed by a ruthless director. The stars begin in gowns and end in pajamas; they perform sharp, award show-style monologues, a freewheeling question-and-answer session and some disappointing improv, which is swallowed up in the vast theater.
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