Laughing with Lara: The jokes are in the details

Oct. 10, 2022, 2:43 p.m.

“I’m doing shows in basements for 100 people,” laughed Ian Lara, describing his success at the intimate — and underground — Bing Studio on Saturday night.

Before visiting Stanford, Lara performed on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” in Nov. 2019 and debuted an HBO comedy special in 2020. His newest HBO special will be released next month, and during his Stanford set Lara announced that he will be reappearing on “The Tonight Show” this Thursday night.

Student opener and fifth-year Material Science and Engineering Ph.D. student Rachel Huang warmed up the crowd, letting Lara take it away with a mix of absurdity and intimacy.

The New York City comedian had wonderfully conversational delivery. You could hear his smile as his deadpan humor mixed with a tiny smirk. This relaxed tone created a warm sense of intimacy. An audience member prematurely laughed while Lara was setting up one of his jokes, to which Lara smoothly responded with, “That’s not the joke, but okay” with just the right dryness, cracking the audience up. 

This tone was especially effective when matched with Lara’s hyper-practical persona. While talking about the time he found out a girl he was seeing had a fiancé, Lara joked about wanting to befriend the guy because “she broke both of our hearts.” In his bits, Lara’s reflections were so rational they became irrational; you’d be following along with his logic, when all of the sudden he would dip into a ridiculous conclusion. This format created a perfect slow burn of humorous shock for the crowd. 

When Lara’s jokes hit, they landed squarely. The show thrived in the specific. By using ultra-detailed punchlines, Lara’s jokes were elevated to a sweet absurdity. The audience couldn’t help but laugh at lines about “getting laid in an Applebee’s” and buying “viagra at the gas station.” Lara livened up the room as he painted a hilariously believable picture of a ridiculous world. 

The show faltered when Lara loitered in his own success instead of taking his laughs and moving on. Lara joked in one bit that he owns $111 of Delta stock and went on to outline the perks of being a part-owner of the airline. He threw out one punchline for this premise, garnering some laughs, but then kept digging in the same spot. The pattern continued throughout the performance: Lara let the show pace languish by milking his setups for more punchlines than they could reasonably deliver. 

Some setups are simply not meaty enough for multiple punchlines; there are only so many jokes you can make about Delta airlines. By refusing to move on to new material, Lara delivered a number of unfortunately flat punchlines while also dragging down the crowd’s energy. 

Most disappointingly, the show suffered worn themes. Lara opened his set with COVID-19 humor and closed out with millennial cracks about dating. These topics may be fertile comedic ground, but they are also expected and overdone. While I enjoyed Lara’s material, his work would have hit new heights if his style was mixed with more originality.

Huang was a strong match with Lara’s set. She mixed a similarly relatable tone with a sharp lick of self deprecation. In one of my favorite jokes of the night, Huang profiled the types of people who go to various fast food restaurants, like Taco Bell and Chick-Fil-A. “McDonalds is for the people who kind of like their kids,” she said, before launching into a childhood story where her parents had jokingly claimed to have found her in a recycling bin.

Huang’s set could have been elevated with a dash more confidence. While her material was strong, at times she seemed nervous, like she was waiting for the audience’s approval before moving on. Despite this minor weakness, the set was hilarious, and I was disappointed that it was so brief. The young comedian has a lot of promise, and I am excited to see her grow as she begins to truly see her own talent. 

Both Huang and Lara delivered entertaining performances, but given Lara’s professional success, I had expected his set to have more original content. Instead, I feel like he fell into common comedic tropes. His bits were good, but a part of me was unsatisfied: I felt like he could have done so much more. Nonetheless, I enjoyed myself and will be returning to Bing Studio for more giggly nights at the Farm. 

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

Kirsten Mettler '23 is an Executive Editor of The Stanford Daily. She is a former Managing Editor for Arts & Life and Desk Editor for News. Contact her at kmettler 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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