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Fern Siegel

Fern Siegel

Posted: November 20, 2010 12:12 AM

When it comes to comedy, Jackie Hoffman takes no prisoners. A versatile performer, she's comfortable in Broadway musicals -- The Addams Family, Xanadu, Hairspray -- and TV and film. Broadway producers wisely let her improvise. If you've seen her comedy shows, you know why: She's acidly funny. In a world of painful political correctness, Hoffman is a cultural anodyne. Her new show at Joe's Pub, Jackie Five-Oh!: A Celebration of Jackie Hoffman's First 50th Birthday, is her latest salvo. It runs Nov. 22, 29 and Dec. 9, 13, 24, 31. Due to popular demand, she's been extended: Jan. 3 and 17.

Written by Hoffman and Michael Schiralli, with music by Bobby Peaco, Hoffman has transformed kvetching into an art form, hatred into a caustic holy writ. Past shows have lampooned entertainment, immigration and her ever-favorite target: children. When asked a few years ago if she was pregnant, she replied: "No, thank God. Just cancer."

Jackie Five-Oh! tackles career highlights, "the kismet of turning 50 and playing Grandma in Addams Family." Critics gave it a mixed reception, just more fuel for her fire. "The worse the reviews, the better the material. Solo work is the scariest but the most satisfying."

And at Joe's Pub, Hoffman, a specialty taste, gets a built-in bonus: "If you can guarantee a Jew-gay house, I'm there." It's hard to picture her performing in the Midwest or South; she's relentlessly unapologetic and willing to parody sacred cows -- sex to religion to family. As she noted at her last gig The Kvetching Continues: "I don't do benefits for Broadway Cares: Equity Fights AIDS anymore because all my gay friends are thriving, due to the new medications. So all it's afflicting are millions of starving Africans -- and they don't come to my shows!"

Her latest, she says, is "less filthy, but no less fun and no less mean." Five-Oh! explores various issues, including the conflict of "Judaism and stardom and making peace with both." By her own admission, Hoffman is "other-era talent with a modern edge." Think Imogene Coco or Kate Ballard married to Lewis Black. The humor in her songs is pitched -- angry, exasperated, desperate and satiric -- or as she promises in Jackie: Five-Ho! , "We go agog." Don't miss it.

Uptown, Colin Quinn is giving his version of reality, this time tackling world history in Colin Quinn: Long Story Short at the Helen Hayes. Though he takes liberties with the subject, attributing the decline of ancient civilizations, such as the Incas and Rome, to drugs and uber-masculinity, respectively, he's both funny and smart. "With all our progress, where's our progress?" he wonders.

Quinn takes us on a round-the-world tour, accompanied by slick projections and nifty sound and lighting, recounting the endless battles between the tough guys and the smart guys. A thinking man's comic, he spares no one. But his humor is clever rather than insulting. From the Greeks to India, South America to the Middle East, Quinn zings past and present, finding the personal in the political. The wackiness converges in the U.S., "the bouillabaisse of fallen empires."

He's a thoughtful guy, adept at seeing the ethnic joke, then dissecting its genesis. His ability to connect the micro -- everyday craziness and annoyances -- to the macro -- war and suffering -- is impressive. The ostentatious splendor of St. Peter's in the 15th century is compared to a "Death Row Records release party from the '90s." It doesn't hurt to have Jerry Seinfeld as director; first, as a marquee draw and second, both are astute observers of human behavior. Together, they've fashioned a zippy, entertaining monologue that riffs on a much bigger canvas.