Joey I.L.O. is one funny guy, playing to the saints and those yet to be sainted.
Joey I.L.O. last graced my eyes and ears in 2001 when he was a rapper opening for currently on-hiatus hip-hop collective L.A. Symphony at a church outreach concert in his home town of Racine, Wisconsin. He had the crowd well under his thrall with an engaging, entertaining stage presence, though his career in Christocentric rhyme spitting apparently didn't last much longer than such promising gigs as that and a pair of indie CD's.
What a difference a decade makes. Aiello (how Joey's surname is spelled on his birth certificate) did not lose his hunger for being on stage and moving a crowd. He has, however, slipped his chosen mode from music to stand-up comedy. The no-longer-kid/now-husband-and-dad is on a steady career incline, having made the semi-finals on a season of competition reailty show Last Comic Standing and showing up in the latest volume of the Thou Shalt Laugh Christian comedy video series. That's what I like to see out of fellow believers in the entertainment field: play to the saints and those yet to be sainted in an effort to be all things to all people to win as many to the Lord as He would allow.
Similarly, I.L.O. proffers many comedic stylings to his audience. Observational humor ala' Jim Gaffigan or Jerry Seinfeld? Check. Familially-based funniness in the vein of Bill Cosby and Ray Romano? Yep. A physicality the comic harnesses to summon chuckles like Chris Farley with far less of a gut? I.L.O. has that, too.
I.L.O. started out the evening-the first of two performances that night-slowly, however, scatter-shooting his punchlines about the idiosyncracies of local TV newscasts, how his half-computer literate mom indiscriminately uses Google as a verb, and a childhood remembered for its neighborhood watches and watching Duck Tales, among other reminisces. The packed crowd's yuks, born of recognition and the absurdity of the matters on which I.L.O. remarked, were steady, but nobody was howling quite yet.
As he rolled along in his hour set, however, he gathered more confidence...and laughs, as if I.L.O. were feeling out his throng to determine where he could take us. I've no idea what ratio of dates he plays to Christian versus general market audiences, so maybe this is standard procedure for him, especially in a new venue.
But, as he got both more personal (bits about being raised by parents who both worked as clowns, getting stuck for words to say to the Almighty in prayer circles where some people intend to impress others with the dramatic presentation of their intercession) and more abstract (employing Cup manageress Jan O. as an unwitting foil before she passed around the coffee cans for I.L.O.'s free will offering and funds to keep the hall operating, a brilliant segue from remarks about cars' rear-window defrosters and cold toilet seats in the middle of the night), he worked up rhetorical momentum. The friend accompanying me aptly compared the show to a July 4th fireworks display, starting out with less awesome moments and building to a more startling display.
Nearing his conclusion, I.L.O. got serious with relating the stories of his father's death and sister's bout with cancer just as things were picking up for him professionally. Therein he gave what certainly wasn't a studied evangelistic plea, but a simple, heartfelt testimony of his reliance on the Lord. If he broaches the same terrain in a secular setting-and here's hoping he might-it's difficult to imagine anyone in the seats begrudging him the sincerity of his faith.
It would be great, of course, for I.L.O. graduate to his own Comedy Central specials and making the circuit of late-night talk/variety shows. Until those would happens for him, dude is doing the work: making people laugh, and think a bit, as he holds life up to the prism God gave him for that worthy endeavor. Expect his profile to rise accordingly.