Stuck in the Aughts, Jeremy Piven’s Stand-Up Channels His Inner Ari Gold

Stuck in the Aughts, Jeremy Piven’s Stand-Up Channels His Inner Ari Gold

The guy sitting behind me at Jeremy Piven’s Saturday night stand-up set — mid-40s, a belly born of beer-chugging, ready to whoop — was mostly reserved for the first third of Piven’s act, maybe as surprised as I was at the self-deprecating comedy on display. Piven worked his recent move to stand-up comedy for jokes at his own expense, goofing on an acting career that has cooled considerably since he won three consecutive Emmys for his role as Ari Gold in Entourage

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Whether or not the career shift was born of necessity, Piven has a knack for stand-up. He’s exceedingly comfortable behind the mic and generated big laughs by poking fun at his diminishing Hollywood stature (the notion of work has decided to see other people), his receding hairline (especially in comparison to the luxurious locks of John Stamos), and height that’s only impressive when standing next to Kevin Hart. Due to allegations of offscreen bad behavior, it’s easy to forget that Piven is a gifted performer — his physicality shined and he showed off a number of spot-on celebrity impressions, including Robert Downey Jr., Mike Tyson, Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, and Sly Stallone

But the self-effacement only lasted for so long. Perhaps it was Piven’s mention of snorting cocaine — a reference that finally drew an excited WHOOOOOO! from the fan sitting behind me — that emboldened Piven to try out more controversial subject matter. 

First it was a bit on trans athletes, who Piven supports — if he’s allowed to place wagers on the female athletes who used to be male. And what if those athletes decide to transition back someday? Piven suggests that doctors keep discarded genitalia in a freezer to sell them back down the road, offering all sizes from large to Asian. WOO HOO HOO! This was the stuff Guy Sitting Behind Me paid to see.

The last half of Piven’s set could have made Ari Gold suggest, “You might want to pull it back a little.” A woman athletic trainer who dared call Piven a “non-athletic normal person” got labeled a c*** in return. He reprised his stereotypically gay character from Rush Hour 2, bragging about how he turned a part that had a single scripted line into a comic tour de force. “I literally created these roles out of nothing.”

Of course these days, Piven complains, a straight man would never get the chance to sashay around the set with Chan and Tucker since Hollywood has decided “you can’t play someone who sucks dick without sucking dick.” YEAAAHHHH! WOOOOOOO!

Like fellow aggrieved crank Rob Schneider, Piven understands it’s possible to win in a race to the bottom. The more he leaned in on “the things you can’t say anymore,” including those slaps to gay people, trans people, Asians, women, and more, the more the room rocked with laughter. When Piven ended his set, half of the room jumped to its feet, including the superfan behind me. We were seated on the aisle where Piven made his exit, and the former Ari Gold stopped to embrace Mr. Woooo.

“I love you, man!” Piven shouted as the two hugged it out. It was an Entourage bromance in bloom, proving that for at least some audience members nostalgic for another decade’s acceptable slurs, the profanely sordid appeal of Ari Gold-style humor is alive and well in 2023. 

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