Fringeworthy

Hip Shot: Twisted

The Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar, 607 New York Ave. NW

Remaining performances:

Wednesday, July 13 at 7 p.m.
Friday, July 15 at 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 17 at 3:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 21 at 9:30 p.m.

They say: "Twisted is the hilarious true story of greeting card writer Tom T. and awkward weddings, improbable crushes, and sheep. In real life, Hallmark moments don't turn out like they do in greeting cards!"

Matt's Take: At age 11, Twin Cities native Tom Tiding convinced his mother to let him take a year off from school and tag along on her truck-driving job. Together they traveled the Midwest and South of Reagan-era America, encountering rednecks, drug addicts, and all kinds of wayward souls. As his compassionate but cocaine-addled mother pursued marriage after marriage and divorce after divorce, Tom developed his first crush on an underage prostitute while listening to Madonna's "Like a Virgin."

In other words, Tom Tiding has seen and done some interesting shit. And it's fortunate for us that he can also tell about it so masterfully.

Twisted—True Stories of Greeting Card Moments Gone Bad! sounds like some sort of crude Flash animation your aunt would link to in a chain email. Even the show's tagline reads like a folksy gimmick. It turns out that in addition to performing in his one-man show, Tiding also helms a company called Twisted Tidings, which sells mock greeting cards. A sample from his Mother's Day selection: "Dear mom, I just wanted to finally give you a special day like those all special days you've given us. Filled with embarrassment, cheap alcohol, and unintentional humor."

Tiding likely draws much of his material from the bizarre, baffling, and sometimes downright ugly personal messes that filled his early life. Perhaps this is why he feels he must frame his storytelling gig with the same "real-life-isn't-like-a-Hallmark-moment" angle. But Tiding is such a promising raconteur to begin with that anything extra seems at best superfluous (and at worst distracting, like when the accompanying slideshow failed to line up with what he was saying).

Instead, Tiding works strongest when he simply recounts his dark but often intensely funny memories of drunk evangelical stepfathers and depressing bachelor parties in St. Paul. His rapid-fire delivery conveys an appropriate sense of urgency for the many situations in which he finds himself. He has an ear for how people speak and act—he does accents especially well, but doesn't coast on impressions as would, say, Frank Caliendo.

Most importantly, Tiding infuses his stories with the sort of humanity that could only have come from witnessing them himself. Each of his seven brief vignettes has the makings of a larger narrative: weak but sympathetic characters, contradictory impulses, complex needs and desires. One minute he has you laughing at some poor schlub's misfortune; the next has you wishing you could've been there to help. He's funny, he's heartfelt, and after the show you'll want to meet him for a drink in the hopes of hearing more.

See it if: You agree that one can both laugh and cry at unfortunate circumstances.

Skip it if: You think comedy should be only an escape from misery, and not a tool for understanding it.

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