Burroughs in Buffalo Author speaks mind at CFA

The Spectrum

Dead children and lawsuits aren't the first things that come to mind when thinking of a comedy show.

But Friday night at the Center for the Arts, those were some of the topics discussed by author and comedian Augusten Burroughs.

Burroughs, known for his New York Times bestseller Running With Scissors, addressed a less than half-packed auditorium that at times seemed unsure of how to respond to the author's wide-ranging stories. When he mentioned moving in with his mom's psychiatrist during his teenage years, audience members chuckled awkwardly, unsure if Burroughs was attempting humor or telling a serious anecdote.

As the show went on, attendees realized that they weren't in for a hilarity-filled show.

"I read all of his books, so I was really excited to see him as an author," said Judy Fleckenstein of Ransomville, N.Y. "I think I was a little disappointed, though, because I expected him to be a little more humorous."

Other spectators anticipated a funnier show, too, but were not as patient as Fleckenstein. When Burroughs spoke about moving on after the loss of a child, a few patrons headed for the exits.

It didn't seem to bother Burroughs, who made a quick joke and moved on with his performance.

"'Oh, he's talking about dead kids; this isn't funny,'" Burroughs joked.

Burroughs, who seemed comfortable on stage with his baseball cap, T-shirt, striped scarf, jeans, and Nike boots, seemed to be ad-libbing his performance on the eve of his 45th birthday. Instead of delivering a rehearsed comedy show, the author went off on personal tangents that each had its own moral.

Burroughs, who grew up without both of his parents, felt like he was going to die without the love of his mother during his early teenage years. As time went on, however, he realized that parents aren't a necessity but rather a luxury, and although he had to "reinvent the wheel" many times, he survived adolescence and found success in life.

The show was darker and a lot less funny than anticipated, but it still captivated many attendees. Larissa Olick, a UB alumna who graduated with a degree in social sciences in '05, expected a more intimate environment but was ultimately satisfied with the show.

"It was honest, it was brutal [and] it was funny," Olick said. "I enjoyed it because it was real."

After discussing a cancer patient's ability to find joy through hard times and touching on a story about a marriage that failed once the truth came out, Burroughs opened up the discussion to questions from the audience.

One audience member pointed out a quirk that she noticed, which served as a catalyst for jokes the rest of the evening.

"This isn't a question, but more of an observation. I just find it really interesting that you take drinks of water in the middle of your sentences," the audience member said.

Burroughs went on to joke about his past alcoholism and facetiously said "comma" before he took his next sip mid-sentence.

The performance may have caught some off guard, but it didn't turn viewers off from the author. Many left the CFA on Friday night pondering Burroughs' life and remained excited to continue following the writer who brought the world Running With Scissors.

"I was surprised that he's still not drinking," Fleckenstein said. "Going dry was a personal thing for him but I would have thought he'd be drinking again with the kind of life he lives. Still, I'm really looking forward to reading his newest book."