Come on and slam
by Luis A Gómez
Every time he starts a poem, Neil Hilborn takes a few steps back, right to the edge of the small blue carpet laid out on stage. Then, he takes a few breaths, nervously runs his hand through his hair, and launches into a short piece that exposes some complex truth about our daily interactions, or how we love the people we love. Or, it’s a story about how Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers looked really really sad one time. Or, it’s a look at what a really truthful Tinder profile would say.
That was the interesting blend of humor and honesty on display last Saturday at the Murmrr Theatre, set next to Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. Located in the Union Temple, the Theatre hosted Hilborn on his second book tour, as he promoted his new book of poems, titled The Future.
Spoken word and slam poetry, usually relegated to black box theatres and those cool bookstores your hip friends go to, has become a cultural touchstone as social media made poetry more accessible, and Hilborn is one of the most notable poets in this new digital wave. His 2013 poem “OCD” currently has close to 14 million views. His work often touches on serious topics, like suicide and mental illness, and it’s those works that Hilborn’s audience has often responded to most strongly.
That doesn’t mean that the event was a dour experience, though. Hilborn is up front about his willingness to joke about mental illness and suicide (at one point telling the audience “I know why you’re here…y’all are clearly depressed”). Rather, he sees this humor as a gateway, as a means to make uncomfortable, weighty topics more palatable and less restrictive. His whole show works this way, blending serious sentiment with humor. At one point, Hilborn interrupted a poem about relationships to dunk on Ed Sheeran for, like, several minutes.
This mix of lightheartedness and dark subject matter makes Hilborn’s set a truly entertaining experience. Whether he’s explaining how a particular poem “combines two of my favorite things: sadness and facts,” or he encourages his crowd to forgive and love themselves, Hilborn feels as though he truly is speaking from a place of understanding and truth. He says what he says because he wants you to hear it.
Opening for Hilborn were Many Rooms, a one-woman project by Brianna Hunt, and longtime metal vocalist Mina Caputo. What was notable about both of these acts was their willingness to speak onstage about their art – Hunt in particular spoke at length about the origins of many of her songs, while Caputo took the time between songs to flirt with the audience.
By contrast, Neil told the audience to fuck off several times, and gave everyone the finger.
It was great.
for info about other shows at the murmrr theatre, go to murmrr.com