Let’s face it: Couples have to do a lot of negotiating and compromising within relationships; misunderstandings, miscommunications, and frustrations abound. In the ten years I’ve been writing and speaking about dating and relationships, I’ve observed and been asked for advice on just about every coupling conundrum, from the trivial (“he never takes out the trash”) to the more serious (“she hardly wants to have sex anymore”). People want answers to make sense of their relationships, to be validated. Am I wrong to ask for this? Is he being unreasonable? Who is right?
So who better to help settle these ubiquitous domestic spats than a spine-tinglingly entertaining stand-up comic? Move over Ann Landers. Mike Dorval is on the case. As creator of the uproarious Trials of Love, a 90-minute comedy show, Dorval, better known as The Love Judge, presides over a couple’s relationship dispute in what is quite literally a trial of love – think Jerry Seinfeld’s The Marriage Ref. Dorval is spectacularly funny as the Judge, helping to inject a little levity into relationship drama and thereby helping us all to laugh at ourselves and one another.
Dorval started Trials of Love, currently playing at The Charles Playhouse on Saturday nights, two years ago. A stand-up comic by trade who has been hailed as “one of Boston’s best comedians” by the Boston Globe and “hilarious” by the Boston Herald, he decided to meld comedy and counseling into one act when the managers at Mottley’s Comedy Club in Fanueil Hall (where he had been performing) asked him to come up with a theme show for the club. “I always tended to do a lot of crowd work in my comedy and often found myself talking to couples so I decided to build a show around that,” said Dorval. “Disagreements between couples are always the most fun because they spend so much time together and get so invested in their side of the argument.”
A few Saturdays ago, Dorval invited me to a show. Given that the subject matter is right in my wheelhouse, I knew I’d enjoy myself, but I was skeptical about how funny the concept would be live. The premise is simple: A couple presents a problem in their relationship to Dorval, each side argues their case (with the help of an attorney, played by Renata Tutko, whose deadpan delivery is spot-on), the audience (serving as the jury) peppers the couple with questions and, ultimately, by round of applause determines the “winner.” The Love Judge then renders his final verdict, awarding a certificate to the winning party, and dispenses his advice on how to move forward.
The night I attended, the dispute was between Mark and Roberta. Roberta was upset at Mark’s lack of interest in taking family vacations. Mark argued that he loved vacation time before they were married but now with two young, tantrum-inclined children in the picture, trips away were usually more stressful than relaxing. Let the debate and questioning begin!
Carving into the couple’s opening arguments with lightening quick sarcasm and wit, Dorval is at once sharp as a razor yet dull enough to not be offensive. He has perfected this delicate balancing act, but, of course, it helps to be in a comedy club where the alcohol flows like the judge’s robe Dorval dons. Dorval rarely disappoints in the laugh department, serving up lighthearted jab after jab, performing solely on instinct as opposed to rehearsed material.
By the end of the case, the audience sided with Mark, and Dorval laid down his edict: The dueling duo needs to take a “staycation”: golf for Mark; spa days for Roberta; a romantic dinner together; no children allowed.
Next came the lightning round during which Dorval pulled couples from the audience for impromptu cases. One extremely inebriated woman in her 50s dragged her new boyfriend on stage and admitted to a blushing audience that she had bought her first vibrator recently but on a sadder note she and her boyfriend, who was mortified by this point, had almost broken up that very day. You can only imagine the laughs that ensued.
The show has been growing in popularity since its inception, a testament to the combination of Dorval’s talents and the subject matter’s universal and popular appeal. “People love hearing other couples’ disagreements and usually they are arguments they can identify with, such as ‘My husband’s terrible at gift giving too!’ or ‘I can’t talk my wife into watching Star Wars either!’” said Dorval. “There’s something very comforting about knowing we all disagree but still love each other. And I think people just enjoy the resolution of it. So many arguments end up with people agreeing to disagree. Here? Someone wins. Someone is right and they get the certificate to prove it for all time.”
Another feature of the show is special guest appearances. Dorval begins the festivities with a 15-minute Q&A featuring a local dating/relationship guru. Past guests have included: Meredith Goldstein, Boston Globe Love Letters columnist, Susan Baxter, CEO of Hire a Boston Wingwoman, and Janine Gambert Bush, Matchmaker and CEO of J. Allen Matchmaking. I will be the guest on the June 23 show, so don’t forget to buy your ticket in advance.
But what about Dorval’s love life? He may be doling out advice and judgments but does he himself have any relationship disputes with his own wife – who he met on Match.com – that might make good fodder for the show? Dorval responded, “Early on I asked ‘Hey honey, if we ever did the show is there a …’ and before I could finish talking she said, ‘You like the bedroom to be FREEZING cold at night! It’s ridiculous!’” To which I told Dorval I could relate, that I suffer from the very same problem with my own boyfriend. Now Dorval’s on my case (no pun intended) to have us be the main couple on trial the same night I appear as the featured local. Who knows, maybe he’ll be able to help us beyond just having a few laughs about our predicament, as he’s done with some of his past guests.
“We are very lucky to have heard some follow-ups with past couples and I’m kind of stunned by how many people have told me about positive results after they did the show,” said Dorval enthusiastically. “Our very first couple disagreed about whether to get a swing set since they lived near a playground. She wanted one, won the Trial, and a month later I got a photo of their new swing set.
The main goal of the show has always been to just be funny, but finding out that I actually helped a few people has been a very nice surprise.”