Carrot Top is pure gimmick; he makes props that double as quasi-punch lines to his quasi-jokes. It seems so simple on first glance that it's easy to mistake his shtick for stupidity. But the props don't work without the joke, and the jokes don't work without the prop. A tin-can-and-string phone with a third can attached isn't really funny, and neither is call waiting; pair the idea with the image, and suddenly you have a career (and a lucrative gig as a phone-company pitch man, too). Carrot Top sells out Las Vegas for weeks on end, he's in demand on college campuses across the nation, and he makes mad cash. And he has a picture of himself with Siegfried (of Siegfried and Roy) posted proudly on his Web site (www.carrottop.com), so you know Carrot Top knows he's a little goofy. He's sort of cartoonish, but everybody loves a cartoon. Well, most people love a cartoon.
Lewis Black, by comparison, is the raging, vein-popping, marauding intellectual. If you only know him from his weekly appearances on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, you don't know Black. Onstage, he comes across much hipper than his two-minute "Back in Black" segments indicate. He's up on the detritus of pop culture, but he has to be; you can't rip a new poop chute for someone or something if you don't know what's wrong with their current poop chute. Bitingly intelligent and painfully sarcastic, Black has a genuine gift for attacking stupidity without making the audience feel stupid (it's the difference between being howlingly funny and being Dennis Miller). It'll cost you $53.50 to see both shows, but it'll be a bracing mental cleansing, like snorting wasabi and eating birthday cake. -- Paul Friswold
From Russia, with Love?
With Valentine's Day approaching, there might not be a more appropriate time to see William Nicholson's The Retreat from Moscow. The story of long-married couple Alice and Edward and their slowly disintegrating marriage, Retreat probes the question that couples are often afraid to ask: Have we grown comfortable, or have we grown apart? Yeah, it's not that romantic a question, but do you want empty platitudes and hollow declarations of love, or do you want the chance to really discuss what's going on (or not going on) in your emotional life? The bold choose confrontation and a seat at the Lorretto-Hilton Center (130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves; 314-968-4925) for the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of this Tony-nominated play (Tuesday through Sunday, February 8 through March 13; visit www.repstl.org for show times; tickets are $12 to $58). -- Paul Friswold
Dance Your Life
Some dancers have a heyday. Dancer, choreographer, writer, painter, poet and activist Katherine Dunham has had a heylife. This month at the Missouri History Museum (Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue; 314-361-5858), Historyonics Theatre Company presents Dancing on Air, a performance based on the life and writings of Ms. Dunham (portrayed by Monica Parks), the matriarch of African-American modern dance. With a life like Dunham's -- she earned degrees in anthropology from the University of Chicago, traveled extensively in the West Indies, created her own modern-dance technique, opened her own dance and theater school and worked tirelessly with underprivileged youth in East St. Louis -- the production promises to be everything except short on material. Dancing on Air plays at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday (February 11 through 27; $10 to $20). -- Jess Minnen
What Time Is It?
St. Louis has many buildings in varying states of (dis)repair. These structures have seen good times and bad, and they seem to have a memory of their own to share. Like the restored, historically furnished Scott Joplin House State Historic Site (2658 Delmar Boulevard; 314-340-5790). Sure, you listen to the ragtime great's songs at home, but why not hear Joplin's music in a place where everything down to the soil was once saturated in songs like "Elite Syncopations"? The historic site's new Rosebud Café is a reconstructed turn-of-the-century bar, and that's where you can wear your period costume and hear the Skirtlifters and John Hancock's free ragtime performance from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Rosebud Ball. Listen to the old neighborhood's story through song, and learn while you cut a "rag." -- Alison Sieloff