On "Saturday Night Live," cultural commentator A. Whitney Brown often seems mighty satisfied with himself, though he rarely leaves you with insights or punch lines you remember. Last night at the Comedy Cafe, Brown's style of highbrow irony -- extra-dry and verbally intricate -- proved a satisfying alternative to the desperate rib-poking of most stand-up comedians.

Onstage, Brown's rambling monologues, delivered between drags on a cigarette as he leans against a stool, have a lot of dead air built into them. But the full house stayed attentive, rewarding him for even his sneakiest jokes, as when he waxed nostalgic about his Michigan childhood: "We were poor, but it didn't matter. It would have been just as twisted and miserable if we'd had money." He described chickens as being "so stupid a vegetarian can eat them with conscience."

Sure, Brown was among those most amused by his own cleverness. He even congratulated himself on a "quadruple pun" -- one he has used on television -- though it made his fans moan. Castigating Americans for arrogantly hailing the moon landing as a giant leap for mankind, Brown said, "We should have at least thrown a bone to the invertebrates, who backed us up when we were a bunch of nobodies."

Brown saved his topical and geopolitical material for the second half of the set. Of the U.S. "smart bombs" in the Persian Gulf, he said the military "doesn't want to make them too smart or else they'd have second thoughts about war." Actually, though, his funniest routine was about the tooth fairy, which revealed his silly side.