Thursday, April 14, 2016

Daniel Tosh's "People Pleaser"


In light of recent events across the world dealing with comedians being prosecuted and persecuted for the jokes they tell, I’m glad we have comedians like Daniel Tosh. We need to be shocked. We need to laugh at what shocked us. And then we need to be shocked again. 

If you’re familiar with Tosh and his comedy then you know that’s his strong suit and with his new CD, “People Pleaser,” he doesn’t disappoint. I’d like to share some of his one-liners here, but to be honest, I don’t know how well it would translate. It’s not solely what he says, but also they way it’s delivered. With his trademark cocky persona and who-gives-a-crap attitude, he’s the perfect comedy caricature. Tosh the comedian belongs in the same category as Archie Bunker or Don Rickles. We don’t laugh because we agree with what they’re saying, but because what they’re saying is so incredibly outrageous and should never be said aloud. 

Sometimes that approach gets Tosh into trouble, as he briefly touches upon when he mentions a recent joke that blew up social media and offended people who don’t completely understand how an on-screen persona works. Of course, he responds exactly how you’d think he would respond, by pouring grease on the fire and then throwing the fire at his loved ones.

Considering the current state of the nation, perhaps Tosh is exactly the comedian we need. We’ve been coddled and waited on long enough. It’s about time someone gave us some much-needed straight talk. He’s talking to you, “America’s Number One”-ers, half-marathon runners, hoarders, female Crossfitters, and people who have ever uttered the sentence, “There’s nothing funny about _________.”

We’ve become such a reactionary society, so eager to post on Facebook yet another story about how someone dared offend us, Tosh is a breath of fresh air amid the pollution of “you hurt my feels!” that I’ve been choking on as of late. 

No one is safe. Not kids with terminal illnesses, not the Dyson company (I wish I could see the looks on their faces when they hear their “product placement”), not cafe artists with no idea of how to price their work, and certainly not the city of Cleveland.

Tosh isn’t for everyone and he’d be the first to tell you that (he warns the crowd on more than one occasion that it’s about to get worse. A lot worse) and that’s totally fine. If you’re not a fan of Tosh or his comedy, then you’ll actually enjoy his bit on the time he lost a road rage battle. There are few things that are as glorious as seeing someone you can’t stand get a face full of chewed-up Doritos. But, if you’re like me and enjoy his comedy, then you’ll also enjoy the story of the time he won a road rage battle. 

“People Pleaser” may not please all of the people all of the time, but let’s be honest, it’s not supposed to. And it's no fun if someone doesn’t get angry.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Keith Alberstadt's "Walk It Off"


Spring has sprung and with it comes the emergence of warmer weather, driving with your windows rolled down, and longer daylight hours. Perhaps the most welcome arrival, though, is “Walk It Off,” the outstanding new release from Keith Alberstadt that hasn’t left my playlist since the day it came out. 

With friendly sarcasm accentuated by his punchy delivery, this project has been the perfect way to quench what has been a relatively dry comedy spell for me. When I use the phrase “friendly sarcasm,” it’s exactly what I mean. It can be hard to be sarcastic without coming off as angry, condescending, or jagoff-y. Alberstadt pulls off what most comics can’t: making snarky-yet-truthful comments that are laugh-out-loud funny without resorting to mean-spirited take-no-prisoners comedy. There are no victims here…Except for the fish keeping its eye on the food container. Or people who drink green tea. Or Alberstadt’s dad (but only while answering his smart phone)

Reading the track listing is an exercise in “Ah yeah, that was a good one, too” and I’m smirking now recalling the toddler who has trouble with the letter “R,” the vegan-intruder pillow barricade, white noise birds, and the parenting style in the 80s that inspired the title of the CD. As I’m sitting here smiling to myself, I’m wondering if it’s not unlike Alberstadt’s own creepy smile he didn’t even know he had.

I usually allow a few minutes at the beginning of a comedian’s set to allow him (or her) to settle in, get a feel for the crowd, and find their groove. That’s never been the case with Alberstadt. He’s good to go from the get-go. He’s comfortable on stage and from the second he begins there’s no doubt that he’s got this. It’s pretty impressive how quickly he puts the crowd at ease and there’s not even a moment of “gimme a second” trepidation.

What I’m trying to say - as if you couldn’t already tell - is I really enjoyed this album and the third time listening was just as enjoyable as the first. Usually when I write a review for this blog I listen, listen again, listen yet again, write, and then archive it. That won’t be the case this time around. This is comedy you’ll want to hang on to for a while. 

Or at least until something scares away the white noise birds. After that…you’re on your own.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Tony Sam's "Scaredy Cat"


When it comes to comedy, there’s no right or wrong approach. Some, like Carlin, have become renowned for their ingenious wordplay. Others, like Seinfeld and Gaffigan, have perfected the art of observation. Then there are comedians like C.K. and Brody whose craft is rooted strongly in a brilliantly-crafted story. 

And then you have Tony Sam, whose latest album “Scaredy Cat” wonderfully displays that he has decided to embrace the simple tactic of…just having a good time.

It works. 

That’s not to say that Sam isn’t a great storyteller (he is, as is displayed by the epic retelling of the time he was arrested for drunk driving - not in a car - and how he decided to make the most of the adventure) and if you doubt his observational skills, then I present as evidence his riffs on men with beardy beards and the real reason homeless people don’t want your restaurant leftovers.

Sam gleefully adds a touch of fun and whimsy to each of his bits, all of them accentuated by his distinct vocal tone and cadence. His voice reminded me of Will Forte cranked to 11 but Sam put it better when he described it as the love-child voice-baby of Homer Simpson and Kermit the Frog. 

Needless to say, his voice hasn’t exactly helped his cause when it comes to suave seduction (and Sam has a few hilarious war stories to offer as proof). When it comes to comedy, however, it’s a blessing in disguise. “La Voz” serves to heighten his often-manic tales of pregnancy scares (or, as women probably refer to them, “near miracles”), giant bee attacks (wait…what exactly are you saying?), and his impression of his mother. 

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Sam (or “T-Bone,” as he likes to refer to himself) has a more-than-slightly skewed outlook on life which is probably why he’s doing much better at stand-up than he did when he was working at a fancy cake shop (a bakery so fancy, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a cake shoppe). Only when you’re dealing with the general public do you have to put up with complaints about cakes personalized for robots (oops) or children crying about too much fudge (Really? Who complains about too much fudge?)

The title of this project is fitting, as Sam shares with us a number of things that frighten him. It’s not strange that he suffers from arachnophobia but what does set him apart is how it affects his Spider-Man viewing habits (he doesn’t watch) and his thoughts on a better plot for the webslinger (just a guy with a bag of spiders, throwing them at people). Other things that give him the jitters include today’s modern day in-your-face gum commercials and the Gorton’s Fisherman who, apparently, also dabbles in chemistry.

Scaredy Cat” is a fun CD that I enjoyed from beginning to end each time I listened.  You’re sure to have a good time as well, unless perhaps you’re seated in the front row with your arms crossed. In that case, just….just stop it.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Cristela Alonzo's "Some of the Hits"



*sniffffffffffffff*

(pause)

*ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh*

Hear that? That’s me inhaling a much-needed breath of fresh air followed by a contented sigh of relief courtesy of Cristela Alonzo’s CD “Some of the Hits.”

So many times comedians of an ethnicity other than white or black tend to use their heritage as a crutch, presenting us with an act filled with either hackneyed impressions of screaming relatives  for 50 minutes (I’m looking at you, Margaret Cho and Dat Phan) or delving so deeply into their own experience that they alienate any listener who doesn’t speak the same language (Hi, George Lopez. And the 43% of your act that flies over the heads of anyone who isn’t fluent in Spanish)

“Some of the Hits” lands right where it should. Yes, Alonzo is a Mexican-American who grew up in Texas but that doesn’t define who she is as a person - or as a comedian - and your name doesn’t have to end in a vowel to enjoy every moment of the experience. Rather than focus on her Latina roots, Alonzo has instead opted to focus on being a funny storyteller first and foremost. 

I know. Go figure, right?

It seems like such an obvious path, especially for someone working as a comedian, but for some reason so many other comics who have come before Alonzo seem to have taken their eye off the prize. With her debut project, Alonzo shows just how it should be done with anecdotes and humor relatable to anyone within earshot.

Metaphors are strong weapons in Alonzo’s comedy arsenal and the pictures she paints perfectly encapsulate the feelings she’s trying to get across. She explains why checking out of a hotel can sometimes make her feel like The Bachelor and her comparison of dating a guy who doesn’t have his life together to being a fan of a bad sports team hits the target dead-center.

Alonzo’s experiences aren’t unlike anyone else’s and her observations let everyone in on the joke. When she explains how expiration dates on milk reflect your financial situation, everyone knew exactly what she was talking about and I had to give my wife a side-eye glance when Alonzo shared how women love to brag about how much they didn’t spend on clothes. 

Particularly fun are Alonzo’s ruminations on why you shouldn’t get high if your life sucks (but you should get drunk), who really answers the phone when you call the referral numbers on her résumé, why the day after Halloween is the real holiday, and what would happen if the Taken movies happened in real-life and we had to depend on our actual fathers to come to our rescue.

From relationships to trying to stay in shape to the true meaning behind nicknames, Alonzo covers it all from her fun, unique perspective with a smile in her voice. She’s having fun and as a result, we are too. 


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Matt Braunger's "Big Dumb Animal"


When it comes to writing reviews for this website, I’ve developed a method that I believe works well and gives each project a pretty fair shot. I listen to the CD twice all the way through before writing a single word. Then I write down the track listing and as I play through for a third time I begin to make notes. This has become a self-imposed rule that I’ve stuck to on all but a handful of the nearly 300 reviews I’ve thrown up here. Sometimes I jot down quotes and sometimes just the premise for bits that grabbed my attention. I write down what stood out as really good and I write down what stood out as really bad. If a track goes by that isn’t particularly noteworthy, I simply delete that line and move on to the next. By the end of the final playback, I have a skeleton of a review from which to work.

After reviewing - and really enjoying - Matt Braunger’s “Shovel Fighter” back in July of 2012, I was looking forward to his follow-up project, “Big Dumb Animal.” After my first time around, though, I was a bit disappointed. Nothing jumped out at me and I was hard-pressed to recall and specific bits. I remembered that he yelled a lot but…that was about it. 

I wanted to like this CD and was hopeful that on my second listen things would click. There were a few occasions of “Oh yeah, this one was good” but for the most part I found myself apathetic and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Braunger was certainly putting his all into it and he sure was yelling a lot but it all felt to be much ado about nothing.

As I approached my third listen, I told myself that this would be the time everything fell into place. I made a list of the 18 track titles and ended up taking notes on less than half of them (only seven, to be exact) and finally had to be honest and admit to myself that I just didn’t connect with this one. I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it and perhaps therein lies the problem: “Big Dumb Animal” didn’t make me feel anything.

Braunger’s bits on blood donor questionnaires and the guy on the bus who didn’t know when to not hit on a woman were entertaining but there seemed to be more misses than hits this time around. He takes the long, long, long, looong way around to get to a “Please drink responsibly” punchline and I found his description of a waiter spilling a tray of food so unbelievably slapstick-y, it was like it happened in an episode of “Saved By the Bell.” 

What really stands out to me, though, is the fact that 11 tracks went by and garnered no reaction at all. That’s a big percentage and a fact I can't ignore. As a lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs, I know a bad batting average when I see one. But, as a lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs, I don’t give up on my team just because they had a bad game. “Big Dumb Animal” wasn’t what I hoped it would be, but I’m still optimistic. We’ll get ‘em next time, guys.