Friday, September 12, 2014

Joe DeRosa's "Mistakes Were Made: The B-Sides"


Last night I was talking with Nick, a friend and fellow comedy enthusiast, and as usually happens when we get together and talk about our favorite comedians, the subject eventually came around to Joe DeRosa. Nick wondered if DeRosa had anything new out and I was happy to report that yes, as a matter of fact, “Mistakes Were Made: The B Sides” had just recently become available. 

“How is it?” he and I was able to sum up my thoughts in five words: 

“It’s Joe DeRosa. It’s funny.”

Nick understood immediately. It’s DeRosa. Of course it’s a funny CD (or, in this case, double CD). This project is a compilation of new material and bits that never made the final cut on his previous albums. When patched together like a stand-up version of Frankenstein’s monster, it makes for an impressive final product that comedy fans are sure to enjoy. At times it’s a bit jarring as we jump from one club to the next - the various quality of production levels are quite blatant - but after a few seconds your ears assimilate to the audio juxtapositions and it’s back to business.

If you’re familiar with DeRosa’s comedy, then you already have an idea of what to expect: a guy dealing with life’s frustrations in an exceptionally funny way. He laments the pricey process of trying to catch a movie in New York City, confesses his jealousy of three fat guys walking through the mall armed with unicorns and a cake, and reveals the no-longer-secret tests Daters Of DeRosa must pass.

You could call DeRosa an observational comic but one who specifically observes people. He doesn’t bother with bits about inanimate objects (OK, there’s one brief exception with a subway car) but instead finds himself fascinated with his encounters with fellow citizens. He’s a people-watcher extraordinaire and no one he bumps into is safe from being included in his material; Not the Guatemalan guy peeing in the hall, not the stripper who broke through the fourth wall, and not his favorite porn star hiding a little (or maybe not-so-little) secret. 

Just over a year ago, right after his previous CD was released, I was able to catch up with DeRosa after a show and we spoke briefly about what was next for him. He hinted at darker elements to come, of using his comedy to dig into deeper areas, and they’re here on this album. We are presented with the eight (no wait, make that seven) stages of life and DeRosa presents his theory that no matter which phase we find ourselves in, we’re never truly free. It's a bleak outlook but not so bleak that DeRosa can't find humor along the way. He delves into life and death and opens up about his fear about being wrong - and right - about what happens in the afterlife. Of course, DeRosa is able to tread these deeper waters and still make us laugh. Encouraging genuine introspection while simultaneously making people laugh is no small feat and DeRosa pulls it off effortlessly. 

This is my fourth time having the pleasure of reviewing an album by DeRosa and my fourth time raving about how much I enjoyed it. "Mistakes Were Made," you say? Please. 

I wish I screwed up this successfully. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Andy Kindler's "I Wish I Was Bitter"


First thing’s first: The “new” release from Andy Kindler, “I Wish I Was Bitter(Yes, he’s well aware that title isn’t grammatically correct, but he’s edgy like that) was originally recorded back in 2003 and has only just recently been made available to download for the first time. Aside from the occasional references to “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy(Wow, I totally forgot about that show) and “Whoopi” (Yep. Forgot about that one, too), the disc holds up pretty well. Then again, bitterness never really goes out of fashion.

If you take a bucket of that bitterness, season it with a generous helping of jealousy, remove any inkling of self-confidence or bridge-burning self-awareness, coupled with a heaping spoonful of malice toward TV executives, then you’ve just got an angry guy who never made it as big as he thought he would. Or should. But you add in a witty sense of biting humor that holds no punches and keeps the audience on its toes, then my friend you have Andy Kindler.

Kindler never made it big as a comic (at least not as of this taping) and he has some strong words for those who did. Carrot Top, Margaret Cho, Lorne Michaels, Dennis Miller, the cast of The George Lopez Show, Wayne Brady, and Jim Belushi (Oh, that Jim Belushi) all find themselves in Kindler’s crosshairs. As he struggles to comprehend what these people have that he doesn’t, Kindler lashes out at them and doesn’t hold back. Poor Belushi finds himself getting the brunt of Kindler’s ire, especially when we try to break down his TV deal using the five Ws (and one H) of investigative journalism. You almost feel bad for the guy and maybe you would if you weren’t so busy laughing at Kindler’s exasperated furor.

People who live outside the entertainment world may find that this CD has a tendency to fly over their heads from time to time. Kindler jokes that he isn’t a comedian for a mainstream audience and he has a point. I don’t know how many people without a foot in the industry will connect with his jokes about pilot season and collecting residuals, but for those of us who’ve dabbled in - and around - the entertainment world (or maybe just watch shows like Episodes, Louie, or Maron), then there are a lot of wink-winks and nudge-nudges to enjoy here. 

When Kindler strays from his insider material, the laughs come just as strong. I loved his cell phone being set to “samba,” his impressions of the Frankenstein monster performing hacky comedy and morning zoo radio, and most of all his dissection of the old Superman television show and the voiceover announcer who clearly wasn’t pleased with his career path. It’s a brilliant bit that Kindler may or may not be happy knowing would appeal to a wide audience.

One of the fun things about listening to an album in 2014 that was recorded in 2003 is having the gift of hindsight. It’s entertaining hearing Kindler rail on “Last Comic Standing” knowing that seven years later he would be on the show as a judge (but, in fairness, the show had morphed into a completely different concept by that time. Less reality show and more comedian-y). Yes, more than a few bits here are directed at industry movers and shakers, telling them why they should hire him (and also pointing out when they shouldn’t)  but - as time eventually went on to prove - it worked. Kindler calls “Last Comic Standing” the worst thing that could ever possibly happen to comedians and seven years later, he’s a judge on the show. It’s a tactic I never would have thought of, but apparently it works. 

Hey, Spielberg. Guess what? You suck donkey.

Now all I have to do is wait until 2021 and I’ll be golden. Indiana Jones Part 6 here I come!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Jim Norton's "American Degenerate"


Jim Norton is back with a new album, “American Degenerate,” and if you’re already familiar with his style of comedy then you know exactly what to expect: A CD packed with great stories that sometimes push the envelope, are sometimes cringe-worthy, and are always funny. 

Norton doesn’t disappoint.

Once again we’re treated to a vast assortment of “could only happen to him” stories that make us laugh and wince simultaneously. Norton doesn’t merely have an odd encounter with the man seated next to him on an airplane; Norton finds himself swept away by the stranger’s man-scent in what turns out to be  slightly homoerotic and more-than-slightly humiliating for the both of them. Likewise, as if it wasn’t already a major turn-off that Norton has to wear a sleep apnea mask that leaves him looking like Bane In Bed, thanks to his facial skeletal structure he has to opt for an even more-demeaning optional accessory.

That’s just the way things seem to go for Norton. He’s a human magnet that attracts all things Murphy’s Law. You can’t help but feel bad for him when not only does the Hot Girl With The Incredible Ass (that Norton is more than happy to describe in great detail) catch him ogling her backside at the gym…she also hears him doing it (Yep. That can happen). His attempt to flirt with a flight attendant is mistaken for a bomb threat and no matter what time of day he decides to work out, that creepy old naked dude is going to be there. Right there. Patpatpatpatpatpatpat.

Lest you think Norton is totally innocent, he freely reveals he’s more devious than his appearance (That of every guy on the jury in 1955) may first imply. He has an impressive Gag Peanut Brittle Can metaphor that is lost on a good portion of the crowd and if you ever wondered just how you can turn a standard massage into one with a “happy ending,” well…Norton’s got you covered. In a step-by-step explanation that leaves no possibility unexplored, he takes us through the best way to bump your odds that is just as well plotted out as a plan to rob a Vegas casino. Danny Ocean would be proud.

This, of course, leads to Norton’s brilliant commentary on the whole John Travolta/massage scandal. He’s not saying that Travolta is gay or guilty of the charges brought upon him… but “it don’t look good.” Norton isn’t just speculating, he’s talking from experience. He believes the claims of those suing Travolta (Even though he thinks they’re ridiculous for doing so) mostly because he’s tried each of the moves Travolta is accused of doing during sessions of his own.

Norton is unapologetic and stands by his claims, especially when it comes to people who find themselves offended by comedy. He has a point when he claims that comedy is the only art form where people feel they have to agree with and/or approve of it. Although he understands why comedians like Tracy Morgan and Daniel Tosh recently apologized for…well, basically doing what comedians are supposed to do, Norton holds fast to the stance that they shouldn’t have had to do it. I wholeheartedly agree. He may be an American Degenerate, but Norton is an American Degenerate with a helluva point.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mark Normand's "Still Got It"


If the goal of comedy done well is to look at life through a slightly skewed lens, then Mark Normand deserves a blue ribbon. On his debut CD, “Still Got It,” Normand excels at looking at the picture of life as we know it and nudging it a bit until it’s a few degrees off of plumb. He wonders if the Bible would be nearly as effective if the names within were modern (Encouraging people to drink the blood of Trevor just sounds weird). He genuinely feels bad for animals with jobs (The poor seeing eye dog must hate seeing the other dogs in the park jumping, running, and having their bellies rubbed). He sees the names of Chinese restaurants not as a list of options but instead examples of racial slurs worse than anything white people have come up with. 

These are things the rest of us see every day but for one reason or another, we’ve never picked up on the funny staring us in the face. Fortunately there are people like Normand out there ready and willing to point it out to us. Normand is our in-person, 3-D “Wet Floor” sign.

Occasionally Normand treads the same ground as other comedians before him (Answering the dreaded “How hot am I?” question, growing up white in a black neighborhood, the women-as-sluts conundrum), but you can’t hold that against him. We’re all pulling from the same life experiences and Normand brings his own off-kilter outlook to each of the aforementioned scenarios. As a result they play as fresh, new, and yes, funny. A couple of premises sound a bit corny at first (Was the guy who invented the SNOOZE button late to the pitch meeting?) but Normand knows it and plays it up with an impish grin that comes across even on an audio-only format.

It’s Normand’s original perspective on life and brilliant metaphors that breathe fresh air into his bits. When asked how he wold respond if his child turns out to be gay, he compares it to finding a French fry in your order of onion rings (“It’s not what I expected, but I like these, too”). He wishes birth control were as simple as hangover control and when he likens promiscuous girls to Wal-Mart, he nails it with the precision of a master builder.

Normand is easy-going and likable, which is why he can get away with pushing the envelope. His interactions with the crowd are always hilarious and whenever he poses a question to the audience, he always has the perfect reaction to their answers.

For only being 45 minutes long, Normand packs a lot into this CD. His remarks on the state of present-day manliness (Everyone has a beard and no one knows how to change a tire) and his reaction to a friend’s homophobia (Go ahead. Shake their hand) are brilliant. His analysis of women (They have three moods: Mad. Happy. Not Mad.) and his glass half-full reaction to their monthly cycle (Come on, guys. You should really be happy it’s here) are just more examples of the many good things we can expect from Normand in the years to come.

Before this album I was unfamiliar with Normand but I have to agree. This guy’s still got it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kurt Metzger's "White Precious"


Once upon a time, way back in 2011, Kurt Metzger released an album that cracked me up. It was smart, well-written, and most importantly, very funny. How do you follow an album as good as that one? You release a CD like “White Precious,” where the first track is called “Get Ready For A Letdown!” to extinguish any raised expectations listeners may have going in. Fortunately, the title Metzger chose for this cut couldn’t be more off-the-mark as this time around he treats us to a project that is even better than the last.

The album begins with a great story about an embarrassing moment on stage when Metzger accidentally mis-identified the gender of a person in the audience. Twice. It’s the perfect kick-off to the project as Metzger smartly lowers the bar by (falsely) informing the audience the show they are about to see is going to be as much of a disappointment as the first time you saw the real Wendy in those fast-food chain commercials. 

Harsh? Maybe. Funny? Absolutely. This is Metzger’s M.O. and he’s got it down perfectly. From his declaration that the loss of his iPad is more of a tragedy than the burning of a Quran to his super-transparent thoughts on whether or not you should visit Alaska (In a word: Don’t), Metzger doesn’t pull any punches and as a result, each one lands with solid laughter. His bit on the old-fashioned treatment for autism (dodge ball) is a classic example of funny-because-it’s-true and he doesn’t hide his stance against gay marriage under a bushel (If you don’t use your holes correctly it voids God’s warranty on your body, people. Come on!). Metzger may not be the most PC guy in the world but we didn’t show up to be PC we came here to laugh and we don’t walk away disappointed.

When it comes to focusing on specific tracks as highlights, Metzger has made it extremely difficult. Each one of them has a generous share of laugh-out-loud moments and as soon as I think of one (i.e. how the city of San Diego is carrying on Hitler’s unfinished work) another one that is just as good comes to mind (the most - and least - effective anti-smoking commercials). This isn’t just an hour and ten minutes of comedy, it’s an hour and ten minutes of great comedy.

There’s something on this album for everyone. If you’re interested in heady topics like the financial crisis, Metzger has a perfectly sensible Monopoly-themed explanation for you. If you tend more toward reality television, then allow Metzger to explain “Toddlers & Tiaras” to Canadians (Sorry your kids are so ugly). And when Metzger doesn’t have the answers, well, that’s OK too because thankfully Montel Williams and his life-changing book is here to save the day (And believe it or not, it really is available on Amazon for a penny. How can you not snatch this up?)

Metzger, the former Jehovah’s Witness preacher, is one of the funniest comedians working today and when his comedy comes knocking, I highly suggest you come out from hiding behind the couch and open the door.