Sunday, November 30, 2014

Maronzio Vance's "Laughmatic"

I knew I liked Maronzio Vance. 

Maybe it’s because he was a cast member of one of my favorite canceled-too-soon television shows of recent history. Maybe it’s because he comes highly recommended by a friend whose opinion I highly respect. Or maybe - just maybe - it’s because he’s so freakin’ funny (or, as I used to say growing up in Indiana, “so stinkin’ funny”)

I’ll go with the latter. I admit I didn’t put two and two together and didn’t even realize Vance was an "Enlisted" cast member until I peeked at his website. It was a great show but unfortunately not around long enough for me to become familiar with the names of the cast members (I’m still bitter about this show slipping through the cracks knowing "Two and a Half Men" is still on the air).

I like to think I’m not so influential that I automatically like everything my friend recommends based on the sole fact it was his recommendation. We have a healthy “agree to disagree” relationship when it comes to comedy we don’t see eye-to-eye on. We can disagree and discuss without it hampering our friendship. Weird, I know.

Which leaves the final option: Vance is indeed one funny guy. 

You don’t have to listen to “Laughmatic” long before that fact makes itself apparent. Vance is laid-back and comfortable onstage and his comedy is smooth and relatable. Vance is one of us: a regular Joe who just happens to pick up on the messed-up stupid quirks of daily life. One wouldn’t think that a matter of four cents would be something about which a scene would be caused but sometimes it’s the principal of the matter and you have to stand up to the Little Caesar and fight for your rights.

Vance knows what it is to feel the bite of our current economy and when he learns that clean shoes are just as good as new shoes, it’s a game changer. He struggles with the depression that comes with residing in a studio apartment (you’re only one room away from being homeless) and he would gladly eat healthier if you didn’t have to take out a home loan in order to do so.

I really like the way Vance handles the touchy subject of race (yes, I stole that phrase from "Avenue Q"). His commentary is biting and honest but never comes across as preachy or angry. Whether he’s accidentally being racist while giving a threat level-themed compliment, having his handouts refused by a prejudiced vagrant, or explaining to a child why white people hate black people, Vance creates an environment where everyone feels free to laugh.

That’s not to say Vance has never ruffled any feathers. Just ask the girl working at the cell phone cover kiosk in the mall. Or the man on the street who is particularly stingy with his dollar dances. Or anyone who thinks the bald eagle should be the American mascot forever and ever, despite the fact that bald eagles - the symbol of freedom - are almost extinct. Cockroaches, on the other hand, will be around forever. Just sayin’.

The CD is bookended with a behind-the-scenes pre and post-show interview with Rooftop Records’s Dominic Del Bene. It’s fun to listen to Vance give his thoughts on the performance, reviewing himself in a much funnier and more entertaining way than I can. "Is it great?" he muses. "I don't know."

It is, Maronzio. It is.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Matt Fugate's "Believement"

The Blue Fugates of Kentucky. 

Heard of ‘em? 

They’re a family from the Troublesome Creek region (as if the name of the creek wasn’t foreshadowing enough) who, as a result of inbreeding, began to produce kids with Smurfy-blue skin. 

True story, and it’s one that the very funny Matt Fugate doesn’t necessarily hesitate to share. Not that he’s particularly proud of his distant relation to that particular branch of the family tree, but he doesn’t mind a little egg on his face if it’s good for a laugh.

On his project “Believement” there’s plenty of egg - and laughs - to go around. 

Fugate takes hit after hit for the team, recounting one embarrassing transgression after another and giving us complete freedom to laugh at his expense. Despite being a professional comedian, he finds himself being outdone by the class clown in his child’s elementary school lunch room and he can’t understand why the pronunciation of his last name (“few-gate”) seems to stump so many people (not “fyoo-zhay” or “foo-gotti”). [Ed's Note: It’s a little puzzling to me, too, but maybe that’s because there was actually a kid in my school for a few years with the same last name. ]

The granddaddy of these tales, "Matt vs. the Dance Floor," is so epic it had to be cut into two segments. I like how he leaves the second half of the time he tried to “go for it” on the dance floor at a wedding as his closer, leaving the crowd hanging with a “to be continued” vibe as he forces us to wait to find out what happens in the exciting conclusion. It’s well worth the wait and a nicely constructed way of amping the anticipation for the second half of the story. And can I just say that he perfectly describes the sound of a skull cracking against a marble floor? Just listening hurt my head and - judging by the audiences reaction - the heads of everyone within the sound of his voice.

The album isn’t just one tale of sad-sackery after another as Fugate is more  than willing to point out he isn’t the only goofball bumbling around in public. There are the various religions and their unique approaches to door-to-door proselytizing. There are the people who decide which eggs get which grade (how bad does one have to be to get a “B”?) and the people who complain that gay marriage will destroy the sanctity of their third marriage. 

And then, of course, there are the real assholes. He’s referring, of course, to 13-year-olds and no one seems to be very eager to disagree. 

Fugate is a fun storyteller (his child’s teacher will attest to this fact) and time flies when you’re listening to the CD. He’s engaging and his enthusiasm is infectious and you’ll love his impression of the sound of a room full of hungry grade-schoolers. His daughter, in all of her car salesman-y fervor, explains that it takes three things to achieve the seemingly impossible: Skill, heart, and “believement.”

Her dad has all three in spades.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dylan Brody's "Dylan Goes Electric: Live at the Throckmorton"

Back in 1984 I was a 13-year-old sitting in an Indiana Junior High classroom getting the “Don’t Do Drugs” talk from a representative from the local police force. Although I agreed with the basic gist of his speech (What can I say, I was a good boy), there was something that didn’t quite sit right with me; Something about his spiel just didn’t make sense. I couldn’t put my finger on it but, like watching any effects-heavy retouched George Lucas film, you can tell that something didn’t line up. 

No, I hadn’t heard about that kid who was speeding down the back roads at an ungodly rate, tripping out on MARIJUANA, but why would a policeman lie? It seemed logical that he saw a deer (every Indiana story has a deer) and yes, I had heard of the hallucinogenic effects MARIJUANA has on a person (this was back in the day when MARIJUANA was the worst drug my little town had seen. Fast forward to 2014 when Garrett IN has twice as many meth labs as it does stoplights), and it only made sense that he saw the deer morph into a dragon and it scared him so badly he veered off the road, hit a tree, and he died instantly.

If only Dylan Brody had been there to play Sherlock Holmes to my John Watson. He would have pointed out to me that no one could have known what someone else was seeing before they died instantly. I had completely forgotten about that cautionary tale until I listened to Brody’s new project, “Dylan Goes Electric: Live at the Throckmorton” and he re-counted a similar tale told to him as a youngster (without the deer and with marijuana swapped out for a much more appropriate drug of choice). 

Brody is back with another collection of stories that are just as wonderfully and meticulously crafted as any he’s told in the past (readers of this blog already know I’m a Dylan Brody Fanboy), and it’s nice to re-visit a dear friend. He begins this CD with a few stories about his mother that will connect with anyone who’s tried to walk an older relative through the workings of [insert any technological item that’s been invented since the year 2000 here]. 

As you hear Brody’s patience get stretched to its limit while Mrs Brody struggles with understanding her GPS, the earth’s rotation, and the music of The Mountain Goats, you can’t help but empathize with his clenched teeth and the sarcastic asides that he must - he must - say out loud so as not to fly off the handle. That’s what I love about Brody. He never yells at someone even if they might have it coming (like his ridiculous mugger-turned-panhandler), but exacts his own revenge by taking the higher road, happily hovering over them, leaving them standing in a cloud of misunderstanding while he and his father snicker at wordplay on “ad hominem.”

You think we’re here for standup comedy, but really Brody is here to tell a poem (it just has a 55-minute intro). When we finally get to his poetry you’ll find it was more than worth the wait. His Seuss-ian Sudoku piece will make both your mouth and ears smile even though it’s sure to ruffle the feathers of Star Wars nerds everywhere (Say it with me: “ANAKIN!!!”)

If/when you do purchase this album, I encourage you to take the time to browse the liner notes. Not only will you enjoy some of Brody’s own artwork but his written commentary adds a nice touch of flair to each piece. In a time when CD art has become a lost skill, it’s nice to see it hasn’t been forgotten. That’s what you get when you’re dealing with a perfectionist like Brody. When he does something, not only does he do it well, he does all of it well.  Brody knocks it out of the park time after time after time and this go-around is no exception. Plug in “Electric” and see for yourself.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dave Waite's "Hotdoggin'"

Comedy is meant to be fun. That’s probably the most obvious statement in the world but after listening to my fair share of albums over the past few years, sometimes listening to comedy is a straight-up chore. It’s become pretty clear when someone comes with an agenda other than to make people laugh and usually that’s when the eye-rolling begins. It seems to be a pretty easy trap to let political agenda, anger, or style take precedence over actual humor and content and that’s why the new album from Dave Waite was such a joy to experience. He’s not trying to solve the world’s problems or scold the rest of us for screwing up the world. He’s just… “Hotdoggin’."

Waite is a goofball and he knows he is. Droppin’ G’s and and revelin’ in his day drinkin’ adventures, he just wants to know where the party is. If there isn’t one, he’s more than willing to get one rolling. One moment he’s playing Who Is Smarter with fellow art patrons at the museum (especially fun when no one else knows they're in on the game) and the next he’s trying to get home from the afore-mentioned shindig doing his darndest to not get pulled over by the police for drunk walking.

There are a couple of stories on this CD that absolutely killed me, most notably his observation about the little things we do as humans living in a current society that at the time seem like things that need to be done. Inevitably, however, all they do is make us late for things that are actually important. It’s hard to blame anyone but yourself for missing the train when you spent five minutes in your apartment holding your own private “Twizzler-eatin’ dance party.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely found myself running late a few times, only to remember the song that popped up in my iTunes that made me stop what I was doing to just…hotdog it for a while.

Some people esteem themselves higher than they probably should but Waite could never be accused of such misguided confidence. He freely admits he’s the wrong guy to call if you’re going through a tough situation and if he does have a message to spread, it’s an important one about your monstrous, sweaty hands.

As you move from track to track you’re never quite sure what to expect from Waite, and that’s one of the things that makes this project such a delight. He lets you know how to tell if you’re in the 31st-best haunted house in America,  he vows to not pray for your friend’s sick cat, and there are “a couple of quick crack stories” that Waite has to share and I’m glad he did. You’ll definitely love hearing what all of the fuss is about.

If you still haven’t figured out what kind of guy Waite is, the last track on the CD should provide the missing puzzle piece. This is a guy who loved spending time as a child reading a book about football bloopers. Think about that for a second and you’ll understand a bit more about Waite. He’ll smile, give you a happy thumbs up, a wink, and maybe even throw some finger guns your way. And that, my friends, is hotdoggin’.

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.