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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kris Tinkle's "Maybe I Don't Feel Like Smiling"



On his new album, “Maybe I Don’t Feel Like Smiling,” Kris Tinkle has a comedic intensity that is a lot of fun to be around. It’s not an “I’m so angry” intensity, but the sort of a 6-year-old determined to throw a baseball all the way from center field to home plate and continually missing (and getting more and more red-faced with each attempt). I find it funny when little kids get frustrated and worked up and as a result, Tinkle’s similar youthful frenzy is equally enjoyable.

Case in point: Tinkle is still holding a grudge against a childhood classmate’s mom who skimped out on the snacks she provided the class. It upset him at the time and as you can hear in his voice, it still gets under his skin. It cracked me up to hear the visceral anger in his voice aimed at this woman ("That fat bitch!"), an adult still fuming that she teased them with the promise of snacks from Trader Joe’s and instead offered up Crackerz.

Tinkle holds onto that same Rage Lite as he rants about Pandora (simply enter the artist you want to hear and the music service will gladly never play a song by the artist requested), asthma nerds who are convinced they will be the heroes of a zombie apocalypse, and his friends who told him he looks like all the characters from Game of Thrones combined into one face (why couldn’t they just be polite and talk about him behind his back?)

The key to Tinkle being as funny as he is (which, it should be noted, is very) is his gleeful existence in a suspended state of arrested development. He freely admits he would be a better boyfriend if he lived in The Old West and although he was never in the Armed Forces, he found a way to serve in Iraq thanks to the contents of the cleverly labeled “Taxes” folder on his laptop.

One of my favorite bits of the album includes Tinkle’s admission that he’s not a fighter (a fact he verifies with the tale of the time he was out-wrestled by a one-legged guy). A fan of boxing and MMA, he admits he wouldn’t fare well in the ring. On the other hand, he holds fast to the theory that he could seriously - and I mean seriously - throw down for 30 seconds. Of course, his theory is inevitably misunderstood by the girl he was dating at the time which leads to a huge laugh (and great closer)

This is a highly enjoyable album that you’ll want to revisit multiple times. Tinkle is a lot of fun to be around and there are more highlights on this CD than I can give just due in this review - which is definitely not a complaint. Too much of a good thing is always a good thing and Tinkle generously packs each track with some big laughs. When he is about to go full-rage on a guy in the audience making free use of the comedy club’s electrical outlets, Tinkle is intercepted by a moment that surprises even himself - even though he asked for it in the opening track. Circle of life, man. And laughter.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tim Slagle’s “The Best of Slagle Vol. 1”


Stand-up comedians are sort of like your email inbox. Some of them (Louis C.K.) are like emails you get from a good friend you’ve stayed in touch with; always nice to hear from them and they always leave a smile on your face. Some (Bill Cosby) you don’t hear from very often but you start to laugh almost as soon as you see who it’s from. Some (Brian Regan) are like your old college buddy you haven’t heard from in a while but when you do….oh man, you almost forgot how nice it was to hang out with him. Some (Doug Stanhope) are like the Evites you get from the guy whom you’re not sure about, things could go seriously south, but at the same time you know they’re gonna go somewhere and you sort of wanna be there to witness it.

And some are like the emails you get from that weird relative who somehow got your email address - you certainly didn’t give it to him - and now he bombards you with conspiratorial IMPORTANT MESSAGES that are plastered with pixelated GIFs of eagles flapping their wings and the American flag jerkily waving in non-existent wind. Unfortunately, Tim Slagle’s “The Best of Slagle Vol. 1” is in this category.

This is an odd collection for a “Best of” compilation mostly because…there aren’t a lot of laughs. I wasn’t familiar with Slagle going into it and the opening track didn’t leave a very strong first impression. His delivery style hearkens back to the 80s (not necessarily in a good way) and until he referenced September 11, I actually thought that’s when this track was recorded. The crowd’s reaction is lackluster at best and didn’t seem the right choice with which to open the album.

Slagle likes politics (not really my strong suit) and he likes to scream (a style I’ve rarely embraced), so when he screams about politics it becomes a bit off-putting. He raves at the audience as if they’re the ones committing the atrocities he’s so worked up about and it didn’t connect with me. I like to listen to comedy to laugh, not to feel like I’m being yelled at for 40 minutes.

It’s not that I have anything against political humor per se. I love “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” As far as comics go, I find Dennis Miller funny and I’m especially fond of Lewis Black (who, coincidentally enough, also tends to be a political screamer). What these guys all have in common, though, is a sense of humor. There are jokes in their material because…well….they’re comedians. Slagle uses his platform not so much to be funny but…to use as a platform.

At one point, Slagle insists that he’s not being hateful as he yells about the fact he’s not allowed to make fun of black people (Seriously? This upsets you that much?). Instead, he’s “exercising his right to free speech.” 

And he is. 

I just wish he was making the speech funny.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Shane Mauss's "Mating Season"


If I were to merely state that the new CD from Shane Mauss, “Mating Season,” is a fun look at evolution and how females steer life through existence, that wouldn’t be doing the project justice (as accurate as it may be). Although my description sounds like it might be a yawn-inducing study of science and anthropology, this album is anything but. Mauss has put together a tight set with a lot of big laughs as he, yes, puts humanity (and other life forms) under the microscope, trying to figure out just why we do what we do - and often disputing the claims of others along the way.

The basic theory Mauss adheres to is pretty simple (Evolution is driven by female choice and the role of the male is to wear fancy stuff for them) but as he excavates and digs deeper, he’s able to find a lot of great material hiding in the recesses. Men mistakenly think that having a Man Cave is a display of our status as Head of the Household but when you realize that it’s usually cordoned off to a basement, attic, or detached garage you begin to realize just how disillusioned we are.

As much as you may not agree or want to hear it, Mauss has pretty compelling evidence to support his Women-Are-Driving-This-Car hypothesis. He marvels at their ability to still run errands during pregnancy when, for him, a burrito is all it takes to be sidelined. The movie Braveheart isn’t actually about what you think it’s about (Sorry, Freedooooom lovers) and all it takes is a cute set of short shorts to amp the intensity in a casual pick-up game of basketball.

Although most of Mauss’s set is based on science, he spends the last couple of tracks on the album on the other side of the coin with a visit to The Garden of Eden and the first moments of Adam and Eve. You have to admit he’s onto something when he wonders what it would have been like for Adam to just…suddenly….be.

As much fun as “Mating Season” is, the bits I enjoyed the most were the ones where Mauss shifted the focus from general observations to detailing specific moments of his life. I realize I sound like Keenen Ivory-Wayans on this season of “Last Comic Standing” (His repetitious “We wanna hear more about you” critique of every comic that performed has basically become his version of Randy Jackson’s “You sound pitchy, dawg”), but in this case those were the moments I found the funniest. 

Mauss has a strange game/joke/goof he likes to play on his wife that is basically the exact opposite of Jim Carrey’s butt-talking gag from Ace Ventura and “Showing Off,” the best track on the album in my opinion, takes us step-by-step through an epic flee from the police that ends with the most awkward impulse-use of an apple fritter ever. It’s a great bit and as Mauss recounts each of his so-bad-it-should-be-on-“COPS” attempts to escape the fuzz, the laughs get bigger and bigger. 

Mating Season” has arrived. I highly suggest you equip yourself with protection (grab your T-shirt cannon) and enjoy it while it’s here.