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. 

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.