Monday, November 15, 2010

Keith Alberstadt's "It's Pronounced 'Jenkins'"


Keith Alberstadt is a funny guy.

And on his new CD It's Pronounced 'Jenkins', Alberstadt has a cool confidence in his own humor that ensures the listener they are in safe hands. It's not a cocky confidence and it doesn't come across as condescending. It's simply a confidence that says, "Hey, I know these stories are funny. Check 'em out."

It doesn't take long before Alberstadt addresses his less-then-usual name. But instead of dwelling on the many pronunciations of his Germanic surname, he instead points out the absurdity in the fact that he's also had problems with his first name, too. Hence the appearance of "KIF" on his coffee order at Starbucks.

Some of Alberstadt's premises initially play as somewhat standard. Ok, I know where he's going I thought to myself a few times, but then Alberstadt surprises you. It's not that he takes a hard left and turns the bit on its ear into something preposterous...but he instead goes down a side street that twists and winds and invites you to look at something you've seen before from a different perspective. We've all heard comics talk about parents who get flustered and call their kids by the wrong name, but Alberstadt adds his fresh point of view that ends up including the dog. And someone named Pablo.

Whether it's giving a girlfriend a hard time for mis-pronouncing the word "love" or saying the name Clifton sarcastically, Alberstadt has a real gift for sound, inflection, and gibberish punctuation at the end of sentences. Alberstadt is careful not to overuse this skill, so it never becomes tiresome. He's patient and relaxed and isn't rushing himself to get to the punch. It's his mastery of the pause (especially as he prepares to tell you what a dog is really thinking) that lets you know he's in control. He's got this.

There's a nice ebb and flow to Alberstadt's material. It's not full-throttle gut-busting laughs all the way through, but it's not supposed to be. He gives you a breather with a story that elicits a smirk, a goofy observation that makes you smile and shake your head, and then smoothly slips into the story of why he put his shoes in the refrigerator four times.

"John Adams" is a track that asks the question "If texting was around when John Adams was alive, would it change the way he wrote?" It eerily reminded me of Greg Giraldo's bit about Civil War letters (even the voice Alberstadt uses to read the texts sounds a lot like Giraldo's Civil War-reading voice) but that short premise leads into two great tracks on texting and phone etiquette.

"It's a law now in almost every state: can't text while you're driving. Seventy-five percent of Americans agree with those laws. Twenty-five percent said "WTF', then hit a guard rail."

The CD ends with four tracks recorded while Alberstadt was overseas performing for the troops. No matter where he was - Qatar, Iraq, or the USS Harry S Truman -  the troops are eating it up. It's cool to hear how various parts of the same bit hit each audience differently.

'It's Pronounced 'Jenkins' is a solid project from a comedian who's got it all under control. Just sit back and let someone else drive for a bit. And when it's over, check the fridge for your shoes.

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