Being a fan of someone comes with a fair share of risks, one of them being you want every project they release to be as good as your favorite.
I'm a huge Steve Martin fan and have been ever since he first grappled with a huge balloon animal on The Muppet Show. For years I was always the first in line when he released a new film. Sometimes you got comedy classics like Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Three Amigos. And sometimes...well...sometimes you got Mixed Nuts.
I wanted to like Mixed Nuts. I tried to laugh at all the parts where Steve was doing something "funny." But at the end of the day, I had to be honest with myself and confess my laughter felt forced. I had to admit that as much as I didn't want to say it, I just didn't think it was very funny. Part of me felt I was betraying one of my comedic idols by not loving everything with his name on it but as I got older, I came to the realization that not everything is going to click with me, and that's OK. There is no definition of what's funny and what isn't. I'm sure there's someone out there who calls Mixed Nuts their favorite film* and I'm committing comedy heresy by admitting I just didn't get it. All I can do is reassure that person that I tried to like it. I really, really did. I wanted to like it. I didn't want to admit my hero made a bad judgment call.
But he did.
Which is why it pains me so much to write this review.
I was really looking forward to hearing Oslo: Burning The Bridge To Nowhere , the latest CD/DVD release from Doug Stanhope. I've been a fan of his for some time now and couldn't wait to hear what he had to say.
But something on this project just seems....off.
Perhaps it's the fact that the CD is a recording of a show he did in Oslo. It seemed a little odd that he would choose a performance done in a place where English is their second language for his latest release. Don't get me wrong, I have complete respect for him that he would even consider doing comedy, taped or not, in a country where the language barrier (and even the cultural barrier) would seem so insurmountable. The guy has juevos. His cadence is slower than usual, I assume to make sure the audience is following him, and maybe that's part of it. His timing seems to suffer a bit as a result.
Another thing that permeates this record is a seemingly utter lack of enjoyment on Stanhope's part. He's taking the role of the disgruntled, angry comic but you get the sincere impression this isn't just an onstage persona. He just seems pissed to be here. Not that angry can't be funny. Lewis Black screams in frustration. Joe DeRosa is fueled by an exasperated fire. George Carlin gnashed his teeth at the world around him. But underneath it all, you can sense their love for making people laugh at their bitter tirades. Stanhope just seems done with it all. He even addresses this onstage, complaining about how much he hates recording CDs and DVDs. And I believed him.
Stanhope barks his thoughts at the crowd with seemingly little care of whether or not his rants are humorous. It seems he just has a few things on his mind he wants to get out there, funny or no. And I guess that's another thing that surprised me about the CD: Considering that it's over an hour long, there wasn't much there that struck me as particularly humorous. There are a couple of premises I wished he would have explored a little deeper; I felt there was something there below the surface if only he would go for it.
He complains that he used to be a huge comedy star and now look at him...this is what his life has come to. And that struck me as a little odd. I think Stanhope is well-liked and respected in comedy circles and among stand-up fans, but he never really attained the mainstream success and notoriety like he claims. And who knows, maybe that's part of the joke and I just didn't get it. The problem is, I don't know if I'm the only one who was lost.
The crowd offers polite laughter throughout, but sometimes at the oddest places. Again, it made me wonder if this audience was the best fit for Stanhope's comedy. At one point at the start of the show, he demands they stop clapping at everything he says, admitting he hasn't even said anything funny. And again...I had to agree.
Unfortunately, this release that I was so excited to review didn't illicit a single laugh from me. Nor a chuckle. Just a foreboding sense of "Come on, Doug, be funnier. I know you can." As each track clicked by, I was let down again and again. As I mentioned earlier, there is no set definition of what is funny, but in this case I wish I had better news to report.
I know there will be some people who love this project - most of them already fans of Stanhope - who will vehemently disagree with what I'm saying and that's fine. I don't claim that my opinion should be the be-all end-all. I'm just a guy who loves comedy and doesn't want someone else to be let down. I would recommend the CD for anyone who's already a fan of Stanhope's - you've probably already pre-ordered it by now anyhow - but if you're unfamiliar with his work, you may want to hold off.
The project is a CD/DVD release and after I listened to the CD a few times, I decided to watch the DVD and it begins with a rather unsettling message from Stanhope that seems to back up my claims that the laughs are disappointingly few. He prefaces the DVD with a special message that tries to justify why the audience doesn't seem to be laughing very much throughout his show. Basically, he explains that every other comedy DVD you've seen has been tampered by The Man and is laced with canned laughter. I'm not naive; I realize there are things done in the editing room to punch up comedy specials but I find it a little too Conspiracy Theory to believe that's the only reason fans think they're funny. We've all been brainwashed to think that everyone else's Comedy Central specials are funny when in reality they're not.
He goes on to explain that this CD/DVD has no canned laughter added whatsoever, and that, my friends, is why no one seems to be laughing.
I'm not sure if that makes any sense or not. To be honest, I'm still trying to figure it out for myself. All I know for sure is I didn't laugh very much.
But I really, really wanted to.
*But probably not.