Saturday, May 28, 2011

Spencer Dobson's "Used Up"


Spencer Dobson's Used Up is a bit of a comedic mixed bag. There are moments that really come together nicely, making for some genuine laughs. There are also moments that are still in need of a lot of work. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground, though. Dobson is either killing it or seemingly struggling to maintain his footing. After listening to the project multiple times, it left me with a dizzying sense of schizophrenia. Is it funny or not? Depending on what point you are in the album, the answer is yes.

It doesn't take long (only about 40 seconds to be exact) before Dobson has to deal with a heckler. In this instance, I believe the heckler wins as Dobson is forced onto his heels and actually starts his first joke all over again. When he finally gets to the punchline he taunts the heckler with "Way funnier than yours. Way funnier." While it's technically true that Dobson's material was funnier than the heckler's, I'm still not certain it was way funnier.

That first interaction is an example of the trap Dobson's material often falls into: His setups have a tendency to be long-winded and the punchline doesn't always pack a laugh proportionate to the time it took getting there. Don't get me wrong; I don't have anything against lengthy anecdotes or setups. Comedians like Bill Cosby and Dylan Brody are great examples of people who excel in the storytelling process by keeping us laughing throughout the entire journey. Dobson's approach lacks the laughs to keep us hooked throughout the entire narrative.

The track "The Hooker Story" is one example of how risky it is to put all of your comedic eggs in one basket. There are a few smiles along the way but it basically serves as  a two-and-a-half-minute  setup to a joke that falls flat; so flat that Dobson follows up the awkward silence with "Seems like that joke should end a lot bigger". And he's right. It should.

Another aspect that really stood out to me was the poor production value. The recording quality is less than ideal and the stunted editing only hurts Dobson's transitions from one topic to the next. It may have been a technical glitch, but one track ends in the middle of a bit and immediately goes into the next, which seems to start in the middle of a setup. I also blame the editing for the fact that the same joke appears twice on the album (a throwaway line about his hillbilly hometown).

All of that being said, there are some genuine laughs to be found. I enjoyed Dobson's explanation of why the music in clubs is always so loud ("Strippers hate the sound of their own thoughts") and his story of trying to pee in sub-zero North Dakotan temperatures cracked me up. Another good bit includes  Dobson moving back in with his mother (despite the less-than-funny reason for his return) that includes a little-known less-than-convenient side effect of stress.

"Crappy Jobs" starts off with Dobson recounting his time as a telemarketer and includes the promise of "the greatest sentence ever uttered in the history of telemarketing." And with that guarantee, Dobson manages to sabotage his own bit. He's raised our expectations so high, there's almost no way he can live up to his self-created hype. And he doesn't. You don't have to start off by saying, "This is gonna be funny." Just be funny.

He does make up for it, though, at the end of the same track when he visits the set of an adult film. It is here that we get the best line on the album as he tells about the lackluster Craft Services table provided: "I have always felt that if a young lady has spent her day being sodomized, she deserves chicken."

Compared to most comedy albums, this one is relatively short, clocking in at just over 30 minutes. I'd say 15 of those are good, solid comedy and the other 15 are still in need of some revisiting. The unfortunate thing is Dobson has burned 15 minutes of great material on a project that doesn't consistently perform to match. Suddenly the title Used Up has an entirely new - and unintended - meaning.

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