Monday, October 10, 2011

Tom Simmons's "Keep Up"

Tom Simmons is a down home, friendly comedian whose slight Southern drawl and relaxed approach to comedy makes him relatable and gives him a comforting sense of everyday Joe-ness. I understand that when I say "Southern," images of the guys from the Blue Collar Comedy Tour may come to mind, but don't let that scare you away. Simmons isn't "Larry the Cable Guy" Southern or "Jeff Foxworthy" Southern, which is to say: he's not a hillbilly.

On his album Keep Up, of the four Blue Collar guys Simmons is more reminiscent of Bill Engvall wherein he just happens to have a bit of an accent. He doesn't do hokey "being from the South" material but instead sticks to topics that are familiar regardless of where you're from. In fact, the only other giveaway of Simmons's roots is his propensity for using the word "damn" as an adverb.

Judging Simmons based solely on what he sounds like and where he's from (Atlanta) would be a mistake and he begins the album by shattering any pre-conceived notions you may have by swapping "America is #1!" blind patriotism with a willingness to realistically question that claim. "America is like a really boring hot chick that won't quit talking about herself," Simmons observes, "Maybe we are the best and maybe we just once were the best and now we're like Muhammad Ali and just think we're the best."

It's down-to-earth thinking and common-sense rationale like this that set Simmons apart and gives him a unique voice. Where other comics flourish in taking the mundane and giving it an outrageous twist, Simmons excels in taking what's already been blown out of proportion and bringing it back down to Earth. He has no problem pointing out that the silver mylar balloon that has society entranced is actually just a balloon and the little boy we all thought was inside is just hiding safely in his attic back home.

Simmons isn't one to be easily startled into paranoia or fear by the machinations of the media. Their relentless reminders that our economy is in the tank is not the earth-shattering society-ending breaking news we would be led to believe it is. "I have been in a recession for 35 years," he proclaims, totally unfazed. But there's an upside. "The only good thing about people losing their jobs is...less traffic."

It's hard to pigeonhole Simmons; he's not easily categorized and that's not a bad thing. He's a man of contradictions but let's be honest: To some extent, aren't we all? He longs for intellect but then thinks of Stephen Hawking and reconsiders. If that's the price for being smart, then maybe he'll pass for now.

The comedy of Simmons works whether he's tackling popular hot-button issues or taking on something as simple and common as the change in sleeping arrangements he and his wife have experienced over the years. This is a Georgian who is all for legalizing every type of drug (but only on Mars) and doesn't spank his son no matter how tempting it is ("They say the 2's are terrible. My son was great when he was two but he had a shitload of rollover minutes"). Simmons and his wife have taken some slack from friends and family for their peace-leaning child-rearing style, but I have to give him props especially for his approach to the whole Santa Claus subject.

Because of his commitment to living a peaceful life and his sincere desire to spread that message, there are some nice laughs to be had when Simmons is tested. Capitalism, traffic, Christmas shoppers, PETA, MTV's Sweet 16, and even his own evolving fashion choices all try their darndest to get him to snap. Some of them come close -- really close -- but it's not until Simmons declares "If you don't like Michael Vick then you don't support the troops" that you realize he just may be onto something. He's managed to take the "If A=B then B=C then C=D" concept to its limit, stretching the logic so thin you can see through it.

And yet, no matter how far he goes, we follow. Willingly. With Simmons leading the way, you'll find it nice and easy to (say it with me) Keep Up.


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