Way back in 2005 I was introduced to Invite Them Up, a 2-disc collection of comics that ranged from the familiar to the obscure (or at least, at the time, obscure to me). Sure, there were comics I already knew and loved like Eugene Mirman, Demetri Martin, Todd Barry, David Cross, and Mike Birbiglia, but what excited me the most were the newer comedians who were all able to hold their own when placed next to these powerhouses. It's funny to look back now at some of the names I didn't know then, especially since most of them have gone on to make a pretty big splash in the world of comedy. Names like Jessi Klein, David Wain, Chelsea Peretti, Jon Benjamin, A.D. Miles, Aziz Ansari, and Mindy Kaeling. It's hard for me to process that was only five years ago and the group of "newer" comedians had zero name recognition with me at the time. What I did know then was they were all extremely talented comics and it was fun for me to begin seeing their names pop up in more and more comedy credits.
Likewise, I'm really excited to hear more from the comics from the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival 2011 - Fresh Faces compilation. With the exception of one comedian (Adam Newman, whose CD I have already highly recommended), I wasn't familiar with the people found here (Go figure, I know. Lancaster Pennsylvania just isn't the stand-up comedy hotbed you probably assume it is).
That being said, just like I was excited to see what would become of the Invite Them Up gang, this is another strong lineup of solid comics who are sure to bring us some excellent projects in the (hopefully near) future. It's a stellar roster and although some of them have a stronger overall set than others, each one of the 16 comedians found on this 2-disc release has a home run bit to be proud of.
One of the comedians who really stood out is Nate Fridson. He's the first comic up to bat and he makes the most of his five minutes by doling out a strong set that spans an array of topics: drunk driving, the duties that come with being The Man Of The House, skinny jeans, and the comparison of his girlfriend to a customs security agent. He ends his set with a look at growing up Jewish, attending summer camp, and how difficult it must have been to get the first family to sign up.
Anton Shuford's set consists mostly of material on the difficulty of jobs: having one, not having one, being fired from one, being asked to leave one, and applying for a new one. Shuford is an engaging storyteller who excels in building tension, especially during his explanation of why he has to check the "YES" box in the section of a job application that asks "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?"
Mike Paramore approaches his comedy from a no-nonsense perspective. He's juts a regular, good Christian man who also admits to being "kind of a freak." He's looking for a woman who's not too bashful and won't ruin "business time." Paramore also admits he's pretty easily irritated but after explaining why (he prefers soap to the body wash women try to push onto him, his sexually-questionable friend has troubling requests, and women who give the ages of their children in forms that require doing long division in your head), you can't really blame him for being a bit agitated.
Another comedian worth noting is Troy Walker, whose observation that insults found in classic literature are much worse than anything we say nowadays was a great way to start his time (and also gave me an excellent word to replace 'douchebag'). Walker's insight into what a woman's birthday wish really means and his suspicions of a stripper's racial tendencies prove he's not just some guy bumbling his way through life; he thrives in picking up on and dissecting the subtleties other men would more than likely never even register.
Dave Stone may at first remind some people of Zach Galifianakis and not just because he is -- as he puts it -- "a 30 year-old fat man." His inflection and phrasing are also a bit similar, but there's no just cause for any accusations of copycatting. Despite any vocal similarities, Stone is very much his own person and sets himself apart with his unique comic perspective. His set is well-crafted and very funny as he ponders the ups and downs of being kidnapped and being so broke you have to plot the purchase of a Wendy's hamburger into your financial big picture. He's a born-again carnivore making up for all the time he lost during his brief stint as a vegetarian, and he's grown tired of football-themed radio ads. By the time Stone's set is over, you'll find any comparisons to other comedians totally forgotten and will instead wonder when we'll be hearing from him next.
From the moment she takes the stage, you can tell that Emily Heller is thoroughly enjoying what she does. Her comedy not only brings real laughter as she delves into dealing with her own self-image, but it's also infused with a very sincere sense of what can only be described as...joy. When you're spending time with someone who enjoys her work -- in this case, making people laugh -- as much as Heller does, there's no way you can't not have a good time. Whether she's divulging her plans for a uterus-themed Christmas card or attending her ex-boyfriend's Mime School graduation, you'll find there are plenty of good times to be had from this sexy librarian look-alike (At least, from the head, up. I'll let her tell you what you'll find from the neck, down).
I really like Sagar Bhatt for his uniquely positive-yet-dark outlook on life. He is the epitome of every white,fluffy, happy cloud having a dark lining. And lurking there in that dark lining you'll find some good laughs. Whether he's ruminating about the fresh-faced guy on an airplane whose very presence ensures everything is going to be OK on the flight or visiting his proud, first-time-parent brother, Bhatt guarantees that no matter how Norman Rockwell-esque the characters in the picture appear to be, it could all go to hell in an instant. You could be racially profiled by that American poster child on the plane or even end up comparing your newborn nephew to poop. Either way, he shows that no matter how good or nice something may be, it can always be improved by making it funny.
Those are just a few of the comics whose appearance on this project I really enjoyed. In all honesty, you could choose any of the comedians from this compilation and tell me they're going to be The Next Big Thing and I wouldn't even raise an eyebrow. Kudos to the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival and Next Round Entertainment for a very impressive group of "Fresh Faces" whom I am sure will be bringing smiles -- and laughs -- to our faces for years to come.