I don't know what it is about Atlanta right now but something seriously funny is going on. Maybe it's all the Coca-Cola or the maddening MARTA system or the fact that every street there is named Peachtree, but there is some amazing comedy coming out of the South and - most notably - from the Laughing Skull Lounge. Chicago is the go-to city for improv and New Jersey is your source for people you never want to be around. I never would have predicted that Hot-lanta would be the biggest threat to topple New York City as the supreme source for stand-up.
Earlier this year the Laughing Skull Lounge blew me away with their Fresh Faces project and now The Beards Of Comedy are live at the Lounge with Cardio Mix to get our skulls laughing once again. The Beards consist of four guys (Andy Sandford, Joe Zimmerman, TJ Young, and Dave Stone (who appeared - and killed - on the Fresh Faces compilation)) and you'd be hard-pressed to find a lineup as consistent, complementary, and flat-out funny as this one.
First to take the stage is Andy Sandford and he doesn't waste any time getting to the funny. His set begins with one of the best reasons to not follow the Golden Rule and from there it only gets better and better. Sandford explores medication warning labels and giant cupcakes with a bemused curiosity.
Sandford excels at misdirection. When he brings up the MTV show 16 and Pregnant you think you know where he's going with it and with a lesser comedian behind the mic you might be right. Sandford, however, keeps you on your toes, blindsiding you once with his sudden U-turns and then again with how funny those detours turn out to be.
Whether he's explaining why a perfect game of baseball only shows that it's a boring game, revealing the recipe for an intense sensation of shame, or explaining why living next to an abortion clinic really hampers his hobbies, Sandford proves once and for all that - just like when it comes to recreational drug use - he's not here to screw around.
Joe Zimmerman is the next comic up and he's the kind of guy who likes to find out a little bit about the people in the audience. He asks a series of questions to find out who's in attendance so he knows how to skew his material and as it turns out, it's a dog-loving, racist, Jewish crowd. Zimmerman doesn't seem at all surprised.
His low-pressure approach is perfectly suited to his material. Rather than tackle weighty, politcally-infused topics he chooses instead to ponder the common everyday nuances of life. Why would anyone ever propose to someone in a hot air balloon? What would happen if someone took Papa John's up on their new program that lets you order a pizza a month in advance? Why would anyone have a python as a pet? And exactly how in the world do orgies get started?
All of these themes - and more - are expanded with hilarious results. By the time Zimmerman reaches his bit on scary movie trailers, his eyes are covered because he's scared of what's up on the big screen. In the meantime, ours are blurry with tears of laughter.
Animals that aren't color blind and a series of wrong number voice mails are perfect fodder for Zimmerman's observations and when he's reached the end of his time, even though the show is only halfway over, you've already gotten more than double your money's worth of laughs.
TJ Young is bubbling with a fresh-faced, energetic enthusiasm that is in perfect contrast with his ruminations on the homeless and whether or not they should have pets. The juxtaposition couldn't be better as Young playfully cavorts through a field of deadly tiger sharks, astronauts in diapers, and unsettling billboards.
Young wraps up with a revealing look at the Amish and which dances they will - and won't - do. It's a nice capper to a good set and before you know it the time has come for the final Beard to take the stage.
Time really does fly when you're having fun.
Dave Stone was one of the highlights of the Laughing Skull Fresh Faces compilation and I found myself eager to hear more from this very skilled comedian. Who knew that just a couple of months later my wish would be granted and it turns out I was right: I really did want more.
Stone is the perfect guy to be in the clean-up batter position. He easily smashes an out-of-the-park grand slam with his material on being a born-again carnivore, feeling sorry for almost-retarded people, and his less-than-impressive visits to the local Coinstar.
Stone finishes up with a great story about his time working as a DJ at a small Georgian Southern Gospel radio station. As he elaborates about his time as host of "The Party Line" program, the laughs come quickly and they don't let up.
After you listen to this project, more than likely one of these four guys will stand out to you as your favorite. All of The Beards are so good, each one of them so solid and spot-on, whichever one you decide is the best...you're absolutely right.