Monday, January 24, 2011

Nick Griffin's "Bring Out the Monkey"

Nick Griffin is a comedian with a fun approach. Like many other comics out there, he's tired of life's ridiculous quirks. But Nick Griffin actually sounds worn out by the small details that drive him crazy. It's a fine line he's walking, but he pulls it off successfully. His comedy doesn't drag or lull. In fact, it's quite the opposite. His album Bring Out the Monkey clicks forward at a nice pace and the laughs come strong. Griffin's style is such that it sounds like he's been up all night at the world's weirdest party and we've caught up with him at Westway Diner at six the next morning. True, he's had a long night and he's a little tired, but he has some really cool stories he wants to share before he hops on the train and heads home.

Naturally, Griffin starts off where any memorable all-nighter begins: Alcohol. He puts it best with this line:
"When a woman says no, alcohol says, 'Ya Sure?'"

When alcohol comes into the picture you never know what's going to happen next and the same can be said of this album. Although Griffin covers a wide variety of topics, from why rich people really do have it better than poor people (There's only one guy who rides the bus with a blue tooth, and he doesn't mean the communication device) to the fact guys shouldn't cry ("What's wrong, does your vagina hurt?") to explaining why sleep is nothing more than temporary suicide to punching a cop, his transitions are to be commended. They're smooth and seamless and it's hard to pinpoint where one bit ends and the next begins.

Looking through the track listing might make someone think there's nothing new here that hasn't already been covered (smoking, technology, celebrities, divorce) but to judge this album by the track titles would be committing a major injustice. Just like you wouldn't write off a Coen brothers movie just because you've "seen a movie where there's a gun in it," you shouldn't judge Griffin's comedy until you've heard his fresh approach on these universal themes.

One of my favorite tracks is "Technology," where Griffin runs through all of the different things that are out there to distract us. He then very smartly declares, "Your kids don't have A.D.D. They're just trying to pay attention!"

This leads into another great bit about "Energy Drinks." The next few tracks that follow keep up the strong pace and Griffin doesn't let up on the LPM (Laughs Per Minute). Griffin does what every good comedian strives to do: Tells us the truth - a truth that we need to hear but otherwise may be a painful truth to process - and makes us laugh while he tells it to us.

Another highlight comes near the end of the project with the title track. I won't try to re-capture it here, as I freely admit I won't be able to do it justice. You just have to hear for yourself how he is able to compare naked women with a guy who owns a monkey. And why he is 100% dead-on.

Bring Out the Monkey is a must-have for any comedy fan. Or for anyone who doesn't consider themselves a Comedy Fan but wants a good laugh. Or for anyone in a bad mood who doesn't think they want a good laugh. Or for...look, just pick this one up. You'll thank me later. Or, more precisely, you'll thank me 19 tracks later.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jesse Joyce's "Pro Joyce"

On his new project Pro Joyce, comedian Jesse Joyce makes me feel like I'm in a cool Ocean's 11-type gang. That's probably not the way you'd expect a comedy album review to start off, but stay with me on this. He rattles off anecdotes like the brilliant mastermind in any This-Place-Is-Impossible-To-Rob-But-We're-Gonna-Do-It-Anyway heist movie who knows the plan like the back of his hand and is explaining to the rest of the guys how it's gonna go down ("Stay with me fellas, first we're gonna scale the side of the building. Steno Pad, you'll be across the street serving as look-out. Jimmy, you're going to be in the van monitoring the phone lines. Sneaks, you go across the street and order me a ham sandwich"). His rapid-fire delivery lends a sense of urgency to his material, raising the stakes on each track so you can't wait to find out what happens next.

Joyce doesn't write one-liners but rather constructs stories. He's a recovering alcoholic with a great story about the time he wasn't allowed to drive in the state of New Jersey for a year. And speaking of automobile-related tales, I wish I could be in the room with you to watch your reaction when you hear how he got stuck in traffic. Not just stuck in traffic, but stuck in the back of a traffic jam that he created in front of him. I can't really explain how he was able to pull that off without sounding like Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception but trust 's a story you want to hear.

One of my favorite bits is simply called "Jeffy" and tells how, when being introduced to new strangers, some people don't hear "Jesse." If nothing else, this track will have you declaring "Jazzy!!!" until your friends kindly ask you to stop.

Joyce's crowd work is really good and his reaction to "one old married dude"'s creepy laugh midway through the album makes for a nice detour.

Just like his late writing partner Greg Giraldo, Joyce has a way of taking subjects that would normally be conversation killers and extracts from them comedy gold. If someone put a gun to my head and demanded I talk about oh, babies dying, for instance, and not just talk about babies dying but make babies dying funny,  it's probably fair to say I would spend the rest of my days with a bullet lodged in my cranium. Joyce, on the other hand, would be totally safe. I'm still not sure how he did it, but he took that very topic and knocked it out of the park (the joke, not a baby).

There's a lot going on on this album and Joyce talks so fast and spans so many topics, there's no way I'll be able to cover everything. Like someone at an awards ceremony trying to thank everyone they ever met in under 30 seconds, I know no matter how many bits I mention, there are even more that I'll forget that deserve to be named. There's the one about witnessing a fight at a Halloween party where Joyce got to see a black Gilligan up against a box of tissues. And then there's the one about how Joyce and his wife met (which isn't just a funny story, but is also kinda sweet, too). And the one about his trip to the Philippines and how it spurred one of the most memorable Best-Man toasts that have yet to be recited. I don't want to forget the one with the old Transylvanian guy in a cell phone store looking to buy typewriter ribbon. And then....

Well, you get the point. There are a lot of great things going on here. There are comedy albums that you listen to once, and you're good to go. That's not the case with Jesse Joyce's newest endeavor. Listen to it again and again, and each time different things will stand out. It provides 51 minutes of non-stop laughter. As of this writing, I've listened to it five times from start to finish and I'm ready to go for a sixth. No doubt about it. I am definitely Pro Joyce.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Brian Scolaro's "Sneezes, Farts and Orgasms"

The new release from Brian Scolaro, Sneezes, Farts And Orgasms, is a sort-of re-release of his Disaster that came out in 2010. I enjoyed Disaster as it was, but Scolaro took it and spiced it up a bit. He's like a master chef who took a dish from TGI Friday's and punched it up to Gordon Ramsay-esque approval.

Some of the tracks on SF&O are lifted directly from Disaster. Some are alternate - and I think better - versions of the same bits, and some are brand-new bits, sketches, and interviews.

Scolaro's laid-back approach is less like listening to a yuk-yuk stand up comic and more like hanging out with a buddy on a Saturday afternoon - a buddy who has some pretty hilarious stories to share.

It's easy to relate to Scolaro's humor because he talks about real life. We've all heard noises coming from our body we're not used to, we struggle with self-image, and we've all had sneezing fits. I just never realized how funny some of those things can be until I heard them from Scolaro's point of view.

Whether he's plotting revenge on early-bird tree trimmers or doing his impression of a motorcycle idling outside your window, Scolaro has figured out the best laughs are sometimes found by using noises rather than words.

Thrown in here and there are a handful of sketches and voice mail "complaints" that break up the material and serve as palette-cleansing ginger. Almost like a radio DJ doing a segue from one song to the next, these bits help the album flow from one premise to another. They don't all reach the comedic hilarity of the final sketch on the CD "Flu Shots" - Scolaro smartly saved the best one for last - but they are a nice way to let Scolaro stretch a bit and take on other personas. Sometimes he plays the straight man and sometimes he takes the role of, oh, the Pope's Brother for instance.

One of the tracks I was most-excited to see included is an excerpt from Marc Maron's amazing WTF podcast. Scolaro's appearance on one of the live episodes shows that he is equally hilarious in an interview setting and I loved hearing Maron laughing to the point of breathlessness.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I heard this new project was basically a re-make of his last project, but I'm glad he did. This isn't a George Lucas "you've destroyed what didn't need fixed" kind of update. Scolaro knew what he was doing here, and just like a comic on the road who tests and tweaks his material as necessary, it's nice to see how his comedy is evolving.

If you missed Disaster when it came out, then never fear... Sneezes Farts and Orgasms is here.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Auggie Smith's "Smell the Thunder"

I like Auggie Smith. I like the fact that on his newest album Smell the Thunder he doesn't waste any time and gets right down to business. He takes to the stage and immediately digs in, setting his sites on The South and...well...he doesn't exactly blame them for the BP oil spill but he makes a heck of a case for not feeling bad for the people of Alabama who are seeking help. And that's just in the first three minutes. I love it.

Maybe I like Auggie Smith so much because I pretty much agree with him on every count and I take a little pleasure in hearing people who annoy me get blasted. That includes you, Bad Driver With A WWJD Bumper Sticker (apparently Jesus would lean on his horn and yell profanity out of his window). And you, People Who Like "Pimp My Ride" Without Thinking About What The Title Means. And you, People Who Steal Condoms (even though people who steal condoms are the people we want to have condoms). And you, Parents Who Drive A Mini-Van With TV Screens Installed Inside And Then Wonder Why Your Kid Has ADD.

Smith is so perplexed at some of the things going on around him, so fired up by the inanity that is modern existence, and so tired of the mixed messages that permeate pop culture, he works himself into a red-hot frenzy that sends him spiraling into a maddening rage as he screams at Zeus in the heavens above. And then...deep breath...he's back. And ready to do it all over again.

The pacing on Smell The Thunder is smart. If Smith was constantly working at a 10, his outbursts would get tiring. If he would idle at a 2, he would bore the crowd. But this isn't his first time behind the mic and he knows just when to stomp down on the throttle and just the precise moment to dial it back and let the audience catch its breath.

Some of the tracks on the album are pretty short, but still manage to pack in some laughs. One of my favorites is "Living Will," the story of Smith's "no-good older brother" who was in an accident and slipped into a coma. Smith allowed the doctors to pull the plug and soon after, his brother woke. What do you say to him after that? The story isn't even 90 seconds long, yet he manages to hit all the major points and still weave a good story. Likewise with "Not Black Enough," in which Auggie addresses some people's complaints about President Obama and with one hilarious example shows why they are wrong.

I like Auggie Smith. He's a fun comedian, very likable, and he knows how to get the crowd on his side. I like the fact that he'll say things most of us probably wouldn't (or couldn't) in a public forum and still have the audience cheering and laughing. To prove my point, all you need to do is Smell the Thunder.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Alex Koll's "Wizard Hello"

Once upon a time in the faraway land of San Francisco, there lived a very powerful wizard comedian named Alex Koll. After years and years of practicing his comedy in reverberating caves, Alex decided to take his comedy outside of the wizarding world and did so with an album called Wizard Hello. And it was good.

Really good.

Yes, it's true, Alex Koll opens up his debut album offering the audience a "wizard hello", speaking in an over-the-top Will Farrell-esque voice, explaining he is indeed a wizard and ... OK, you just have to trust me on this. I know it sounds a little off-the-wall and to be honest, it is. But it's funny. And it's also a great way to prepare the audience for the comedy that is about to unfold. Koll's blend of originality and skillful descriptions is a breath of fresh air.

Koll is a great storyteller and really knows how to paint the exact mental picture he's going for. When he describes a near-homeless man by saying it was as if "his clothes had exploded and had come back together" you know instantly what the man looked like. It's the absolute perfect choice of words I never would have thought to use in a million years, and that's precisely where Koll excels. When he goes on to say the man "fell off a college scholarship into 20 years of schizophrenia" I found myself simultaneously laughing and wondering how he came up with that.

After a while, I had to accept the simple fact that Koll was going to keep coming up with one well-crafted phrase after another and it was like experiencing a master magician. At some point you have to stop wondering "how does he do that" and just sit back and enjoy it for what it is. He's obviously put in a lot of time to choose his exact verbiage and it works. Whether he's giving his theory on how tequila is made (the answer: it's made of bruises in a Mexican factory) or performing his impression of Sasquatch (heavy on the sass), Wizard Hello is teeming with some of the most entertaining oddball creative electricity I've experienced.

With stories of his pinatador father (he played pinata for 20 years), how he got athlete's face (and even worse, how he got rid of it), and his re-writing of a classic Prince song, you never know what's coming around the next corner and when it hits you, the surprise is part of the fun. Koll has written one of the corniest, most groan-inducing coloring book-related puns ever to hit the face of comedy and I mean that in the absolute best way possible. He knows what kind of reaction it's going to get from the crowd, and his "I'm just a simple joke maker" reaction to their reaction is spot-on.

The album ends with a few throw-away musical studio tracks that reference bits he did earlier on in the album. They're worth giving a listen to, but Koll's stand-up is so strong they pale in comparison.

All in all, Wizard Hello is an impressive debut album. Not only am I anticipating the adventures Koll will share with us in the future, I'm looking forward to how he shares them with us.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Louis C.K.'s "Hilarious"

If you're going to call your album Hilarious, then let's face it: it better be.

I think it's safe to say Louis C.K. chose the perfect name for his latest project.

Most observational comedy dissects life's little annoyances we all encounter on a day-to-day basis: the line at the DMV is long/ my dog does the darndest thing/the people I work with are goofy/parents and old people are weird. It's C.K.'s knack for pointing out what the rest of us encounter every day but never realized needs to be addressed that sets him apart from other comedians.

I'm guilty of using the word "hilarious" all the time and a lot of people in my circle of friends are, too. But it wasn't until C.K. took me to task for using it to describe things that aren't actually hilarious that I realized, "Whoa, he's right. I suck." The fact that I was laughing so hard that my vision blurred helped dull the acceptance of my ridiculousness.

C.K. confronts issues head-on with a sincere passion that fuels his comedic energy. It's not just that he finds Girls Gone Wild girls frustrating, he finds them so frustrating you can actually feel his teeth grinding. Going through a divorce is never the most pleasurable experience but C.K's explanation of why it shouldn't merit an "Awwwwww" is priceless. Getting older isn't always the most ego-boosting process, but C.K. finds the funny in it and exposes the humor in it by exposing himself.

It's that frank honesty that brings the big laughs. He doesn't pretend to have it all together or to have all the answers. More often than not, it's because of  his lack of having answers that he has these stories to tell in the first place. If he knew ponies have a tendency to bite people, then his daughter probably wouldn't have been so traumatically scarred while vacationing in the Italian countryside. At the same time, Hilarious would also be missing one of its funniest tracks.

I love the fact that C.K. can find humor in the little things. He has an entire bit devoted totally to currency. That's right. Currency. C.K. makes something as seemingly mundane as European coins - and their forerunners - so funny, it will forever haunt every trip you take out of the States. If you find yourself embarrassingly snickering as you dig through your Euro coins on your next visit to an Irish pub or English cafe, you'll only have C.K. to blame. Or thank.

One of the best tracks, "Cell Phones and Flying", is one that most people will already be fairly familiar with. If you have e-mail, Facebook, or ever visit YouTube then more than likely you caught the "Everything's Amazing & Nobody's Happy" clip, C.K.'s appearance on Conan where he rails on society for not appreciating the modern miracles that have been taken for granted. Now you can enjoy that bit as C.K. meant for it to be heard, in all of its "he's so right, he nailed it!" glory.

There is nothing - nothing - not funny about this album. It's an amazing project and should only cement Louis C.K.'s standing as one of the funniest, most-consistent,  hardest-working comedians out there today. Of all the possible titles for this album, Hilarious was the right way to go.