Thursday, July 21, 2011

Adam Newman's "Not for Horses"


For anyone striving to "make it" in the entertainment world, one of the trickiest things to do is hone your timing. Even though this blog deals with stand-up, in this instance I'm not referring to comedic timing. Instead, I'm talking about timing your move(s) in the industry. Like someone waiting to dive into a game of double dutch, you can't just jump in without planning your move, making sure that you're ready, and recognizing your open spot when you see it.

Despite how much you may want to get in there and take part in some super-complicated jump rope adventures, you can't just hop in because you want to. You've got to make sure the time is right. You need to know what you're doing and, as ready as you think you are, make sure the ropes are ready for you.

As someone who's spent the better part of the last ten years in some aspect of the music industry, I've run into a few people who immediately want to know how they can get a record deal and want to know what I can do to pull some strings for them (the fact they think I wield that kind of power always makes me shake my head and smile in a "Tsk, tsk, you poor deluded child" kind of way). They're always convinced if they could just get a label to sign them, everything from that point on would be cake. Never mind the fact that their songwriting stinks, they don't play well as a band, none of them can sing, and they don't have any original songs of their own. They just want a record deal and very rarely are they receptive to the idea that they may not be ready.

Likewise, I've listened to a few comedy albums this year from comedians who weren't ready. They had some good ideas and starting points, but still... Just because someone has a buddy with an MP3 recorder doesn't mean you should start in on artwork for your CD just yet. If you're not ready, you'll find yourself in the middle of the schoolyard with a tangle of jump rope around your feet.

But if you are ready...oh man, it's a beautiful thing.

Which brings me to the topic at hand: Adam Newman's album, Not for Horses.

To put it simply, Adam Newman was ready.

This is a guy who's put in the time and work and the end result is a debut project that most definitely does not sound like someone's debut project. Newman is an engaging, confident, smart storyteller who isn't intimidated by the crowd. In fact, he's so not intimidated by them, he starts off his set by giving them a hard time for enjoying the Billy Joel-parodying comic who opened for him. It's a brilliant move, as he has immediately brought the crowd in on the joke, incorporated everyone in the room into his act - even got them to laugh at themselves - and as a result they are with him the entire rest of the show.

Of course, the fact that Newman is genuinely funny doesn't hurt, either. His stories are ones that could have happened to any of us and nothing rings of being ridiculous, fabricated, or implausible. If there's anything here that didn't actually happen to him in real life, he's done a remarkable job of hiding the seams.

Newman finds the humor in the ordinary and mundane. True, he's not the first comedian to excel in the details of life's routine, but he does it very well and that's what counts. If you can mine big laughs out of working eight hours a day at an online medical journal updating email lists, then you're on to something.

"Horses" is a CD that demands immediate repeated listenings because you want to re-live the joy of Newman's tales and you want to do it as soon as possible. Whether it's his re-telling of #69 on VH1's list of Most Metal Moments, finding himself on the wrong end of a burrito gun, or getting fired on Casual Friday, don't be surprised if you find yourself telling your friends about him even before you've finished your first listen-to. I was barely halfway through when I was emailing and Google+-ing, hyping him to my friends. Newman's careful attention to the smallest details of an Ernest film and a room full of second-graders trying to do "The Worm" are just a couple of bits that spurred on this word-of-mouth chain reaction.

At first, it may be hard for you to believe the warning that appears on the side of economy-sized pickle buckets actually exists, but I can vouch for Newman. I've seen the same warning on 5-gallon buckets of paint and knowing it's not something that was just made up for the sake of a bit actually makes Newman's observations even funnier.

A strange man's late-night grocery store purchase. T-shirts at truck stops. Dikembe Mutombo. Dealing with a dog who's had an afternoon snack three out of four veterinarians would definitely not recommend. For most people, these would just be blips on the radar of life that come and go without a second thought. Fortunately for us, Newman isn't so willing to let them go without commenting.

And just like that, Newman has jumped into the game. He's obviously worked hard to make his craft the best it could be and waited for his perfect spot to jump into the ropes. He paused for just the right moment, saw his opening, and went for it. And now here he is, doing comedy double dutch like a mad man.

Needless to say, his timing couldn't have been better.

***

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dave Waite's "Kaboom"

A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I were having a conversation about some of our favorite fictional characters: Bill Lumberg from Office Space, Michael Scott from The Office, and G.O.B. from Arrested Development. We agreed that, as much as we enjoy them as characters and can't get enough of them, if we knew them in real life, more than likely we wouldn't be so eager to spend time with them. It's a curious topic. Why are we so entertained by something that, in reality, would drive us nuts?

In his new CD, Kaboom, Dave Waite walks a similar line. He has chosen as his onstage persona a character somewhere between Will Ferrell's twisted impression of Harry Caray and Mayor Quimby from The Simpsons. Just how those characters are based on actual people yet have morphed into hyper-realized versions of the original, Waite rolls the two entities -- combined with a warped version of his own identity -- into a third character and dares the audience to spend an evening with him. He doesn't tell jokes to us as much as he tells them at us. Often times he follows them up with hackneyed catchphrases such as "Is this thing on?" and "Am I still on stage?"

To be honest, I'm not quite sure I "got it." It was reminiscent of the time Norm MacDonald roasted Bob Saget. At first, it seemed as if he was bombing horribly. I squirmed in my chair as I seemingly watched a comic whose work I usually enjoy go down in flames. But, as Norm went on, I -- and the audience -- realized that was Norm's intention. The fact that his jokes were so corny was the joke. It was a stroke of genius.

I listened to this album three times, and I'm still not sure if Waite was trying to capture similar lightning in a bottle. If so, it went over my head and, often times, it goes over the head of the crowd on the recording. Waite uses weathered catchphrases and pickup lines like "Let's party...and by party, I mean in my pants!" with such manic glee, I couldn't help but wonder what he knows that I don't. At one point he addresses the crowd's lack of response with "In my mind, it seems like that should be hilarious to you." Another time, it's simply, "If you get that joke later, call my cell phone and laugh into it, how 'bout that?"

Maybe I'm reading too much into things, but it struck me that there were a few times when Waite made such remarks it seemed he was seriously regretted recording his CD on that particular night and with that particular crowd. There was an exasperation in his voice that seemed to ring deeper than just comic effect. Specifically, there is a moment on the 4th track when he's working really hard and the laughs just aren't coming. He utters a "...fuck..." that made my heart go out to him. It was as if in that very moment he was consumed with the realization this lackluster response to his comedy would be forever etched into recorded history.

Granted, I may be way off base, but in that instance that little word seemed to carry a mammoth weight.

I don't want it to sound like this CD is nothing but awkward pauses. There are some sincerely clever bits that I enjoyed, especially his breakdown of a fast food commercial featuring raccoons, his short stint answering phones for Delta airlines, and the connection between Sarah Jessica Parker and "big gay horse face." As much as I enjoyed these bits, I wanted Waite to go a bit deeper with them instead of moving on to the next thing so quickly.

Kaboom is a difficult project to categorize and, again, that may be what Waite was going for. Part throwback to vaudevillian yukster, part Kaufman-esque comedian in search for a catchphrase ("Kaboom!" "Come on!" "All right!"), I still don't know what to think.

I'm not too proud to admit when I don't get something; when it zips right over my big, dumb head. And today, I cry "uncle."

You got me, Dave Waite. Kaboom.
***

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Kurt Metzger's "Talks To Young People About Sex"


It's probably a fairly obvious statement to say a good comedian is also a good writer. Of course they are. But by that same token, I feel writing is the facet of stand-up comedy that is most overlooked. A comic is often good because it feels like nothing has been written; it comes off like a conversation with the audience (granted, a very one-sided conversation) that has a natural flow to it and we forget that each line - often times each word - has been meticulously chosen for a very specific reason. Comics write in very different ways. Some, like Orny Adams in the movie Comedian, write out each and every joke on a piece of paper and keep it filed away. Others, like David Cross and Marc Maron, do a lot of their writing on the stage, an approach that simultaneously impresses and scares the crap out of me.

In his new project, Talks To Young People About Sex, Kurt Metzger proves beyond a shadow of a doubt he's an excellent writer (and comedian) by displaying all of the reasons above - and more. What especially stands out is his knack for simile and metaphor. Why simply talk about the pointlessness of bringing back the cast of "Jersey Shore" for another season when you could go with  this: "There's something you don't recycle: guidos. You just throw them away. That's like saving your plastic cutlery."

Why go into a boring everyday description of the girl who took your virginity when you could instead explain why she was like your first bike. And...well, I won't ruin the punch of the oil rig story but suffice it to say he gets the job done.

One of my personal favorites is when Metzger compares a female friend who won't have sex with him to a male friend with a brand-new Playstation 3. "I wanna play with it really bad and he lets me. We're good friends! You see the simple beauty of that?!"

That's not to say it's all fancy-shmancy painting pictures with words. Metzger isn't afraid to set aside literary technique and just go straight at his target, similes be damned.
  • On Jamaicans: "They really got their heads up their own asses."
  • On Tiger Woods doing razor commercials: "I don't care what razor he uses to shave his baby-soft half-Asian face...I need a manly, sturdy razor like whatever Lady Gaga endorses."
  • On "Jersey Shore": Metzger shares his family recipe for growing guidos. 'Nuff said.

Metzger also shines when he focuses his gaze on the everyday ridiculousness that until now has gone unnoticed: The Cash4Gold infomercials (Why do the people look so shocked to discover gold is worth money?), the fact that hot, sweltering Mexico is known for hot food instead of popsicles, the fact that women carry purses (there's more to this one, trust me), the Forrest Gump-theme Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant ("where all the servers are retarded"),  and the hoopla around the 2012 Mayan-predicted apocalypse ("Why would they know the end of the world? They didn't have any pants").

Of  course, it's not all finger-pointing here. Metzger often finds himself trying to cope with awkward situations that are the result of his own doing, whether he obliviously rates his girlfriend an 8 out of 10 or faces the unfortunate side effects of natural herbal hair loss remedies: "It doesn't use chemicals to make you grow hair. It uses natural herbs to make you shit your pants while you're sleeping."

The similes, the metaphors, the mundane, and the outrageous. Metzger tackles it all with the same intense fervor that guarantees laughs. "Guarantee" is a strong word, I know. Along the way you may blush, you may wince, you may even groan.

But yeah...you'll definitely laugh.

***