Ryan Stout is one of those comedians that dabbles in a variety of approaches to the art (one-liners, shock comedy, amped-up bravado) and his new album Touché is proof positive that he excels in each one. His on-stage persona is one of confident elevation. He has an air about him that is reminiscent of Michael Ian Black wherein both comics seem to be coming from a station of higher status than the audience, gracing us with their presence. This works for both comics but in my opinion Stout does it better. Where Black seems to be rooted in arrogance first with humor added as a secondary ingredient, Stout comes at us working with jokes as his primary foundation.
Stout refers to the audience as "Crowd." Not the crowd, but simply Crowd, and it's a great ploy. Incorporating them into his act, even going so far as to making them a character in the proceedings, draws everyone in almost to the point where we feel like a part of the action, at times even working as Stout's partner. Not only does it give him someone to work with -- and off of -- but it also conveniently gives him someone to blame when things go awry. It's not just effective...it's also really, really funny.
Stout loves to jolt the audience into laughter by saying things that are clearly politically incorrect but he knows he can come out looking like the good guy if he chastises us for laughing at the horrible things he says. Often times he'll scold us with a "Crowd! Crowd!" as if he's trying to settle an unruly mob of children and you can almost see him shaking his head like a disappointed parent. His reprimanding "Crowd!" brings more laughter each time.
His one-liners are clever and Stout has a great ability to deliver them resulting in major hang-time laughter. He'll say the joke...wait for it...and then you feel the audience (Crowd) finally figure it out. There's even a bit of residual hang-time laughter as a smaller wave follows closely behind the original as Crowd seems to be chuckling at themselves because of how long it took them to get to the funny. The hang-time laughter really is a cool thing to witness and Stout is able to replicate the phenomenon time and time again. Seeing his ability to pull off the stunt repeatedly and the way he makes it look so effortless is a real testament to his skill.
It's not just his one-liners that left me impressed -- and laughing. Stout's longer bits are smart, original, and very cleverly-constructed. If there's any doubt about his talent as a laughter-craftsman, he will be the first in line to verify the claim. After a certain bit has (seemingly) come to an end, Stout brags, "That's probably the cleanest anal sex joke you'll hear in your lives." He continues, "That was a joke about language and urban planning." And you know what? He's absolutely correct on both counts. And the fact that he draws attention to it actually makes it funnier than it already was (and trust me, it was already pretty funny).
Not only is he a talented comedian, Stout is also an upstanding citizen, as is displayed when he champions often-overlooked Special Olympics athletes, promotes an original diet and exercise regimen, and displays how attuned he is to the race issue (he reveals another word he refuses to say). Sure, each of the aforementioned topics might take a rabbit punch to the back of the head along the way, but rest assured Stout will be there with a "Crowd, please! Crooooowd!" to get us back in line.
This project is one that is definitely worth checking out, even if it means we are to blame for finding things funny that we probably shouldn't. That in itself is another credit to his genius. He says things that are just plain wrong and we're the ones at fault for laughing. Well played, Stout.