"Mental Fornication" by Steve Sabo is , for better or worse, exactly what people have come to expect from a stand up comic. With bits on flight attendants, relationships, and how hard it is to figure out those doggone paper towel dispensers in public restrooms, Sabo touches on the standard topics that are responsible for the stereotypes of stand up comics we see in the movies and on TV.
It's not that Sabo isn't good at what he does. He is confidant on stage and his delivery and timing are just what they should be. It's just that there's not a lot of groundbreaking comedy being presented. The album takes off, he brings the energy up to about a 6, and then it just stays at that level throughout the duration. Without a lot of ups and downs, the ride is less like an exciting roller coaster and more like a leisurely commute on Amtrak.
Very rarely are comedy albums a pure raw recording of a live performance. There are tweaks and edits, often times combining two or three different performances, mixing and matching to offer up the parts that best represent a live experience. If done well the listener has no idea. When the editing isn't so seamless, as on this project, the results can be a little jarring to the ear. We seem to switch form one mediocre-quality recording to another. At times it even sounds like we aren't listening to a direct feed from the microphones (the one held by the comedian and the ones set up throughout the crowd to pick up laughter) but instead are hearing a recording from an MP3 recorder placed on the side of the stage.
Sabo's crowd work, when he does it, is pretty good. When he addresses an over-enthusiastic birthday girl in the audience, it made me smile. Later in the album, though, the crowd becomes quite restless and begins to talk among themselves.The chatter becomes so loud, I thought for sure Sabo was going to say something. I don't know if he didn't hear them or if he was too "in the moment" to notice or if he just hoped ignoring them would make them go away, but it was quite distracting, especially since their volume level nearly matched his.
At one point, Sabo talks about the time he took his 16-year-old sister to a comedy show and was shocked and embarrassed that the comic on stage talked about things that may not be appropriate for your 16-year-old sister to hear. It turns out to be a pretty funny bit but I had a hard time getting past the fact that, as a comedian himself, he seemed surprised to hear foul material at a comedy show. Especially since his own album comes with a parental advisory sticker. It was a little like Jeff Gordon taking a friend to a NASCAR event and then saying, "Oh...I didn't know there were gonna be cars here."
At this point, it might seem like I loathed this project, but that's not true. Despite the fact Sabo is good on stage, I just wasn't moved to laughter. I tend to think he would be fun to see live and in person at a club on a random Thursday night but as far as albums go, especially with such recent releases from comedians like Andy Hendrickson, Doug Stanhope, and Dylan Brody to contend with, it's hard for me to get completely behind this one.