If comedy is an art form (and I believe it is) and if comedians are artists (and I believe they are) then it's no small coincidence that Jesse Popp shares initials with the master of the splatter technique, Jackson Pollock. On his album You Stink, Popp's comedy, frenetic in theme but not delivery, is all over the place and, with a slew of off-the-wall observations on his palette with which to paint, you never quite know what to expect (that's not a bad thing). His tone is low-keyed and sly, sort of a Todd Barry/Jack Nicholson hybrid. There's a smirk in his voice as if he's well aware that the place he's going next is somewhere we least expect.
There are a few moments where I felt his absurdity missed the mark, such as his bit on breaking apart Derek Jeter's apartment to sell it in pieces and his material on Thomas Edison's last breath that seemed to play a bit flat, but for the most part I enjoyed the ride. In fact, many times as he related a story, my favorite moments were those occasions when he strayed from the main narrative and treated us to a random aside. For instance, as he told us about eating Christmas ornament-making dough in pre-school despite his teacher's warning, I lost it as he rushed out of the bathroom after throwing up and muttered weakly, "I ate the dough."
Similarly, despite the fact his tale of being awkwardly solicited in Central Park is a bit I genuinely enjoyed, my favorite detail was when he explained why he likes going to the park: "One time I saw a squirrel eat a whole piece of pizza." It's moments like those, along with "shoe bags" and the "Cancun Fixy-People Place," that kept me on my toes, chuckling (not literally, although that is a fun mental picture).
Even when Popp approaches what could be seen as standard comedy material (working in an office, applying for a gym membership), his style is unique and there's no feeling of Been There, Done That. Not only does he comment on the quirks of everyday life, he seems genuinely intrigued by them. He is captivated by people who brag about what they would do in hypothetical situations that will never come to fruition and he claims that even if the conspiracy theorists who purport Elvis faked his death were correct, The King is probably gone by now. "That guy died in the woods in 1985. That's a best-case scenario."
Popp's material consists largely of concepts that make you wonder "How did he come up with that?" His impression of Every Person Who Buys A Used Bookstore is spot on and his other character, A Person Who Doesn't Understand The Rules To Scrabble, brings down the house. I love it when he compares die-hard Star Wars fans to people who stuff their dead pets and when he postulates that the Bourne Identity books are probably nothing like the movies, he does so with side-splitting results: "'Where's Bourne? Get me Bourne,' said everyone in the room that was typing."
One of my favorite moments comes relatively early in the project, when his boss at work promises an Ice Cream Day if the staff increases production by 15%. Popp is unimpressed. "Ice Cream Day. Not Money Day...I'm a grown man. I can buy ice cream until I shit my pants and I wouldn't even get in trouble."
Another highlight occurs later in the album when he wonders what happened to a childhood friend whose parents never let him watch the end of La Bamba. Popp pictures him in a record store, wondering why there are no new Ritchie Valens releases and angrily muttering, "That flash-in-the-pan piece of shit."
Although at times a bit uneven, this CD clicks along at a nice pace and even if there's something that doesn't strike your funny bone in the right spot it's safe to say the next anecdote will. And hey, look out for those occasional out-of-nowhere nuggets of skewed randomness. They'll get you every time, guaranteed.*
*His word is bond.