Friday, July 6, 2012

Erin Judge's "So Many Choices"

As I listened to So Many Choices, the new album from the simultaneously sassy and sardonic comedian Erin Judge, one of the first things that stood out to me was the fact that she really had her work cut out for her. Recorded in a theater (no alcohol, sit up straight) as opposed to a comedy club (where alcohol and the general atmosphere can help the crowd relax and enjoy the show), Judge finds herself against an audience of folks who seem to have collectively made up their minds to not give up any easy laughs. They may have been nodding in agreement or smiling, but that doesn't translate well to the audio experience. They just sound dead.

As a result, the album comes off a little stilted and uneven. Although Judge sounds comfortable on stage, she doesn't sound relaxed and with this audience, she really can't. At the slightest lull or joke that falls flat (on the show Basketball Wives: "Not about people married to basketballs") they clam up and, like John Bunyan's Pilgrim who had to make his journey burdened by the massive pack on his back, Judge does her best to drag the audience along (although I have to admit I did enjoy it when Judge would comment on the lackluster response she was getting. You can almost feel her teeth gritting as she pseudo-gushes, "This is delightful" and later, "Oh my God you guys are soooo fun"). They do laugh but it's hardly a roar of a reaction and there are definitely times where they don't give up the laughter Judge deserves.

That being said, on some occasions the silences that fill the room are a warranted response. Judge's delivery is reminiscent of Wendy Liebman but not always as consistently effective. Judge has the timing down (Finish sentence. Wait a beat. Add two or three words that add a twist) but the material doesn't always hold up. When she talks about a nerdy IT guy, she describes being with him as "magic.... The Gathering." [Side note: When judge said he is "fluent in the language of love. He also speaks Klingon and JavaScript," was I the only Weird Al geek who immediately thought of the lyric from his 2009 White & Nerdy song that goes "I'm fluent in JavaScript as well as Klingon?" Probably.]

For every moment that made me smile (not excited to wear a Maid of Honor's dress because Judge would never choose to be that flammable and trying to book herself in a Texas comedy club) there was a misfire or, to be honest, something that just flat-out confused me (When speaking of her bisexuality she says, "I'm sure most of you are picturing me playing Dungeons & Dragons at the Renaissance Fair." Um... nope). When you're playing for a finicky crowd, being confusing can really work against you.

I felt one of Judge's biggest missteps was her approach to her sexual identity. I'm not passing judgment or saying she shouldn't have talked about it but I thought that, had she rearranged the order of some of her stories, they would have hit harder. 

Case in point: Judge talks about organizing a bachelorette party in Mexico and says she is "definitely bringing condoms!" This could have gotten a nice laugh, especially the way Judge delivers it, but it didn't. Her follow-up (needing the condoms because they won't be able to finish all of the cocaine while they're there) gets a respectable response but since she had started off the evening by talking about going to her ex-girlfriend's gay wedding (but not yet mentioning her own bisexuality), there is an awkward silence between the two punches as we all wonder why she would need to definitely bring condoms. Had this joke been placed earlier in her set, I propose she would have gotten two laughs instead of one, but she cut herself off at the pass. 

As I mentioned, Judge begins the CD by talking about her ex-girlfriend and then continues on through her set discussing her experience on a gay cruise, the gay bullying she went through in high school, and speculating on how gay she comes across. Although she talks about being bisexual, I think it still took longer than she anticipated for the crowd to adjust when, near the last quarter of the album, she talks about her strapping, valiant husband and why she was a bad bride. The crowd stays with her, but it's not always the smoothest of transitions when Judge shifts gears.

So, who's to blame for the audience's sometimes-unenthusiastic reaction? Does it fall on them, the surroundings, or Judge? In this case, it might be all of the above. Let it be noted, though, that it's not for Judge's lack of trying. She hangs in there and is determined to get a laugh. I just think she would do better in a club than in a theater and a little tweaking of her material could make for a smoother ride.  Sometimes that shift from second gear into third can be tricky.

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