Friday, September 7, 2012

Jim Florentine's "Awful Jokes From My First Comedy Notebook"

The new album from Jim Florentine, “Awful Jokes From My First Comedy Notebook,” is quite honestly the worst collection of what are supposed to be jokes and one-liners I may have ever heard. The gags are hacky and contrived and sound like something you would expect to find in a child’s joke book instead of in a comedy club from a seasoned and talented comedian.

And that’s exactly the point.

As explained in the opening track, the jokes on the album are actual gags from a notebook Florentine had written in the early 90’s. Instead of burning it or burying it in the backyard like most comics would to guarantee it never sees the light of day, Florentine has decided to share his skeleton in the closet with the rest of the world. 

The album was recorded in a studio and the awkward silence after each punchline is  pretty much the same reaction Florentine would have gotten if he were in front of a live audience. As evidenced from the material, a lot of his early ideas were self-deprecating one-liners and putdowns as if he was an 90-year-old comedian working in the Catskills (“My girlfriend told me to take a hike. I told her, ‘I can’t. I don’t have a backpack.’”). Definitely not the same cutting edge comedian you have come to know and love through his work on “Crank Yankers,” his stand-up albums, or his genius crank calls to telemarketers, and Florentine knows it. “I don’t know the person who wrote these jokes,” he explains to the listener, “and if I did, I’d punch him in the face.”

It sounds like an odd concept for a 45-minute comedy album, I know, but believe it or not, it works. The jokes are horrible. I mean, really really bad. Truly and sincerely awful. And I found myself laughing audibly throughout the duration. It’s so bad it’s good, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. Time flies when you’re having fun and this CD is proof positive as it seems to be over in the blink of an eye.

What makes it so good, of course, is Florentine. He fully recognizes and admits how bad this old material is, and the tone in his voice as he reads through the notebook drips with self-loathing and disgust. There was obviously a point in time when he thought these were funny lines, and now nearly 20 years later his commentary that follows some of the jokes (“Who would laugh at that,” “I wanna pull my eyes out right now,” “Why would I even put that down on a piece of paper”) is truly hilarious. He hates himself for what he once tried to pass off as comedy and more than once finishes a joke and then speaks directly to Florentine From The Past (or Jammin’ Jim, as was the name he was going by at the time). At one point he stops and asks someone off the microphone (I assume it’s the recording engineer), “Is that bad?” to which he gets in reply from the booth, “That was horrible.”

One of the bits is about a date with a girl who was concerned because she didn’t know where he’d been. “I’ve been to Florida, California, and Cancun twice.” You can feel Florentine cringe. He then remarks, “I know where I wasn’t: At a class on how to write jokes.” More often than not, though, he is left speechless at the epic fail of his punchlines and the only response he can muster is simply, “Ecccch.”

Some of the tracks are actually quite adorable when you realize you’re hearing the work of a young aspiring comic with stars in his eyes. Much like Orny Adams in the Jerry Seinfeld Comedian documentary who organized his material in manila folders sorted by topic, Florentine had a section of material written specifically in response to hecklers...and to specific hecklers (he’s got not-so-witty retorts lying in wait for drunk guys, doctors, mechanics, and...DJs)

The album ends with Florentine reading a script for a video he was going to shoot and send off to MTV that, at the time, he thought would amaze and astound the network execs. With a hot girl on each arm and an arsenal of ‘I’m young and cool’ material, it’s quite humorous to hear what a younger Florentine thought would cause a station rep to drop everything and get him on the phone.

When it’s all said and done, this album is pretty much review-proof since Present Day Florentine provides the perfect critique of his 90s alter ego (“Wow, that was a long way to nothin’”). All I can really tell you is I laughed. I laughed a lot. I laughed more at these bad jokes than I did at some current albums that are trying to be funny. Many comedians display a lot of bravery for going up on stage by themselves and opening up to a roomful of strangers, revealing who they are inside. That’s nothing compared to the bravery Florentine shows here; To willingly present us with early work that he knows is bad. That he still manages to make it enjoyable and laugh-inducing says a lot. 

This is a great CD to listen to with friends. You’ll groan, you’ll laugh at Florentine’s comments, and you’ll probably add some of your own MST3K-style. It’s a genius concept for an album and Florentine pulls it off with flying colors. Who would have guessed that jokes as awful as these could make for a project as incredible as this?

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