“Better Stronger Faster” is the first installment of Tom Shillue’s new “12 in 12” series. Basically, Shillue will be releasing a new album, each with a different theme, once a month for the next 12 months. Zoinks. And you thought Louis C.K. cranked them out fast.
Upon hearing the announcement of such a bold undertaking one’s initial response may be that of skeptical disbelief. Sure, any comic can record a bunch of sets and put them out there for all to hear. The real question is: Will they be any good?
Judging by the first two chapters of this saga, not to mention the fact that Shillue has been at this for a while, I think it’s safe to say we’re all in for a good time. This project is divided into 3 tracks, each one a mini-set ranging from 6 to 17 minutes in length, and all of them dealing with growing up in the 70s. As someone who also grew up with dorky tendencies like The Six Million Dollar Man, school plays, and adventures in Lord of the Rings, I could relate to everything Shillue covered.
In fact, this album brought to mind a lot of memories I had completely forgotten about. I too found myself engrossed in Tolkien’s imaginary world as a boy, studying maps and memorizing poems about elves and characters with names like Tom Bombadil. I never got into the world of Dungeons & Dragons like Shillue did, but the goofy elven-themed adventures I had in the forest with my pal John, creating secret clubs and fighting for the honor of girls who would be horrified to know we were fighting for their honor, would surely put us into the annals of nerdy make-believe.
Shillue masterfully captures the stories of his younger days and infuses them with a sincere sense of nostalgia. Which boy who grew up in that era didn’t find themselves stuck as Oscar Goldman while their friend always got to be Steve Austin? I think we can all understand that weird feeling of transitional loss, saying goodbye to our youth as hobbits and Dungeon Masters are pushed aside to make room for girls, girls, and the chance of being with a girl. The picture Shillue paints of a chain link-patterned shadow, although evoking some nice laughs, is also quite beautiful in the way he captures a touchstone in his formative years.
The album transitions from the wonder of bionics into Shillue’s own less-than-ideal encounter with the medical world. His track record with doctors begs to be repeated on stage for laughs. He once found himself with a date with his doctor that was scheduled to include an evening of pasta and old movie posters and the odd drinking habits of his ear/nose/throat doctor was only slightly more disturbing than the way he coveted a good parking spot.
Approachable and easily relatable, Shillue is someone you enjoy spending time with. Considering we’re going to be hearing from him quite a bit in the next 12 months, that’s a good thing. He’s an engaging storyteller who knows how to keep us invested. He’s not obnoxious or over-the-top but a regular guy who has some really funny tales to share. There’s a great callback at the end of the album that, now that I think about it, I probably should have seen coming but I didn’t; I was too busy enjoying being in the moment.