Monday, January 30, 2012

Chris Killian's "The Not Black Album"

On paper, comedians like Daniel Tosh and Lisa Lampanelli say some pretty horrible things. They get away with it on stage, though, because we all know they're doing it to get a laugh. And, because they are genuinely funny as they go about it. The tricky part comes when you tweak the motive behind it. It's a very fine line to walk. Unfortunately, The Not Black Album  by Chris Killian is an example of how things can go wrong.

The feeling I took away from this album is that Killian isn't trying to say controversial things to get a laugh but instead to get a reaction. There may seem to be a minor difference between the two,  but in reality it's pretty huge. Instead of coming across as shock comedy, it just comes across as mean-spirited and it takes away from the fun.

There are a number of times when Killian stuns the audience into shocked silence; their refusal to laugh serving as a signal to Killian (which he either ignores or just doesn't pick up on it, I'm not sure which) that you can't just say mean things into a microphone and automatically get laughter. You sort of have to be funny, too.

To me, the writing here is where Killian falls short. His jokes aren't particularly insightful or cleverly constructed. They're just...well...easy. He explains how he makes fun of his Asian girlfriend for being Asian because ... "who wouldn't, right?" The crowd's response is so lukewarm, Killian is forced to address it. One example of his clever jibes he gives is when he's out with her in public and sees an elderly Asian woman. He'll point to her and ask his girlfriend, "Hey, is that your mom?"

Insert awkward pause here.

As Killian works through his set, it becomes obvious who his comedic influences are and each time he comes up short when he tries to emulate them. Don't have an ending for a bit? Then just say something in an Aziz Ansari-esque razz-a-ma-tazz delivery. It won't get you much of a laugh, but at least you can move on.

When Killian announced he was going to change things up by singing some original songs, I became hopeful. I thought perhaps he's one of those guys whose stand-up isn't that good but makes up for it with this other thing they do. Unfortunately that's not the case. Killian's singing and songwriting are just as good as his joke writing and that's not a compliment.

The song structure and phrasing are clunky and the melodies feel forced and unnatural; Killian's rhyme scheme is fairly predictable and, not to sound too much like Randy Jackson, his singing is pitchy. He sings above the note when he's projecting and when he lowers his volume, the notes are flat. I imagine he had people like Stephen Lynch and Bo Burnham in mind when he sat down and decided to be a bad boy singing comedian but again the motive behind it feels "off."

Besides being clever lyricists, both Lynch and Burnham are genuinely good composers and (especially Lynch) talented singers. Killian doesn't seem to be especially concerned with musical ability but if eight tracks on your album are going to be songs, that's probably not a good idea.

Once again, Killian isn't looking to entertain or make people laugh, he's out to shock and appall. It's not about the writing, and it really should be. Just because you say/sort-of sing harsh things while strumming a guitar, that doesn't automatically make you a comedian. That just makes you a bully with a guitar.

***

Friday, January 27, 2012

John Mulaney's "New In Town"

I like John Mulaney. He's funny without all of the shiny distractions and showy mis-directions that other comics sometimes employ. Mulaney doesn't have an arsenal of impressions, silly faces, or over-the-top shock material and the honest truth is, he doesn't need it. He's nothing less than hilarious all on his own. Where others might come off as loud, showy, and over-the-top, Mulaney slips in under the radar with New In Town , a project just as good -- or even better -- than his big-budget counterparts. Not that there's anything wrong with frenetic in-your-face-ness...that's just not Mulaney's style.

Mulaney is to comedy what Reservoir Dogs or Cemetery Junction is to movies. You don't need Michael Bay or transforming robots or hi-def explosions in 3-D accompanied by THX crystal-clear surround sound to entertain the masses when you've got story and characters that people connect with on a much deeper level. In the same way Tarantino or Gervais didn't need billions of dollars to tell their stories, Mulaney keeps us entertained by simply -- gasp! -- being funny.

Bear in mind, when I say "funny" I don't mean smirking, chuckle-to-yourself, "That's amusing" funny but full-on belly laughs and laugh-out-loud "Holy crap, that's hilarious" funny.

Mulaney is a storyteller who, much like comedians Mike Birbiglia and Patton Oswalt, shows us a window into his life that upon first glance may seem mundane and everyday but upon further inspection you find that it's in the ordinary-ness where the humor really jumps into being. As displayed in the very first track where Mulaney notes that quicksand hasn't played nearly as big a hazard in his life that childhood cartoons led him to believe it would, his humor comes in the absurd truthfulness of confession. And also in the fact that some small part of Mulaney seems genuinely disappointed that falling into quicksand is a peril he's never had to navigate.

It's in those truthful confessions where Mulaney finds some of his strongest material, often times mining his own childhood for stories that never paint him in the best light. He is more than willing to eat a little crow if there is genuine funny to be found. That's exactly what happens when he shares with us how he was bullied as a kid for being Asian-American (although he's not), how his grade-school self could best be described as "an old gay man," or when he reveals the anti-climactic contents of the "treasure" hidden under his bed.

Of course, just being an adult doesn't mean Mulaney no longer finds himself in one unsettling circumstance after another. While most of us would choose to never speak of such situations ever again, he chooses to share them with the world. A trip to the doctor with the sole intent of scoring a Xanax prescription takes a turn (actually it takes multiple turns) for the worse, and Mulaney's conceding thought is fitting: "This might as well happen."

When he' not revealing his most vulnerable, less-than-dignifying missteps through life, Mulaney excels at picking up on -- and exposing -- the little ripples in the matrix around us. Whether it's the fact that Ice-T may be the slowest learner in the history of the Special Victims Unit, the New York Post's predictable hierarchy rankings, or being faced with seeing Hitler on the street (and being forced to admit whether or not he would shoot him), Mulaney approaches it all with the same you-guys-can-see-this-is-crazy-too-right? point of view.

In past reviews I've been critical of comedians with material whose expiration date has more than passed, but when Mulaney tackles Home Alone 2's absurd premise of being "Lost in New York" (the streets are set up in a grid system!), he cuts me off at the pass by simply stating, "I know it's kind of stupid to complain about a movie that came out 17 years ago but I wasn't a comedian then." It's a brilliant tactic (as is his Def Jam take on it) and it had me in stitches.

New In Town  is one of those projects that doesn't lose any of its humor upon repeat listenings. I've heard it four times in the last few days and I could easily go for another few rounds. There aren't many albums (comedy or music) that I listen to in its entirety without skipping a track or two but this project is a rare exception. Mulaney presents one solid laugh-filled track after another and I can't recommend this album highly enough.

I didn't like this CD, i freakin' loved it. Here's the link to buy it and, just in case it still isn't clear that you really need to add this to your collection, here it is again.

And again.

***

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Rachel Feinstein's "Thug Tears"

If life is a highway then I think it's fair to say we all have different approaches to the journey. On her album Thug Tears , Rachel Feinstein proves she is nothing short of one heck of a driver. "Road rage" doesn't quite describe her because she's not angry, but she is what I would call "aggressive behind the wheel."

Some people take extra care to make sure the children riding along are safe and secure in the minivan, strapped snugly into their car seats. Feinstein, however, could give a crap about safety; we've got places to go and we're going there now.

On stage Feinstein doesn't waste any time with a "get to know me" phase. Some comedians will start off with a few underhand pitches to get the crowd warmed up and to get a feel for the room...what they can -- and can't -- get away with right off the bat and what will have to be saved for later when the audience is more comfortable.

That's not the way Feinstein drives.

She grabs the kids by the neck, throws them in the back seat and floors it. If they're not buckled in by the time we hit speed bumps doing 85 MPH, then it's their own fault.

For the most part, this works and her recklessness only adds to the adventure. Feinstein is quite adept at keeping her passengers entertained and the handful of times she hits a loose patch of gravel and fishtails a bit, she is able to retain control and keep zipping along.

Generally speaking, Feinstein's material is culled from any combination of four different sources: Men, funny voices, her mother, and the word tits. These four wells provide a vast supply of laughs and anecdotes and Feinstein mixes up  how many of these she'll incorporate into a joke (sometimes all four at once).

The risk Feinstein runs by returning to the same touchstones over and over again is the feeling of draining the wells dry and tempting the gods of "been there, done that." The first few times she employs her 1940s-inspired high-pitched Naive Girl voice, it's genuinely funny. Each time we go back to it, though, it loses a bit of its luster. It put me in mind of Jim Gaffigan's falsetto Voice Of The Audience Member gimmick. Personally, I'm not bothered by it, but for some people a little goes a long way and it's no different here. You'll either love it more and more each time we return to it (the catchphrase for this album is pretty much a squeaky-voiced "My tits are scared") or you'll be ready to move on.

The world is littered with annoyances that set Feinstein off, perhaps none moreso than douches (basically, men) and her mom. I found it entertainingly ironic that Feinstein explains her mom and grandmother have two of the most annoying voices on the planet, yet the more riled up Feinstein gets, the more her own voice takes on the very qualities with which she is annoyed.

Her family (I think) is the source of Feinstein's best material, especially when she's outing her mother's love of Navajo jewelry, explaining her father's John McCain shirt awarded to him by frugality, or exposing her own childhood game that very understandably had her parents concerned (My tits are scared. Again).

At the end of your Feinstein ride-along you may find your hair a bit mussed, your outlook on Vegas a bit askew, and your tits a bit scared. With Feinstein, life isn't just a highway. It's mostly off-roading.

***

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Top 10 Comedy Albums of 2011

I realize I'm a little late to the Best-of-'11 party, but at the end of this past year I fell a bit behind in my comedy listening and I wanted to catch up to make sure I didn't miss anything before I compiled my final list.

Of course, when I say "Top 10" it really just means "my personal favorites." This is by no means the be-all end-all definitive list, and I don't pretend that my picks are the only valid picks. There will be some albums on my list that don't appear on anyone else's and I'm sure there will be some who are on other lists that didn't make mine. I'm totally fine with that. I had a heck of a time narrowing down the field as there really were a ton of great albums that came out in 2011. To say it was a great year for comedy would be a severe understatement.

Of all the albums that came out last year, I narrowed them down to a list of 47, and then began re-listening. Some projects I haven't listened to since I wrote my review at the beginning of the year and I didn't want to pull an Academy Award stunt where only the ones that came out in December got chosen since they were the freshest in my mind. After that, I narrowed down the field to 18 and then started the process all over again. Sure, it may sound like a lot of work for a simple Top 10 list, but because so many of the projects that came out were so freakin' funny, I really wanted to make sure I gave them all their fair shot and did it right.

As you browse, you'll find that clicking on the comedian's name will take you to my full review of their project; clicking on the album title will take you to the Amazon page where you can pick up a copy. Enjoy!

Ed

***

COMEDY REVIEWS' TOP 10 COMEDY ALBUMS OF 2011



  • 10. COLLIN MOULTON - CHICKEN STUPIDI went into Chicken Stupid not knowing what to expect and by the end of the first track I was already thrilled to be along for the ride. This CD is exactly what I hope every album will be when I sit down to listen: Comedy done just right.

  • 9. JOHNNY BEEHNER - TINY WIENERBeehner’s delivery is original; his authoritative and confident voice booms like an ad executive from Larry Tate’s office and gives weight to his stories. Often times, though, what he’s talking about is the complete polar opposite of board room professionalism. Imagine Don Draper in an important pitch meeting recounting a Taco Bell drive-thru prank or trying to cope with a hard-to-reach pimple and you’ll have an idea of what’s going on here.

  • 8. DOUG BENSON - POTTY MOUTHThe bottom line is, this CD is funny. I've got nothing but good things to say about this one and I couldn't be happier about it. I guess that’s what happens when someone as talented and skilled as Benson takes to the stage.

  • 7. RORY SCOVEL - DILATIONThis project is so incredible, it’s actually really tricky to approach for a review. Each track covers so much ground, it’s hard to decide what to focus on and what to leave for you to discover on your own. Not that I’m complaining. If the fact that there’s too much good stuff to rave about in one sitting is the only downside to the CD, then that’s not actually a downside at all.

  • 6. NATASHA LEGGERO - COKE MONEYLeggero’s new album contains a lot of fun surprises, and if you only know her from her stint as a judge on Last Comic Standing then you’re in for a real treat. She is a highly-skilled comic whose material you’ll soon find yourself quoting to your friends. Leggero accomplished what she set out to do: she made me laugh.

  • 5. NORM MACDONALD - ME DOING STANDUPIt’s been far too long since we’ve seen Norm MacDonald and Standup is a great example of just why he’s been missed. This is MacDonald at his best, and he never misses a beat. Part incredulous bystander trying to process everything life throws his way and part out-of-touch old guy telling tales of how things used to be, MacDonald seamlessly transitions between the two characters.

  • 4. MIKE BIRBIGLIA - SLEEPWALK WITH ME LIVE This isn’t just a standard collection of jokes, moving from one topic to another. Step back and take another look. There’s real storytelling going on here. There is structure, a plotline, and form. There are no throwaway vignettes or rabbit trailS. Everything serves a common purpose: to defy his father’s advice of not telling anyone anything and reveal to the world his struggle with relationships, family ties, and a rare sleeping disorder that sent him crashing Hulk-style through a second-story hotel window.

  • 3. LAVELL CRAWFORD - CAN A BROTHER GET SOME LOVE?Let’s not beat around the bush here: This album had me laughing out loud. A lot. Non-stop. From start to finish. I laughed and laughed and laughed and then I laughed some more. This is one of those albums that actually leaves you feeling better for listening to it; one that guarantees whether you put it on and listen to it with a group of friends or by yourself, you’ll have a good time.

  • 2. PATTON OSWALT - FINEST HOURI love Oswalt’s comedy because his humor is one that lingers. I found myself laughing once when I would hear Oswalt mutter phrases like “I want all the ham” and then a second, third, fourth, and even fifth time as I replayed it over and over in my head. This is definitely an album that requires repeated listenings so you can go back and hear what you missed while you were laughing your head off. Despite the fact all of Oswalt’s previous CDs have been nothing short of amazing, the title of this newest outing could not be any more appropriate. Each Oswalt CD has been the epitome of what stand-up comedy can — and should – be but this time around is it.

  • 1. LOUIS C.K. - HILARIOUSIf you’re going to call your album Hilarious, then let’s face it: it better be. There is nothing – nothing - not funny about this album. It’s an amazing project and should only cement Louis C.K.’s standing as one of the funniest, most-consistent,  hardest-working comedians out there today. Of all the possible titles for this album, Hilarious was the right way to go.

***


"But Ed," you may be thinking to yourself, "Those are all great albums, but wouldn't ya know it, I've already purchased all of those and added them to my collection. Are there more albums that almost made the list that you recommend?"


And to that, I say, "Read on."


HONORABLE MENTION


  • WYATT CENAC - COMEDY PERSONI walked away from this album feeling very satisfied. Not because this is over an hour of smart and well thought-out laughs. Not because I finally learned how the Tea Party demographic came to be and not because I can’t get the whole Rosa-Parks-sitting-in-the-wrong-seat-on-an-airplane quandary out of my head. I felt satisfied simply because I went in looking forward to laugh and Cenac did not disappoint.

  • PETE HOLMES - IMPREGNATED WITH WONDERIf I had to sum up in one word the overall feel of this CD, it would be joy. You walk away feeling better for having listened. Holmes’s comedy comes from a place of absolute purity. There’s not a mean-spirited bone in his body and even when he works himself into an excited frenzy it’s done with a smile. Trust me on this one. You’re gonna have a blast.

  • DAVID HUNTSBERGER - HUMANITISHuntsberger proves you don’t need a gimmick to get huge laughs. He’s like a professor of comedy, standing in front of the class with one of those huge wooden pointer sticks, only instead of using it to point out parts of a map or areas of the human skeleton, Huntsberger simply points at life with a  ”Hey, look at that” delivery. And he kills.

  • MARC MARON - THIS HAS TO BE FUNNYOne of the things I love most about Maron’s comedy is his wonderfully unique use of the English language. He has concocted some amazing phrases that I have already stolen and added to my own Stephenie Meyer-level repertoire. My cat used to sit on my belly and “knead my stomach.” Not anymore. Now she’s “makin’ muffins.” A hipster in a fedora with a handlebar mustache used to be described simply as “a dork.” Now he “looks like he was interrupted during a shave in the mid-1850s and had to dress quickly as he ran through a time tunnel.” Man, I love that. 

  • THE SKLAR BROTHERS - HENDERSONS AND DAUGHTERSThe Sklars don’t only bring big funny when they’re in the skin of other characters, they also take on topics as themselves with the skill of a well-seasoned news team, albeit a team that prefers to report on Margaret Cho as Mr. Miyagi in a Karate Kid remake or what racist hats would look like. Simply put, this is an amazing project packed with tons of laughs. There are no “Let’s skip this one” tracks to be found and the humor doesn't diminish an iota with repeated listenings. 

  • AUGGIE SMITH - SMELL THE THUNDERI like Auggie Smith. I like the fact that he doesn’t waste any time and gets right down to business. He takes to the stage and immediately digs in, setting his sites on The South and…well…he doesn’t exactly blame them for the BP oil spill but he makes a heck of a case for not feeling bad for the people of Alabama who are seeking help. And that’s just in the first three minutes. I love it.

  • DANIEL TOSH - HAPPY THOUGHTSMy expectations going in to Happy Thoughts were pretty high, I’ll admit it. I’m a big fan of Tosh’s past two releases as well as his TV show, Tosh.0. I tried not to get myself too hyped up about this new project, as I felt I was setting myself up for disappointment. I knew there was no way it could be as funny as I wished it would be. I was wrong. As high as my expectations were, Tosh blew them away. 

  • REGGIE WATTS - LIVE AT THIRD MAN RECORDSFans of Reggie Watts, the one-man improvisational music-looping genius, know what to expect when they go see him perform live. To put it simply, they expect everything and Watts never disappoints. Folks unfamiliar with his scattered off-the-wall-ness are in for an experience they won’t soon forget and on this EP you get the sense that’s exactly the people Watts is aiming for. It’s easier to throw the audience for a loop – or in this case loops – when they don’t know they’re about to be thrown.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Carlos Mencia's "New Territory"

There are only a handful of things that really turn me off when it comes to stand-up comedy. They include pandering to the audience, talking down to the crowd, and building a premise around a lie (yet purporting it as truth) just so you can get the masses riled up and on board.

On his album New Territory, Carlos Mencia manages to cover all of these bases with a manic glee and more than likely he's completely unaware he's even doing it. His comedy is littered with falsehoods, contradictions, and wishy-washyness that, considering the confident bravado with which the material is delivered, is a bit ironic.

It's been a heck of a last few years for Mencia, mostly because he's found himself on the defensive. A lot. He's spent most of his time in interviews explaining his actions in a whirlwind of less-than-ethical allegations and situations (the most damning -- and compelling -- being his two-part appearance on Marc Maron's WTF podcast) and it's affected his comedy. Mencia now spends an unsettling amount of time in his set apologizing and/or explaining his own material. It really takes the bite out of what he says when his conscience feels such a constant need to defend himself even when no one is accusing him of anything.

Mencia is a chameleon and he changes his persona, who he is, his identity, depending on what he's talking about, who he wants to make fun of, and how seriously he wants to be taken. If he wants to make fun of Guatemalans and their poverty, then he brags about the fact that he's a Guatemalan, almost trying to make it sound like he just got here in August. Later on when he wants to use the word "beaner" he comes across as Mexican and still later, when asked where he's from, he claims California as his homeland.

When Mencia decides he wants to be taken seriously, he morphs once again. One minute he's calling people who don't agree with his point of view "bitches" and the next he's speaking in a hushed, extremely calm, passive-aggressive voice that is calm, deliberate, and mysteriously free of any Latino accent whatsoever. When he talks in this way, he's usually defending something he either just said or is about to say with well-rehearsed run-on paragraphs that begin with phrases like, "It's an affirmation that you know what I'm talking about..." He reminds me of the old Sinbad routine about Mike Tyson when he got his G.E.D. and tried to impress everyone by using big words to prove he was smart. When Mencia is really back on his heels and against the ropes, his voice gets quieter, his words become multi-syllabic, and his sentences grow and twist around like a tangled up ball of illogical string.

And then, it's back to "bitch!"

One thing I will say about Mencia: He knows how to manipulate a crowd. Remember the pandering I referred to earlier? The very first thing he says when he gets on the stage, the very first thing, is his bold statement that the audience is amazing and we are living in the best country in the worrrrrld!!! He is rewarded with thunderous cheers and a huge round of applause and just as quickly as he got them on his side, I wanted to puke. And as if that weren't bad (and obvious!) enough, I lost track of how many times he uses that exact same ploy throughout the album. Is the crowd getting restless? Starting to audibly disagree? Running out of material? That's OK, just proclaim that the United States is the greatest country in the worrrrrld!!! and you'll have them back on your side just like that.

I also mentioned in the beginning of this review that Mencia will take a straight-up lie or exaggeration and present it as a truth just so he'll have something "outlandish" to rail against. He's especially guilty of this when he's talking up America in comparison to other countries. He talks down to the crowd as if we're a bunch of backwards idiots who've never experienced other cultures but it's OK because he's going to enlighten us and explain how the world really works. I knew we were in trouble when he talked about Europe in all seriousness and explained that they're so behind-the-times, they don't have elevators or air conditioning.

Huh?

He then goes on to explain that America is so great, so free and liberated compared to other places, because "we're the only country that can do jokes about anybody else." This statement is met with an obligatory patriotic applause that embarrassed me. Mencia then goes on to prove his point by explaining you couldn't even do a joke about Mexico in Sweden, implying they'd be too stupid to get it.

There's so much wrong with his approach and point of view my head wanted to explode out of frustration. First of all, I would recommend actually listening to a comedian from another country. They love making jokes about other people and depending on who you listen to, you'll hear jokes about all different people: People from "the North," people from Manchester, the Irish, the Welsh, the French, Germans, Australians, and especially Americans are all targets for them. Yes, Carlos, you're right, a Swede might not get a joke about a Mexican. Maybe because, oh I don't know, they don't share a border with them. Likewise, I might find a lot of Norwegian jokes zipping over my head. That doesn't make me stupid, it just means I live thousands of miles away from Norway and I have no idea what's going on there.

Mencia slaps a caboose on this portion of the show by stating that other countries don't like Americans because they think we're prideful (and after listening to Mencia, can you blame them?). I don't think there's anything wrong with loving the country you live in. I love being an American, yes, but at the same time there are a lot of other really cool places around the world people call home. The dangerous part comes when  your pride turns to arrogance. And it gets really dangerous when it's an arrogance based on...well...brash stupidity.

At that point, yes, we have indeed reached new territory.

***

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tom Papa's "Live in New York City"

I don't know what it is about Tom Papa. I want to like him, I really do. He seems like a nice guy, he's got a bit of that Regular Joe approachableness that rubbed off on him from buddying around with Jerry Seinfeld, I even think he's good at constructing a joke.

And yet...

For some reason he's never clicked with me. I was hoping that his latest project Live In New York City would change my opinion of him but, alas, it did not.

As I listened and re-listened to this album I had a hard time putting my finger on one specific reason why I wasn't getting into it especially since it's an album I think most people will enjoy. And yes, I realize how weird that sounds. I couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was I disliked and I couldn't do the standard "those that can't, review" thing of stating what I would have done differently. As I said earlier, I think Papa is a fine writer and he does have a few bits I enjoyed, especially when he ponders the question "What if God didn't intend for us to eat animals?" and then re-enacts a conversation between The Almighty and a tattle-tale angel.

And yet, still...nada.

I looked over some of the notes I scrawled during my listens and they included some very brief phrases like "safe," "comedy without teeth," and "whiny." I came to the realization that it wasn't Papa's material per se that didn't jibe with me but his onstage persona.

On TV as host of "The Marriage Ref" he often reads as exhausted. By the time he reaches the end of a sentence he sounds like he just ran a marathon, his energy tapped. He extends his hands in front of him, palms up, and lets them fall limp as he half-heartedly introduces himself. "I'm Tom Papa." I actually refer to his as "Tom Fafa" because he often sounds too tired to go to all the work of actually pronouncing the letter "P."

It's the same thing on this album. He comes across as so utterly over everything, he's given up on trying (or thinking about trying) to do anything about it. Rather than get worked up about life's little annoyances he just sits back and approaches them with an "Oh well, what are ya gonna do, this obviously isn't gonna change on its own" tactic. It's just the way things are, so let's just accept it and wallow in self-pity. It's hard for me to empathize with someone who refuses to remove his hand from a red-hot stove burner just because that'd take too much effort and it's easier to complain about how much it hurts.

I also didn't find a lot of creative ground being broken here (even the album title sounds half-assed). Topics like trying to remember internet passwords and the whole "Didja ever notice guys and girls are different?" routine make it hard to believe this is a 2012 release and not a night at the lounge of a Toledo Holiday Inn from 1998.

But again, I freely admit, it's probably just me. Most people probably won't pick up on (or mind) the fact that Papa compares nocturnal emissions to a raccoon and then, later in the album, says of something else completely different and unrelated: It's like a raccoon. Come on, dude, at least try to come up with one more metaphor for something active at night. Owls, possums, hell, even ninjas, I don't care, but at least make it look like you're making an effort.

As I was giving this album a final listen, my wife was within earshot. When Papa told his final joke (Women can't drive and aren't good at directions...chalk up another one for creativity!) I declared aloud, "I'm bored."

"You didn't like it? I thought he was pretty good," she offered.

"I don't know," I said, gathering my thoughts for this write-up.

And then, as if she could hear my thoughts, she simply said, "You just probably didn't like his delivery."

And you know what? She's right.

But don't take my word for it. Although this one wasn't up my alley, I fully recognize that I am probably in the minority  and most people will probably enjoy it. I'm totally fine with that. I just couldn't get past Papa's delivery.

My wife was right. She's pretty clever like that. You know...like a raccoon.

***

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pete Holmes's "Impregnated with Wonder"

I couldn't be happier to report that my first review of 2012 is Pete Holmes's Impregnated With Wonder. Through no one's fault but my own I'm a couple of months late on this review (I could explain why my posts have dropped off over the last couple of weeks but you're not here to listen to me ramble on about myself...although that hasn't stopped me before). If you're looking to start your new year off with nothing less than some straight-up genuine laughter, then this album is a great place to start.

If I had to sum up in one word the overall feel of this CD, it would be joy. It's infused in every aspect. I feel it, the crowd feels it, and Holmes feels it too. When there's so much joy put into a work, it's apparent. You walk away feeling better for having listened. Holmes's comedy comes from a place of absolute purity. There's not a mean-spirited bone in his body and even when he works himself into an excited frenzy it's done with a smile. Trust me on this one. You're gonna have a blast.

Most of the laughs found here come from an observational comic's point of view but instead of finding something interesting and merely pointing out what's interesting about it, Holmes takes a much more tactile approach. He points it out, picks it up, feels it, smells it, squeezes it, and tosses it in the air. It's observational comedy on a sugar rush.

Ninjas are cool until you see them through the eyes of Holmes. Then, they're just Asian burglars. Eating at Subway has become the hip, healthy alternative to eating fast food but after Holmes points out that you can see your reflection in the wet ham, you may walk away with a more realistic outlook of this sandwich chain. As Holmes puts it, "You shouldn't be able to watch someone make something so disgusting."

Holmes has a real knack for finding the laughter in truth. Early on in the project he gets a big response from the crowd and follows it up with a simple, "Yeah...funny joke. Valid point." Never before has someone's approach to comedy been encapsulated so precisely and yet so succinctly. It could never be said that he doesn't have his finger on the pulse of his own style.

Funny joke. Valid point.

This approach is used to beautiful perfection throughout Holmes's set. At one moment he's pulling back the curtain on the romanticizing of being a kid. The next, he's explaining why he thinks Facebook was made by the government in an attempt to make privacy uncool (here are photos of all of my friends...and hey, let me tag those for ya).

Holmes maintains his high level of funny whether he's being goofy (his impression of a guy asking his friend Pierce to get beers for a party -- and the audience member who is included in the fun -- will have you rolling), being random (have you taken a moment today to be glad you're not a magician?), or being oddly philosophical (you can achieve a special level of happiness by simply lowering what you will pat yourself on the back for).

The bit that makes me want to buy this album and pass it out to every chucklehead running around who thinks he's The Next Great Undiscovered Comedian is when Holmes lists the "jokes" we've all heard a million times that desperately need to be retired. We've all been guilty of committing at least one of the crimes against humor he mentions, but now that he has taken the time to point them out, hopefully he's done his part to rid the world forever of these comedic atrocities.

And when that joyous day arrives, I think it's safe to say we'll all be impregnated with wonder.

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