Friday, April 27, 2012

Mike Brody's "That's Not What I Meant"


Mike Brody is a likable guy with a lot of energy and on his new album, That's Not What I Meant, his love for comedy and being on the stage is evident. He covers a lot of basic topics we are all familiar with and can relate to and he's quick on his feet when the unexpected happens. 

And yet...despite all that...I didn't find myself laughing as much as I'd hoped to.

That's not to say that Brody doesn't have some good bits. I enjoyed his comparison of his lovemaking style to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and I also liked his theory on separate AM/PM kindergarten classes and how it affects those in attendance. Other than that, though, it was tough for me to find moments that really clicked and the laugh-out-loud count was slim.

Part of the reason may be the fact that Brody moves very quickly from one topic to the next and often times it feels like he's barely scratched the surface before he's off to the next story. Many times it was as if he was on to something, almost like the laugh was in the neighborhood, right around the corner, but as soon as we got where you could almost feel the big laugh coming, we pulled the car over to get some gas. 

To be completely honest, though, I think it's my own fault. 

Ever have one of those moments where your mind picks up on something - the smallest, littlest detail - and suddenly that's the only thing you can see? I remember the first time someone told me about the little "cigarette burns" in the upper right-hand corner of films that signaled the projectionist that the end of the reel was coming up and it was almost time to switch to the other projector. I was working at a small movie theater in Indiana and once I learned about these little dots that show up every 20 minutes, I couldn't un-see them for the rest of my life (although now that more and more theaters are going digital, they are quickly becoming a thing of the past). Small and inconsequential and until then I'd never noticed them...until I was made aware of them. After that, it was pretty much all I saw. (Edward Norton explains them much better in the film Fight Club. The only clip of it I could find on YouTube is this one, a little promo someone made for their movie reviewing blog.(Not me.))

In the same manner, Brody has a little quirk that I picked up on halfway through my second listening of the album and after I noticed it, it was all I could hear. To put it simply: he laughs at his own jokes. It's not a constant habit, but the further on we get into the album and the more energy he picks up, the more frequently it happens until, by the last track, it's in nearly every punchline. It's not a straight-forward "ha ha ha ha" but more of a laugh-while-talking thing. The last word of each punchline isn't spoken as much as it is exhaled, and then it is followed by a loud gasp as he inhales to recover. And, as I mentioned earlier, once I heard it, it was all I could hear. Or, to put it in Brody-esque deliver, it was all I could heaaar. Pause. Gaaasp.

Yes, I know, it's nit-picky, but it did affect the way I heard the project. What made it stand out to me all the more was when it would happen after punchlines that didn't strike me as incredibly funny. Combine that with one of my biggest pet peeves (comedians laughing at their own jokes) and it soured my experience. 

But that's just me. I am completely willing to admit you may have an entirely different reaction to Brody's comedy. The audience in the club seems to be having a genuinely enjoyable time and he garners some big laughs. I never claim that my opinion is the right one and I don't discount those whose thoughts may be different. And hey, if I've ever come across as pompous or superior, well...that's not what I meant, either.



***



Friday, April 20, 2012

Donald Glover's "Weirdo"


Well, check off "Stand Up Comedy" on your list of things Donald Glover is awesome at. Not only has he proven himself as a force to be reckoned with in the rap world under the pseudonym Childish Gambino and not only is he a cast member of what I consider to be the funniest, best-written sitcom currently on the air (despite what awards ceremonies, "Glee" fans, or his "Community" co-star Chevy Chase may say) but with the release of his brilliant project "Weirdo" he can add "comedian" to his multi-hyphenate with no reservation.

To put it much more succinctly, this CD cracked. Me. Up.

The album begins with Glover giving us a warning of sorts: If you only know him as the first half of the "Troy and Abed" dynamic duo, you may be in for a shock, as what's about to unfold is going to get gross. It's a bit of a mislead, though, because it made me wonder if we were in for some sort of Jim Norton-esque festival of filth. In all honestly the warning is just for show and everything is totally fine. Yes, the last track is about a childhood adventure at Home Depot that took place in the toilet section and yes, he has a track simply called "Poop" but it's all done with an almost-innocent approach and he isn't graphic or actually...gross.

Although the title of this project seems to infer that Glover is the "weirdo" I would beg to differ. If nothing else, in each of his bits he's just a normal guy reacting to the weird stuff around him, whether it's the story of Santa Claus, a friend's plan for avoiding being attacked, or the basic concept behind the Muppet Babies.

Glover can be likened to a young Bill Cosby (except he isn't afraid of spicing his material up with swear words), wherein his comedy is rooted in the telling of tales rather than stringing one-liner after one-liner. Each story is just as entertaining as the next, all of them whimsically crafted and told with vivacity. I'm not naïve enough to believe that everything Glover says happened exactly the way he recounts it without exaggeration, but because each adventure is rooted in believability it heightens the stakes and the laughs are amped up as a result. Examples of this include the time his mother actually gave in and allowed Cocoa Puffs in the house or the time he got punched in the face by a bum while leaving someone a voicemail. Each of Glover's escapades will leave you laughing until it hurts.

Occasionally Glover strays from a narrative structure and confronts issues head-on (the "N" word, relationships, why having AIDS is better than having kids) and he hits a home run each time. Not only are his insights fresh and original (again...AIDS is better than having kids) but the more he believes in something, the more passionate he feels, the higher his voice gets and the more animated his commitment becomes. It all swirls and combines into a perfect storm of comedy.

The hour of sincere laughter found on this album is - as hokey and overused as the phrase may be - a breath of fresh air. Glover's childlike energy and enthusiasm are infectious and you can't walk away from listening without a smile on your face and a chuckle on your lips as you think back on the humor you just experienced. 

And if walking down the street chuckling to myself makes me a "weirdo" then so be it. I wear the name with pride.
***

Monday, April 16, 2012

Jo Koy's "Lights Out"


After listening to Jo Koy's "Lights Out" project, one can't help but walk away with a clear picture of how much he loves family. This is definitely a family friendly project - but not in the sense that you should bring it home and play it for your mother or 6-year-old niece. In this instance, I refer to Koy's family friendliness as his apparent affection for the three people he holds closest to his heart: His mother, his grandmother, and most especially his son. All of the stories contained herein incorporate at least one of the three aforementioned relatives.

Stories are exactly what you'll find here, more than one-liners or classic "set-up/punch" jokes. That's not to imply there aren't any laughs to be found. On the contrary. Koy is quite gifted at relating past experiences and he embodies each character completely (Bonus points are given to the DVD version of this project for allowing us to fully experience and appreciate Koy's facial expressions and energetic physicality).

A lot of his time is spent impersonating his mother and unlike Margaret Cho or Dat Phan who seem to rely on nothing more than a funny accent to get laughs, Koy flushes her out into a real person we relate to rather than just the crutch of "silly voice." His mother (AKA DJ Josephine) is just what a mom should be: short, no-nonsense, over-dramatic, and less-than-willing to lend a hand in the search for a missing set of keys. Yes, she is a proponent of tough love when it comes to her son, but she's also more than willing to come to his rescue when he's being chewed out by a disgruntled shoe store clerk.

When Koy introduces us to his grandmother we get a nice glimpse into how his family was influenced by her and just who in the family adopted which of her traits. Her sense of humor most definitely went to Koy, while his mother inherited the When-You-Least-Expect-It "ting-ting" grab. As touching as his feelings are for her, it never feels gimmicky or contrived and the laugh-out-loud tales that are shared don't lose any of their potency upon repeated listening.

And then, there's Koy's son. Despite the many funny and entertaining anecdotes his son has given him, Koy still doesn't hesitate to preface them with an amusing bit on why one shouldn't have kids. But, things happen, and when they do you end up with tales of month-long bouts of pink eye, a great re-telling of the first day of kindergarten, and one of the most awkward father/son air guitar sessions you're likely to come across.

One thing I admire about Koy's comedy is his all-around sense of inclusion. Despite the fact his audience is largely made up of his fellow Filipinos, he doesn't take that for granted and he takes time to explain the dynamics of his familial surroundings to those who might not be as familiar with his particular background. Unlike someone such as George Lopez who barrels forward with an "If you ain't Mexican, you're gonna be lost, pendejo" bravado, I appreciated Koy's willingness to stop along the way to make sure we're all on board.

Upon reviewing this project I listened twice to the audio recording and watched the DVD two times as well. My wife joined me for the second DVD viewing (which was my fourth go-around in total) and afterward she asked if he was one of the comedians I was planning on reviewing. I told her he was, and also informed her that that wasn't my first listen. "Wow," she said, "Four times and you still laughed out loud a lot."

"Yep," I nodded, "That dude is pretty funny." She agreed, and I think you will, too.

That Jo Koy dude is pretty funny.

***


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Lisa Lampanelli's "Equal Opportunity Offender"


The new greatest hits collection from Lisa Lampanelli, "Equal Opportunity Offender," is pretty much exactly what you would expect from a greatest hits collection from Lisa Lampanelli. Black joke, gay joke, Asian joke, Hispanic joke. Black joke, gay joke, Asian joke, Hispanic joke. Repeat as desired.

Fans of Lampanelli know just what to expect from her and on this compilation we are given all of the zingers, insults, and racial slurs that have made her "The Queen of Mean" we've all come to know and love. Granted, she isn't for the faint of heart but at this point in the game that should come as a surprise to no one.

Because Lampanelli doesn't really work in a story-like structure or use callbacks, her comedy is actually quite conducive to a "best of" collection woven together from different albums. One thing that struck me about this project is how even it all is. Many times on "best of" collections, as you hear more recently-recorded tracks compared to earlier ones, you're able to see how much the comedian has evolved and grown over the years as a writer, performer, and storyteller. 

That isn't really the case with Lampanelli.

Her approach and style haven't changed a bit since she first got going and except for the fact that she's single in some tracks and married in others it would be nearly impossible for a newcomer to tell the difference between which is new and which is her older material.

I still haven't decided if that's a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand there's something to be said for consistency. On the other, because Lampanelli relies mostly on racial one-liners and gay-bashing, it may get a little repetitive. Mostly, though, the material suffers from lack of surprise. The first time I heard her comedy I was shocked into laughter by the things she was saying. After you've heard the jokes a couple of times, though, they tend to lose their potency. Since she relies on the shock factor, once you've been shocked, there's not much else there to cling to.

Take someone like Bill Cosby. He has routines like "Noah" and the one where he shares a bed with his brother Russell I've probably listened to one hundred times and they've never gotten old. His style is more about the storytelling, structure, and journey rather than one punchline. Lampanelli works differently and that's not necessarily a bad thing, it just has a much shorter shelf life. When I listen to Cosby albums I still laugh out loud. I smiled a few times when I listened to this project but that was about the biggest reaction it got out of me.

I understand it may not seem fair - or even sensible - to bring up Cosby in a Lisa Lampanelli review because they are so different in their approach. My issue may just be with insult comics in general, as I feel the same way about Don Rickles, whose comedy is much similar. I find him humorous for the first ten minutes or so, but then I begin to get antsy for something else.

Remember how cool the opening scene of Daniel Craig's Casino Royale was the first time you saw James Bond chase the bad guy through the construction site? Now imagine how quickly you'd get tired of it if the whole movie was just two hours of that same four-minute sequence over and over and over again. To me, that's a bit what it's like when it comes to Lampanelli. Yes, she made me laugh and ooh and ahh the first time she said that gay people have AIDS and Black people steal things and Hispanics are all maids, but...ya got anything else? Anything?

There's another factor that I must admit has tainted my Lisa Lampanelli experience and it may seem a bit surprising: "Celebrity Apprentice." In my opinion, watching her on that show has taken away a bit of her comedy street cred. It's a little hard for me to separate seeing her on TV getting all emotional and teary-eyed and upset because a guy called a woman a bitch and then hear her on stage calling people in the audience (and in the public eye) the "N" word, the "C" word...and pretty much all of the other A through Z words you can think of.

The long and the short of it is, Lampanelli's die hard fans will enjoy this project. If you're unfamiliar with her albums, this CD also sums up the Lampanelli experience nicely and may serve as a nice introduction although now that you're able to buy individual tracks as opposed to full projects, I would recommend that as the way to go. I won't suggest specific tracks because really, they're all pretty much the same (have I mentioned her material includes Black jokes, Asian jokes, gay jokes, and Hispanic jokes?). And if you're a general comedy fan and you've heard Lampanelli before...yea...you're probably good.

***


Friday, April 13, 2012

Nicholas Anthony's "Professional Child"


Listening to the new album from Nicholas Anthony, Professional Child, one can't help but have a good time. His energy and enthusiasm are infectious, putting me in mind of Chester, the little dog from the old Looney Tunes shorts who followed around the large bulldog, bouncing up and down, asking "Whaddya wanna do today, Spike?" His spirited loyalty and seemingly endless excitement made him an instantly likable character and Anthony is no different.


From the moment he takes the stage things are off and running at top speed. Anthony barely pauses for a breath when he greets the crowd: "Good evening, my name's Nick and I like tall women because they get more naked, who's with me?"

And we're off.

From there we are swept away into the whirlwind that must be Anthony's mind. There's no cohesive through-line as he jumps from topic to topic, usually without warning, as if his mouth is struggling to keep up with the thoughts that jump into his head. 

Despite this sporadic approach, the album doesn't feel disjointed, confusing, or whiplash-inducing, which is a testament to Anthony's appealing stage presence. Rather than go from Point A to Point B in linear fashion, it's like we're watching TV and he has control of the remote. Fortunately, with Anthony every channel we land on is a humorous one and no matter where we stop we can rest assured that it's going to be funny. Yes, Anthony may seem a little ADHD-stricken but more importantly his performance is thoroughly enjoyable and he takes care to ensure that above all else, the audience is happy.

Anthony has a great laundry list of experiences from which to cull his material. He's the son of a long-distance trucker who knows what it's like to have all of his Christmas and birthday presents picked up at a truck stop. He's a former salesman whose entire pitch was "Come oooonnnnnn" and when a woman says she just wants him to be honest with her, well...let's just say she might wanna retract that request (His response, it should be noted, is one of my favorite moments on the album, eliciting the same laugh-out-loud reaction from me each time I heard it)

So who is Anthony? He's a fan of Jesus (but not always a fan of His fans) and can be quite competitive (just ask his 5-year-old nephew who needed to be taught the hard way to respect baseball's strike zone). He has a pretty original take on the act of vomiting ("That which is inside you is so angry it's scurrying to escape out of you") and his encounter with a woman he's dubbed "Candle Girl" (trust me, there's a great story behind her moniker) ends just where you fear it will as our hero argues with himself on just how far things should go.

Just when you think Anthony has touched on every topic under the sun - and made us laugh at it all - he shares with us the story of the time he got strep throat while in Iraq to perform for the troops. One wouldn't think strep throat would require him to drop his pants. One also wouldn't think strep throat would require him to drop his pants twice, but when it does, really, are you surprised?

At the end of the album Anthony includes some nice bonus material. One of the most enjoyable extras is the inclusion of audio of a candid dinner conversation between him and some of his friends at a restaurant. It immediately brought me back to the underrated Jon Favreau IFC television show, "Dinner for Five," as we're given a nice opportunity to play fly on the wall while we listen to a discussion that's unscripted and hilarious. It reminded me of a few late-night conversations in a diner I've shared with my own pals and I was grateful Anthony invited us along to hang out and take part.

If I had to describe this album with only one word, it would be "fun." At one point, as if catching himself off-guard, Anthony observes almost embarrassed, "Oh guys...I feel like I'm doing all the talking." It made me smile and, considering how funny he is, I'm more than willing to do all the listening. I can't help but think I'm benefiting the most from this arrangement.

***


Monday, April 9, 2012

Nick Griffin's "Shot in the Face"


With his latest release, Shot in the Face, comedian Nick Griffin picks up right where he left off a little more than a year ago. This is a solid follow-up to Bring Out the Monkey and serves to solidify his reputation as an original and consistent performer. If I were to make a chart outlining the good and bad things about this album, there would only be one item in the "Cons" column. And, if memory serves, it's the same thing I struggled with when I reviewed his last CD: There's so much good stuff here, I can't possibly begin to scratch the surface. Will I successfully be able to relate to you just how good this is? I don't know, but I'm sure going to try.

I love Griffin's knack for being able to call B.S. and his total willingness to do so. He puts me in mind of Johnny Appleseed, only instead of strolling through the countryside haphazardly tossing seeds into the wind, I see Griffin strolling through town nonchalantly pointing out one thing after another and muttering, "That's crap. That's not true. That's crap. Not even close." And I love it.

This is a guy who's fed up and isn't going to take it any longer. Nothing's going to stop him, nor should it. Not the "bad boys" of Hollywood, not guys who drive Hummers (or, as Griffin refers to them, "I wish I were taller-mobiles"), and certainly not thrift store hipsters at coffee shops who wear 2-dollar pants and drink 4-dollar lattes.

A lot of Griffin's humor lies in the fact that what he's saying isn't outrageous or grounded in comedic absurdity. In fact, the opposite is true. His humor is found in simple, matter-of-fact honesty. He begins by pointing out the paradoxes of current society (Rich people are skinny, poor people are fat. Women have muscles, men have highlights) and maintains his outlook all the way through to his final bit which is built on the idea that men are inherently reward-motivated (and women should use that to their advantage).

It's true that we live in a jacked-up time but if we didn't, we'd miss out on how funny it is to have it pointed out to us. I can't think of anyone more entertaining than Griffin to take up the mantle and point out that past generations looked up to people like Churchill, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King Jr and our present-day example of heroism is Jared from Subway who, let's be honest, really didn't do anything except stop making a pig of himself. 

Who better than Griffin to expose the whole socks-with-sandals fashion fiasco for what it really is: A stupid choice that makes as much sense as wearing briefs under your boxers, completely defeating the purpose of wearing sandals in the first place.

Where Griffin especially shines is when he approaches love and relationships. His style is not merely a "Hey, didja notice how we're different" routine but instead he really takes a good look at just how we function and interact...and how it's usually pretty ridiculous. On his marriage that only lasted three years: "We were supposed to be together until one of us died. I never even had a fever."

The last time I wrote about Griffin I gave his CD a pretty solid recommendation and my praise continues with this go-around. If you haven't yet added Griffin to your comedy collection, you're depriving yourself of some serious laughs. If that doesn't convince you to pick this one up, then perhaps the fact that Griffin reveals the contents of Christopher Walken's sock drawer will. That little tidbit of info alone will make you happy you did.

***


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Steve Sabo's "Mental Fornication"


"Mental Fornication" by Steve Sabo is , for better or worse, exactly what people have come to expect from a stand up comic. With bits on flight attendants, relationships, and how hard it is to figure out those doggone paper towel dispensers in public restrooms, Sabo touches on the standard topics that are responsible for the stereotypes of stand up comics we see in the movies and on TV.

It's not that Sabo isn't good at what he does. He is confidant on stage and his delivery and timing are just what they should be. It's just that there's not a lot of groundbreaking comedy being presented. The album takes off, he brings the energy up to about a 6, and then it just stays at that level throughout the duration. Without a lot of ups and downs, the ride is less like an exciting roller coaster and more like a leisurely commute on Amtrak.

Very rarely are comedy albums a pure raw recording of a live performance. There are tweaks and edits, often times combining two or three different performances, mixing and matching to offer up the parts that best represent a live experience. If done well the listener has no idea. When the editing isn't so seamless, as on this project, the results can be a little jarring to the ear. We seem to switch form one mediocre-quality recording to another. At times it even sounds like we aren't listening to a direct feed from the microphones (the one held by the comedian and the ones set up throughout the crowd to pick up laughter) but instead are hearing a recording from an MP3 recorder placed on the side of the stage.

Sabo's crowd work, when he does it, is pretty good. When he addresses an over-enthusiastic birthday girl in the audience, it made me smile. Later in the album, though, the crowd becomes quite restless and begins to talk among themselves.The chatter becomes so loud, I thought for sure Sabo was going to say something. I don't know if he didn't hear them or if he was too "in the moment" to notice or if he just hoped ignoring them would make them go away, but it was quite distracting, especially since their volume level nearly matched his.

At one point, Sabo talks about the time he took his 16-year-old sister to a comedy show and was shocked and embarrassed that the comic on stage talked about things that may not be appropriate for your 16-year-old sister to hear. It turns out to be a pretty funny bit but I had a hard time getting past the fact that, as a comedian himself, he seemed surprised to hear foul material at a comedy show. Especially since his own album comes with a parental advisory sticker. It was a little like Jeff Gordon taking a friend to a NASCAR event and then saying, "Oh...I didn't know there were gonna be cars here."

At this point, it might seem like I loathed this project, but that's not true. Despite the fact Sabo is good on stage, I just wasn't moved to laughter. I tend to think he would be fun to see live and in person at a club on a random Thursday night but as far as albums go, especially with such recent releases from comedians like Andy Hendrickson, Doug Stanhope, and Dylan Brody to contend with, it's hard for me to get completely behind this one.

***