Friday, September 28, 2012

Paul Morrissey's "Paul Morrissey's Back"

Every once in a while you come across someone who is so off-the-wall and delightfully random, you can’t help but watch and enjoy the show. I went to high school with a guy named Jack. He was gangly and birdlike with wireframe glasses that were much too large for his head. He spoke with a speech impediment that made his R’s sound like “ahhs” and his receding hairline at age 16, combined with his love for all things wizard-related, pretty much guaranteed he wouldn’t be spending much social time with the popular kids.

But I found him intriguing. 

He took things that others considered trivial extremely seriously and I loved that about him. Something about watching him bang his head against the wall of futility as he tried to figure out how people worked by using equations and theories instead of social interaction fascinated me. And now, years later, it still persists, as I read his Facebook posts with a rapt curiosity, lurking in the background as I watch him screaming to no one in particular about the GAS COMPANY SCREWING UP HIS BILL or THE FUCKING SCHOOL NOT BEING FAIR TO HIS DAUGHTER (who looks a lot like him yet is actually quite adorable. Go figure). Poor Jack. Even after all these years he still finds himself with the short end of the stick. John Hughes had it wrong. Anthony Michael Hall characters very rarely end up making out with the hot blonde in a convertible. 

So, what does all of this have to do with the new Paul Morrissey album, “Paul Morissey’s Back”? To be honest...not much. But there’s something about his comedy that reminded me of Jack. Maybe it’s Morrissey’s shaky, almost nervous sounding voice. Perhaps it’s the fact that, even on stage with a microphone in his hand, he still can’t get the idiots in the audience to Shut. Up. (Seriously, I mean, seriously, people, shut up. If you think you’re funny, show up at an open mic and give it a shot. Otherwise...for the love of Pete...Shut. Up.) 

But really, that’s where the similarities end. Where the sad sack I knew from high school pretty much stayed in his sad sack role, Morrissey faces his obstacles head on and bucks the trend by overcoming them. If the club won’t say something about the yammering audience members, then Morrissey will. If someone is going to shout something out, thinking they’re funny, Morrissey is going to show them what funny really is. And if the crowd is going to be all quiet and reserved on him (and, to be honest, they are. Unfairly), then he’s going to bring it up. So he made an innocent dead grandmother joke, get over it, already.

Morrissey has taken the hand life dealt him (he’s so pale, the “red eye fix” feature in photo programs has quite an unfortunate result) and found the humor of it all. Whether he’s being spattered with blood  while getting a haircut (and not his own blood, mind you) or explaining why he was disappointed the first time he witnessed a stripper jumping out of a cake, he takes the little things in life that seem predestined to trip him up and instead uses them to get laughter. And, in some instances, simultaneously sarcastic and racist applause.

I enjoyed Morrissey’s reaction to the lady at the deli counter who seemed genuinely confused by his turkey order and his bit on a girl’s most unusual tattoo goes exactly where you hoped it would. Only better. He loves Cinnabon so much they’ll probably never ask him to endorse their product and his questions about gay marriage and common-law marriage should give roommates everywhere a reason to stop and think.

This is a fun album that, although it brought to my mind a dorky kid from my hometown, is really nothing like him. Morrissey is engaging and someone you want to hang around with, not just stalk on social media sites. Morrissey isn’t afraid to take chances (except for hang gliding) and when something bugs him (home school kids with class rings) he knows how to express himself in a way that brings nice laughs.  From confusing bank fees to the kid at Subway who spray paints the meat, Morrissey has it all down and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He’s relatable and handles himself well and as a result, we all have a good time.

A guy like Jack could learn a thing or two. Heck, so could I.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Myq Kaplan & Micah Sherman's "Please Be Seated"

Please Be Seated is a wonderful example of just how good a comedy team can be. Working together - and off of each other - like they’re reading each other’s minds is Myq Kaplan and Micah Sherman, a singing duo who are quite capable of making you laugh whether they’re doing it through song, pre-planned patter, or riffing on a stumbled word or two. I am immediately put in mind of Jason and Randy Sklar. They’re twins, they’re supposed to have an impeccable sixth-sense sort of timing (and they do). Kaplan and Sherman share an equally cohesive vibe that is quite impressive for a couple of guys who aren’t related (unless they’re also twins and have kept it a secret from all of us). These guys work well together, that’s all there is to it, and their synchronization makes for one heck of a good time.

The approach Kaplan and Sherman have to songwriting is one of playful carelessness. Their lyrics are rapid fire, as if the songs were written by a Robin Williams-possessed Stephen Sondheim. There is little regard for music theory as the two bend timing and structure to make way for every word they’re trying to cram in. It’s a lot of fun and they do so with a sense of madcap deviousness.

The first part of the album is a live recording and the music portion begins with the "Comedians’ National Anthem", a bit that includes a promise to git-r-done by talking about airplane food, redneck jokes, and every other comedic stereotype. It’s a great premise and I’m sure comedians everywhere (especially those who also sing) are kicking themselves for not coming up with this idea on their own.

Kaplan and Sherman’s chemistry isn’t just spot on when they’re introducing a song or teasing each other for tripping over a word. It bubbles over into their music where each of them retains their original voice and perspective. When they’re not poking fun at Alanis Morissette and the fact that her big hit actually wasn’t ironic at all (hence their song, “Inonic”) or performing a song about loss that contains more misdirections than a Penn & Teller performance, then they’re taking their turn on the verses to take shots at each other. 

From “We’re Different”, a tune that celebrates their individuality:

Kaplan: I am a vegan...
Sherman: ...And people like me

Other songs on the album that you’ll enjoy include “Bad Idea” (“When we say ‘abor,’ you say ‘tion!’) and “Movie Star,” designed to help Sherman feel better about his less-than-Greek god looks. A couple of tracks are their live songs re-recorded in the studio, polished and auto-tuned to perfection. “Bop 25,” a danceable pop song with a message, is the one that garners the best results.

Lest you think this is only an album of funny songs, Kaplan & Sherman mine a lot of huge laughs from their banter. I especially enjoyed a sketch they performed where Sherman, playing a Hollywood studio boss, entertains Kaplan, who plays a series of pitchmen with ideas for the next big blockbuster hit. Kaplan impressively rattles off one tongue-twisting idea after another and it's a really well-written (and acted) exposé on how Hollywood really works.

Light-hearted and a genuinely fun time, Please Be Seated is a great way to forget about the election, the economy, healthcare, or whatever heavy issues are permeating the airwaves and just kick back, have a nice laugh, put on the appropriate hat for your intelligence level and agree that yes, the McDonaldland character Grimace does indeed have a big dumb mouth in the middle of his stupid neck.

Friday, September 21, 2012

George Lopez's "It's Not Me, It's You"

Whether you like the new album from George Lopez, “It’s Not Me, It’s You” is pretty much dependent upon whether or not you already like his comedy. Lopez hasn’t strayed from his usual style, which is good for the sake of consistency, but may not win over any new fans who may otherwise have written him off as strictly a Latino-only comic. His work on television has a wide fan base that covers all ethnicities but I feel the followers of his a stand-up are a much narrower demographic.

My Spanish is very limited, so a lot of Lopez’s comedy is lost on me. Much of the humor here is found when Lopez slips from English to Spanish and back again and there are large chunks where I am pretty much lost, wanting to be in on the joke, and instead just sitting with a half-formed smile frozen on my face, hoping my chance to get in on the joke will come back around. Granted, Lopez can be a very visual performer and many times you can pick up on what he is saying by his body language and gestures, something that lends itself to the DVD format much better than the audio recording.

The language barrier is really my only beef with this project (or any of Lopez's previous releases) and I wonder how many people have listened to his stand up and, not being able to understand large portions, have given up on coming back. Much like Carlos Mencia, Lopez loves to wave the Hispanic banner, often times coming across as more of a Latino Confidence Pep Rally than a comedy album. I suspect that can really whittle down your fan base.

That being said, for the most part I enjoyed the album and laughed audibly quite often. I love that Lopez is old-school in his approach to raising kids. He raised his children and didn’t give in to the pressure to entertain them. They didn’t have cell phones as grade-schoolers (Guilt doesn’t work on Latino parents like it does on white parents. When met with the argument, “What if there’s an emergency and you’re not there?” Lopez simply responds, “Well, then you’re fucked.”) and instead of handing out medicine to treat a child who misbehaves, he instead offers up a nice thunk on the head. It works just as well and is a lot less expensive.

Lopez was brought up with tough love and he thinks the rest of us should follow suit instead of pampering our kids with swimmies, electrical outlet covers, and car seats that are more suitable to the space shuttle. Instead of raising children with a sense of entitlement, he prefers to teach them words like “supposed” and “almost.” It’s all incredibly against the PC-ness of today’s childproof society and as a result, is a welcome - and funny - alternate perspective.

The album closes with a great story about a trip Lopez took to the White House. It involves impressive placemats (and their inevitable kidnapping), getting President Obama to drop “the voice,” and really is a lot of fun. When he’s on, he’s really on, and Lopez remains on throughout the CD’s duration. Now if I could just understand it all, I’d be golden.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Valley Meadows's "Valley Meadows"

When it comes to reviewing an album I didn’t really care for, I often find myself in a bit of a quandary. Yes, I want to review the album and give my thoughts and impressions, but I also try to keep in mind the person I’m reviewing. I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings and even though I’m sure I have my moments of extreme douchebaggery, it’s never intentional. 

I especially struggle when it’s an album I find incredibly unfunny. It feels like a personal affront. It honestly offends me, probably more than it should. I’m aware that in the past my reaction and passion may have impeded my sense of diplomacy and I’m trying to be more aware of that. Maybe, if I don’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. 

Keeping that in mind... There’s a new album out from Valley Meadows. It’s a comedy/rap album. 

And that’s all I’m saying.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lewis Black's "In God We Rust"

When I first told my wife there was a new album coming out from Lewis Black, her immediate response was, “Is he still mad?” Yes, he is, and as our friend Joanne put it, rightly so.

In God We Rust marks the return of everyone’s favorite funnyman whose exasperated fits of rage against society’s little annoyances have kept us laughing for years. Because of his excellent work on The Daily Show and his own past projects, he’s come to be known primarily as a politically-charged comedian. This time around, although still part of his act, politics take a back seat to other topics, primarily Black trying to wrap his mind around pop culture and current technology. 

Black, who usually spends his time railing equally against Democrats and Republicans (don’t think one party is more equipped than the other to keep us safe from terrorists), makes sure that the new kid on the block (the Tea Party) doesn’t feel left out and he goes at them with both barrels blazing. Black has always wished for a third party and now...let’s just say he should have be careful what he wished for. He does admit the Tea Party-ers appealed to him at first, but only because they were angry and crazy, an aspect to which Black felt he could relate.

Those familiar with Black’s comedy already know that, as eager as he is to take someone (or some thing) to task, he doesn’t shy away from the man in the mirror. When greeted with a resounding sea of applause at the onset of the CD, Black reacts with a baffled, “You’re more excited to see me than I’ve ever been to see myself.” From there he begins to explain why people shouldn’t be there and although he doesn’t want anyone to walk out of any of his shows, he completely understands why someone would.

As I mentioned earlier, Black lays off of the hot-button topics (except for abortion, which he freely admits he only talks about so he can hear the collective sound of every anus in the room snapping shut at the word’s mention) because there are other topics that need to be addressed, especially with Facebook and smart phones running rampant.

A former iPhone owner himself, Black is just as irked with the product (Good computer. Bad phone) as he is with those mysterious Apple employees who sell them. If you’ve ever been in a Mac store among the sea of blue-shirted drones creepily milling about, then you’ll understand why Black would suspect they are from another planet. 

Just as he gives equal time dressing down political parties, Black does the same thing here and although he has switched to a Droid phone, things haven’t necessarily gotten better. Where AT&T fixed his iPhone by essentially turning it back into a landline, his Droid took the liberty of expiring only days after his warranty did. 

Cue: conniption.

Regardless of the brand of phone in your pocket and despite the number of amazing apps available for it, Black still can’t understand why you would use an inanimate object to tell you where the best place is to find sushi in your area when there are actual people in the neighborhood around you who might have a better idea. But that would be crazy.

As much as Facebook gets on Black’s nerves, he is still able to see the silver lining. Goldman-Sachs has put the value of the website at $50 billion dollars (and if you can’t trust GS, who can you trust?), and if Facebook is worth that much, imagine how much REAL things are going to be worth!

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Lewis Black album if he didn’t mention the ever-present War on Terrorism, even if this time around they seem to have lost their sense of legitimate impending doom (for example, the terrorist whose mission was to blow up....Detroit). Any good bit on the current threat level usually dovetails nicely into the TSA and airport security and this album is no exception. Did a stranger pack your bags? If so, there’s a bigger problem to address. Seriously. Why would you let that happen?

As if Black didn’t have his hands full trying to make sense of those issues, he also has to contend with Jersey Shore cast-mates writing books, winking at Paul McCartney at a party, and wondering why Valentine’s Day has to land a mere six weeks after he blew his money on Christmas.

It’s no wonder Black sounds a little overwhelmed. He has a lot of ground to cover and, because he’s a comedian, he feels a responsibility to make it all funny (at the very least). I’m happy to report that Black succeeds quite readily, just as he always does. And if that means things like Farmville have to exist in order to give him something to talk about, I’m willing to take that hit.

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?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Kyle Cease's "I Highly Recommend This"

I learned something from “I Highly Recommend This,” the new CD from happy-go-lucky comedian Kyle Cease. We’ve all had moments in life when things don’t go exactly as planned - or hoped. Those times are inevitable as much as we may try to avoid them. Now, however, now...I know just what to do when those awkward moments come calling. 

Jump upside-down in the air, do an Air 69, and spray diarrhea. 

And if for whatever reason that doesn’t work, simply bust out into a Gallagher impression.

I know it sounds crazy, but when Cease finds himself painted into a corner where his joke had a good open and a good middle and a not-so-solid ending, this is exactly what he does and it gets the crowd every time. Random? Yes. Juvenile? Probably. Funny? Most definitely.

As a guy who promotes never being mad about anything and doing your best to make everything fun, the preceding is an example of Cease following his own advice. There’s a lot to be said for simple silliness and he revels in it, making for a project that is a true joy to experience.

Cease doesn’t take himself - or life - too seriously and as a result we get a lot of good bits about the Pillsbury Doughboy getting into a heated argument with Barney the dinosaur and how hotel hair dryers are a great metaphor for what it’s like to be a guy. In a world full of depressing 58-minute newscasts, Cease’s comedy is the lighthearted couple of minutes at the end about the little kitty.

Fearless and daring as a comedian, Cease always jumps in with both feet. Once in a while the waters are a little more shallow than he planned on (he has a strange bit on Ray Charles that never really takes off), but that’s the exception to the rule. The vast majority of his stories are solid and consistent in bringing laughter and I like the way he thinks. He takes pride in having a joke that actually is too soon to do and he has a handful of impressions in his arsenal that he should be proud of. These are gags like you’ve never heard before and probably never will again.

There is a great bit on the album about the rides at Universal Studios; Cease is really onto something. I never realized it before, but he’s right, every ride there does need your help (Oh no, “this” happened, you have to help us!) and now that it’s been pointed out to me I can’t believe I never noticed it before. Sometimes his insights are quite involved (the proper way to get what you want from a genie in the lamp) and there are others that are genius in their simplicity (“You can buy a Klondike bar, you don’t have to do all that shit.”).

I always enjoy hearing how a comedian deals with the crowd and in this case, Cease has quite the crowd to deal with. From the a-hole in the opening moments (whose photo, unfortunately, is not included in the CD packaging) to the girl who may very well be the dumbest heckler ever. Or maybe she’s just the most random. I tend to lean toward the former. Either way, Cease handles her well and never once gets thrown off-balance.

When it comes to death, Cease has a great plan for making his own exciting and interesting and he’s totally spot on when the topic shifts to Things In Life You’ll Never Hear (including, “Hey, let’s go to Alabama again!”). There’s a genuine joy for making others laugh that permeates the project and the hour seems to fly by. The album title truly says it all and I couldn’t have said it better myself: 

I highly recommend this.