Friday, November 30, 2012

Kyle Kinane's "Whiskey Icarus"

When I think of guys who drink and party and occasionally get tossed in jail for a DUI, I usually imagine one of two extremes. The first is the Nicolas Cage “Leaving Las Vegas”-type who depresses/bores the heck out of me and gets Oscar nominations for no explainable reason. The other is the spirited, intensely dedicated, gotta-love-him character Zach Galifianakis usually ends up portraying, especially in the “Hangover” films. On his new album “Whiskey Icarus,” Kyle Kinane definitely reminds me of the latter. A bit off-kilter yet never afraid of expressing exactly what he’s thinking, you can be sure you’ll always know right where he stands. Although Kinane and the Alan character have their similarities (they can get away with a lot of bad behavior because they’re just so likable), there are also some big differences. 

I probably shouldn’t spend too much time comparing Kinane to a fictional creation because Kinane is very much his own unique voice and person. Yes, both men have a lonely slacker vibe about them, but Kinane isn’t a caricature. He’s intelligent and articulate and admits he’s a lonely guy (That abandoned “frozen dinner for 1” in the beer aisle at the 7-11? That was him). He describes his fashion style as that of a wise high school janitor and while he’s proud of himself for getting his own apartment, he’s also aware that he’s 35 years old and probably should be living on his own. And that there are 35-year-old astronauts. And that the real reason he got his own place is unsettlingly honest (hide your Twizzlers).

Kinane is a guy who knows how to have a good time (the CD’s track listing is identical to KISS’s “Destroyer” album) but he does his best to have a good time responsibly. Being too drunk to drive won’t stop him for hitting up the Wendy’s drive-thru even if that means he has to call a minivan taxicab to take him there. His re-telling of trying to complete the transaction from the backseat sliding door is a lot of fun and indeed the adventure Kinane promised the driver it would be.

If you ever see Kinane at the airport, follow him, because something good is going to happen. Kinane and airports are a perfect recipe for weird stories and it seems that he can’t have an ordinary flight experience to save his life. On one flight, he finds himself seated next to a man eating pancakes out of a shopping bag from Foot Locker and naturally it raises a lot of questions. Kinane doesn’t ask questions without supplying a few answers and if you are going to eat pancakes out of a shopping bag from Foot Locker on a plane, there’s a correct way to go about it. 

Of course, I’ll take the pancakes guy over the lovemaking Spanish couple any day of the week. Kinane chooses to look at it as an opportunity, though, and if they’re going to have fun then doggonit, he is, too. Thus begins his in-flight drinking binge that, I suppose when you backtrack far enough, is all the fault of Orbitz.

I like Kinane’s outlook on life. This is a man who looks at life’s hiccups as a series of opportunities to have an adventure. You gotta love that. Blank fortune cookies are much more than a mishap at the printer’s and there’s a darn good reason you don’t hear more from the Bigfoot front. Two black guys with a white baby are never just two black guys with a white baby and if you’re going to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, go out with a question mark instead of a period.

Kinane has a wildly devoted and passionate fan base and it’s easy to see why. For a guy who claims his life is a series of documented low points he sure is able to catch a lot of the funny about it. He’s consistent in what he does and he presents us with an hour of solid laughs. At one point, he reveals how he strives for his comedy to be looked at as an art form but admits his observations about his “turd contractions” prevent that from happening. I’ve got news for you Kinane: While you were shaving the sharp edges off of racism and fueling your body the same way Doc Brown fuels the Delorean at the end of Back to the happened.

This album is indeed art and Kinane is indeed a comedy artist. 

Now let's go see what's up at the airport. We've got more art to find.

Monday, November 26, 2012

"It's OK To...Do Stuff"

The first time I heard about the new compilation album “It’s OK To...Do Stuff,” I was intrigued. Apparently it’s a send-up of a Marlo Thomas album that came out 40 years ago called “Free To Be...You and Me.” To be honest, I’d never heard of it. I looked it up online and checked it out and none of the songs rang a bell, so I started off this album at a bit of a disadvantage.

But then I read who appears on this new project and I got excited. Fred Willard! Eugene Mirman! Andy Richter, Wyatt Cenac, and Samantha Bee! Eddie Pepitone and Fred Stoller, holy crap! And Steven Page, a former lead singer of Barenaked Ladies! I was given a preview link where I could listen to one minute snippets of the songs and I was crazy stoked to hear more.

And then...I got the full album and realized those weren’t snippets I was listening to. Those were the tracks. Nine tracks clocking in at 11-1/2 minutes.


Only a minute and ten seconds of Fred Willard?

A mere forty-one seconds of Eddie Pepitone?

And two short lines from Andy Richter?

To say I was a bit crestfallen would be an understatement.

So much talent here and so poorly underused. 

As it turns out, you don’t have to know or be a fan of the original to get what’s going on here. It’s basically a collection of very short, mostly poorly-sung songs that are overly-politically correct (or not) for comedic purposes. Considering how much of a huge comedy fan I am, it’s ironic that my favorite track is the lead song featuring BNL’s Steven Page (well...not from BNL anymore). It’s the only cut the feels like a “real” song and because he doesn’t have to worry about staying on pitch or being off-key singing harmonies with himself like other songs here, you can focus on the goofiness of the lyrics and enjoy it for what it is: a silly song.

There's a fun skit featuring Eugene Merman playing the role he was born to play: a robot with a tendency to shout every observation - I loved it - and what may very well be the most random duet that’s ever been brought together when Kimmy Gatewood and Colin Hanks (yes, that Colin Hanks) team up to sing about the upside of divorce. Sort of. 

Despite the old adage, brevity is not the soul of wit when it comes to this album. In fact, brevity pretty much punches wit in the nuts. You get a taste of what could be, you feel Pepitone ramping up into something fun and you wonder when Willard is gonna really kick in and bring the funny and then....over.

The longest track here is a mere 1:40 and features six different performers. That only averages to about 20 seconds per person and the greedy fanboy in me wants more. Yes, as the album title says, it is indeed OK to do stuff. Next time, though, can you do it for a little longer?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mark Ellis's "Get to the Castle"

On the new release “Get to the Castle(Am I the only one who finds it impossible to NOT say the title of this album in my worst Ah-nuld voice?), Mark Ellis is just what you have come to expect when you listen to a stand-up comedy record: He’s likable and confident on stage, he has a decent amount of men-and-women-are-different material, and he’s quick on his feet when he interacts with the crowd. He even tosses in an occasional groaner that he can’t help but laugh at when the reaction it gets is less-than-overwhelming (and deservedly so).

Ellis shines the most when he strays from the standard comedian’s fare and delves into his own unique territory. His take on the two genders and how they respond differently in similar situations is good enough, but the topic has become such a cliche that one really needs to come up with something groundbreaking within the stereotype to set himself apart. I did enjoy Ellis’s comparison of groups of women out on the town to the A-team but for the most part it was just all right and Ellis is better than just all right.

Thankfully, Ellis spends most of his time (which, it should be noted, flies by) forging new ground by dreaming of the day he can move into a retirement community (despite the ominous promise/threat of free golf for the rest of your life) and explaining why his daughter will not be dating Twilight monsters. Be sure to keep a heads up for his comparison of werewolves and women which garners a most enjoyable anticipatory crowd response.

The insights Ellis has to share are fun and fresh, pointing out that college kids and the elderly have the same schedule (wake up, take drugs, watch “The Price is Right”) and precisely comparing a 50-year-old woman’s apartment to the hallowed Yankee stadium. He freely admits that his list of “likes” on his online dating profile aren’t accurate in reflecting who he is as a person, but actually consists of a list of things he’s willing to do to get laid.

As much as I like Ellis’s material on the worst injury to happen to yourself (bad haircuts) and what makes a Marine’s uniform the coolest of all the armed services, my favorite bits were those that provided a sense of nostalgia. Ellis longs for Domino’s to return to it’s 30-minutes-or-less roots and the picture he paints of a guy’s first high school dance - and Hypercolor shirts - hits the nail right on the head. I’d almost forgotten about those magical heat-responding garments and how they did not flatter the wearer when physical activity was involved.

You can’t go wrong with Super Mario Bros and Ellis wisely saves his take on the classic video game for the last part of the set. It’s my favorite track on the CD and when he speculates as to why a king would send two single, Italian men to rescue his daughter I knew he was on to something good. He prefers the Nintendo classic to the new video games where he is easily lost in free-roam forests and is forced to be sociable with hobbits. Ellis (and I) long for a simpler time when you could only move in one direction and if something moved, you squished it. If you can relate, then I recommend getting Get to the Castle.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Darryl Lenox's "Blind Ambition"

I really enjoyed “Blind Ambition,” the new CD from comedian Darryl Lenox, and my favorite thing about it is the fact that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s a well-constructed and finely thought-out hour that tells one cohesive story instead of presenting us with a random assortment of unrelated jokes (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Lenox’s set has a true sense of narrative and his is the perfect voice to tell the tale (coming from a radio background I’m a big fan of people with great speaking voices and Lenox definitely falls into that category).

The album doesn’t explode out of the starting gate with one huge belly laugh after another. Instead, Lenox takes his time, setting the tone and the mood by giving us a bit of backstory on how a Canadian bar fight affected the rest of his life (and his vision). There are a lot of smiles and chuckles along the way but no huge guffaws and that’s OK. Lenox lets you warm up to him and his sense of humor and as you get to know him, you learn to appreciate his patient approach and soon the laughs begin to spill in. Slow at first, and then building up bigger and bigger as we go. In a world of Michael Bay-style stand-up comics who rely on explosions and CGI, it’s nice to find a Woody Allen who is more concerned with composition and character.

Lenox is an American living in Canada who doesn’t hide his preference for all things Canuck. He thinks the women are better (they don’t seem to have been influenced by the Real Housewives) and it’s obvious Canadians have a great healthcare plan as evidenced by their arrogant jaywalking. That’s not to say Canada doesn't have its quirks, though. He was once kicked out of the country for a year (Travel Tip: Don’t lie to the Border Agents) and a seemingly innocent bowl of porridge resulted in the most violent Canadian experience he’d ever been a part of.

The title of the CD refers to Lenox’s long-time battle with his vision and having to face the very real possibility that he would lose his vision not just in one eye (thanks to the aforementioned pub brawl) but in both. It’s a predicament many of us have pondered, but probably not as seriously as Lenox had to. Could he really, actually, go through the rest of his life with no vision? The dramatic part of him had vowed to kill himself if the medical procedure he had to undergo wasn’t successful. The comedian in him could only foresee the hilariously futile results of a blind person trying to commit suicide in a number of different scenarios. The mental picture he paints of his wife, eating M&M’s off of the floor that he mistook for life-ending pills, is original and clever.

Other bits on the project that are memorable include George W. Bush’s drunken YouTube address to America that is probably more honest than is recommended and the widely-understood but rarely-talked about rule that men should never, ever eat the last one of anything in the house. The longest track is nearly 12-1/2 minutes long and its main thrust is the old “men and women are different” gag. Although the topic itself has become a bit of a comedian stereotype, Lenox does quite well at maintaining a fresh perspective and avoids any common potholes that are generally present in such an oft-traveled road.

All of the main points Lenox has touched upon are brought back and wrapped up in the final chapter in a surprisingly genuine way that most comedians tend to shy away from. For the most part, if a comic dares to be sentimental or uplifting, they feel the need to burst the bubble for the sake of a laugh. Lenox does no such thing. Instead of leaving us with a huge bringing-down-the-house punchline, Lenox leaves us with inspiration, and I liked the change-up. It brought a nice sincerity to the evening and the ending felt just like what it was: an ending to a well-told story. A story with a lot of genuine heartbreak and laughs and a story I left feeling fortunate to have heard.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Rob Delaney's "Live at the Bowery Ballroom"

While listening to Rob Delaney’s “Live at the Bowery Ballroom” this week, there were a number of occasions when I had to stop and remind myself I wasn’t listening to Louis C.K. For those of you like myself who are fans of C.K., you’ll know that’s a pretty big compliment.

I’m not saying Delaney is imitating or copying anyone’s style; far from it. Delaney is completely original and has a knack for covering a huge variety of most decidedly adult material without making you feel dirty. That’s an accomplishment. The only downfall, of course, being the time you recommend the album to a Mennonite friend and then having to explain later, “Wow, I don’t remember it being that dirty” (the lesson, of course, is to not have Mennonite friends).

The pitch and timbre of Delaney’s voice, though, is remarkably similar to C.K.’s. I might not have noticed it as much if I saw Delaney in person or on a video since physically they look quite different, but when you’re just going by what you hear, it’s hard to not draw the connection. Pair that with the fact that Delaney is also hilarious and, well, you might see why I sometimes forgot who I was listening to.

There’s a great energy at work on this recording and once Delaney has the audience where he wants them (which he does right from the beginning as he announces his plan to make an egg salad sandwich for his favorite audience member after the show), they’re with him for the remainder of the hour.

One of the things I really like about Delaney’s style is the fact that you don’t know where he’s going. He managed to take me by surprise time after time and never once did he even let on there was a surprise waiting to be had. When he mentions he once had a bout of Hepatitis A, I never suspected what the source of the ailment would be. He makes a very strong case for favoring oceans over lakes and you may never wash your hands again in a public restroom without being reminded of why Delaney really, really, really prefers the current hand soap delivery system as compared to others in the past.

For every detail Delaney shares that shows how much of a good guy he is, he also lets something slip that might make you think twice about stopping by for a play date. He loves his wife, still finds her extremely sexy, and still wants to have sex with her, but he also wants to have sex with everyone in the audience, too. He’s a devoted Dad who adores his baby son. Never mind the fact that he loves him so much, he literally wants to eat the toddler and is jealous of his wife for having had the opportunity to carry him inside of her.

As funny as it is, the album wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is without the inclusion of a couple of anecdotes about odd situations in which Delaney found himself. There’s the time he went jogging and ended up having to construct an impromptu lean-to in which he could take care of a sudden urge to poop in front of an Hasidic Jewish woman’s house and the tale of his trip to a doctor in Beverly Hills and his subsequent parking garage venture really had me laughing. And, for those of you who wondered why Delaney doesn’t partake in sex with butts, well...that’s here, too. And it’s just as funny.

There are 14 tracks on this CD and each one of them comes packed with big laughs. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Delaney and hesitate at shelling out your hard-earned money on a comedian you don’t know, trust me on this one. An hour from now after you found yourself laughing at a day in the life of Delaney’s marriage and the fact that he uses other people’s kids to figure out how to raise his own, you’ll be glad you did.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Patrice O'Neal's "Better Than You"

I miss Patrice O’Neal.

When his previous album, "Mr. P", was released, there was a 20-minute bit that didn’t make the final cut due to time constraints. It was a segment that, according to his widow, he hated to cut from the project. He had plans release it as a bonus track...or something. “Better Than You” is that “something” and after the first few minutes you can tell why it was hard for him to let go. 

O’Neal was a master of saying things that political correctness has trained us to never say in public. The lesson to learn from the whole Tiger Woods affair was simple: if your man has never womanized, don’t marry him. He was fed up with women forcing him to create their identities, and if you’re honest with yourself, you know men are the better gender.

Of course, the real laughter comes when O’Neal explains himself, the utter ridiculousness of his firm stance only serving to feed the flames of humor. I especially love the new ranking system he has when it comes to judging how good a woman looks. Instead of the standard one-to-ten scale (because, let’s be honest, giving someone a “six” is still much closer to “ten” than they deserve), O’Neal used the one-to-thirty scale. Some real thought went into this and includes three separate subsets of hotness into which a woman can fall. We all realize it’s a completely juvenile and sexist practice, but as long as men are going to be handing out scores (and we are), we might as well improve the procedure.

There are a couple of instances where O’Neal goes to the audience to do a little crowd work and it’s fun to listen to him interview various black women and come away amazed with how all of them have decidedly white names. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, this project is only 20 minutes long, but it’s 20 minutes I’m grateful weren't left on a shelf somewhere. Twenty minutes with Patrice is still 20 minutes with Patrice and he crams in an hour’s worth of laughs. When it comes to someone this funny, I’ll take anything I can get.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tom Shillue's "Better Stronger Faster"

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. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Josh Denny's "Social Hand Grenades"

Dear Ladies:

It’s time to step it up. The last time a woman has done anything substantial, it was Amelia Earhart and, if you want to stop seeing movies about her, please do something else to make yourselves seem useful.


Josh Denny

That’s not an actual letter written by Denny, but based on a bit that appears on his new album “Social Hand Grenades” it wouldn't surprise me. If you find that kind of humor offensive or unfunny or uncalled for or highly misogynistic or definitely not something that should be laughed at, then I highly advise you move on to the next review. If, however, political correctness hasn’t stolen your soul and robbed you of a sense of humor, then stick around. You’re in for a good time.

In the spirit of comics like Doug Stanhope and George Carlin, Denny revels in seeing how far over the line he can go. He doesn’t just cross the line, though, he plays with it. He pushes it, moves it, and whips it around his head as he gleefully touches on topics like race, rape, and slavery.

I couldn’t help but think of those guys in the orange vests you see at football games moving the chains back and forth to indicate the line of scrimmage. Just as they go up and down the field, forward and back, changing where the line is, Denny does the same thing. If you thought the aforementioned topics were things you would never laugh at or should be joked about, Denny is about to open your eyes to a brand new you. As he pushes the boundaries (starting off his show by calling his mother an asshole for only offering 1-ply toilet paper in the guest bathroom), you soon realize that there is funny to be found in the most taboo of topics as long as it’s done right. 

Denny does it right.

There is a nice blend of truth-in-comedy and delivery that Denny employs. Yes, there are certain stereotypes about black people we’ve all heard, but Denny comes at them from a different direction, correcting them where they need corrected and creating all new ones to ponder. As he explains why a date shouldn’t include a hike in the woods, it's true he’s making some outrageous statements, but  at the same time he put me in mind of Charlie from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” He also comes up with some jacked up theories but you don’t get mad at him; you just laugh. Denny knows how wrong he is and assumes that since this is a comedy show, you won’t take him too seriously. Jokes is jokes, folks.

Don’t get me wrong, though. The album isn’t made up entirely of button-pushing material like his racist father, the similarities between homosexuality and pedophilia, and why black women never get abducted. There’s a great bit on weight loss and how you can lose 50 pounds and still be fat. Denny gives the “Live. Laugh. Love”-themed decor the treatment it deserves and there’s an amazing track on people who drop the G-bomb on redheads (For all of us of alternate hair coloring, please don’t refer to him as a “ginger.” It’s “gin-jah”).

The title of this album and the corresponding cover art couldn’t be more appropriate to Denny’s comedy. He’s got a social hand grenade between his teeth and the pin has been pulled. Don’t duck and cover, though, or turn and run. Just sit back and enjoy the explosion.