Monday, January 21, 2013

Chris Hardwick's "Mandroid"

Mandroid is a fun romp through the mind of self-proclaimed nerd Chris Hardwick that covers a wide variety of topics with the giddy impishness of a kid whose parents have gone out of town for the weekend and left him with free reign over the basement and the 2-liter bottles of Mountain Dew being stored therein. His approach is one of snickering deviousness without crossing over into being straight -up malicious. He scolds himself for coming up with what he calls “the dumbest joke ever written” about vampires and their girlfriends’ periods, but he can’t help himself from not going ahead and passing it along to us anyhow.

Hardwick may be the only person in the entertainment world with more jobs than Ryan Seacrest (he hosts a highly-acclaimed podcast, hosts two different chat shows spun off of two already-existing shows, and is a skilled voiceover artist) but it is his standup that I enjoy the most. His comedy gives him the freedom to work without a net and talk freely about his friend’s roomba experience that went horribly wrong, his suggestion for simultaneously battling teen pregnancy and teen obesity (it’s not what you think), and the day he murdered 41 sharks (an incident the no-animal-killing Hardwick found traumatizing, but for people like me with a horrible fear of sharks this may have been the best day ever).

Although I’m a little skeptical of Hardwick’s “nerd” status (I mean, come on. He’s a funny, well-liked, good lookin’ guy who knows how to make a roomful of people laugh. He wouldn’t have lasted a minute in a “King of the Nerds” casting session), he nevertheless takes a strong stance for all things geeky (Not dweeby. There’s a difference. Most notably the fact that dweebs swallow in the wrong places in sentences). He has a second (and first) -place chess trophy, he follows up on Comic-Con mechanical pencil-centered violence, and there are enough Harry Potter jokes and references here to make me snicker (and my more sport-centered friends punch me in the arm).

I like that Hardwick doesn’t mind revealing who he really is, no matter how vulnerable that leaves him. He admits to a less-than-impressive talent he mastered in high school (incorrectly assuming girls would come running after witnessing such hand dexterity) and he freely recounts the time as a teenager he almost lost his virginity. And yes, he wants to own - and ride - a tiger.

It’s only natural that Hardwick would take such a hilarious stance against things that are most decidedly un-nerd-like. Antonio Banderas really is too sexy to be the voice of the Nasonex bee, Target now sells Ed Hardy t-shirts (“for the thrifty douchebag”), and his impression of an ex-sports bar bouncer bumbling his way through a haunted hospital in the name of ghost hunting cracked me up.

Despite his alignment with nerd culture, there’s something on this CD for everyone, and you don’t have to identify yourself as a nerd to find yourself laughing along. Hardwick has a fun outlook that, although you may already be familiar with him and his work, still comes across as unique and freshly individual. I like the way his mind works - there’s a killer Earth/Crispix comparison and his breakdown of various social networking sites is also hilariously dead-on - and enjoyed the album a lot. Nerd, dweeb, jock, douche, or Trekkie, no matter how you classify yourself, Mandroid is a great album that deserves a home on your playlist. It’s a Pandora’s Box of comedy!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Tom Shillue's "Lateral Thinking Puzzlers"

On his third installment of the “12 in 12” series (one new project a month for a year), personable and easy-going comedian Tom Shillue throws us a bit of a curve ball. Rather than merely presenting us with a standard evening of amusing stories and anecdotes, he does so in the form of Lateral Thinking Puzzlers.

Friends of mine may be quite familiar with the concept although they may not know them by that name. Growing up, I found them a fun way to pass the time, entertaining (or frustrating) friends and family members on long road trips, in line for an amusement park ride, or any other situation where we had some time to burn.

You’re probably familiar with these puzzlers as well: Someone presents you with a puzzling situation (a man is found dead in a room amid a pool of water, a group of people are found dead in a cabin in the woods*) and you must figure out what happened, usually solving a crime of some sort. The catch that makes it most annoying for those trying to solve the riddle is they are only allowed to ask questions that can be answered "yes" or "no."

Shillue offers a fun twist on the concept, where each track on the CD contains a couple of various puzzlers that, although impossible to figure out, are actual events from his life that are presented in lateral thinking form. Shillue sets up the sceario (“A student is alone in a room. The principal sticks his head in the room and says ‘You.’ The principal gets on all fours and crawls to the boy, sniffing him. The principal crawls out of the room and yells, ‘Be in my office in 10 minutes.’ When the boy gets there he is arrested by the police. What is happening?”) and the game is afoot.

There are a few moments where Shillue allows the audience to ask some questions, but there’s no way they’re going to figure these out. That’s OK, though, as the fun in these cases isn’t to actually figure it out, but to get to the story of, as he always so dramatically puts it, what is happening.

On the whole, there aren’t a lot of huge laughs or jokes and one-liners you’ll be repeating to your friends after listening, but Shillue is quite engaging and his stories are enjoyable to hear. His interaction with the crowd is friendly and he doesn’t intimidate, instead encouraging them to play along. This album isn’t about being funny ha-ha as much as it is about Shillue himself, flying on personality more than punchlines, and it  still works. When it comes to Shillue and his "12 in 12" series, the solution is simple: Yes.


*In case you were wondering, the first guy was stabbed with an icicle and the group of people in the forest were in a plane crash. It was an airplane cabin. Pretty tricky, eh?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Anthony Jeselnik's "Caligula"

Anthony Jeselnik’s “Caligula” is the first album Comedy Reviews is taking a look at in 2013 and it’s a great project to get things rolling. As someone who spends most of his time listening to comedy albums I often lose sight of who is a household name and who isn’t. It’s easy for me to forget that everyone else isn’t doing the same and I still find it a bit surprising (and, to be honest, disappointing) when I mention someone like Jeselnik to my friends only to be met with blank stares. 

You may know him from his many TV appearances, most notably in the most recent roasts on Comedy Central, but I know him as The Guy Who Says Things That Shouldn’t Be Said And Gets Huge Laughs While Doing It. With his laid back, confident approach, Jeselnik takes his time getting to the punchline. His setups aren’t rushed or tossed aside in a mad dash to get to the funny and the laughs are always proportional to the time it took to get there. If Steven Wright and Christopher Walken had a funny baby, it would be Anthony Jeselnik.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Anthony Jeselnik project without a lot of “I can’t believe he said that” moments. He starts things off with a rape joke. It’s surprisingly gentle and there is no actual rape involved, but’s a rape joke. And a very funny one at that. Don’t worry, though, Jeselnik promises it’ll be fifteen minutes before the next one. In the meantime, he has a lot of other sacred cows to cook. 

His ex and her pet bird, dating a “monkey face,” and his grandmother’s attempt to stop civil rights being taken for a suicide attempt all make an appearance and as funny as Jeselnik is when he takes them on, you never know how the funny is going to hit. He has mastered the art of misdirection, making you think you know where he’s going (or coming from) and then gleefully proving you wrong. His conversation with a former priest at an airport is an excellent example. It comes about a half hour into the project and by then one would think they have Jeselnik and his approach to comedy figured out, yet he still manages to surprise.

No one is safe from Jeselnik’s act, especially those who are closest to him. His girlfriend, his mom, and his dad all have tracks devoted solely to them and one can’t help but think the flattery of being mentioned on an album was short-lived. I’d love to see the look on people’s faces when, after asking what her son does for a living, his mom confesses he goes on stage and accuses her of being a racist Holocaust denier with a list of porno films on her resume.

There are countless killer one-liners to be found on this project and I am hesitant to repeat any here lest I take the fun out of hearing them for the first time. Rest assured that, regardless of how sensitive the topic (the mentally handicapped, death, Casey Anthony), Jeselnik will defuse them with impressive ease. Sure, he may not be a household name yet, but the truth is he could care less. He just wants you to know he’s a good guy, he would never hit a woman (even if she had a stutter), and he’s really really good at birthday wishes. Anyone who has a problem with that is invited to listen to track 14.