Monday, February 18, 2013

Tom Shillue's "Edgy"

Back in November when Tom Shillue released the first of his monthly “12 in 12” series, I was really impressed. The first album was a great CD and I wondered how he was going to keep up the momentum and release an album that good once a month for an entire year. It turns out I thoroughly enjoyed the first two chapters and, although I liked last month’s contribution, it didn’t quite measure up to the first two. Which brings us to “Edgy,” which I thought was OK, but not as good as the previous. For those of you who are into graphs and charts, the red arrow is moving in the opposite direction in which I’d like it to go.

This time around, I found Shillue doing a lot of idling rather than putting the car into gear and actually taking us somewhere. Instead of tearing down the freeway with the top down I found myself looking over at him from the passenger seat as we sat in a parking lot while he continually revved the engine saying, “Ready? Ready? Ready? Ready? Ready?”

Yes, I’m ready, let’s go.

Shillue’s stage presence, friendly and gregarious, is the same as it always is but his anecdotes don’t have that engaging quality that I’m used to. There seems to be a bit of a disconnect between him and the crowd. Maybe it’s because he’s tackling “edgy” topics like racism and sexism and that’s not really who Shillue is. Even as he explains why a woman’s reason for believing females should rule the world is ridiculous, he finds himself nearly apologizing to the crowd for his against-the-grain point of view. He admits the Brooklyn crowd didn’t care for the bit and now he discovers this crowd doesn’t either. Perhaps all he needs is a new wording, because the more he talks, the more you can feel the crowd pulling away.

One bit I did enjoy comes near the end of the album when, for no other reason than to try to be a rebel, he goes gunning for the Dalai Lama. The more he fake-rages against someone who symbolizes peace, the funnier it gets, and it’s a moment (the only moment, actually) that made me laugh out loud.

Other than that, though, I was a little let down with this one. It didn’t feel like Shillue was being Shillue and it was a little weird. That being said, I’m still looking forward to next month’s album. I like Shillue and am hoping that March is the month the big red arrow takes a northward turn. I’m rooting for you, buddy. Don’t let me down.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Keith Lowell Jensen's "Elf Orgy"

When it comes to the new album from Keith Lowell Jensen, “Elf Orgy,” I have good news and bad news. The good news is, Jensen has 20 minutes of really good, solid material. He’s on, the bits are clever, it’s genuine fun, and it’s a great club-ready set.  The bad news is, the CD is over an hour long.

After my first listen, I couldn’t help but think of all the stories I’ve heard other comedians tell about the time they were booked for a spot that was longer than they had prepared for. Usually the stories take place at the beginning of their career where they may only have a good 5 or 10 minutes and they are expected to perform for thiry. I’m not saying that’s the case here (because, quite frankly, I don’t know) but I am saying it’s how it felt. 

The first track begins a little rough and it’s a good five minutes before the first big laugh hits. Once it does, though, Jensen is on a roll and things really pick up steam. He tells the story of the time he and his daughter went to the grand opening of a local dog park and one never knew there was so much laughter to be found in watching a dog eat poop. Lowbrow? Yes. Juvenile? Yes. Funny? You’d better believe it.

From there Jensen moves swiftly into another animal/poop eating bit that encapsulates most of his time while working as manager at a Petco and it is every bit as enjoyable. It’s actually not as gross as what you're probably thinking but it is fun to hear him pass on a concern with which I had no idea how many pet owners suffer.

Listening to Jensen tell stories about the time he spends with his daughter is especially nice because it’s obvious how much he adores her. He brings her along on a lot of his adventures and you can’t help but envision the two of them tackling the mysteries of the world together, hand in hand, as she is taught to never trust a park by its name. Doing so might land you in the Wonderful World of Huffers.

And all changes.

After the sixth track (of 14), things kind of fall apart. You can almost feel Jensen trying to fill time as his stories become more drawn out and he begins to set up and explain his bits two or three times in a row before he actually gets into it. He not only sets up the story or premise, but then explains it again in case you didn’t understand him the first time around. What Jensen does, is, he explains the set-up over and over and over before he moves on.

Jensen settles into his low-energy approach that begins to feel less like a style of delivery (a la Steven Wright or Todd Barry) and begins to come off as...boredom. He seems to have lost interest in what he’s saying, as if he’s spouted the same stories so many times, he’d rather be at home watching TV. And if the comedian is bored with himself, the listeners don’t have much chance.

When Jensen uses the saying “bros before hos,” he then adds (without trying to be funny) that most women probably don’t know that “secret guy phrase.” Really? You can actually feel him lose touch with the audience, especially when he makes fun of two Christian women who came to an earlier show and told him they enjoyed themselves (of all the easy Christian targets out there, you went for the two who were nice to you?). By the end, he is on stage literally bragging about porn stars who are fans of his. There’s no joke or punchline, it’s just Jensen rattling off names no one recognizes and I found myself confused by his suddenly-desperate attempt to impress. 

As much as I enjoyed the early part of this album, it was completely overshadowed by the last two-thirds. It wasn’t until I went back for another listen that I even remembered there were parts that made me smile. If you find yourself wanting to pick up this album, I don’t recommend going for the full-on elf orgy. Stick with tracks 2-6 and opt for the elf makeout session instead. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Steve Gillespie's "Stever Fever"

Without a doubt, “Stever Fever” is the best debut album I’ve heard in a long time. Steve Gillespie has put together an amazing 40 minutes of comedy that comes packed with an impressive number of laugh-out-loud moments. The biggest laughs all seemed to come out of nowhere; I can honestly say I didn’t see one of them coming and it’s a testament to Gillespie’s clever writing and stage presence that he was able to sneak up behind me and punch me in the head time after time.

Gillespie starts off his set by addressing his physical appearance (“This is what I look like. Let’s deal with it”) and if any would-be hecklers had a remark about his lack of muscles or gangly body type, I’m sure none of them were this funny or clever or had a better reference to a cancer-stricken Justin Bieber. I especially liked Gillespie’s remark that, although people everywhere are being congratulated for losing five pounds, “nobody ever pats me on the back for never being a fat fuck in the first place.” 

Well played.

With Gillespie, life is approached in a full sprint, like a kid on vacation tearing down the beach to jump into the sea. He has come up with a fun game to play while in the car (albeit not one that is suitable for women. Or children) and he proves how much of a Glass Half Full guy he is when he reveals the upside to being fined $10,000 for hitting a construction worker with your vehicle. Gillespie speaks freely and unfiltered, which is quite welcome. I mean, let's be honest, those guys in bars who play the electronic punching game really are dickheads.

Although he proudly admits he’s not ready to be an adult (he confesses to pooping his pants eight times since he’s turned 18), he has some solid material on grown-up issues. Gillespie has a great point when he discusses how the youth of today are a result of Ritalin in the 80s and laments that in order for him to get proper medical care, he has to be involved in a car wreck. He seems disheartened by the fact that turning 30 means you shouldn’t have sex in a car anymore (and somewhat hopeful when he finds someone in the audience with a different point of view) and when he points out how much the NFL draft has in common with the slave trade of the 1800s, be honest, I’m surprised it never dawned on me before.

There is a real sense of light-hearted fun that is infused in Gillespie’s comedy that makes him relatable and easy to laugh with. The few times he interacts with the crowd are truly hysterical moments, especially his interaction with “Dough Boy” and the 41-year-old woman who looks beautiful for her age.

I really can’t recommend this CD highly enough. Even when Gillespie dares to tread where you feel you’ve been before (i.e. football is a gay sport, this generation is in trouble), it’s done so in a way that is head and shoulders above what you might have previously heard. What can I say? I freely admit it. I’ve got Stever Fever.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Robert Buscemi's "One Pretty Peacock"

Robert Buscmi’s “One Pretty Peacock” is a celebration of odd non-sequiturs that come at you seemingly without rhyme or reason. But, for those of you familiar with Robert Buscemi, that’s pretty much business as usual. His latest project continues his celebration of the nonsensical where old school jokes about a farmer’s daughter are back in vogue and killing two birds with one stone literally includes baby birds and a cinder block.

On paper, a lot of Buscemi’s material wouldn’t translate well. Much of the humor lives in the delivery and his commitment to what he’s saying. One of the tricks I learned during my days doing improv is  the art of saying something like you know it’s the funniest thing in the world. Even if it’s not. Confidence in what’s coming out of your mouth can very often be the deciding factor in what makes something funny and Buscemi has it down. What would otherwise be a groaner or eye-roller if spoken by someone else becomes a crowd favorite here and a lot of it has to do with Buscemi’s loyalty to his material and the tone in which it’s spoken. He plays the audience like a fisherman staging an underwater marionette show for fish and the crowd is unable to resist the bait.

Buscemi’s comedy can very well be described as an acquired taste and it may take a minute or two to find yourself getting into his comedy groove. As comfortable as Buscemi is behind the microphone and despite his commanding stage presence, often times there can be a bit of a wait between big laughs. He’s throwing a lot at the wall and the percentage of what sticks isn’t always high. There’s a good, solid laugh on each of the tracks on the CD (his love for women in fish nets, the best name for a cover band that covers a Yes cover band, and the ultimate question: Is it more fun to watch a child’s balloon pop or float away?), but considering how much material and how many one-liners he’s tossing out, it’s not a record-breaking batting average.

Toward the end of the album, Buscemi delves into a story about his time as an executioner during a past life. Compared to the preceding bits, most of which are just a sentence or two, it’s a noticeable shift of gears as he stretches the story out over three tracks. It’s a hit-or-miss ten minutes that I found difficult to remain focused on after a bit. I thought it was a fun premise (covering a particular occasion he was in charge of the iron maiden) but you can skip past these cuts and not feel like the flow of the show gets a little sidetracked.

I think Buscemi is at his best when he keeps brevity on his side. It doesn’t take long to explain why his Japanese-flag speedos are a bad idea or revel in the soothing sounds of fish hymens popping and it’s at moments like these when he’s really humming along. His ideas are fun and original and his method for ending a Hollywood meeting is something I wish would catch on. In fact, it’s inspired me to wrap up this review in similar fashion.

No matter what you think of Buscemi and the distorted lens through which he views life, you people know nothing of the sea.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Eugene Mirman's "An Evening of Comedy in a Fake Underground Laboratory"

As you browse through album listings at [insert your music purveyor of choice here], you will find an invitation to spend a lot of “evenings with” or “evenings of.” Doing an Amazon search for “An evening of” returns more than 4500 results. That’s a lot of evenings and a lot of people to spend them with. For what it’s worth, I highly recommend foregoing all (or most of) your other options and going with Eugene Mirman and “An Evening of Comedy in a Fake Underground Laboratory.” 

The title alone should let you know what kind of time you’re in for, especially if you’re unfamiliar with Mirman’s work as a stand-up (and if that’s the case, you’ve been depriving yourself of some of the best comedy you’re unfamiliar with). Unconventional, off-the-wall, and completely random, Mirman’s comedy comes at you from all directions and you’d find yourself asking over and over “Where did that come from?” if you weren’t so busy laughing.

Even the track listing on this CD/DVD combo brings a few chuckles and perfectly captures Mirman’s “Hey, by the way” style of comedy. “I Fell Down in London! Oh, and Bought a Plane” may very well be one of the coolest track titles to pop up on your iPod and the track itself, as Mirman returns a cell phone and is forced to give a reason why, is the perfect example of Mirman being his Mirman-iest. He finds himself in a random run-of-the-mill scenario and decides to have fun with it. 

That’s one of the things I love most about Mirman and his approach not only to comedy, but to life. There are so many opportunities out there for great comedy if only we would expend a little energy and creativity. Fortunately for us, Mirman has brought with him some visual aids to serve as an example (Yes, I know what you're thinking, but visual aids on an audio project don't detract from the experience, that's how good he is at what he does).  He signed up to join a Tea Party website and created some of his own slogans to share with the community  (“If Jesus didn’t want a revolution, then why’d he give me all this tea?”) and his banishment from Christian Mingle for having the best dating site “About Me” section was totally worth it. 

To say that Mirman has a knack for social commentary is a severe understatement. His reactions and responses to Facebook ads, abortion billboards, and questions from the audience are so brilliant in their unexpectedness and spontaneity, I would love to hang out with him for a day in Manhattan just to watch and hear him react to the world around us. 

Mirman loves to keep himself busy, finding new and clever ways to stay occupied by entertaining others - and himself. He does so by leaving random notes on bar napkins, creating signs for workplace bathrooms, coming up with ideas for books to be sold at Urban Outfitters, and purchasing full-page ad space in New York newspapers in which to post letters to Time-Warner cable. The latter is a sincere and completely-valid grievance cleverly disguised as a hilarious piece of written material that not only exposes cable companies for the horrible non-customer service-focused entities they are (Are you listening, Comcast/Xfinity?), but also includes an amazing list of plagues Mirman hopes strikes their corporate office.    

He also dabbles in the combination of comedy and theremin.

This project is a great example of what happens when you let someone who doesn’t appear to have a learning disability (and has the paper work to prove it) do their thing.