Friday, March 29, 2013

Tim Young's "What World Is This?"

The name of Tim Young’s new CD asks the question, “What World Is This?” It’s a query Young spends 29 tracks delving into, covering every conceivable topic along the way. Each track is relatively short, rarely longer than a few minutes as he spryly hops from one topic to the next. The audience has no trouble keeping up with his pace, laughing along as he offers relationship advice from a tree, explains the real meaning of a purity ring, and reveals how he tests airport security by stuffing his pants with army men and animal crackers.

Young’s stage presence is friendly and conversational which often helps to soften the blow of what it is he’s talking about. Bestiality and lamenting the lack of a friend close enough to check for tapeworms goes down a lot easier (no pun intended) when it’s approached in such a light-hearted and easy-going way.

Not every track is a grand slam but that’s OK. A team doesn’t need a grand slam to win the game if they’re hitting consistently at the plate and getting runners on base every time at bat. That seems to be Young’s approach and it works. It’s much more enjoyable for me as a listener to get a good consistent stream of clever lines and solid laughs than having to wince as someone strains to hit it out of the park at every turn, simply to have them strike out over and over again. [Yes, I realize this suddenly switched gears into baseball metaphors but what can I say? It’s springtime and I’m looking forward to being let down by my Cubbies again].

If I had one complaint about the album (and I guess it can be interpreted as a compliment of sorts), it’s that Young sometimes moves to the next topic too fast. There are a few times he makes a quick observation or throws out an oddball idea (pranks on the elderly in casinos, his plea for girls to stop breeding with idiots, even his juvenile idea for buried treasure from a tiny insane pirate) I felt was really clicking and I wanted him to dig a little deeper before moving on. Basically, I was enjoying my time and didn’t want to leave the park quite yet. Fortunately, when Young moves on, more often than not it’s off to somewhere equally (or more) enjoyable: The texting skills of someone with three thumbs, how to test whether or not a drug is safe, and the reason Michael Jackson was especially disheartening for black people.

Spring has sprung and “What World Is This?” seems an appropriate album. Young’s comedy is a nice breath of fresh air and you’ll never look at butterflies frolicking in the park the same way again. Sure, they might be dancing in the sunlight, eager and excited for the new season, but they also might be trying to rape each other. Play ball!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mitch Fatel's "Public Display of Perversion"

I’m generally not a fan of Gilbert Gottfried’s stand-up comedy, but I do get a kick out of his tweets. His voice makes me cringe; his quips of 140 characters or less make me smile. I can’t stand watching - or listening, actually - to Bobcat Goldthwait, but I have a real appreciation for his work behind the camera. Call me crazy, but it takes more than a growled “Arrrrrarrrrrgggghah!” to make me laugh. 

Which brings me to Mitch Fatel and his new CD, “Public Display of Perversion.” His onstage persona is a mixture of Gottfried and Goldthwait but one who has suffered a traumatic brain injury. And not in a good way. I’ve seen a few clips of Fatel’s man-on-the-street pieces from “The Tonight Show” and I found them entertaining. Why he chooses to do stand-up in a slow, mumbling, giggling delivery that makes you wonder if he’s retarded (I’m not the first to question this. Do a Google search for “Is Mitch Fatel...” and see if “retarded” isn’t the first word you’re offered to complete the sentence)...I just don't get it. He's a chore to listen to and his weird, creeper-style whisper he overuses throughout his time on stage doesn’t make things any more tolerable.

While I was growing up in a suburban Indiana cul de sac, there was a kid in the neighborhood whom we all thought was hilarious because he would say dirty words. He would say “dick” and we would all snicker and look over our shoulders to make sure there were no adults within earshot. There was no punchline to make us laugh, but when you’re nine years old, you don’t need one. We would have lost our minds if we had heard Fatel’s CD, but I’m no longer nine years old and it will take more than someone whispering “I love breasts” over and over again to make me crack a smile.

To Fatel, though, this approach is comedy gold and pretty much the basis upon which his 50-minute CD is built. He says something, repeats it in a low whisper, and then waits for the laughs to roll in (“I love breasts. Oh yes. I love breastsssssss”). If you love hearing someone weirdly whisper that he loves breasts or loves women or loves vaginas, followed by a nervous giggle, then this is the album for you.

One thing I found particularly irritating was Fatel’s apparent lack of self-awareness. He continuously brags about being famous, being a big-time comedian, and what it’s like to get recognized everywhere he goes (Really?). Fatel caps nearly every track with a whisper/giggle, muttering phrases like “I’m so funny,” “I’m so talented,” and “I’m hysterical” and it took every bit of self-control to refrain from screaming, “No you’re not!!” 

I spoke to a friend about this project and he said it best: "Another hour of Mitch Fatel whispering about vaginas." Finally, something about this CD that made me laugh.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Nate Craig's "Infinity"

Which is worse, turning your colon into a parking ramp or turning your toilet into a wishing well? That’s the sort of query Nate Craig wrestles with on his new CD, “Infinity,” and it’s random questions like this that made me laugh throughout the entire hour. As he ponders the nutritional value of a 99-cent quarter pounder, Craig finally decided that it’s probably healthier to just eat the 99 cents. Problem solved, let’s move on.

Craig isn’t a comedian who just stands on stage and asks rhetorical questions. He is a rarity in that he also provides answers. Finally. He freely admits he’s not the first comic to wonder how socks disappear in the dryer, but he just may be the first to give us the solution (and it’s not a magical portal like we’re often led to believe. The answer is much simpler than that, dummies)

It’s plain from the very beginning that things here are going to be a bit different than usual. When Craig is met with a lackluster response after being brought onstage, he gives the audience a pep talk worthy of The Gipper himself. He leaves the stage and has himself re-introduced and wouldn’t you know it, it works.  When he proudly declares that kids on leashes “seems right” and admits he really could care less about the recession (because being broke means you’re basically recession-proof), I knew we were going to get along just fine.

Not only does Craig have a real knack for touching on childhood memories I had nearly forgotten about (the kid who, after the baseball game during the “hand-shake ritual,” doesn’t say “good game, good game”) but he also has a nicely skewed view of the idiosyncrasies of being an adult such as the person who stretches the truth about where they’re from, the reason investing in gold makes no sense (and the commodity that actually needs picked up), and the high-speed scrap metal game of Jenga the Mexicans have so ingeniously mastered.

There are a lot of big laughs packed into each of the 19 tracks on the CD. In fact, there isn’t a skippable cut to be found on the project and for one that almost touches the 60-minute mark that’s really saying a lot. Craig has unique insight on food poisoning (basically what happens when your body fires you) and he’s onto something when, despite the musings of his feminist mother, he lists the only two things a man can do better than a woman. One of my favorite moments comes when Craig takes Benjamin Franklin to task (of all  people, but trust me on this, you won't want to miss it). Yes, Franklin had clever rhyming quips that would help make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise, but Craig is more interested in whiskey, sex, and brunch.

Infinity is a wonderful album and there’s something here for everyone, regardless of your personal comedic tastes. Despite the fact Craig supplies us with a lot of answers to life’s mysteries, he doesn’t claim to have all the answers, and that’s OK. In fact, his biggest enemy is his own mind, which often proves to be a worthy foil because although we only use 10% of our brains, our brains use 100%. Never fear, however, as Craig has found a way to confound the seemingly unconfoundable. I just hope you like the taste of boogers.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Ray Harrington's "The Worst Is Over"

The new CD from Ray Harrington, “The Worst is Over,” is time well spent with a comedian whose grounded likability and regular guy-ness makes the hour fly by. There are some celebrities who, although I don’t know them personally, just seem like nice people to be around. People like George Clooney, John Goodman, and Tom Hanks have that “good guy” feel to them and Ray Harrington belongs in that same category. And just like those three examples, Harrington can really make me laugh.

This project was recorded in Portland (not that one, the other) and Harrington immediately develops a playful rapport with the seaside crowd. The bachelorette parties in attendance (Three of them? Heavens to murgatroid!) are given the attention they crave and are then quickly put in their place. It’s a nifty bit of crowd work that I found quite impressive: Recognize any potential time bombs ticking in the audience and defuse them immediately.

The bulk of Harrington’s comedy is observational and it’s fun to witness him try to fit in with his Fantasy Football-loving friends, questioning the prison wood store (“Other states don’t have such a thing because they recognize a box of nightmares when they see it”), and trying to field the TLC-inspired hypothetical “would you still love me if...” questions unleashed upon him by his wife. 

Harrington stands at a towering 6’7” (so don’t ask him later) and the idea of him trying to explain what Chuck E. Cheese is to people in the UK is a fun mental picture. In fact, when it comes to imagining scenarios he has a few of his own he’d like to suggest...ladies. Yes, he’s a married man (sorry to disappoint) but if you are going to fantasize about being with him, Harrington kindly suggests you set those fantasies at a Wendy’s location.

Growing up without a father figure can sometimes be a struggle and Harrington has turned his awkward and un-led stumble into manhood into some very funny bits. Without someone to teach him the ways of the Guy Code, something as simple as going to a public restroom alone for the first time as a child can become a major achievement. Of course, it’s not until Young Harrington is in there that he realizes just how much he doesn’t know. 

Whether he is experiencing his first tornado in Nebraska or attending the Batman premiere next to a guy with a backpack full of question marks, Harrington is quite humorous as he keeps one eye on the perceived trouble around him and the other on the nearest exit (I know that makes it sound like he’s cross-eyed, but you know what I mean). The album comes to a close with an almost-standing ovation that you don’t have to be present to enjoy and the audience - full of seagulls, people with weird laughs, and the occasional shifty squirrel - once again gets their moment in the spotlight.

Sometimes life is scary, confusing, or just plain ridiculous. Sometimes it’s not the guy who needs enhancement and sometimes when girls go out together, one of them gets lost or left behind. No matter what happens, though, Harrington reminds us that not only is the worst over, but now is the time to laugh at it. I like that.