If you like comedy done via storytelling, then the new album from Tom Shillue, “In Defense of Bullying,” is for you. It’s a great example of how to spin a yarn, keep it interesting and relatable, and get some big laughs at the same time. Over the past few months as Shillue has been rolling out his “12 in 12” series, he has shown just how good he is at the long-form approach, proving that good comedy doesn’t have to be a series of foul-mouthed one-liners and offensive insults hurled at the audience. Shillue has taken a page from the Bill Cosby Book of Comedy and instead recounts one childhood adventure after another. There’s no need to come up with silly made-up scenarios and “what if” situations when you have such a rich arsenal of experience from which to draw. Being inducted into The Crap Club, turning in vocabulary assignments that one could only get away with in a pre-9/11 society, and constructing a rumpus room from a failed go-cart are all examples of firsthand accounts that are too good to not share.
Each album in Shillue’s year-long experiment has a theme and this time around, as the title alludes to, it is his theory that bullying isn’t such a bad thing. I tend to agree with Shillue that bullying is a vaccine for life and when he explains that he’s a little tired of how bullying has become such a buzz word, I couldn’t help but agree. That being said, the album isn’t about what side of the issue Shillue stands on; it’s about his experiences growing up that were a result of being bullied (or, in some cases, bullying the bully).
Shillue didn’t grow up with play dates in the park but instead had...The Woods. He learned firsthand that sometimes the best way to confront a bully is to get in the first punch. He also learned the worst way to confront a bully is to not run away after you’ve sucker-punched him. Shillue had to navigate the perils of Boy Scout camp on his own and although his instincts led him astray when it came to whether or not he should bring along his Pillsbury Doughboy doll, they definitely saved the day when it came to his reaction upon the other scouts’ encounter with the toy. The moral of the story, of course, is “Laughter at Boy Scout camp can only mean one thing: Someone is being victimized.”
There is a nice feeling that permeates each of Shillue’s tales of triumph and adventure that gives the entire album a sense of nostalgia. Even though I wasn’t there to experience the Armour Hot Dogs jingle (Yep, those are the real lyrics. I YouTube’d it), the pillow fights with girls in a strange, hot room, or the wonder and majesty of the aforementioned ill-fated Ruggy Buggy, Shillue is able to make me feel like I was. It’s nice, and I’m looking forward to his next installment. It reminds me of the old Steven Wright joke: “I like to reminisce with people I don’t know.” When it comes to Shillue, there’s no one I don’t know with whom I’d rather reminisce.