Friday, April 5, 2013

Tom Shillue's "In Defense of Bullying"

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.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Trevor Moore's "Drunk Texts To Myself"

The more I listen to “Drunk Texts To Myself,” the new album from Trevor Moore, the more I like it. That’s saying something because the first time I listened I really liked it. A lot. There’s something here for everyone. In fact, there’s more than enough here for everyone. The ten songs on the album span a vast array of musical styles and Moore has mastered each of them. Hip hop and rap? Check. Dub step? Check. Metal, gospel, and country? Yep, yep, and yep.

“Drunk Texts” not only shows off Moore’s ability to make you laugh, it also showcases how good he is at composing a song (along with some help from The Elegant Too). You aren’t just laughing, you’re laughing and you’re not just listening to’re genuinely getting into the songs. True enough, they’re songs about the founding fathers as straight-up gangsters (Imagine Jesse Pinkman as your American History teacher), foreskins, and the troubled heart of a bear, but still...this is good stuff.

On paper it might just sound like your average comedy touchstone being done for the millionth time, but when you consider the whole trouble with the Catholic church in rap form as written from the point of view as the Pope himself, you can’t help but feel like this is new ground:

“Mm, Look at the ass on him/he’s got a face that’s an 8 but an age of 10  
If a priest gets fresh and a complaint comes in/ Switch him to another city then game on again.”

The true inspired genius about Moore’s comedy is the way each song is approached. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a fan of country music (and that’s putting it lightly). After listening to “What About Mouthwash,” a song performed in the bass-iest good ol’ boy bass Moore can muster, I couldn’t help but do a little analysis. The song laments the fact that it’s Sunday and the local liquor store is closed so it’s time to stock up on mouthwash, glue, cough syrup, and Sherwin-Williams. If a song about getting drunk at any cost doesn’t make for a good country song, then I don’t know what does. In fact, to me, that’s what every country song is about: Let’s get drunk. Pick-up truck. More about being drunk.

And that’s when it hit me. 

Perhaps I’m reading more into things than Moore intended (See? Turns out I did learn something from my 9th-grade English teacher after all), but it seems that every song was written from the point of view of someone who doesn’t like whatever genre is being tackled. To a country music hater, all country music is about getting drunk. To those who aren’t into metal (Hi, mom!), all metal songs are about moms being bitches and flipping them off when they’re not looking. And there are so many We Are The World-style protest songs, they all seem to run together and end up being about - or against - everything in the world.

It’s brilliant, really, and Moore should be commended for being more than a writer of silly songs but a writer of silly songs with layers. In the first couple of minutes of “Help Me,” the target seemed obvious. Skewering Bieber-esque teen pop is nothing new but when Moore makes his appearance as the overbearing record label exec horning in on the fun, I couldn’t help but think of Patrice Wilson, the producer behind such train wrecks as Rebecca Black’s “Friday” and the even-worse Thanksgiving song who is a more than deserving target. Things just got real.

Another highlight comes on the title track as Moore reads off various random drunk texts that make no sense only to have them sung back to him (and commented on) by the always-hilarious Reggie Watts. It’s proof that not only can't Watts not make me laugh out loud, but when presented with an already-fun premise he takes it to the next level and beyond.

This CD is extremely foot-tappingly enjoyable and I must admit it also taught me a few things: 

  1. Before now I never knew how much Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln hated the fourth guy on Mount Rushmore (Calvin Coolidge, right?).
  2. I had no idea something like a metzitzah b'peh existed (My Jewish friends have been holding out on me).
  3. Man, that Tom Hanks is an asshole.