Friday, May 31, 2013

Jack Hull's "The Irreverent (EP)"

The Irreverent EP” by Jack Hull is a bit of a misnomer. Just under 40 minutes long, it’s not really an EP and, truth be told, it’s not all that irreverent. (It should be noted that, although the cover art indicates this is “The Irreverent EP,” it is listed on both Amazon and iTunes as simply “The Irreverent.) Hull has a lot of energy and is committed to his material but it never seems to click into place. Perhaps he’s too committed to the material. Instead of feeling like a loose flow of thoughts, it sometimes comes across as a humorous monologue. Regardless of how the audience reacts (even when they don’t), he barrels on, his delivery often coming across not as a stand-up comedian, but as someone on Saturday Night Live doing a satirical impression of a stand-up comedian. 

Although it was released in April of 2013, a lot of the material feels dated. It was recorded in 2011 so topics like the death of Osama bin Laden and the Octomom feel stale. It felt as if Hull was using every bit he’s written for the past 10 years, so when he brings up the Michael Richards N-word scandal, Columbine, and the anti-piracy commercials in front of DVDs from the 90s as if they’re still hot topics in the news, it came across as worn-out and “been there, done that.” Hull isn’t breaking new ground and as a result, the laughs are few.

There’s a moment of confounding self-sabotage in the middle of his set where Hull decides to tell a poem. Of course, being a stand-up comic, we’re all expecting a joke, gag, or gimmick but instead we get a suckerpunch. He prefaces it by explaining he wrote it about having to perform his comedy in  “dive bars and shitholes,” inadvertently insulting everyone in attendance. I don’t think that was Hull’s intention, but when the audience suddenly goes quiet, you can tell they felt something. He then recites his downer of a poem in complete seriousness, lamenting how much it sucks having to perform for people in such crappy conditions and a cloud settles over everything. Should we apologize for making him perform? Is he mad that we came? Why are we being scolded?

The poem ends and there’s a brief round of obligatory post-poem applause. You can still feel the awkwardness in the room and Hull lets everyone stew in the silence. And then...out of nowhere... “Another thing I don’t get...why isn’t gay marriage legal?” It’s a weird transition if ever there was a weird transition and I’m not sure Hull realized how long it takes for him to bring the audience back around. Some of them, I think, never returned.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

HOLY FUCK. Live Comedy

Considering the massive amount of great comedy by great comedians on this project (Two CDs! Forty-seven tracks! Over 2-1/2 hours!), the title HOLY FUCK. Live Comedy is pretty fitting. You’d be hard-pressed (whatever that means) to find a more enjoyable time for - at risk of sounding like an infomercial - such an affordable price. I can’t help but remember back in the day when I paid $16.99 for a Comic Relief CD. Sixteen freakin’ ninety-nine. For a freakin' Comic Relief CD. Fast-forward 20 years and things have turned in favor of the comedy fan. There are more laughs here, more comedians, and you’re definitely not paying 17 bucks. Someone somewhere is getting ripped off but it’s not the consumer.

Each of the comics on this album perform a very abbreviated set, which is both a good and bad thing. It's bad because you want more, even though it would probably result in a 43-hour project, but good because it leaves you wanting more. If this project is like the free samples at Costco designed to entice you into buying a crate of almond-covered chocolate balls, then consider me an old woman rudely pushing others out of the way to get my hands on a box. It’s a great introduction (or re-introduction, in some cases) to some of the smartest and wittiest comics working today.

There are a lot of names here that I recognized and was excited to see listed. Dana Gould doesn’t disappoint with his trifecta of taboo topics, Matt Braunger nails classic rock radio promos, and Beth Stelling shares those three little words a woman doesn’t want to hear from a stranger. Jackie Kashian makes the most of her 3-1/2 minutes with a really solid set on being married (to a man!) and animal optometrists, My Strange Addiction is nicely skewered by Natasha Leggero, and Rory Scovel perfectly captures the spirit of horrible preachers. Kyle Kinane kills it on his encounter with an aromatic-enthusiast and his defeat disguised as a victory was a great moment in “Funny Because It’s True”-thiness.

As for those I wasn’t as familiar with, well, let’s just say I’m glad they came to the party. Michelle Buteau is wary of anyone who owns a shed and rightfully so. Johnny Pemberton has a great bit on the lack of Southern characters in futuristic films (“My word!”) and I’m stoked to hear more from Allen Strickland Williams (“Fool me once...go fuck yourself”). Joe Wengert discusses the four stages of manhood and I was pleased to find myself at level three.

Hasan Minhaj hates neck-tattooed, Tapout-wearing guys and Cornell Reid loves Michael Jordan. Ron Babcock gave his business card to a girl on the subway and Eli Olsberg got off on the wrong stop. Jarrod Harris talks to himself in a hilarious Hannibal Lecter-ish creepy voice that made me wonder when he was going to call himself a ruuuube, Shawn Pearlman has a great way of telling someone they have hives, and Baron Vaughn’s journey through the land of early-90s Disney cartoons is a bull’s eye.

And that’s just the first disc. The first disc! I didn’t get to touch on everything that made me laugh or every note I jotted down while listening but that’s because I wanted to leave room for disc 2. That’s right, there’s more!

I didn’t even get to Jeff Wattenhofer’s idea for arriving at work 30 minutes late (or his struggle finding someone in the audience to use as an example) and Pat Regan’s catchy love letter to San Francisco. Raj Desai is a real “comedian’s comedian” and Andy Peters finds himself in a laundry game of “finders keepers” against his will.

Matt Ingebretson ponders the origin of his dimples, Sean Green was the guy at Penn State who was arrested, and Sean Patton’s riffs on the names of the other comedians on the roster are so bad, they’re amazing. Barbara Gray has an odd track record with men, Will Weldon makes abortion material fun (finally!), Zach Sherwin explains the new phrase “legato gelato,” and Hampton Yount nails it when he wonders what it would be like if the strippers at “Crazy Girls” really were.

I haven’t done the comedians justice by flying through the bullet points but if there weren’t so many of them, and so many of them that were so funny,’s one of those “too much of a good thing” things, and I’m not complaining.

A huge kudos goes to whomever it was that put together the lineup. Founder Dave Ross starts off the first disc and sets the bar high. It’s a standard that’s maintained throughout the entire duration of both CDs. With many compilations the organizers save the best for last or, reversing that, the evening starts off strong and peters out. There’s none of that here. This is a solid lineup and the fast pace and limited time means we always cut right to the funny.

I hope I covered everything. I’m sure I didn’t. It’s like the first time you go to the Museum of Natural History. You spend six hours there and then realize you have four more buildings and eight more floors to cover and you want to see it all but you also want to see it all but it’s all so good and there’s so much of it and....just....


Monday, May 27, 2013

Josh Blue's "Sticky Change"

One might be tempted to think that Josh Blue, a physically disabled African-American (technically) who always looks homeless, would have a lot to complain about. And you might have a point. Blue doesn’t see it that way and proudly declares that even though life gave him lemonade... he drank it.

Most of Blue’s material on the new album Sticky Change deals with cerebral palsy, but how could it not? It’s not a crutch, though, used as an excuse for a series of hacky jokes about people with CP. Blue throws some jibes in his own direction and is the first to encourage laughing at one’s self, but his bits aren’t poking fun of him or his condition (something beef and barley can’t fix). Instead, he wisely focuses on his encounters with other people and believe me, he’s had some doozies.

Blue loves watching people respond to his appearance and when others assume his physical limitations also mean he’s mentally challenged, he’s more than happy to oblige. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting to board a plane before those in first class and when people in the park see an Asian baby in the stroller he’s pushing instead of a bucket of doorknobs (he and his Japanese wife have two kids), I wish I could see the look on their faces.

When Blue encounters another guy with cerebral palsy at the Mall of America, you might think things would go a little smoother. If only Blue were that fortunate. He’s a magnet for jacked-up circumstances and has learned that if you’re going to wander the same mall as someone else with an identical affliction, make sure you’re the one walking in front.

Living with Blue means you need to have a sense of humor and not only does he enjoy giving his wife a hard time (claiming he “got” her online), he also proudly states she is the most important thing in his life. His son has clearly inherited his Blue humor and there’s nothing quite like seeing him do an impression of his son doing an impression of him. 

I enjoyed the entire CD and especially liked the second half. Blue shares the best way to stop a gangster from feeling so tough (It’s hard to look hard when you’re opening a Popsicle wrapper) and he has a clever bit on becoming President that takes an unexpected - and very clever - left turn. The project ends with a simple request for a straw on an airplane and tailspins into an amazing tale; the humor heightened by Blue’s timing and storytelling style. 

Simultaneously cutting and inspiring, this is a project that embodies the sentiment of the classic Monty Python song, “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life.” But please, whatever you do, hand your change to Blue. Don’t throw it.

Al Madrigal's "Why Is The Rabbit Crying?"

Friendly and approachable, Al Madrigal makes it easy for one to settle in and enjoy an evening of comedy. Although his appearances on The Daily Show have helped make him a familiar face and name, his new CD Why Is The Rabbit Crying is devoid of any politically-leaning humor or satire. He’s just a regular guy (whose vocal similarity to Alan Alda never hit me until listening to this project) and you’re in safe hands as he opens the door and invites you into his home life.

The album runs over an hour long and much of his time is spent on his adventures with his kids. As it turns out, they’re a comedy gold mine. His young daughter, armed only with a sippy cup and an insistence to not leave the bathroom while dad is trying to get some alone time with the sports page, knows how to mentally slice and dice him in only four words (“Daddy’s got a ‘gina”). His son is a comedic genius in the making whose refusal to be embarrassed by his own wardrobe is commendable and whose threats to his father when he becomes elderly are impressively cutting. Madrigal is no chump, though, and he knows how to use his kids to his own advantage, particularly when he employs them to exact Halloween revenge on his neighbors without their even knowing they’ve become pawns in his ongoing next-door chess match.

Madrigal’s relationship with his wife is one of true teamwork and like any couple who’s been together for a while, they don’t mind giving each other a hard time. What’s cool to see is how they react in the face of danger and their marriage stands up to (and passes) the test. It’s simultaneously funny and heartwarming as they stand, hand in hand, communicating via Morse code/hand squeezes to not. Laugh. At the Cholo. With a snack list. It’s the perfect picture of a couple in total sync.

When Madrigal steps out of the confines of his home and family life, his stories stay just as funny. He hilariously recalls the time in college he had to talk the cleaning lady (Liam Neeson) down from an accidental mushroom high and explains the best way to anonymously tell someone to lick your ass. He struggles to understand why someone chose to go with the “crying banana” metaphor and there’s nothing quite like the image of gang members huddled around - and beholding the wonder of - a tree frog.

The phrase “there’s something for everyone” may be a bit cliche, but with this CD it’s a cliche that’s true. Everything is here, from racist Golden Corral commercials to deciding on which option for a massage is the best (there are only three choices and they all have a downside). Madrigal covers it all and no one gets hurt along the way. Except for the cholo-adjacent and those with the wifi password “att&t.” But they kinda had it coming.

Danny Lobell's "Some Kind of Comedian"

I had a pretty mixed reaction to Danny Lobell’s “Some Kind of Comedian,” and the Glasgow audience where he recorded this CD seemed to, as well. One moment they’re applauding and laughing and the next they sit in silence as they watch a joke fall to its death. Is it the cultural barrier of having a Yank perform in Scotland? Is it because many of Lobell’s jokes, seemingly designed solely to stun instead of tickle one’s funny bone, came across flat and contrived? Or is it somewhere in between? I think the answer is D) All of the above.

As a stand up, Lobell steamrolls through his jokes like a shock jock unaware of the crowd’s reaction. Actually, I’m not sure if he’s unaware of where the crowd is or if he just doesn’t care. He’s going to tell these jokes, regardless, and if they want to try to jump on the train, it’s up to them.

Lobell is incredible at dialects and characterization, and when he assumes a persona other than his own the CD comes to life. I just don’t know if that’s a good thing. Even when he’s speaking in his flawless Scottish, German, Australian, Middle Eastern, or South African accents it still feels forced (and, at some points, sort of racist). Rather than dipping into his voices to enhance the stories, it seems the stories were designed solely to show off what he can do and as a result there isn’t always a lot of substance. Instead, I felt like I was listening to a 45-minute voice acting demo reel. It’s a really good demo reel but when it comes to laughs, for me they were very few and far between.

The CD ends on a surprisingly strong note and Lobell gets a great reaction from the crowd, but it's not because of anything particularly funny or cleverly written. It's just that Lobell does a really good impression of a Japanese flute. It's cool, yes, and sounds dead-on but...yeah. Just because you slap it onto a generic "imagine me masturbating to this music" scenario doesn't mean I'll find it hilarious. It's just a really good impression of a Japanese flute set in a cah-raaaaaaazy situation. 

When I think about it, I guess it makes sense I didn't connect with this project. I've never been a fan of the shock jock radio style and the "Can you believe I just said that?" bravado. It's not that it's not good, it's just not for me.

Geoff Tate's "I Got Potential"

I Got Potential,” the name of the new CD from Geoff Tate, has got to be the most understated album title in recent history. Granted, it might lower your expectations a bit, but from the moment Tate gets going you realize you’ve been had by a ringer.

Tate has great stage presence and his storytelling skills are incredible. Take for instance the time he found himself stopped at a 4-way stop intersection. The woman driving the vehicle in front of him threw her car into reverse and backed into Tate’s rental car. That’s the basic story of what happened. Tate breaks it down and is able to mine 10 minutes of phenomenal material out of it. Thoughts that flashed through his mind in milliseconds - Is this really happening? Where is the horn on this car? Should I make a beeping sound? If so, which one? How do I roll down the windows? Is the rental company going to take my child/dog as punishment? - are all analyzed and gone over with a fine-toothed comb and the result is a hilarious re-telling of an incident that, in someone else’s hands, may just be a slightly interesting footnote.

Remember the time you were listening to that other comedian and they said something really funny and then just dropped it and moved on to something else? That’s not the case with Tate, and that’s one of his strongest attributes as a comic. When he’s found material that works, he knows it, and he expands and expounds, making it work better and better. Five of the 11 tracks on the CD clock in at just about 10 minutes and each one contains some of the best comedy I’ve heard this year.

The rant on the apologetic Domino's ad campaign (Sorry for screwing you guys for the last 40 years) raises more than a few questions that should be addressed and their way of proving they use real tomatoes (Let’s kidnap people and then freak the hell out of them and make them think they're in a house that is collapsing!) is exposed for the outlandish, over-the-top way of proving a point that it is. Tate revels in the pointlessness of putting a survey on a box that will be almost immediately thrown away and his attention to detail should be applauded. I loved it when he observed "Chef Daniel" in the commercials prancing around in his little chef's hat and simply commented that was probably "the first day in 15 years he didn't wear jean shorts to work."

Considering the length of the CD (around 70 minutes) and how incredible it is (really, really incredible), I can think of no reason you shouldn’t have this one in your collection. You’ll love his take on the reaction of Oprah’s in-studio audience when her bear-attack survivor guest removes their prosthetic ear and you’ll find yourself giggling and snickering along with Tate and his dumber-than-you-would-think-a-doctor-should-be brother as they partake in a highly unscientific scientific Chicken McNugget experiment. There’s also a tale that includes Darvocet, Wal-Mart, a pirate costume, mushrooms, rat water, and the fact Tate was hit by a car twice within seven days that, again, really needs to be heard.

Geoff Tate is a true master of knowing what is funny and how to make it as funny as possible. Never before has placing your order at a Subway sandwich shop in the Deep South or revealing the items needed to pull of the perfect crime* been so laugh out loud-able. Geoff Tate, you don’t just got potential. You got the funny.

*Two shovels, a garden (you must have a garden!), and a clean shirt

Tom Shillue's "Halfway There"

Sure, “Halfway There” refers to the fact that Tom Shillue is six months into his year-long promise of one new project a month, but it also speaks of who Shillue is as a person. As he reveals pretty early on (and in past installments of the “12 in 12” series), he’s always thought of himself as a cool guy and wants other people to share the same sentiment. Who doesn’t want that? He usually ends up getting the attention he craves, but what Shillue thought would win him the Joe Cool rep only provided others with ammunition to see him as a dork. I can relate. Wearing skinny leather ties to high school one day and Weird Al-style Hawaiian shirts the next certainly didn’t win me any cool points as a teenager and dressing like a hip Christopher Robin didn’t do it for Shillue. When he relates the story of his failed plea for votes while running for class president (an announcement over the high school PA system complete with backup singers) I was immediately reminded of my own failed attempt in a lip synch contest, complete with backup singers who also had puppets. Our high school personas both possessed a self-confidence that, even when things didn’t work out as planned, would not be deterred. I think we were both self-aware enough to know when our schemes didn’t work, but not because our ideas weren’t cool. The audience just didn’t get it.

That was high school and hindsight is 20/20. Shillue now knows that people in high school - himself included - are just stupid. There’s no grasp of the big picture and the only world that matters is the one within a 5-foot radius of ourselves. To further prove how much of a dork Shillue now admits he was, he reads from a diary he kept as a teen. I never kept a diary but if I did, I don’t know if I would now be brave enough to read from it in a public forum. I lived in my head, I know how much of a pretentious idiot I was. Shillue, on the other hand, says what the hell, and I’m glad he did. 

High School Shillue pines for romance, an attribute that’s held over into his adult life, and hearing him recite what I’m sure he thought at the time he wrote it was nothing short of poetic beauty is a real treat. He proudly states his intentional decision to “non-conform” to anything and he sidetracks himself as his self-analyzing turns into a rant on why he loves being a liberal. As an adult, the charm of Shillue’s storytelling is the way he digresses, humorously skipping from one bunny trail to the next, and it’s quite revealing to see that’s always been part of his writing process. It’s an aspect I’m glad he hasn’t left behind.

Shillue is a master at conjuring up the spirit of what it is to be young and his attention to detail (Marathon bars! The tragedy of getting a “flat tire” in the school hall. Riding in the rear window of a car) is just as strong as a scent that takes you back to a precise moment of your youth. It’s because of his knack for transporting you back in time that Shillue’s tales consistently work so well.

Halfway there. Already? Time flies when you’re having fun, re-living both your past and the past of a comedian you don’t know. Here’s to the rest of the journey. I know it’ll be a good one.

David Huntsberger's "Explosion Land"

I’m not the smartest guy in the world. I’m not saying I’m a big dummy, but I also know enough to know that I don’t know a lot about a lot. If the conversation steers toward comedy, TV, movies, or the Muppets, then I’m good to go. Once we stray into the territory of the NFL, politics, Ayn Rand, or anything having to do with motor vehicles, I shut the hell up. I smile, nod, and pretend I tooooootally agree 100% with what is being said. Basically, I don’t know about grown-up guy stuff.

I especially don’t know about grown-up grown-up stuff. Evolution, the theory of relativity, nanotechnology, science, robotics, microcosmic theory...I can’t even pretend I’m keeping up with those topics. I don’t smile, nod, or pretend I’m agreeing. Instead, my brain just explodes inside of my skull and I do my best to sit still and hope no one has noticed. 

On his new album, “Explosion Land,” David Huntsberger covers all of those grown-up grown-up topics (and more) like it’s nothing and, don’t ask me how, I kept up. Not only did I keep up, but Huntsberger made it funny. And not only did he make it funny (really funny) ...he actually made it interesting. 

Perhaps it’s because he moves from topic to topic so fast, his rapid-fire pace forcing you to pay attention. He doesn’t give you time to be confused. He eases you into each thought and theory, explaining when needed without being condescending, and the result is a crash course on laughing at the marvels of the world surrounding us all. 

Huntsberger begins with the tale of a train ride he shared with a woman who had recently undergone a brain injury...and had a lot of opinions. It is during this story he introduces his theory that although you may not know exactly what you believe, you definitely know when you think the beliefs of someone else are wrong. That’s the basic foundation of this CD - explaining why he believes certain points of view and tenets held by others are wrong. He isn’t a dick about it and he doesn’t insult or degrade those who believe in mermaid goddesses or Christianity. Where another comic who feels the same would attack, Huntsberger instead chooses to explain. It’s a conversation, not a condemnation.

Of course, the fact Huntsberger keeps you laughing throughout his time on stage offsets any offense one might feel and he plays Devil’s Advocate for both sides quite well. He questions the faith of religion but also the faith it takes to believe in science. He doesn’t want to ruffle the feathers of feminists who believe God is a woman, but he does wonder why they would want to claim it in the first place.

There are some really good bits on prosthetic limbs and how far they haven’t come compared to other scientific achievements and I too have wondered why, if Earth is traveling and spinning as fast as we’re told it is, we aren’t sticking our heads out of the window with the wind in our hair, vomiting all over ourselves. His re-enactment of a patient with Tourette’s undergoing surgery to have a chip implanted in his head cracked me up, as did his whisper/smolder impression of a man who insists he “didn’t come from no damn mon-kay.”

Huntsberger makes smart things fun and his Cargo Theory - explaining how humans really got here - made me appreciate just how creatively his mind operates. The next time I find myself in a conversation that’s way over my head, I still won’t know how to react to things I can’t grasp mentally. But I will have a great explanation for the weird twitch I get every time I step out of the shower. 

"Urban Myth Comedy Storytelling"

The "Urban Myth Comedy Storytelling” CD is a collection of various comedians telling stories they don’t usually perform in their act. It’s explained by host DC Benny as a sneak peek behind the scenes of comedy, just funny people telling funny stories they share with each other backstage. A lot of stand up comedy is storytelling, though, so the sense of unique novelty he seemed to be offering was a little lost on me. 

That being said, the stories contained here are enjoyable and are fun to experience. I did find it a bit funny (unintentionally, I think) that Benny explains to the crowd they’ve gathered the best storytelling comedians for this special night and then declares he’ll be starting things off. I don’t think he intended to claim himself as one of the best, but I snickered a bit when it came out that way. 

Benny’s stories (He gets to go twice! No fair!) are OK but things really pick up when Vic Henley takes to the stage. He tells the fantastic tale of a night in the UK he saw a comedian offend a Little Person in the audience and get taken to task. The way the following events unfolded - and did a complete reversal  in the process - were quite humorous even though, like Henley and his pals waiting in the wings, you saw what was going to happen a few moments before it actually did. The moment the revelation settles in was a fun one and even heightened the punchline before it happened.

Jess Wood and Big Jay Oakerson both have tales to share about a brush with the thug life, one of them at a party and one as a children’s entertainer, respectively. Ben Bailey’s encounter with comedian Louie Anderson came with a couple of left curves that were fun to navigate and kept you guessing. 

My favorite track is Dean Edwards’s tale of his brief stint on Saturday Night Live and the introduction of his wife to host Denzel Washington. I freely admit I’m an SNL junkie and I love hearing stories about what goes down behind the cameras and that may have influenced my choice a bit, but it also reminded me of how much I enjoyed watching Edwards on the show and how frustrated I was at the time that he didn’t get much of a chance to really shine. His impressions of Denzel and fellow castmate Tracy Morgan are spot-on and add a nice touch.

Instead of fading in and out of audience applause between tracks, there are instead weird clips and snippets of backstage activity. I’m sure it’s a nice glimpse into what’s going on behind the scenes on the video version of the project, but on an audio-only format it sounds bad. You’re never sure who’s talking and because we jump in during the middle of a sentence and sometimes fade back out before the story is over, there’s no way of knowing what in the world is going on or being talked about. It’s a bit jarring and would have been better left out of the CD/MP3 version.

All in all, though, it’s a good project with a nice collection of comedians making some fun contributions. It’s not exactly the sneak peek at what goes on backstage that was described in the opening since it all happens on stage and it’s not a group of comedians hanging out together telling stories to each other, but I guess that’s splitting hairs. Regardless of how it’s described, if you’re a fan of funny people telling funny stories like I am, then this is for you.

Brendon Burns's "Pompously Lectures Americans"

When Brendon Burns “Pompously Lectures Americans” I didn’t get the feeling I was being pompously lectured to (or at). Instead, I found myself laughing hysterically as this Aussie (who lives in Scotland and recorded his new album in Chicago. How’s that for tackling every cultural boundary?) wound himself up over and over again, only to unravel hilariously each and every time.

Burns is a man who expresses himself in random explosions of shouting (shou-tiiiing!!) and then quickly tries to cover his tracks. Sometimes his screams are the punchlines and sometimes they are his reaction to the audience pulling back when he makes an outrageous declaration. The latter is my favorite of his outbursts, chastising the audience for “oooh-ing” with a simple, “Shut up!! Take it!!” It’s one of a couple of catchphrases he coins and it cracked me up every time he said/screamed it (It’s a catchphrase, I should note, you don’t feel dirty or ashamed for laughing at, unlike the infamous “Git r dunnnnn”).

Considering how much Burns loses it one might think his comedy would be off-putting, but quite the contrary. From the very first occasion when he grapples with the fact that Americans had no idea Australia was battling a massive bushfire, Burns’s outburst hit me right in the funny bone and I was with him throughout the rest of his 70-minute set.

One of my favorite aspects of encountering other cultures is marveling at the differences  in everyday life (Here they say “slainte” instead of “cheers.” And over here, they call the trunk of a car a “boot!”) and Burns has made this fascination one of the main pillars of his CD. He explores which words are taboo in one region of the world and not another and genuinely questions why terms like “Oriental” are offensive. His points are valid and make sense, which only makes the gravitas we’ve given certain labels all the more humorous. From the struggle Australians and Latin Americans have comprehending each other to the most racist brand of cheese, Burns tears through each bullet point with an eager fervor that kept me laughing.

When he approaches his material on Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Burns prefaces it by admitting it may sound hack-y. As he delved into his impression of Ah-nuld pitching the ideas for his movies (most notably his “comedies”) and the What If Arnold Did Stand Up Comedy premise (“OK, OK, joke numbah wan...”), I was pleased to find there was nothing hack about it. Burns’s take is perhaps the funniest material I’ve heard on Schwarzeneggar and I’m glad he showed us how “Ah-nuld shoots holes in zah roof wit his guns of truuce!”

One of the facets of dangerous comedy is being able to go places others wouldn’t dare and coming out unscathed. Burns succeeds every time. When he touches on Bindi, daughter of the late Steve Irwin, what he says...well...shouldn’t be said in public. But I laughed. I laughed and laughed and laughed some more. I probably shouldn’t have. But I did. When he compares the way Irwin died to Daffy Duck blowing his beak backwards looking down the barrel of a gun, well... Let’s just say my wife would be hurt if she knew how much I laughed at that. Burns pulls it off, though, and I have to give him credit for figuring out a way to do it and still having the audience on his side. 

The album wraps up with a genius idea for confounding those in the future by drilling a hole into Mount Everest and chucking a dog down it and he tells the true tale of Michael Barrymore and his party gone horribly, horribly wrong. It’s a fantastic album and hard to believe this is his first for American release. Hopefully this will serve as a nice foot in the door and the Yanks will catch up with what the rest of the world already knows: Brendon Burns is funny as hell. And oh yeah... Australia is on fire.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Tom Shillue's "Trust Your Heart"

Tom Shillue is back with “Trust Your Heart,” another “12 in 12” installment, and once again my review will be littered with words like “nostalgic,” “reminiscence,” and “storytelling.” Shillue has been releasing an album a month for the past seven months and I’ve really grown a fondness and appreciation for his style and approach to comedy.  Each month is like checking in with an old friend and I find myself eagerly looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

This time around is no different. Once again Shillue presents us with a few tales of his past, this time focusing on his college years. It’s a special time for him, as it is for most people that age, stepping out on one’s own and experiencing new adventures and I was with Shillue every step of the way.

One of the reasons I connect so well with Shillue is he often seems to be telling my own story. We’re the same age, having both grown up in the 70s, so I completely relate as he recalls what it was like living in a time when there was no way to contact a girl who left a note on your door (no cell phones) and the only time the word “gay” came up was when you were talking about the Bee Gees.

Shillue finds himself involved in the theater program at Emerson College and is exposed to a whole new world of fascinating people: Girls who wear the heck out of character shoes and guys who really like Judy Garland. He finds himself pining after an older girl in the drama department (Not for sex, but just because he likes being around her) and the following summer he gets a job at a theme park where he’s introduced to an entirely new cast of characters of whom he speaks of fondly. 

I can relate because all of those things happened to me. Trade Emerson in for Ball State and Canobie Lake Park for Busch Gardens and Shillue is telling my story (or at least parts of my story). Of course, my experience wasn’t exactly what Shillue experienced. I was never smart enough to think of running my own pizza delivery business in college and I didn’t befriend a magician who revealed the secret to his dove trick through tragically accidental circumstances. I wasn’t part of a Barbershop Quartet (I ran with knights and gunfighters) and although a few of my theme park friends loved to drink, none of them had cool names like “Squimbo Pie.”

There are three main characters Shillue focuses on: Monica, Nicole, and the magician Tab Halley. Each of them leaves an indelible impression on Shillue and there’s a real sense of heartfelt sentiment as they weave in and out of his life. And then, they all return once again in an epilogue of sorts. It’s a little heartbreaking to find out what happened with each of them (I almost called them “characters,” but these are real people) but Shillue wraps up each of their stories with admiration and grace.

The title of the CD (along with the names of the two tracks contained therein) all join together to echo the mantra of Shillue’s magician friend. It’s a special sentiment that rings true throughout all of the stories found here and perfectly describes the feeling one walks away with after listening. I’m glad I spent this time with Shillue and I think you will, too.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lisa Landry's "Use This Against Me"

Lisa Landry is going through a divorce and she is not happy.

Granted, being in a foul mood is completely understandable given the circumstances. Divorce is never easy and dealing with everything it entails is never conducive to being the best person you can be. There are a lot of feelings, emotions, and just crap in general you have to cope with/avoid/figure out/figure out what you’ll figure out later. Kudos must be given to Landry who, in the midst of everything happening around her, decided to record “Use This Against Me.”

It was a brave decision and one I’m not sure I would have/could have made at the same point in my life. Because the CD was recorded while everything was hitting the fan, there’s no sense of hindsight here, just pure, raw anger. Landry hasn’t had time to step back and look at things. It’s as though she’s been slammed into by a bike messenger and knocked down - knocked down hard - and hasn’t been able to begin to stand up again. 

If you were to hear her telling the bike messenger story (read: metaphor I just made up) to someone later that night, it would sound very different than if you were standing beside her the moment it happened. Her friends around the dinner table would laugh and gasp as she talked about how she didn’t have time to react, how her coffee was spilled on a pigeon, and how her sunglasses spun in the air and landed perfectly on a homeless man nearby.

But we’re not getting that story. Things have just gone down and we’re getting the brunt of Landry’s initial rage. She’s still in the “He’s an asshole!!!” phase and she’s determined to tell anyone who will lend an ear as her anger is taken out on everyone around her. The Blame Game is in full swing as she explains that he’s the one who wanted to get married, he’s the one who wanted a kid, and he’s the one who told on her for getting high. I wanted to hold up my hands in surrender and say, “Hey, hey, I just came here to laugh.”

I really want to see what Landry would do (or will do) with this material a year or so down the road when the cuts aren’t still so fresh. They say that Pain + Time = Humor and I think that’s true. Pain + No Time = The Innocent Bystander Who Witnessed The Bike Messenger Incident And Gets Screamed At For What The Hell Are You Looking At Asshole?!!!

I’d rather hear the story later, at dinner, when we can all laugh about it together.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Dave Fulton's "Based On A True Story"

Dave Fulton is a comedian who, similar to the likes of Bill Hicks, has an air about him that sounds constantly disgruntled and annoyed. It’s not part of his shtick, it’s just how he comes across (at least to me), even when he’s not disgruntled or annoyed, and it made it a little harder for me to get into the proceedings. That’s probably part of the reason why - comedy blasphemy, I know - I’ve never been much of a Hicks fan. Fulton, on the other hand, fares a little better (again, at least to me) and although I didn’t find myself laughing nearly as much as the live audience at the recording of “Based On A True Story” (they genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves and you can’t take that away from Fulton), there were some tracks that stood out to me as great bits.

Originally from the Midwest (which means he pronounces the president’s name “brocka-bamuh”), Fulton has lived in London for 10 years and has brought back with him reports of his adventures abroad. Life in the U.K. has taught him that folks overseas drive crazier, drink harder, crazier and drink harder. Residing abroad has also instilled in him a sincere and true hatred for Canadians (or, as he calls them, Mexicans with sweaters)

There are a lot of things in life that have caused Fulton to become a bit jaded, and for good reason. After hearing how Medicaid screwed him over for life you can’t really blame him for being a bit bitter toward the program and being hit by a car while driving a motorcycle tends to make one wary of the London streets. Often times, though, the focus seemed to be more on the actual venting that comes with the relaying of events that unfolded rather than finding the humor therein. As a result, I spent the majority of the tracks listening without really laughing, feeling like I had been trapped by the guy at the party who’s had a few too many and needs to get some things off of his chest to whomever happens to be within earshot.

That being said, there are a couple of tracks I truly enjoyed, both of which appear in the second half of the CD. One of them is the tale of an Irish friend of Fulton who, as a child, was commanded by an elder to drown a bag of kittens. Yes, I know how horrible it sounds in black and white, but when Fulton explains how the Irish accent makes the story humorous, you can’t deny he has a point. The standout track recalls the time Fulton and his pals, coked up and ready for action, decided to install a peephole in the front door. It’s 12 minutes of great storytelling and really showcases Fulton at his best.

I’ll be the first to admit this album as a whole didn’t strike me like it did many others and it’s very likely I’m in the minority with my ho-hum reaction. I can recommend the “Ireland” and “Subsidizing My Career” tracks and encourage you to check them out. If you like them, go ahead and take the rest of the album for a spin. If not, that’s OK, too. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Pete Holmes's "Nice Try, The Devil"

Even though we’ve never met, I feel like Pete Holmes is an old college buddy. Every time I hear he’s coming back into town (or, in this case, releasing a new CD), I get excited. I always have a good time hanging out with him, he makes me laugh, and his friendly good-guy vibe is nice to be around. Each time he visits he has a new weapon in his arsenal of “Pierce!!!” gags and even though Holmes himself admits they are stupid, they still crack me up. They’re so ridiculous, in fact, they crack Holmes up as well and it’s fun to watch him snicker at his own utter silliness.

“Nice Try, The Devil” is no different and another fun visit with the guy who likes to point out that we are indeed having fun (His declaration that something is “McDonald’s” is quite infectious and my friends and I have already begin throwing it at each other). Holmes has a wholesome quality about him that is inviting and welcoming. Perhaps it’s his “aw-shucks” approach to life or his overwhelming fear of The Rapture that has held over from his childhood. Because he is self-aware and realizes how comes across, he's able to squeeze some nice observations from it (most notably this being the only one of many alternate realities where he’s not a youth pastor).

Holmes has given us a thoroughly enjoyable CD that is packed with 57 minutes of solid laughter. The first time he mentions the show is coming to an end (I say “the first time” because after he makes this statement, there are still three more tracks to come), my inner comedy lover screamed “Noooo!” I wanted more. And I got it. The second time he hints that we’re almost done, I got sad again. And greedy. Yes, I wanted more and I got it but now that I got it, I wanted more more. And there is. Holmes generously continues serving up one hilarious anecdote (or group butt-clench) after another. 

You never know what Holmes is going to throw at you, so it’s best to expect anything. And everything. Breast milk? Check. The most off-key greeting at the pearly gates you'll ever hear? Got it. An amazing cake-baking/safe sex metaphor? Yup. Even when I didn’t get the reference, I got the joke. For example, although I had no idea which character from Street Fighter Haggar is (At first I kept picturing the viking from the Sunday comics), I was still able to keep up with and follow Holmes’s hilarious “what if video game characters went to the doctor” bit. 

When Holmes actually does wrap things up, he does so with the amazing story of his encounter with a telemarketer. It’s a great capper to an already-great set and made me want more (Don’t worry. If you spring for the CD/DVD combo package of this release, you’ll get it). The man in the audience during an awkward pause summed it all up best. This album is McDonald’s.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dylan Brody's "Writ Large"

Dylan Brody is a humorist, not a stand-up comic. There is a difference between the two, as Brody explains on his new project, “Writ Large.” Mostly cuff links.

Brody doesn’t stand in front of a brick wall (well, maybe sometimes he does) spouting one-liners about his outrageous wife, his can-you-believe-this-guy boss, the female gender as a collective, or hurling good-humored racial insults at the crowd before him. Instead, he tells stories about life. Insightful, well-written (and well-spoken aloud), and reflective, Brody uses humor to enhance his tales like a chef uses a spice to season a dish and take it to the next level. 

If you’ve followed my writings for long, you know I’ve loved Brody’s work since the first time I had the pleasure to listen and review. Everything he’s done has struck a chord with me and this time around did not disappoint. He is someone with whom I’d like to sit down and share a pourover, mostly because I want to hear him tell more stories. (To be completely transparent, I also wouldn’t want to sit down with him and chat. He is so eloquent and well-spoken, even when he’s speaking off-the-cuff, I fear he would walk away from our conversation muttering, “Does that guy know about anything besides Muppets and Weird Al Yankovic?”)

Brody has a kind heart and, like myself, shares a romantic view of the world. When he is touched by something, he doesn’t want to merely tell you it touched him. He wants you to be touched by it as well. To say he succeeds is an understatement. 

When I listen to music, there are usually two different ways I take it in. The first is just to be used as noise, something to fill the silence in the background as I go about my daily routine. The second, though, is when I’m going for a specific mood or tone. When I’m sitting down to read or enjoy some coffee I’ll usually go for something like Miles Davis or Regina Spektor. On Friday afternoons when I want to just sing along and celebrate the weekend’s arrival, I’ll throw on the Billboard 1991 collection or my wife’s latest Pitbull-filled Zumba compilation.

Brody is my Miles Davis of spoken word. 

His comedy sets a specific tone and it’s perfect for those times you want to just kick back and hear a good story. On a recent road trip to Nashville I put on this album and my wife and I found it to be a perfect third companion. Together we smiled, laughed, chuckled, listened, savored, and “awww”-ed. We allowed Brody to transport us to the street outside of his Tae Kwan Do studio as he - and some local street “toughs” - learned a life lesson. We eavesdropped on Brody’s conversation with a sweet and kindly octogenarian at the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of his wife’s parents and we were both equally enraged at a couple of idiots in the crowd at the CD recording who laughed at a moment that was clearly not designed to be funny, but sentimental and sweet (I could go on about this if I let myself. It was a reaction so uncalled for, Brody was forced to pause and register it was actually happening. I’m glad he left it in though, if for no other reason than our visceral reaction showed me how much we connected with Brody and his process).

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I fell in love with this project. I have a man-crush on a CD and I’m not ashamed to say it. Brody makes me want to be a better writer. His humor makes me actively seek out the higher road of reacting to things in my own world and his way of savoring life’s little details makes me want to seek them out in my own.