Thursday, July 18, 2013

Owen Benjamin's "High Five Til It Hurts!"

2013 seems to be the Year of the Nice Guy. So far we’ve had releases from the likes of Kevin Nealon, Tom Shillue, Al Madrigal, Dylan Brody, and Pete Holmes. Not only have they all made me laugh, but they seem like genuinely good people and it always makes me happy when good things happen to good people. Carrying on the Nice Guy tradition is Owen Benjamin and his album, “High Five Til It Hurts” and once again words like “likable,” “congenial,” “approachable,” and “friendly” immediately come to mind. 

Benjamin is a lot of fun and his laid-back stage presence is inviting. He’s comfortable to be around and he has an excited eagerness about him that is infectious. He comes across as sincerely grateful to be doing what it is he’s always wanted to do (or at least, to do the thing number three thing he’s always wanted to do) and his excitement carries over into every part of his set.

 At one point, Benjamin compares men to dogs and his way of breaking it down is fresh and accurate. Yes, we’re such dogs that we’ll even watch other guys play “throw the ball” and Benjamin himself could easily be compared to a canine. As a dog person myself, I mean that in the best way possible. Lovable, eager, and happy to please, Benjamin is an extremely tall golden retriever who just happens to occasionally get a shot of bear mace in the face from tiny cowboys.

Listening to this CD isn’t like listening to your average stand-up comedy album. It’s more like hanging out with your best bud at a Buffalo Wild Wings who just happens to be really super funny. I loved his summation of Twilight (“Two gay guys and a weirdo”) and I’m in total agreement with his request for additional car horns that carry a variety of different purposes. No longer will there be any confusion as to who is being honked at and why, and the feeling of camaraderie and bro-ness will abound on the city streets. He has some great “what would you do” scenarios on hand (He’s right....Dudes really do love that game) and I can’t wait to talk to someone on the phone with whom I don’t want to talk just so I can put to use Benjamin’s tips for how to get off the phone.

The last 20 minutes of the album are spent with Benjamin seated at a piano. He’s quite talented at the keys and before you have time to roll your eyes at the idea of another “singing comedian,” Benjamin cuts you off at the pass. His songs are short - and I mean short - and benefit from their brevity. He gets in, tells the joke, and then moves on to the next. His dissection of Timbaland and explanation of how every song is the same wouldn’t work nearly as well without the piano accompaniment and it’s a solid segment of his time on stage. 

My only complaint about the project is on the CD/DVD combo. I wish the DVD came with the full one-hour version as is on the CD. Instead, the version that is included (not to mention a couple of other bonus videos) is the 22-minute half-hour broadcast version. But, considering that the downside is the fact I wanted more, that’s saying something and is really a compliment to Benjamin and his comedy. I just wanted more hang time with  my new friend. You may call him Owen or Benjamin but his real friends know him by his secret name: Maricón.

Wait, what?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Melinda Hill's "Six Ways to Bomb on America's Got Talent"

Comedian Melinda Hill has released another project where, instead of doing stand-up, she reads a pre-written humorous story. I hesitate to use the word “comedian” because Hill isn’t really doing stand-up. She doesn’t refer to her notebook simply to remind her where she’s at or which bit is coming up next like Mitch Hedberg or Janeane Garafolo. Hill is more of an essayist reading her work aloud. 

Hill appeared on a popular television talent show, took a nosedive, and has written a short essay about her experience entitled “Six Ways To Bomb On America’s Got Talent.”  Although I found the writing humorous in parts, her reading doesn’t always do her material justice. The production value is pretty bad and was captured on what sounds like a cheap digital recorder sitting in the back of the club that distorts every time the crowd reacts. 

The single track is only 11-1/2 minutes long and although I did enjoy it more than her last outing, as a whole I can’t recommend it. As of this writing it’s on sale at iTunes for three bucks which seems a little steep, especially when compared to the work comedians like Louis C.K. and Jim Gaffigan have released for five. Instead, save your pennies and watch Hill’s appearance on AGT on YouTube for free. Chances are your comments afterward will be just as funny as Hill’s and you won’t have to pay $2.99 to have someone remind you that what you just watched wasn't very good.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Brian Posehn's "The Fartist"

On his new album, there are some clear signs Brian Posehn is getting older. Much to the chagrin of the audience he has given up smoking weed and going to strip clubs. Even though years ago he vowed to never do bits on being a dad (and invited you to punch his yet-to-be-born baby in the face if he did so), he would now like to rescind the offer for the sake of his his son’s safety. He has even forgone a heavy metal-inspired album cover that has been a trademark of sorts of his comedy and instead went with one that pokes fun at Oscar-winning black-and-white films. 

Lest you fear Posehn has grown up too much, allow me to remind you this new CD is entitled “The Fartist.”

You can put Posehn in adult situations like growing older and dealing with the physical changes that come with it but you can’t take the fun-loving kid out of him. He loves being married and adores his family but he still has fantasies of teaching his penis to fart and is confounded by the ratings systems of various body holes (Why is the back one considered the A-hole?)

Posehn has deftly found a way to face mature issues from a completely immature perspective and, just like it always is with him, it’s a lot of fun. As he gets older, the smells coming from his body (the project IS called “The Fartist,” after all) have noticeably become more potent and he has two separate stories about accidentally crop dusting in public (one of them a random comic book store nerd, the other being Christian Slater in an audition holding room). He struggles with the proper way to raise a son, but the hard-hitting issues that take up most of his concern include the proper way to introduce him to the music of “Weird Al” Yankovic (originals first or Al first?) and the fear that he will grow up to - gulp! - like “The Phantom Menace.”

If there are Posehn fans who feared family life would rob him of his funny, they can rest easy. His sense of humor works just as well when he talks about the “apocapypse” with his son as it does when he shares the meanest tattoo he’s ever seen on a stripper. If you prefer Posehn in oddball situations, then you’re going to love the time he found out someone had a fake eye and he has an incredibly well thought-out sexual fantasy that really proves a point to Megan Fox.

Brian Posehn, friendly, nerdy, easy going, and still incredibly angry at George Lucas, has become exactly the kind of comedian he always hoped he wouldn’t: The kind who talks about his family on stage and how much he loves them. Even though he always hated it when other comics did the same, he has managed to also become the kind of comedian he always hoped he would be. A funny one. Who still tells fart jokes.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Lonely Island's "The Wack Album"

As you more than likely know by now, The Lonely Island has returned. If you thought “The Wack Album” would contain anything but amazing beats, incredible production, impressive cameo appearances, and a ridiculous fart joke - even though you have to wait until the final track to really cash in on the latter - well....have you heard of these guys?

The new project delivers exactly what The Lonely Island-ers have always presented: Songs that, were it not for the hilarious lyrics, could easily be passed off as “legitimate” club hits. If you were played the songs contained on the CD without the lyric tracks, you’d be shocked to learn these beats and hooks were written by three of the funniest guys on the planet. 

I’ll admit that upon my first listen, I wasn’t sold. In fact, I was a little disappointed. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was, but this album didn’t immediately connect with me the way their fist two releases did. Although I smiled a few times, there were no songs that jumped out and punched me in the funny bone the way that, for example, “Jack Sparrow” did on “Turtleneck and Chain.” It should be noted that T-Pain once again has the standout “LOL” moment. Just like his “I fucked a mermaid” phrase on their debut album, once again he killed me with a great line in “I Fucked My Aunt.”

As I continued to listen, though, something changed and with each repeated spin of the CD I began to like it more and more. The fact that each of the songs is a really good song helps and the more I listened to the guys brag about how good they are at hugging, it struck me as funnier each time. By the time it came to sit down and put together this review I found myself really loving this project.

The Lonely Island doesn’t mind revisiting past personas and themes. The “We Like Sportz” guys are back, this time declaring “We Need Love,” although I was a bit let down their friend Steve didn’t get called the nickname by which we’ve come to know him. “I Don’t Give a Honk” recalls their previous “Punch You in the Jeans” and Justin Timberlake reprises his role for the third time in the appropriately/coincidentally titled song “3-Way.”

As always, it’s a lot of fun to hear the musical guests who have come along to take part in the joke. It’s no surprise that Hugh Jackman and Kristen Wiig are hilarious (I could totally picture their song as an SNL Digital Short shot entirely in soft-focus), but I found it refreshing to also have Billie Joe Armstrong along for the ride, giving his all as the voice of the Mayor of New York desperately pleading for props as the guy who really runs the city. Solange helps the guys display their vast knowledge of punctuation (or not) and Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar turn the anthem of the current generation into a careful warning.

Despite my initial trepidation, when all was said and done “The Wack Album” won me over, I got my head on straight, and I recommend it highly. The CD is everything you could hope it would be: Funny. Random. Goofy. Head bob-inducing. Refreshing. Pretty much everything but wack.

Myq Kaplan's "Meat Robot"

When it comes to the art of high-speed self-correction, you’d have a hard time finding someone better - and funnier - at it than Myq Kaplan. On his new album “Meat Robot” he shows exactly how skilled he is at keeping one step ahead of the crowd by confusing himself before the rest of us have a chance to realize we have been bewildered. Kaplan will make a statement like comparing losing one’s glasses to finding a needle in a haystack and before we even begin to register these two situations might not be totally comparable, Kaplan has gone on a rapid-fire bunny trail over-explaining how and why they actually have nothing in common. What starts off as a simple story about a pornograph he caught online spins off into a tangent and we end up contemplating why we can’t understand Donald Duck (He’s a duck. Ducks don’t speak English. Hence, we shouldn’t be able to understand him).

His fast pace forces us to listen closely and keep up and there are rewards in the form of one hilarious aside after another for those who choose to go along. Kaplan is quick to congratulate and commend the audience for following him, especially when some of his jokes require “two movies’ worth of knowledge.” 

Kaplan (not gay, but he is vegan and understands the confusion) is well-educated and enjoys playing the role of math and grammar bully (the latter being something he picked up from his grandmother, which earned her a nickname she just didn’t “get”) and as a result he talks “dirtily” in bed, not the way the rest of us say it. And I won’t even mention what he might say about that last ending-in-a-preposition sentence.

Because Kaplan moves so quickly, we cover a lot of territory and all of it is equally humorous. The reason divorce shouldn’t have a bad stigma is just as funny as why clothes strewn about his apartment is chivalrous is just as funny as the only thing Chuck Norris can’t defeat. He explains why something could never be 100% vegan and he has a point when he declares Zombie Gandhi is way scarier than Zombie Hitler.

One of the ways I judge how much I enjoyed a particular album is by how much of it sticks with me and enters my vernacular (Basically, how much of it I steal and use in my everyday life). Already I’ve opened a door for my wife and declared “chivalreeeeeee” (much to her confusion) and re-told numerous times the not-racist-at-all jokes that were whispered to him after a show. This is a CD that you can listen to multiple times without it losing any of its original luster. The 4th time through is just as funny as the first and at many instances even funnier. 

I’d like to end this review in a way that Kaplan - and his grandmother - would approve. And since “fun” is a noun and therefore cannot be modified (at least I think that’s what he said), the best way to put it is to once again say it the way Kaplan did:

This CD is indeed many funs.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Phil Keeling's "Conquistadork"

Who is Phil Keeling?

After listening to his debut CD “Conquistadork,” I’m not really sure. Keeling has a lot of different approaches and styles, never committing to one or the other. One moment he comes across as a Vegas-style comedian with his Hank Kingsley-ish “Hey now!” delivery complete with metaphors that sound straight from the heyday of The Strip (“He’s losing territory faster than an Indian with a fistful of beads”)

Later in the recording Keeling suddenly shifts gears and unloads all of his "sexist" material. It’s a bit jarring and inconsistent as he goes from Mr. Entertainment to The Guy Who Tells Women To Shut Up. Keeling delivers the jokes his mother doesn’t approve of and then merrily moves along, sometimes leaving the audience in a stunned “What just happened?” silence. 

The album would have benefited if Keeling had taken all of his jokes, with all of his different points of view, and compressed them together. Rather than spray the room with comedy buckshot, hoping to hit your mark with at least one of them, it’s sometimes better to go with one well-crafted sniper shot of humor. Keeling could have shaved ten minutes from his set and walked away with more laughs.

That’s not to say the crowd didn’t enjoy themselves. In fact, judging by how loud one woman laughed throughout the CD, I found myself wishing she didn’t laugh nearly as much as she did. I’m not saying her laugh, which sounded like a Warner Brothers barnyard animal, wasn’t distracting but...OK, I guess I am saying that.

Keeling’s ends his set with another opportunity for cutting his time on stage short. It has not one, not two, but three closers and comes across as if he couldn’t decide which one to go with, so he decided to use them all. Rather than thinning out the laughter by spreading it across multiple jokes, I would have preferred if he stuck with one and went for the big laugh.

Confident, comfortable, and self-assured, it’s clear Keeling belongs on the stage. I’m curious to see how his comedy evolves as he decides just which kind of comedian it is he wants to be.