Friday, November 22, 2013

Bill Cosby's "...Far From Finished"

The Cos is back.

I don’t think you understand how incredible that statement is, so I’ll say it again. 

The Cos is back.

The Cos. Is back.

And he’s “Far From Finished.”

Not that he ever really went away. Despite the fact this is his first stand-up special in 30 years (Nope, I don’t feel old. Nope), he hasn’t been slacking by any means. He’s always kept himself busy by hitting the road and performing shows and it’s probably safe to say he is the most revered comedian we have around. I still think back to the scene in Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedian documentary where Chris Rock is telling Seinfeld about the Cosby show he went to see and how it blew him away. A few scenes later, Seinfeld is ducking backstage to catch a few words with the comedian and there’s a sense of awe and wonder; Dorothy finally entering the chamber of the Great Wizard.

There’s a reason Cosby is so widely revered. He's funny as all get out.

The first thing people say when I tell them there’s a new Cosby project is, “How old is he?” He’s 76 and just as funny as he was when he was talking about Noah, his brother Russell, and his trip to the dentist. In fact, for those of you have listened to Cosby’s comedy over the years, there are a couple of callbacks to some classic routines that are genius. Cosby doesn’t overplay them or make someone feel left out if they don’t quite pick up on them, but it’s a playful wink to those who are paying attention. 

If you're concerned that Cosby has become less funny with age...I mean, come on. What’s wrong with you? When someone is as funny as this, it never goes away. And if you were concerned that Cosby + Comedy Central = Crass, well...he addresses that concern at the beginning and does it so perfectly, you know in an instant that nothing has changed, and classic Cosby is here to stay.

Cosby’s material is still rooted in the classic themes in which he’s always thrived: Wives/Girrrlfriends (there’s a classic chess metaphor just waiting to kill you), his children (he brought you into this world, and...hey, let him say it!), his own stories from childhood (his buddy Otis and the sweet story of his boyhood crush on Bernadette), and how he’s never grown up (his tale of trying to sneak chocolate chip cookies is a lot of fun and his wife makes the perfect foil)

When I first received this project, I was excited to pull the bulky two-disc CD case from the envelope. My initial reaction was, “Oh wow, a CD/DVD combo!” Imagine my amazement when it dawned on me that both discs were CDs. That’s how much incredible material is included. Two hours and 15 minutes of brilliance that you’ll be raving about to friends immediately. They shouldn’t even offer single tracks on Amazon or iTunes because, really, you need to buy the entire thing. I’ve listened to it at least five times in the last couple of weeks and I’m not tired of it by any means. (And yes, the project is also available on DVD and Blu-Ray.)

I was talking to a friend about how much I love this project and he asked a good question. “Is it good because it’s good, or is it just because it’s Cosby?” The answer, really, is both. Yes, it’s good and yes, it’s Cosby, and the two of those factors together make for an album that is one of the best CDs I’ve heard not just this year, but in a long, long time (and maybe I’m just prejudiced because of the constant repeating of the phrase, “My friend Ed!”).

If you’ve laughed at anything Cosby has ever done, you will loveFar From Finished.” It’s a perfect addition to your Cosby collection and I don’t believe I’m exaggerating when I say it’s going to be an instant classic. I love that it’s coming out so soon to the holidays. When friends and family are over and the turkey has been eaten and everyone just wants to sit and digest, put this CD on. You’ll love watching the people you love laugh. 

Thanks, Cos. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Greg Fitzsimmons's "Life on Stage"

I knew I liked the new CD from Greg Fitzsimmons, “Life on Stage,” but it wasn’t until I found myself slipping his anecdotes into my everyday conversations that I realized just how much it stuck with me. Granted, I don’t try to pass off his material as my own but I am pretty sure people are getting sick of hearing me start off every other sentence with the phrase, “Ya know, I was listening to this comedian the other day...”

What can I say? If Fitzsimmons wasn’t so simultaneously accurate and humorous with his observations about insurance and the fact that it’s really just legalized gambling (“I bet I die.” “I bet you don’t.”) and the glass half-full way of looking at debt (It just means you had more fun that you were supposed to), then maybe I could start relying on my own wit to get myself through social interactions. Fortunately for people like me who depend on the insights of others to inject humor into discussions, he doesn’t show any signs of letting up.

Like it says in the old adage, what Fitzsimmons has to say is funny because it’s true. The countries with the most water really are the most powerful and the way we seem to flaunt it really is a little over the top. While arid societies struggle and their inhabitants walk two miles in sandals for a bucket of drinkable water, we’ve got theme parks devoted to sliding down it, we throw our extra money in it, and then we go home and poop in it. Take that, third world.

Fitzsimmons proves how good he is at working off-the-cuff when he ventures into the audience to play the game at which he is remarkably skilled, “Guess the Asian.” His foray leads him into a bit on Hawaii that is so good, it shows he’s either really really good at improvising or he’s got a great bit tucked away, hoping he’ll bump into someone from the Pacific paradise so he can use it.

For every nugget of truth Fitzsimmons doles out (If someone who can’t speak the language can steal your job then maybe you suck at your job), he’s also got some ideas that are...well, they’re pretty unique. He makes a strong case for not getting glasses when you get older, reveals how to get a man to do ANYTHING YOU WANT, wonders why we rescue dogs but not the homeless, and strongly believes no woman should leave an abortion clinic feeling ashamed (You just won a million bucks!).

There is a friendly playfulness to Fitzsimmons’s delivery that softens the blow of his ideas, even when they push the envelope or dip into “blue” territory. He’s not mean-spirited or angry and because he’s smiling when he gives his explanation of life, you feel free to laugh without worry of who might walk into the room. True, it’s not exactly life as described in the BBC television series, but life as seen through the filter of a very funny man.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Jim Norton's "Please Be Offended"

Jim Norton is one of those comedians whose albums I’ve come to trust. You may find yourself wandering around the store and see a new CD from him in the COMEDY section. You can confidently buy it without giving it a preview listen. With Norton, you know he’s going to be on edge, you know he’s going to have a word or two for the idiots of the world (or, as he calls them, “goose eggs”), and you know he’s going to make you laugh. His latest, “Please Be Offended” does just that.

Despite the name of the album, as long as you have your sense of humor in tact and are willing to admit people do some really stupid things (even if you’re the guilty one), you’re not going to be offended. Unless you happen to think the Westboro Baptist Church is actually doing the work of God or you’re a pedophile who finds kids sexy (Something, it should be noted, Norton just can’t wrap his head around. The incessant questions alone guarantee he’ll never be accused of such a horrible crime)

It seems there are a lot of people in the public forum today screaming about the innumerable ways their rights are being violated and Privacy is the topic that has Norton screaming right back. A good chunk of the album addresses the subject but not in a way that seems heavy-handed or political. Where were the people demanding privacy when America was rooting through the trash of Tiger, Mel, and Arnold? And, just in case you have forgotten exactly what that garbage consisted of, Norton re-caps each situation perfectly. The result is bitingly funny.

We’ve all had friends who posted the quote by Ben Franklin on their Facebook wall about our privacy being violated and Norton has a few choice words in response (including a blunt invitation to fornicate Mr. Franklin). Times have changed and Ben only had to worry about his kite crashing down in the storm, not a plane full of innocent people plunging on top of him as well. There’s also a little something for those complaining about the full-body scans at the airport. You don’t want those scans of your body on the internet? How full of yourself do you have to be to even think people would want to look at that? Sit down and shut up.

Norton may step on a few toes along the way, but they’re usually toes that deserve to be stomped upon. He can’t fathom why the people who wanted to put a mosque at Ground Zero couldn’t understand why it might upset people (simply put, there’s a difference between a mosque and a strip club) and if you didn’t think he’d have something to say about the Penn State...”horseplay”...then you don’t know Norton very well. 

This CD is exactly what a comedy CD should be and Norton does his job well. He takes the things people are yelling about the most and puts them all back into perspective. It’s easy to get lost in the heated and passionate discussions filling the airwaves and Norton serves as a nice counter to the talking (or, more accurately, yelling) heads flooding our ears. If I’m going to listen to someone who’s frustrated, emotional, and slightly perturbed, I’m going to listen to someone who can also make me laugh. Jim Norton is that man.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tom Shillue's "Impossible"

Tom Shillue has returned with another installment of his 12-in-12 project and by this point it should come as a surprise to no one that things are clicking along at a smooth and consistent pace. Just like each previous chapter in the series, Shillue brings with him a bag of seemingly random stories (That’s right. In my head, he totes his stories around in a bag. A dark green duffel bag, if you must know) that all wind up seamlessly interwoven into the big picture.

The first of two tracks on his “Impossible” project is labeled “Unremarkable” and although the tales contained therein technically are just that, the way Shillue spins a yarn is...whatever the opposite of “unremarkable” is. “Markable” doesn’t sound right, but I’m going with it anyhow. The way Shillue spins a yarn is truly markable. 

A great story about a conversation he overheard on the train, helping a family of tourists become even more confused with public transit, and having the distinct one-of-a-kind, no one-else-ever-did-it pleasure of meeting John Boy Walton are all touchstones Shillue uses to turn the mundane into killer material. 

The title track is the epitome of storytelling, complete with eerie music to set the tone. Shillue begins by admitting his story sounds incredible, unbelievable, and yes...impossible but swears it’s true. Believe it....or not-ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. 

Shillue recounts the time in college when he and his “Environment”-dwelling roommate decided to fly paper airplanes. Where could this possibly lead? And what’s so fantastic about paper airplanes?

Trust me. Trust Shillue. Wait for it. And then believe it.....or not-ahhhhhhhh.