Sunday, November 30, 2014

Maronzio Vance's "Laughmatic"

I knew I liked Maronzio Vance. 

Maybe it’s because he was a cast member of one of my favorite canceled-too-soon television shows of recent history. Maybe it’s because he comes highly recommended by a friend whose opinion I highly respect. Or maybe - just maybe - it’s because he’s so freakin’ funny (or, as I used to say growing up in Indiana, “so stinkin’ funny”)

I’ll go with the latter. I admit I didn’t put two and two together and didn’t even realize Vance was an "Enlisted" cast member until I peeked at his website. It was a great show but unfortunately not around long enough for me to become familiar with the names of the cast members (I’m still bitter about this show slipping through the cracks knowing "Two and a Half Men" is still on the air).

I like to think I’m not so influential that I automatically like everything my friend recommends based on the sole fact it was his recommendation. We have a healthy “agree to disagree” relationship when it comes to comedy we don’t see eye-to-eye on. We can disagree and discuss without it hampering our friendship. Weird, I know.

Which leaves the final option: Vance is indeed one funny guy. 

You don’t have to listen to “Laughmatic” long before that fact makes itself apparent. Vance is laid-back and comfortable onstage and his comedy is smooth and relatable. Vance is one of us: a regular Joe who just happens to pick up on the messed-up stupid quirks of daily life. One wouldn’t think that a matter of four cents would be something about which a scene would be caused but sometimes it’s the principal of the matter and you have to stand up to the Little Caesar and fight for your rights.

Vance knows what it is to feel the bite of our current economy and when he learns that clean shoes are just as good as new shoes, it’s a game changer. He struggles with the depression that comes with residing in a studio apartment (you’re only one room away from being homeless) and he would gladly eat healthier if you didn’t have to take out a home loan in order to do so.

I really like the way Vance handles the touchy subject of race (yes, I stole that phrase from "Avenue Q"). His commentary is biting and honest but never comes across as preachy or angry. Whether he’s accidentally being racist while giving a threat level-themed compliment, having his handouts refused by a prejudiced vagrant, or explaining to a child why white people hate black people, Vance creates an environment where everyone feels free to laugh.

That’s not to say Vance has never ruffled any feathers. Just ask the girl working at the cell phone cover kiosk in the mall. Or the man on the street who is particularly stingy with his dollar dances. Or anyone who thinks the bald eagle should be the American mascot forever and ever, despite the fact that bald eagles - the symbol of freedom - are almost extinct. Cockroaches, on the other hand, will be around forever. Just sayin’.

The CD is bookended with a behind-the-scenes pre and post-show interview with Rooftop Records’s Dominic Del Bene. It’s fun to listen to Vance give his thoughts on the performance, reviewing himself in a much funnier and more entertaining way than I can. "Is it great?" he muses. "I don't know."

It is, Maronzio. It is.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Matt Fugate's "Believement"

The Blue Fugates of Kentucky. 

Heard of ‘em? 

They’re a family from the Troublesome Creek region (as if the name of the creek wasn’t foreshadowing enough) who, as a result of inbreeding, began to produce kids with Smurfy-blue skin. 

True story, and it’s one that the very funny Matt Fugate doesn’t necessarily hesitate to share. Not that he’s particularly proud of his distant relation to that particular branch of the family tree, but he doesn’t mind a little egg on his face if it’s good for a laugh.

On his project “Believement” there’s plenty of egg - and laughs - to go around. 

Fugate takes hit after hit for the team, recounting one embarrassing transgression after another and giving us complete freedom to laugh at his expense. Despite being a professional comedian, he finds himself being outdone by the class clown in his child’s elementary school lunch room and he can’t understand why the pronunciation of his last name (“few-gate”) seems to stump so many people (not “fyoo-zhay” or “foo-gotti”). [Ed's Note: It’s a little puzzling to me, too, but maybe that’s because there was actually a kid in my school for a few years with the same last name. ]

The granddaddy of these tales, "Matt vs. the Dance Floor," is so epic it had to be cut into two segments. I like how he leaves the second half of the time he tried to “go for it” on the dance floor at a wedding as his closer, leaving the crowd hanging with a “to be continued” vibe as he forces us to wait to find out what happens in the exciting conclusion. It’s well worth the wait and a nicely constructed way of amping the anticipation for the second half of the story. And can I just say that he perfectly describes the sound of a skull cracking against a marble floor? Just listening hurt my head and - judging by the audiences reaction - the heads of everyone within the sound of his voice.

The album isn’t just one tale of sad-sackery after another as Fugate is more  than willing to point out he isn’t the only goofball bumbling around in public. There are the various religions and their unique approaches to door-to-door proselytizing. There are the people who decide which eggs get which grade (how bad does one have to be to get a “B”?) and the people who complain that gay marriage will destroy the sanctity of their third marriage. 

And then, of course, there are the real assholes. He’s referring, of course, to 13-year-olds and no one seems to be very eager to disagree. 

Fugate is a fun storyteller (his child’s teacher will attest to this fact) and time flies when you’re listening to the CD. He’s engaging and his enthusiasm is infectious and you’ll love his impression of the sound of a room full of hungry grade-schoolers. His daughter, in all of her car salesman-y fervor, explains that it takes three things to achieve the seemingly impossible: Skill, heart, and “believement.”

Her dad has all three in spades.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dylan Brody's "Dylan Goes Electric: Live at the Throckmorton"

Back in 1984 I was a 13-year-old sitting in an Indiana Junior High classroom getting the “Don’t Do Drugs” talk from a representative from the local police force. Although I agreed with the basic gist of his speech (What can I say, I was a good boy), there was something that didn’t quite sit right with me; Something about his spiel just didn’t make sense. I couldn’t put my finger on it but, like watching any effects-heavy retouched George Lucas film, you can tell that something didn’t line up. 

No, I hadn’t heard about that kid who was speeding down the back roads at an ungodly rate, tripping out on MARIJUANA, but why would a policeman lie? It seemed logical that he saw a deer (every Indiana story has a deer) and yes, I had heard of the hallucinogenic effects MARIJUANA has on a person (this was back in the day when MARIJUANA was the worst drug my little town had seen. Fast forward to 2014 when Garrett IN has twice as many meth labs as it does stoplights), and it only made sense that he saw the deer morph into a dragon and it scared him so badly he veered off the road, hit a tree, and he died instantly.

If only Dylan Brody had been there to play Sherlock Holmes to my John Watson. He would have pointed out to me that no one could have known what someone else was seeing before they died instantly. I had completely forgotten about that cautionary tale until I listened to Brody’s new project, “Dylan Goes Electric: Live at the Throckmorton” and he re-counted a similar tale told to him as a youngster (without the deer and with marijuana swapped out for a much more appropriate drug of choice). 

Brody is back with another collection of stories that are just as wonderfully and meticulously crafted as any he’s told in the past (readers of this blog already know I’m a Dylan Brody Fanboy), and it’s nice to re-visit a dear friend. He begins this CD with a few stories about his mother that will connect with anyone who’s tried to walk an older relative through the workings of [insert any technological item that’s been invented since the year 2000 here]. 

As you hear Brody’s patience get stretched to its limit while Mrs Brody struggles with understanding her GPS, the earth’s rotation, and the music of The Mountain Goats, you can’t help but empathize with his clenched teeth and the sarcastic asides that he must - he must - say out loud so as not to fly off the handle. That’s what I love about Brody. He never yells at someone even if they might have it coming (like his ridiculous mugger-turned-panhandler), but exacts his own revenge by taking the higher road, happily hovering over them, leaving them standing in a cloud of misunderstanding while he and his father snicker at wordplay on “ad hominem.”

You think we’re here for standup comedy, but really Brody is here to tell a poem (it just has a 55-minute intro). When we finally get to his poetry you’ll find it was more than worth the wait. His Seuss-ian Sudoku piece will make both your mouth and ears smile even though it’s sure to ruffle the feathers of Star Wars nerds everywhere (Say it with me: “ANAKIN!!!”)

If/when you do purchase this album, I encourage you to take the time to browse the liner notes. Not only will you enjoy some of Brody’s own artwork but his written commentary adds a nice touch of flair to each piece. In a time when CD art has become a lost skill, it’s nice to see it hasn’t been forgotten. That’s what you get when you’re dealing with a perfectionist like Brody. When he does something, not only does he do it well, he does all of it well.  Brody knocks it out of the park time after time after time and this go-around is no exception. Plug in “Electric” and see for yourself.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dave Waite's "Hotdoggin'"

Comedy is meant to be fun. That’s probably the most obvious statement in the world but after listening to my fair share of albums over the past few years, sometimes listening to comedy is a straight-up chore. It’s become pretty clear when someone comes with an agenda other than to make people laugh and usually that’s when the eye-rolling begins. It seems to be a pretty easy trap to let political agenda, anger, or style take precedence over actual humor and content and that’s why the new album from Dave Waite was such a joy to experience. He’s not trying to solve the world’s problems or scold the rest of us for screwing up the world. He’s just… “Hotdoggin’."

Waite is a goofball and he knows he is. Droppin’ G’s and and revelin’ in his day drinkin’ adventures, he just wants to know where the party is. If there isn’t one, he’s more than willing to get one rolling. One moment he’s playing Who Is Smarter with fellow art patrons at the museum (especially fun when no one else knows they're in on the game) and the next he’s trying to get home from the afore-mentioned shindig doing his darndest to not get pulled over by the police for drunk walking.

There are a couple of stories on this CD that absolutely killed me, most notably his observation about the little things we do as humans living in a current society that at the time seem like things that need to be done. Inevitably, however, all they do is make us late for things that are actually important. It’s hard to blame anyone but yourself for missing the train when you spent five minutes in your apartment holding your own private “Twizzler-eatin’ dance party.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely found myself running late a few times, only to remember the song that popped up in my iTunes that made me stop what I was doing to just…hotdog it for a while.

Some people esteem themselves higher than they probably should but Waite could never be accused of such misguided confidence. He freely admits he’s the wrong guy to call if you’re going through a tough situation and if he does have a message to spread, it’s an important one about your monstrous, sweaty hands.

As you move from track to track you’re never quite sure what to expect from Waite, and that’s one of the things that makes this project such a delight. He lets you know how to tell if you’re in the 31st-best haunted house in America,  he vows to not pray for your friend’s sick cat, and there are “a couple of quick crack stories” that Waite has to share and I’m glad he did. You’ll definitely love hearing what all of the fuss is about.

If you still haven’t figured out what kind of guy Waite is, the last track on the CD should provide the missing puzzle piece. This is a guy who loved spending time as a child reading a book about football bloopers. Think about that for a second and you’ll understand a bit more about Waite. He’ll smile, give you a happy thumbs up, a wink, and maybe even throw some finger guns your way. And that, my friends, is hotdoggin’.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Joe DeRosa's "Mistakes Were Made: The B-Sides"

Last night I was talking with Nick, a friend and fellow comedy enthusiast, and as usually happens when we get together and talk about our favorite comedians, the subject eventually came around to Joe DeRosa. Nick wondered if DeRosa had anything new out and I was happy to report that yes, as a matter of fact, “Mistakes Were Made: The B Sides” had just recently become available. 

“How is it?” he and I was able to sum up my thoughts in five words: 

“It’s Joe DeRosa. It’s funny.”

Nick understood immediately. It’s DeRosa. Of course it’s a funny CD (or, in this case, double CD). This project is a compilation of new material and bits that never made the final cut on his previous albums. When patched together like a stand-up version of Frankenstein’s monster, it makes for an impressive final product that comedy fans are sure to enjoy. At times it’s a bit jarring as we jump from one club to the next - the various quality of production levels are quite blatant - but after a few seconds your ears assimilate to the audio juxtapositions and it’s back to business.

If you’re familiar with DeRosa’s comedy, then you already have an idea of what to expect: a guy dealing with life’s frustrations in an exceptionally funny way. He laments the pricey process of trying to catch a movie in New York City, confesses his jealousy of three fat guys walking through the mall armed with unicorns and a cake, and reveals the no-longer-secret tests Daters Of DeRosa must pass.

You could call DeRosa an observational comic but one who specifically observes people. He doesn’t bother with bits about inanimate objects (OK, there’s one brief exception with a subway car) but instead finds himself fascinated with his encounters with fellow citizens. He’s a people-watcher extraordinaire and no one he bumps into is safe from being included in his material; Not the Guatemalan guy peeing in the hall, not the stripper who broke through the fourth wall, and not his favorite porn star hiding a little (or maybe not-so-little) secret. 

Just over a year ago, right after his previous CD was released, I was able to catch up with DeRosa after a show and we spoke briefly about what was next for him. He hinted at darker elements to come, of using his comedy to dig into deeper areas, and they’re here on this album. We are presented with the eight (no wait, make that seven) stages of life and DeRosa presents his theory that no matter which phase we find ourselves in, we’re never truly free. It's a bleak outlook but not so bleak that DeRosa can't find humor along the way. He delves into life and death and opens up about his fear about being wrong - and right - about what happens in the afterlife. Of course, DeRosa is able to tread these deeper waters and still make us laugh. Encouraging genuine introspection while simultaneously making people laugh is no small feat and DeRosa pulls it off effortlessly. 

This is my fourth time having the pleasure of reviewing an album by DeRosa and my fourth time raving about how much I enjoyed it. "Mistakes Were Made," you say? Please. 

I wish I screwed up this successfully. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Andy Kindler's "I Wish I Was Bitter"

First thing’s first: The “new” release from Andy Kindler, “I Wish I Was Bitter(Yes, he’s well aware that title isn’t grammatically correct, but he’s edgy like that) was originally recorded back in 2003 and has only just recently been made available to download for the first time. Aside from the occasional references to “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy(Wow, I totally forgot about that show) and “Whoopi” (Yep. Forgot about that one, too), the disc holds up pretty well. Then again, bitterness never really goes out of fashion.

If you take a bucket of that bitterness, season it with a generous helping of jealousy, remove any inkling of self-confidence or bridge-burning self-awareness, coupled with a heaping spoonful of malice toward TV executives, then you’ve just got an angry guy who never made it as big as he thought he would. Or should. But you add in a witty sense of biting humor that holds no punches and keeps the audience on its toes, then my friend you have Andy Kindler.

Kindler never made it big as a comic (at least not as of this taping) and he has some strong words for those who did. Carrot Top, Margaret Cho, Lorne Michaels, Dennis Miller, the cast of The George Lopez Show, Wayne Brady, and Jim Belushi (Oh, that Jim Belushi) all find themselves in Kindler’s crosshairs. As he struggles to comprehend what these people have that he doesn’t, Kindler lashes out at them and doesn’t hold back. Poor Belushi finds himself getting the brunt of Kindler’s ire, especially when we try to break down his TV deal using the five Ws (and one H) of investigative journalism. You almost feel bad for the guy and maybe you would if you weren’t so busy laughing at Kindler’s exasperated furor.

People who live outside the entertainment world may find that this CD has a tendency to fly over their heads from time to time. Kindler jokes that he isn’t a comedian for a mainstream audience and he has a point. I don’t know how many people without a foot in the industry will connect with his jokes about pilot season and collecting residuals, but for those of us who’ve dabbled in - and around - the entertainment world (or maybe just watch shows like Episodes, Louie, or Maron), then there are a lot of wink-winks and nudge-nudges to enjoy here. 

When Kindler strays from his insider material, the laughs come just as strong. I loved his cell phone being set to “samba,” his impressions of the Frankenstein monster performing hacky comedy and morning zoo radio, and most of all his dissection of the old Superman television show and the voiceover announcer who clearly wasn’t pleased with his career path. It’s a brilliant bit that Kindler may or may not be happy knowing would appeal to a wide audience.

One of the fun things about listening to an album in 2014 that was recorded in 2003 is having the gift of hindsight. It’s entertaining hearing Kindler rail on “Last Comic Standing” knowing that seven years later he would be on the show as a judge (but, in fairness, the show had morphed into a completely different concept by that time. Less reality show and more comedian-y). Yes, more than a few bits here are directed at industry movers and shakers, telling them why they should hire him (and also pointing out when they shouldn’t)  but - as time eventually went on to prove - it worked. Kindler calls “Last Comic Standing” the worst thing that could ever possibly happen to comedians and seven years later, he’s a judge on the show. It’s a tactic I never would have thought of, but apparently it works. 

Hey, Spielberg. Guess what? You suck donkey.

Now all I have to do is wait until 2021 and I’ll be golden. Indiana Jones Part 6 here I come!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Jim Norton's "American Degenerate"

Jim Norton is back with a new album, “American Degenerate,” and if you’re already familiar with his style of comedy then you know exactly what to expect: A CD packed with great stories that sometimes push the envelope, are sometimes cringe-worthy, and are always funny. 

Norton doesn’t disappoint.

Once again we’re treated to a vast assortment of “could only happen to him” stories that make us laugh and wince simultaneously. Norton doesn’t merely have an odd encounter with the man seated next to him on an airplane; Norton finds himself swept away by the stranger’s man-scent in what turns out to be  slightly homoerotic and more-than-slightly humiliating for the both of them. Likewise, as if it wasn’t already a major turn-off that Norton has to wear a sleep apnea mask that leaves him looking like Bane In Bed, thanks to his facial skeletal structure he has to opt for an even more-demeaning optional accessory.

That’s just the way things seem to go for Norton. He’s a human magnet that attracts all things Murphy’s Law. You can’t help but feel bad for him when not only does the Hot Girl With The Incredible Ass (that Norton is more than happy to describe in great detail) catch him ogling her backside at the gym…she also hears him doing it (Yep. That can happen). His attempt to flirt with a flight attendant is mistaken for a bomb threat and no matter what time of day he decides to work out, that creepy old naked dude is going to be there. Right there. Patpatpatpatpatpatpat.

Lest you think Norton is totally innocent, he freely reveals he’s more devious than his appearance (That of every guy on the jury in 1955) may first imply. He has an impressive Gag Peanut Brittle Can metaphor that is lost on a good portion of the crowd and if you ever wondered just how you can turn a standard massage into one with a “happy ending,” well…Norton’s got you covered. In a step-by-step explanation that leaves no possibility unexplored, he takes us through the best way to bump your odds that is just as well plotted out as a plan to rob a Vegas casino. Danny Ocean would be proud.

This, of course, leads to Norton’s brilliant commentary on the whole John Travolta/massage scandal. He’s not saying that Travolta is gay or guilty of the charges brought upon him… but “it don’t look good.” Norton isn’t just speculating, he’s talking from experience. He believes the claims of those suing Travolta (Even though he thinks they’re ridiculous for doing so) mostly because he’s tried each of the moves Travolta is accused of doing during sessions of his own.

Norton is unapologetic and stands by his claims, especially when it comes to people who find themselves offended by comedy. He has a point when he claims that comedy is the only art form where people feel they have to agree with and/or approve of it. Although he understands why comedians like Tracy Morgan and Daniel Tosh recently apologized for…well, basically doing what comedians are supposed to do, Norton holds fast to the stance that they shouldn’t have had to do it. I wholeheartedly agree. He may be an American Degenerate, but Norton is an American Degenerate with a helluva point.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mark Normand's "Still Got It"

If the goal of comedy done well is to look at life through a slightly skewed lens, then Mark Normand deserves a blue ribbon. On his debut CD, “Still Got It,” Normand excels at looking at the picture of life as we know it and nudging it a bit until it’s a few degrees off of plumb. He wonders if the Bible would be nearly as effective if the names within were modern (Encouraging people to drink the blood of Trevor just sounds weird). He genuinely feels bad for animals with jobs (The poor seeing eye dog must hate seeing the other dogs in the park jumping, running, and having their bellies rubbed). He sees the names of Chinese restaurants not as a list of options but instead examples of racial slurs worse than anything white people have come up with. 

These are things the rest of us see every day but for one reason or another, we’ve never picked up on the funny staring us in the face. Fortunately there are people like Normand out there ready and willing to point it out to us. Normand is our in-person, 3-D “Wet Floor” sign.

Occasionally Normand treads the same ground as other comedians before him (Answering the dreaded “How hot am I?” question, growing up white in a black neighborhood, the women-as-sluts conundrum), but you can’t hold that against him. We’re all pulling from the same life experiences and Normand brings his own off-kilter outlook to each of the aforementioned scenarios. As a result they play as fresh, new, and yes, funny. A couple of premises sound a bit corny at first (Was the guy who invented the SNOOZE button late to the pitch meeting?) but Normand knows it and plays it up with an impish grin that comes across even on an audio-only format.

It’s Normand’s original perspective on life and brilliant metaphors that breathe fresh air into his bits. When asked how he wold respond if his child turns out to be gay, he compares it to finding a French fry in your order of onion rings (“It’s not what I expected, but I like these, too”). He wishes birth control were as simple as hangover control and when he likens promiscuous girls to Wal-Mart, he nails it with the precision of a master builder.

Normand is easy-going and likable, which is why he can get away with pushing the envelope. His interactions with the crowd are always hilarious and whenever he poses a question to the audience, he always has the perfect reaction to their answers.

For only being 45 minutes long, Normand packs a lot into this CD. His remarks on the state of present-day manliness (Everyone has a beard and no one knows how to change a tire) and his reaction to a friend’s homophobia (Go ahead. Shake their hand) are brilliant. His analysis of women (They have three moods: Mad. Happy. Not Mad.) and his glass half-full reaction to their monthly cycle (Come on, guys. You should really be happy it’s here) are just more examples of the many good things we can expect from Normand in the years to come.

Before this album I was unfamiliar with Normand but I have to agree. This guy’s still got it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kurt Metzger's "White Precious"

Once upon a time, way back in 2011, Kurt Metzger released an album that cracked me up. It was smart, well-written, and most importantly, very funny. How do you follow an album as good as that one? You release a CD like “White Precious,” where the first track is called “Get Ready For A Letdown!” to extinguish any raised expectations listeners may have going in. Fortunately, the title Metzger chose for this cut couldn’t be more off-the-mark as this time around he treats us to a project that is even better than the last.

The album begins with a great story about an embarrassing moment on stage when Metzger accidentally mis-identified the gender of a person in the audience. Twice. It’s the perfect kick-off to the project as Metzger smartly lowers the bar by (falsely) informing the audience the show they are about to see is going to be as much of a disappointment as the first time you saw the real Wendy in those fast-food chain commercials. 

Harsh? Maybe. Funny? Absolutely. This is Metzger’s M.O. and he’s got it down perfectly. From his declaration that the loss of his iPad is more of a tragedy than the burning of a Quran to his super-transparent thoughts on whether or not you should visit Alaska (In a word: Don’t), Metzger doesn’t pull any punches and as a result, each one lands with solid laughter. His bit on the old-fashioned treatment for autism (dodge ball) is a classic example of funny-because-it’s-true and he doesn’t hide his stance against gay marriage under a bushel (If you don’t use your holes correctly it voids God’s warranty on your body, people. Come on!). Metzger may not be the most PC guy in the world but we didn’t show up to be PC we came here to laugh and we don’t walk away disappointed.

When it comes to focusing on specific tracks as highlights, Metzger has made it extremely difficult. Each one of them has a generous share of laugh-out-loud moments and as soon as I think of one (i.e. how the city of San Diego is carrying on Hitler’s unfinished work) another one that is just as good comes to mind (the most - and least - effective anti-smoking commercials). This isn’t just an hour and ten minutes of comedy, it’s an hour and ten minutes of great comedy.

There’s something on this album for everyone. If you’re interested in heady topics like the financial crisis, Metzger has a perfectly sensible Monopoly-themed explanation for you. If you tend more toward reality television, then allow Metzger to explain “Toddlers & Tiaras” to Canadians (Sorry your kids are so ugly). And when Metzger doesn’t have the answers, well, that’s OK too because thankfully Montel Williams and his life-changing book is here to save the day (And believe it or not, it really is available on Amazon for a penny. How can you not snatch this up?)

Metzger, the former Jehovah’s Witness preacher, is one of the funniest comedians working today and when his comedy comes knocking, I highly suggest you come out from hiding behind the couch and open the door.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kris Tinkle's "Maybe I Don't Feel Like Smiling"

On his new album, “Maybe I Don’t Feel Like Smiling,” Kris Tinkle has a comedic intensity that is a lot of fun to be around. It’s not an “I’m so angry” intensity, but the sort of a 6-year-old determined to throw a baseball all the way from center field to home plate and continually missing (and getting more and more red-faced with each attempt). I find it funny when little kids get frustrated and worked up and as a result, Tinkle’s similar youthful frenzy is equally enjoyable.

Case in point: Tinkle is still holding a grudge against a childhood classmate’s mom who skimped out on the snacks she provided the class. It upset him at the time and as you can hear in his voice, it still gets under his skin. It cracked me up to hear the visceral anger in his voice aimed at this woman ("That fat bitch!"), an adult still fuming that she teased them with the promise of snacks from Trader Joe’s and instead offered up Crackerz.

Tinkle holds onto that same Rage Lite as he rants about Pandora (simply enter the artist you want to hear and the music service will gladly never play a song by the artist requested), asthma nerds who are convinced they will be the heroes of a zombie apocalypse, and his friends who told him he looks like all the characters from Game of Thrones combined into one face (why couldn’t they just be polite and talk about him behind his back?)

The key to Tinkle being as funny as he is (which, it should be noted, is very) is his gleeful existence in a suspended state of arrested development. He freely admits he would be a better boyfriend if he lived in The Old West and although he was never in the Armed Forces, he found a way to serve in Iraq thanks to the contents of the cleverly labeled “Taxes” folder on his laptop.

One of my favorite bits of the album includes Tinkle’s admission that he’s not a fighter (a fact he verifies with the tale of the time he was out-wrestled by a one-legged guy). A fan of boxing and MMA, he admits he wouldn’t fare well in the ring. On the other hand, he holds fast to the theory that he could seriously - and I mean seriously - throw down for 30 seconds. Of course, his theory is inevitably misunderstood by the girl he was dating at the time which leads to a huge laugh (and great closer)

This is a highly enjoyable album that you’ll want to revisit multiple times. Tinkle is a lot of fun to be around and there are more highlights on this CD than I can give just due in this review - which is definitely not a complaint. Too much of a good thing is always a good thing and Tinkle generously packs each track with some big laughs. When he is about to go full-rage on a guy in the audience making free use of the comedy club’s electrical outlets, Tinkle is intercepted by a moment that surprises even himself - even though he asked for it in the opening track. Circle of life, man. And laughter.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tim Slagle’s “The Best of Slagle Vol. 1”

Stand-up comedians are sort of like your email inbox. Some of them (Louis C.K.) are like emails you get from a good friend you’ve stayed in touch with; always nice to hear from them and they always leave a smile on your face. Some (Bill Cosby) you don’t hear from very often but you start to laugh almost as soon as you see who it’s from. Some (Brian Regan) are like your old college buddy you haven’t heard from in a while but when you do….oh man, you almost forgot how nice it was to hang out with him. Some (Doug Stanhope) are like the Evites you get from the guy whom you’re not sure about, things could go seriously south, but at the same time you know they’re gonna go somewhere and you sort of wanna be there to witness it.

And some are like the emails you get from that weird relative who somehow got your email address - you certainly didn’t give it to him - and now he bombards you with conspiratorial IMPORTANT MESSAGES that are plastered with pixelated GIFs of eagles flapping their wings and the American flag jerkily waving in non-existent wind. Unfortunately, Tim Slagle’s “The Best of Slagle Vol. 1” is in this category.

This is an odd collection for a “Best of” compilation mostly because…there aren’t a lot of laughs. I wasn’t familiar with Slagle going into it and the opening track didn’t leave a very strong first impression. His delivery style hearkens back to the 80s (not necessarily in a good way) and until he referenced September 11, I actually thought that’s when this track was recorded. The crowd’s reaction is lackluster at best and didn’t seem the right choice with which to open the album.

Slagle likes politics (not really my strong suit) and he likes to scream (a style I’ve rarely embraced), so when he screams about politics it becomes a bit off-putting. He raves at the audience as if they’re the ones committing the atrocities he’s so worked up about and it didn’t connect with me. I like to listen to comedy to laugh, not to feel like I’m being yelled at for 40 minutes.

It’s not that I have anything against political humor per se. I love “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” As far as comics go, I find Dennis Miller funny and I’m especially fond of Lewis Black (who, coincidentally enough, also tends to be a political screamer). What these guys all have in common, though, is a sense of humor. There are jokes in their material because…well….they’re comedians. Slagle uses his platform not so much to be funny but…to use as a platform.

At one point, Slagle insists that he’s not being hateful as he yells about the fact he’s not allowed to make fun of black people (Seriously? This upsets you that much?). Instead, he’s “exercising his right to free speech.” 

And he is. 

I just wish he was making the speech funny.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Shane Mauss's "Mating Season"

If I were to merely state that the new CD from Shane Mauss, “Mating Season,” is a fun look at evolution and how females steer life through existence, that wouldn’t be doing the project justice (as accurate as it may be). Although my description sounds like it might be a yawn-inducing study of science and anthropology, this album is anything but. Mauss has put together a tight set with a lot of big laughs as he, yes, puts humanity (and other life forms) under the microscope, trying to figure out just why we do what we do - and often disputing the claims of others along the way.

The basic theory Mauss adheres to is pretty simple (Evolution is driven by female choice and the role of the male is to wear fancy stuff for them) but as he excavates and digs deeper, he’s able to find a lot of great material hiding in the recesses. Men mistakenly think that having a Man Cave is a display of our status as Head of the Household but when you realize that it’s usually cordoned off to a basement, attic, or detached garage you begin to realize just how disillusioned we are.

As much as you may not agree or want to hear it, Mauss has pretty compelling evidence to support his Women-Are-Driving-This-Car hypothesis. He marvels at their ability to still run errands during pregnancy when, for him, a burrito is all it takes to be sidelined. The movie Braveheart isn’t actually about what you think it’s about (Sorry, Freedooooom lovers) and all it takes is a cute set of short shorts to amp the intensity in a casual pick-up game of basketball.

Although most of Mauss’s set is based on science, he spends the last couple of tracks on the album on the other side of the coin with a visit to The Garden of Eden and the first moments of Adam and Eve. You have to admit he’s onto something when he wonders what it would have been like for Adam to just…suddenly….be.

As much fun as “Mating Season” is, the bits I enjoyed the most were the ones where Mauss shifted the focus from general observations to detailing specific moments of his life. I realize I sound like Keenen Ivory-Wayans on this season of “Last Comic Standing” (His repetitious “We wanna hear more about you” critique of every comic that performed has basically become his version of Randy Jackson’s “You sound pitchy, dawg”), but in this case those were the moments I found the funniest. 

Mauss has a strange game/joke/goof he likes to play on his wife that is basically the exact opposite of Jim Carrey’s butt-talking gag from Ace Ventura and “Showing Off,” the best track on the album in my opinion, takes us step-by-step through an epic flee from the police that ends with the most awkward impulse-use of an apple fritter ever. It’s a great bit and as Mauss recounts each of his so-bad-it-should-be-on-“COPS” attempts to escape the fuzz, the laughs get bigger and bigger. 

Mating Season” has arrived. I highly suggest you equip yourself with protection (grab your T-shirt cannon) and enjoy it while it’s here.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Dylan Brody's "More Arts Less Martial"

Dylan Brody is back and, if you’re familiar with this site and my past reviews of his work, it should come as no surprise that I’m very excited about his return. This time around is special, as “More Arts Less Martial” comes as a video release. I’d seen clips of Brody on YouTube before but it’s especially nice to be able to kick back for an hour and watch him do his thing.

The self-proclaimed Purveyor of Fine Words and Phrases is exactly the Master Storyteller you would expect one with such a moniker to be. His words paint a beautiful picture and watching the prose flow out of him so easily makes me realize how much of a neanderthal I am when it comes to the spoken word (I can’t finish a sentence without peppering it with four “ums,” two “awesomes,” a “yeah yeah yeah” and the obligatory “I know, right?”). What is even more impressive is that Brody does it all without the net of a cheat sheet.

Because Brody’s speech is so eloquent, when listening to his past projects I always assumed he was reading his own pre-written material from a journal or notebook. Not here. It doesn’t sound memorized or recited but instead has the natural conversational tone I was familiar with. It made me come to grips with the fact that yep, this guy’s just really, really good.

This project is a “greatest hits” of sorts, many of the stories having appeared on past releases. That doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of them, though, because leaping from an audio-only interaction to video is understandably a completely different experience. It’s not unlike all of the Bill Cosby albums and cassettes I listened to as a kid. As much as I enjoyed them, I’ll never forget the first time I saw video footage of the bits I had come to know and love. Likewise, Brody’s tales are brought to new life with facial expressions, casual glances, and yes, the constant presence of his scarf (something I’ve always wanted to pull off, but know I can’t).

Brody cherry picks some of my favorite pieces from his impressive repertoire and, although they’ve never appeared together before in one project, he wildly succeeds. If you were to watch this video without any prior knowledge, you’d never guess these particular vignettes weren’t specifically designed to go together. It helps that Brody is able to weave a couple of themes throughout his show, an old joke about a doctor’s office and helpful words from his professorial father dropped in at just the right places. 

More Arts Less Martial” takes a number of smaller bits that by themselves hit home and sews them together to make one larger, more grand piece of art. Although it’s similar to how a quilt is made, calling this project a quilt seems a little demeaning (with apologies to any quilt-makers who may be reading this). With the addition of “that thing he does” in his Tae Kwon Do class as a closer, this is no quilt. What Brody has created is a beautiful tapestry.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tommy Johnagin's "Stand Up Comedy 3"

The last time I reviewed a Tommy Johnagin project, I struggled. Oh, I didn’t have a problem coming up with things to rave about. Quite the opposite. There were so many good things on Stand Up Comedy 2 I didn’t know what to write about and what to leave on the cutting room floor (as if there are actually words and paragraphs strewn about my apartment that I just couldn’t get to). It was too much of a good thing, but trust me I wasn’t complaining.

With the arrival of his next CD, naturally titled Stand Up Comedy 3,” I am pleased to say I find myself facing the exact same quandary. This album is so good, so funny, I honestly don’t know where to start. I usually try to keep my reviews to around 500 words. My notes alone on this one clock in at 350 so yeah, there’s a lot of good stuff here. 

Johnagin begins with a track where he recounts the time he was on the phone with his mother, trying (unsuccessfully) to walk her through iTunes. As someone who has been in the exact same situation, I couldn’t help but laugh as he vented his frustration, proclaiming he’s not smart enough to be dumb enough to figure out how in the world she managed to open a song in Microsoft Works. This track alone is funnier than many entire comedy albums and if Johnagin had made this six-and-a-half minute track the only one on the project (or, as he brags, the “compact disc”), it would still be worth the price of a full-length CD. 

Fortunately for us there are 11 more that follow and each one is just as funny. Johnagin is one of those comedians whose stories are so incredible you can’t help but wonder exactly how much of them are true and how much have been embellished for the stage. Did his girlfriend really catch him kissing another guy at a Gay Holiday Party? Did he really get into that argument with his girlfriend’s friend? And did he really hire a handyman to hang a picture? 

At the end of the day, though, who cares how much is real and how much isn’t? What really matters is whether or not his tales made me laugh and trust me, they did.

A lot of the material here involves his girlfriend. She’s older than him and that’s something he’s comfortable with (except for the fact he constantly worries she’ll pass away). Johnagin feels weird referring to her as his girlfriend because they have a new baby together (“together” being used very loosely). He isn’t against the idea of marrying her but he’s also not in love with the thought of marrying a chick who has a baby. 

I’m going to go ahead and assume that Johnagin’s girlfriend has no idea that he’s a comedian - or maybe she just has the best sense of humor in the world - because the stories he tells about her (like the time they tried to have sex while she was 8-1/2 months pregnant and he seriously underestimated how much she weighed) are so hilariously wrong, he must be the king of homemade “I owe you a massage for that joke” coupons.

Johnagin is witty and smart and you will love every minute you spend with him. Smoking may be allowed on the patio (There’s no way of knowing what I am actually referring to when I say that but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more clever metaphor for it) and he may or may not have been a little inebriated on the greatest night of his life, but at the end of the day this is a good guy. He can get hotter dudes than his girlfriend, he loves his baby way more than he loves yours, and he’s glad his baby isn’t ugly. 

Oh yeah. And he’s hilarious. I’m already looking forward to Part 4.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Alvin Williams's "I Hope You're Happy"

I Hope You’re Happy” isn’t just the title of the debut CD from Alvin Williams, but also his sincere desire for you. Yes, he is aware that it’s nearly impossible to utter that statement and retain any sense of earnestness, but in order to prove his motives are pure he has come up with a very intricate plan in which to bring everyone a little more joy. And that’s just the last track of the album. Up until that point Williams ensures our Happiness Level by being a very funny comedian. 

This project is a nice introduction to Williams, a genuinely likable comic with a real knack for impersonating Denzel Washington (something that comes in handy when you’re trying to talk someone down from a bath salts high). Bear in mind that just because Williams is friendly and easy to relate to, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some strong opinions to which he holds steadfast. When it comes to the use of “the N-word” he proclaims Paula Deen and “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Robertson the victims (and has some pretty compelling theories to support his hypotheses) and women…. well…. you can stop pretending. We all know you’re crazy.

Just as quickly as you can picture every female in the room giving him the stink-eye, Williams counters, explaining himself. Don’t worry, ladies. We love your crazy. At least…we love the routine crazy. It’s that surprise crazy that has us guys watching you from our peripheral.

When it comes to kids who are in genuine need of a beating, wondering if the Mickey Mouse Club will ever own up to the horrible child celebrities they’ve unleashed into the pop culture ether, or simply observing that the 88% Grade-A beef Taco Bell boasts about is only an A when graded on a curve, Williams shines as he ponders the mysteries we’ve all wondered about. He just does it much funnier than the rest of us.

Like many of the best comics, Williams’s humor strikes home because what he’s speaking here is truth. We can all relate to the fact that phone calls with our mothers are actually comprised of two separate conversations and really - let’s be totally honest - there is no such thing as cyber-bullying (unless you’ve figured out a way to make someone give you their lunch money via PayPal)

Williams especially shines when he contrasts the girls’ night out with the guys’. He’s not saying one is better than the other, he’s just bringing to light the difference in motivation and it’s a refreshing new (yet truthful) way to look at the night life. Women are there to make sure other women don’t make decisions that will screw up their life. Dudes are there to make sure other dudes do.

At the end of the day, Williams has succeeded in his mission. He made me laugh. He made me chuckle. And yes, he made me happy. And I’m being totally sincere when I say that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Geoff Tate's "Just Another Clown"

Wow. A lot can happen in a year.

Back in May 2013, Geoff Tate released “I Got Potential,” a stellar CD that eventually landed itself onto my year-end Best of 2013 list. It was a phenomenal introduction to a witty comedian whose trajectory I was excited to track. 

Fast-forward to today and…well…something happened. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it was definitely something. With his new release, “Just Another Clown,” the air seems to have been let out of his tires. Tate’s entire persona has changed. His energy has dropped, his delivery has gone slack, and he just seems to be begrudgingly going through the motions. Oh, you want some jokes? Ok. Here.

Early in this new CD he mentions he is newly divorced. I don’t know if that’s to blame for the drastic shift in mood and tone but this is one of the rare cases where you can judge an album by its cover. The sad, lonely, guy you see before you is exactly who you get. There are sparks of genuine smiles here and there, but they are few and far between. 

Just to make sure I wasn’t remembering incorrectly, I went back and listened to his previous album and sure enough there is a notable difference. Tate simply doesn’t seem to be having fun this time around. He seems indifferent to the fact that there are a number of silences that just hang there and hearing a smattering of laughter only emphasizes the point that something has gone amiss. 

I loved Tate as a storyteller and this time around his tales have moved more into the area of rambling. He recounts the time a woman asked him for directions in a strange city and the set-up seems to take much longer than is necessary. When he finally gets to the punchline, you might think the story sounds somewhat familiar. A similar gag was done on “Seinfeld” in the episode when the gang went to Hollywood, only it was done much more efficiently.

Most of Tate’s time is spent talking almost fondly about his days as a drug addict and again there are few laughs to be found as he rambles on and on about his encounters with cocaine, crack, and anything else you can imagine. It’s not unlike running into an old friend at a high school reunion you haven’t seen in a long time. You remember him as the fun guy; the life of the party and now you find yourself cornered, wondering how much he’s had to drink as he tells story after story of his past exploits. He genuinely thinks  his tales are humorous but the more he opens up, the more badly you feel for him. 

I truly hope this album is just a fluke and Tate can pull himself out of the darkness he seems to be in. I remember how fun it was being around him and now I just want to give him a hug and ask him if everything is OK. I want this clown to smile again.

Monday, July 14, 2014

"Weird Al" Yankovic's "Mandatory Fun"

As a life-long (if life begins in Junior High) fan of “Weird Al” Yankovic, I still find it a bit surprising when I encounter someone who is unaware that besides parodies, he also writes original music. To be fair, Yankovic’s parodies have gotten the most mainstream attention, but if you’ve never heard one of his albums in its entirety (half of which are always original compositions), then you’re missing out. Yes, he’s a funny guy with a truly impressive knack for comedic wordplay but he’s also a very accomplished songwriter with a true ear for music. In my humble opinion, this was never so strongly apparent than on his new CD, “Mandatory Fun.” Yes, there are the expected spoofs on your favorite popular tunes, but the other half of the track listing is just as strong - and in some cases even stronger - and makes for a quite impressive farewell to his releasing music in the traditional CD format (No, Yankovic isn’t retiring, but this marks the end of his record contract and more than likely his releasing music in brick-and-mortar non-digital stores).

The production level is quite impressive and really showcases the musicians in Yankovic’s band. This isn’t just a Casio keyboard accompanied by Garage Band loops. These guys are really working (there are some amazing guitar and bass riffs waiting to blow you away) and a careful listen will reveal that the successful combination of comedy and music is more than just writing silly words. Yankovic is a perfectionist and not just in the lyrics. His careful attention to detail is what sets him apart from the hundreds of other “funny singers” you may find on YouTube. Nothing is merely thrown together and it’s this strive for excellence that makes for another solid project. Because Yankovic and Company have worked so hard, it makes it easy for us to just sit back and enjoy the funny. 

And there’s a lot of funny here to be enjoyed. 

From the very first song, “Handy,” Yankovic shows how he’s tried to shy from the obvious approach to parody. There may be a lot of goofs on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” floating around, but how many of them are boasts about one’s around-the-house craftsmanship? And how many of them have so cleverly approached the “I-G-G-Y” line from the original? You don’t have to be familiar with the originals to enjoy Yankovic’s renditions, but if you are it certainly enhances your listening experience as you realize how much care he’s taken to put his own twist on the phrasing and wording.

As you begin to listen to “Foil,” Yankovic’s take on Lorde’s “Royals,” you may be quick to write it off as yet another “song about food,” but as the song continues and you are reminded there’s another popular use for the title product, it’s hard not to smile as you realize Yankovic has been a step ahead of you. “Tacky” takes to task those who proudly wear socks with sandals, post Instagram photos of their food, and insist on using the Comic Sans font. Yes, Yankovic isn’t the first person to take the “Inactive” approach to the popular Imagine Dragons hit but he is certainly the one who does it best.

The highlight of the album is found on “Word Crimes.” If the thought of a parody of “Blurred Lines” made you roll your eyes, just wait until you hear what Yankovic has done with it. If you’re like me and clench your teeth each time someone on Facebook misuses the word “it’s” or seems to have no grasp of irony, the correct use of quotations, and the word “literally,” you will love, love, love this song. This song should be a required purchase for every English teacher. And American teenager. With lyrics like 

You should never/write words usin’ numbers/unless you’re seven/or your name is Prince”

this song had me laughing and simultaneously saying, “Yes!”

When it comes to the aforementioned original songs on the album, “My Own Eyes” stands out as an all-star. It’s a prime example of the wonderful production value on this project and could very easily find a place on any mainstream rock radio station were it not for the list of ridiculous sights Yankovic has witnessed in his years. “Lame Claim to Fame” includes one of the most clever inclusions of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Game you’ve heard and hearing a corporate jargon-stuffed “Mission Statement” sung in Yankovic’s best Crosby Stills & Nash-ian style makes for a juxtaposition so diametrically opposed, I had to love it.

I’ve never found Jerry Lewis especially amusing but for some reason when Yankovic does a callback to his “LAY-DEE” it always hits my funny bone in just the right spot. That’s just one of the highlights of this project’s polka compilation and I can only hope and dream that his “Sports Song” spreads across the nation and is sung in every college stadium at every sports event for the rest of forever. 

The title of this project couldn’t be more appropriate. Whether or not you’re already a fan of Yankovic you really should snag this one. You owe it to yourself to experience some “Mandatory Fun” especially when it’s done so well. Or is it done good? Don’t worry. With this CD in your collection your days as a word criminal will be over.