Friday, March 21, 2014

Jasper Redd's "Jazz Talk"

I know you can’t/shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but in the case of Jasper Redd’s new project, “Jazz Talk,” you can. First of all, kudos to the CD’s production team for one of my favorite art designs in recent history. Capturing the cool hep-ness of classic album jacket sleeves, the blue tones and classic fonts over a worn cross-hatch pattern create a picture I wouldn’t hesitate to frame and hang in my home. In fact, “cool” is the key word here and the comedy that lies therein is exactly what the packaging promises.

Redd is smooth, laid-back, and - yes - cool. His style hearkens that of a beat poet from the early 60’s (without actually doing beat poetry) and the listener is instantly transported to a time when comedians didn’t have to shout or shock to be funny. Redd  brings laughter on his own relaxed terms. 

Early on in his set, Redd explains he doesn’t do material on relationships or politics but instead chooses to tackle important topics like dogs who rat out others, inane sports rules, and McDonaldland’s Grimace. As he circles these subjects - and many more - he shows just how funny someone can be without having to scream every observation. He slays us with calm razor-sharp insights that slice deep and make us wonder just what in the world the Whopper has been up to behind the counter.

One thing I love about Redd’s onstage presence is the way he almost gets things right. This is a character trying to sound educated and informed (proudly opting for words like “establishment” instead of “store”) and would pull it off if it weren’t for the random mispronunciation or use of a non-existent word that completely blows his cover (such as  the Spanish word “inappropriante”). It’s a small detail that, in someone else’s hands, could have been overplayed. It’s easy to point a neon arrow at yourself and say, “Look how silly I am!” but Redd - you guessed it - plays it cool. He doesn’t draw attention to what he’s doing and as a result it’s even funnier when he does it.

Redd closes his set backed by a live jazz band, swapping out his longer bits for one-liners and short quips. They’re fun, but I prefer him as a storyteller. I loved hearing him explain how, although he avoids anything to do with slavery, there is a time to be pro-white. His uninsured “in case of emergency” contingency plan is all-too familiar and you’ll love hearing the genesis behind the reason why he’s still not sure if he sold his father some marijuana. He invites you to keep your third eye open as he explains the real symbolism behind the penny and as a cinephile, I may never look at the DVD Director’s Commentary bonus features the same way again.

You will enjoy spending an hour with Redd. He’s a welcome change of pace from what you may be used to getting from a stand-up comedian and the laughs to be found here are real, genuine, constant and - yep - cool.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Eddie Pepitone's "A Great Stillness"

Eddie Pepitone is a screamer. 

Not an angry, Sam Kinison, I HATE THE WORLD kind of screamer but an angry, disgruntled I HATE THAT THING RIGHT THERE kind of screamer. His rage is focused on the little things, things that shouldn’t get anyone so riled up, and the results are gut-busting. You’ve probably seen him on Conan as the angry stalker/New Yorker/Marathon runner who yells at the host from the audience (“Hey, O’Brien!”) or heard him on any number of live episodes of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. 

The genius of Pepitone’s comedy lies in how misguided his outbursts are. This is a man yelling, shouting, and nearly pleading to be understood and if other people would just open their eyes and realize why this particular tweet is so important, maybe everything would be OK.

It would be a severe over-simplification to say his album “A Great Stillness” is basically about two things (the aforementioned tweet and documentaries), but it's kind of true. Pepitone wants to read a couple of his tweets and talk about an animal-rights documentary he saw. That’s it. The trouble (and trick, really) is Pepitone sidetracks himself quite easily, all the while promising he remembers what he was talking about. He finds himself in the middle of his point and then - oh yeah! - there’s this thing over here...

Rabbit trail after hilariously infuriating rabbit trail takes us all over the map and the image in my head is one of Pepitone merrily skipping through the forest as he berates whatever we happen to pass along the way. Hey, TV commercial audition! Lemme tell you how you get your shirts so fresh! Hey, sleepytime tea! What the heck?! Hey, billboards advertising the TV show “Whitney!” Lemme tell you about adorkable! Hey, Julia Roberts! I got some words for you, too!

Nothing is safe from Pepitone’s rants and that includes Pepitone himself. He closes his set with what has become a signature bit of his, and it never fails to deliver. The premise is simple: What if Pepitone were heckled by someone who knows him as well as he knows himself? He then descends into the audience and aims his fury up at the stage, addressing his comedian persona (“Hey Pepitone! How come you dream about red birds attacking you at night?!”). It’s a collection of extremely random revelations that brings down the house. 

Of course, lurking behind the Angry Man facade is a genuinely nice man and the audience can sense this. Despite all of the shouting and rage, there’s something about Pepitone that lets you know he’s really a Good Guy and it’s all just for fun. Perhaps it’s the quiet moments in between the outbursts that tip us off or maybe just the sheer incredulity of what sets him off. Regardless, we all know and sense this is antagonism with a higher purpose. Thanks to Pepitone, comedy nirvana has been achieved.