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.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Adam Quesnell's "Can We Afford This Much Despair?"

Can We Afford This Much Despair” is a nice introduction to comedian Adam Quesnell. Not every time at bat is a home run for him, but - in keeping with the baseball theme I have apparently decided to go with for this paragraph - it’s not realistic to expect the ball to get knocked out of the park with each visit to the plate. Quesnell always connects and although some of his gags land deep in left field and some barely make it out of the infield, what really matters is that he ends up on base with each go-around.

Quesnell retells the time he did comedy at his office talent show and lost but after hearing his CD, it should come as no surprise that he didn’t walk away with a first place certificate. This is not comedy for corporate America (his setup, “So I was walking into an office building recently because I’m white…” is a perfect example) and Quesnell embraces his nonconformity. He doesn’t try to fit in to what you think a comedian should be but instead merely presents himself as himself and it works.

The result is an enjoyably skewed outlook on the adventures of ordering a sandwich online, the diamond industry (yep…most of the people in the crowd have murdered others for love), and the term “date rape.” The latter, of course, causes the audience to clench and go quiet for a moment but when you see exactly where Quesnell is going, there’s a collective sigh of relief. You can almost pinpoint the moment where the crowd realizes everything is going to be OK and laughing is once again totally allowed. 

Finding one’s self in the middle of awkward situations is a comedy staple and Quesnell’s reactions to said predicaments are unique and fresh. How he responds to his KFC biscuit situation, a Facebook event invitation gone wrong, and gearing his comedy to a PG-13 crowd are all opportunities for him to turn uncomfortable into hilarious.

It’s refreshing to spend time with a comedian who doesn’t always take the path you assume he’s heading down. Going back to the baseball metaphor, he’s a comic who can change things up and surprise you with a bunt when you think he’s winding up to take a grand slam swing. It keeps us on our toes and it’s fun to not always know from where the laughs will be coming. Nothing proves his skill at this quite like the time he found himself in the middle of an uncomfortable ice breaker game or his final bit where I have to admit I thought he was floundering. He seemed to be behind the count and I almost felt bad that his closing bit wasn’t going to land. 

Silly me. 

How quickly I had forgotten that Quesnell really knows what he’s doing and when he nails the joke, you can almost seeing him grinning as he rounds the bases, waving at the crowd, knowing what he had planned all along. To paraphrase the album title, can you afford this much laughter? I recommend adjusting your budget to make it so. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

"2776: A Levinson Bros & Rob Kutner Presentation"

Once upon a time, in the year 2776, an alien from space (Martha Plimpton) came to Earth and visited the President of the United States (Will Forte) and his ill-fated bodyguard (Aubrey Plaza). After announcing her plans to destroy the planet, we join the alien and the two White House staffers on a magical journey through America’s history to try to convince the alien to reconsider.

That’s the basic premise of “2776: A Levinson Bros & Rob Kutner Presentation,” and when we stick to that basic storyline - taking a guided tour through our nation’s story for a (sometimes) musical visit to notable events, eras, and figures - things are a lot of fun. It’s those times we stray from the plot that muck things up. In true American form, the producers have decided to go full-out super-sized, grabbing every random celebrity they could to jam into as many songs as possible, and as a result things sometimes get dragged out. The CD boasts an Apatow-ian 28 tracks that could have easily been reduced by a third and still remained a great project.

The songs are fun, witty, and span a vast array of styles. From operetta to techno it’s all here and our stars tackle the genre they’ve been assigned with gusto. We check in on Forte, Plimpton, and Plaza every few tracks to keep the plot moving and see how things are going and when Paul F. Tompkins joins them for the ride as George Washington, he instills the perfect amount of presidential smugness. When he and Forte team up for the “Battle of the Centuries,” trying to prove their respective moments in time are better, it’s the ultimate battle royale between cockiness and cluelessness.

Patton Oswalt brilliantly appears as God, a bit weary of being demanded to bless America, and The Sklar Brothers are a perfectly auto-tuned fit as the chosen ones recounting the nation’s obsession with sports. “Stop the Presses” laments the fate of print media with scathing precision and you’ll get a kick out of hearing the four figureheads of Mount Rushmore complaining about the newest addition to their monument.

Highlights for me included the brilliant therapy session between the North and the South (both voiced by Maria Bamford) as moderated by - who else? - Jonathan Katz. Hearing Dr. Katz once again doing what he does best was exhilarating and Bamford makes the perfect foil for her alter ego. I can’t think of anyone more suited to welcome immigrants to Ellis Island than Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and you haven’t lived until you’ve heard NPR’s Nina Totenberg freakin’ go for it on “Us v. Rock n' Roll.” 

And then…there were the clunkers. Songs about the flu’s point of view, a mole-man, droids, zombies, and taking a nap stood out as glaringly out of place. As much as I adore Ed Helms, Eugene Mirman, Ira Glass, and Andrew W.K., it pains me to confess I wouldn’t have been upset if their contributions had been left on the cutting-room floor as well.

But then…then we come to my one exception to the rule. Reggie Watts teams up with Right Said Fred and Dr. Mayim Bialik (yes, you read that correctly) on what turned out to be my favorite track of the album. Yes, I know, it doesn’t technically have anything to do with the main plot of the album, but it’s a song so good, so funny, so…everything…that I had to let it slide. Right Said Fred has a time machine that Reggie Watts would like to use…but only on one condition. It’s absolutely hilarious and I lost count of how many times I replayed it.

All in all, I like 2776. There are so many various genres and styles represented, there’s bound to be something for everyone. Some songs I initially didn’t care for grew on me with repeated listenings and the ones I enjoyed from the start I enjoyed even more. As for the others….well…that’s what the creator of the “Skip” button intended. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Myq Kaplan's "Small, Dork, and Handsome"

Myq Kaplan has returned and it’s fun to once again check in on our favorite “Small, Dork, and Handsome” comedian. If you’re already a fan of Kaplan’s, then you know what to expect: Rapid-fire, smart comedy from a guy who occasionally works himself up into a frenzy and immediately calms himself with a mumbled aside, all in the matter of milliseconds. He’s a comedian who doesn’t slow down to make sure you’re keeping up but instead plows through at full speed and dares you to stay with him. 

This is someone who’s been steadily dropping albums on an annual basis and if you’re a fan of comedy you know that’s a rarity (especially when the comedian in question is able to keep up the quality level along with the quantity). A few of Kaplan’s bits from his last album, Meat Robot, bleed over and find their way onto this new CD, but it’s not a game changer and I can’t hate on someone for doing a slightly different version of what’s worked in the past. It happens with musicians all the time: A new version of a hit? Sure, I’ll take it. So when Kaplan revisits a couple of jokes that still work well, I don’t see anything wrong with that. 

Kaplan has always been a smart comic and this time around he manages to delve deeper than ever before. He begins by musing on the very essence of comedy and the fact that it’s the only art form that has to be good in order to even be the thing that it claims to be. Deep, yeah, but you have to admit he has a point. This, countered with his theories on time travel (and why Back to the Future didn’t need to end the way it did) and a ham and cheese story that concludes eight tracks later, shows that we’re not just going for laughs. We’re going for laughs that are thought out; mapped and plotted as if written by George Clooney and the rest of his Ocean’s gang.

Embracing the theme of timeline-hopping, Kaplan begins his set with the end (“In conclusion, a joke about time travel. But first, everything else”) and it’s a great callback that works well when we finally get around to what we started off with by beginning at the end. He keeps us on our toes by putting off what he’s trying to get to and teasing us about eventually getting to his joke that “puts the “fist” in ‘sophisticated.’”

I’m sure I’m not doing it justice with my explanation but trust me when I tell you that no matter where we are on the linear map, there are a lot of great laughs to be had along the way. Kaplan displays the proper way to Google something while you happen to be inside the internet giant’s building and smugly shows how women are screwing up feminism (or, as he puts it, “feMANism”). He’s got the best idea for a tattoo that incorporates a Post-It note and few people can dance around the topic of throwing babies into dumpsters and get away with it as cleanly as he does. 

Myq Kaplan is a man of ideas. Most of them are punctuated with a laugh you didn’t see coming and some of them prove how Jews win things through math and/or trickery, but they all leave you wondering if these are the rantings of a madman or a comedy genius. The answer, of course, is yes.