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.