Tommy Johnagin’s “Stand Up Comedy 3”

tommy

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.

The Top 10 Comedy Albums of 2012

Every year as I compile my list of my favorite comedy albums, I find myself struggling with the order in which to present them. This year was no different. For those of you who may not be aware of it, 2012 was a really great year for comedy (despite Kathy Griffin and Margaret Cho both getting Grammy nominations) and it seemed every time I visited this list, the order changed a bit. I think that serves as a testament as to how amazing each of these albums are.

Although there are only 10 albums listed here (and a handful of Honorable Mentions), don’t think these are the only good comedy CDs to be released to the masses this year. In fact, you can see here my original list of candidates for this end-of-the-year post. All of them deserve a place in your library.

And so, here they are. I don’t claim this to be the list of the best of 2012, but they are the ones I enjoyed the most. Your list might look a lot different and that’s fine. The fact that you may even have a list means you’re listening to and supporting comedy and I’m down with that.

As you browse, you can click on the name of the comedian to read my original review of the project. Click on the album title if you want to pick up a copy of your own. Thanks for reading. Enjoy the rest of your holiday and I’ll see you back here in 2013.

10. JIM GAFFIGAN – MR UNIVERSE
Gaffigan has proved himself time and time again to be consistently funny as he pokes and prods at the nuances of life as only he can. There’s not a lot of new ground being tread (he still manages to wring some great comedy out of his standard topics like food, being lazy, his kids, food, and ad slogans) but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some big laughs here. This project is especially suited for those who already love Gaffigan’s comedy, as it’s exactly what you expect it to be: Gaffigan being hilarious.
9. TODD BARRY – SUPER CRAZY
Barry has taken the low-key observational comedy style of comedians like Steven Wright and amped it up (and, in my opinion, made it better) by daring to add personality to his wry commentary. Instead of a straight, monotone, less-than-energetic delivery that could best be described as flatlined, Barry’s approach is punched up with sarcasm, cynicism, and a distinct disposition. He dares to question the nonsensical minutiae of life that really should be questioned and he doesn’t mind poking fun at the answers he receives.
8. DONALD GLOVER – WEIRDO: LIVE FROM NEW YORKIt’d been a few months since I last listened to this album and I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed it (and it’s not just because I’m jonesing for all things “Community”). Glover is a great storyteller and his animated energy adds an extra jolt to each story he shares. Most of the album is a re-telling of childhood adventures and I couldn’t help but be reminded of a young Bill Cosby. Whether he’s trying to talk his mom into letting him have sugary cereal or dreading the trip to Home Depot, Glover’s memories jump to life and and easily transport us there with him. It’s a journey you’ll want to take.
7. MICHAEL J DOLAN – DRESS TO DEPRESS
Angry. Grumpy. Upset. Perturbed. Fed up. All of these are words and phrases that could be correctly used to describe Dolan, but you would be selling yourself – and especially Dolan – short if the first word that comes to mind isn’t simply “funny.” The acidic way he loathes those closest to him (including his friends and the woman he lives with) is especially amusing as he attacks these “energy burglars” with the same force he does strangers on the street. And really, if you can’t bring joy to others by hating on the ones you love the most, what have we become?
6. DYLAN BRODY – CHRONOLOGICAL DISORDER
Brody is one of those guys who is so good at putting words together, he’s a little intimidating to write about. Rather than try to match his good-word-putting-together-ness, I’ll focus instead on how much I enjoyed this album. You know when it’s December and not quite snow weather but still pretty bitter and you get that not-quite-sleet-but-not-quite-rain precipitation and as you walk from your car to your front door you step in a puddle and your socks are instantly drenched and you get inside, peel the socks off, and put on some hot water and you take off your sweater and by then the water is boiling and you make yourself the perfect pourover coffee with freshly-ground beans that were roasted locally only a few days ago and you sit down in your favorite chair and can finally relax and you take a sip of the coffee and it’s perfect and just what you needed? This album is that cup of coffee. 
5. ANDY WOODHULL – LUCYWith a devilish mix of mischievousness and innocence, Woodhull is an amazing comedic presence. The album is solid from start to finish. There are no lulls and each statement he makes is delivered with the confidence of someone who has no regrets. From the moment he hilariously described the rape of 3/5 of his college roommate’s sense, I knew I was in for a good time and as the CD progressed, Woodhull proved me quite correct.
4. DEMETRI MARTIN – STANDUP COMEDIAN
Like many of the comedians on this list, one of Martin’s strengths is his consistency. Going into this project, you had an expectation and a general idea of what you were going to get. Known for his bizarre way of looking at things through his Demetri prism and extracting blood from would-be topical stones, Martin once again delivers a solid album of random declaratives whose very existence would have you wondering “Where in the world did that come from?” if you weren’t so busy laughing.
3. GARY GULMAN – NO CAN DEFEND
To put it simply, there is not a bad track on this album. Every bit, every premise, every story is rock solid and if a comedian makes you laugh not by listening to his album but by thinking about it days later, you know you’re on to something good. Gulman mines one comedy gold nugget after another with stories on playing basketball at the JCC, The Karate Kid, the Top 5 Features of the Discman, and the “@” symbol, just to name a few. Of course, everything here is so funny because Gulman is 100% dead-on in what he’s saying. It’s a great album that is guaranteed to keep you laughing no matter how many times you’ve listened.
2. JOHN MULANEY – NEW IN TOWN
I’ve always loved an underdog and you’d be hard-pressed to find one more enjoyable to root for than Mulaney. Never one to shy away from criticizing his own actions or admitting just how incapable he is, Mulaney breathes new life into the whole idea of “Did I tell you about the time”-style storytelling. He’s not just a guy on stage talking to a group of strangers; you genuinely feel as if you’re hanging out at a bar swapping stories with a friend. And what stories they are. Part man-child who refuses to grow up as he laments the lack of quicksand in day-to-day life and part regular guy who probably should have been gay based on the way he talks and does things, Mulaney isn’t afraid of sharing stories that present himself – or Ice-T – in a less-than-flattering light.
1. CHAD DANIELS – YOU’RE THE BEST
Daniels was once nearly arrested for wishing AIDS on a cop. That bit alone is so funny, if it were the only thing on the album, it would still land on this list. Of course, he doesn’t just say he almost got arrested for wishing AIDS on a cop. He takes you through the entire timeline of events and as the story unfolds, it reveals laugh after laugh, each one bigger than the one before it. Every bit to be found here is just as funny, just as hilarious, and just as wrong. Whether it’s the guy with the cleft palate who takes reservations or his own beloved wife and kids, no one is safe from Daniels’s razor-sharp observations. It’s not just comedy done right, but to satisfying perfection. It’s true, Chad Daniels: You’re the best.

Kyle Kinane’s “Whiskey Icarus”

When I think of guys who drink and party and occasionally get tossed in jail for a DUI, I usually imagine one of two extremes. The first is the Nicolas Cage “Leaving Las Vegas”-type who depresses/bores the heck out of me and gets Oscar nominations for no explainable reason. The other is the spirited, intensely dedicated, gotta-love-him character Zach Galifianakis usually ends up portraying, especially in the “Hangover” films. On his new album “Whiskey Icarus,” Kyle Kinane definitely reminds me of the latter. A bit off-kilter yet never afraid of expressing exactly what he’s thinking, you can be sure you’ll always know right where he stands. Although Kinane and the Alan character have their similarities (they can get away with a lot of bad behavior because they’re just so likable), there are also some big differences. 
I probably shouldn’t spend too much time comparing Kinane to a fictional creation because Kinane is very much his own unique voice and person. Yes, both men have a lonely slacker vibe about them, but Kinane isn’t a caricature. He’s intelligent and articulate and admits he’s a lonely guy (That abandoned “frozen dinner for 1” in the beer aisle at the 7-11? That was him). He describes his fashion style as that of a wise high school janitor and while he’s proud of himself for getting his own apartment, he’s also aware that he’s 35 years old and probably should be living on his own. And that there are 35-year-old astronauts. And that the real reason he got his own place is unsettlingly honest (hide your Twizzlers).
Kinane is a guy who knows how to have a good time (the CD’s track listing is identical to KISS’s “Destroyer” album) but he does his best to have a good time responsibly. Being too drunk to drive won’t stop him for hitting up the Wendy’s drive-thru even if that means he has to call a minivan taxicab to take him there. His re-telling of trying to complete the transaction from the backseat sliding door is a lot of fun and indeed the adventure Kinane promised the driver it would be.
If you ever see Kinane at the airport, follow him, because something good is going to happen. Kinane and airports are a perfect recipe for weird stories and it seems that he can’t have an ordinary flight experience to save his life. On one flight, he finds himself seated next to a man eating pancakes out of a shopping bag from Foot Locker and naturally it raises a lot of questions. Kinane doesn’t ask questions without supplying a few answers and if you aregoing to eat pancakes out of a shopping bag from Foot Locker on a plane, there’s a correct way to go about it. 
Of course, I’ll take the pancakes guy over the lovemaking Spanish couple any day of the week. Kinane chooses to look at it as an opportunity, though, and if they’re going to have fun then doggonit, he is, too. Thus begins his in-flight drinking binge that, I suppose when you backtrack far enough, is all the fault of Orbitz.
I like Kinane’s outlook on life. This is a man who looks at life’s hiccups as a series of opportunities to have an adventure. You gotta love that. Blank fortune cookies are much more than a mishap at the printer’s and there’s a darn good reason you don’t hear more from the Bigfoot front. Two black guys with a white baby are never just two black guys with a white baby and if you’re going to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, go out with a question mark instead of a period.
Kinane has a wildly devoted and passionate fan base and it’s easy to see why. For a guy who claims his life is a series of documented low points he sure is able to catch a lot of the funny about it. He’s consistent in what he does and he presents us with an hour of solid laughs. At one point, he reveals how he strives for his comedy to be looked at as an art form but admits his observations about his “turd contractions” prevent that from happening. I’ve got news for you Kinane: While you were shaving the sharp edges off of racism and fueling your body the same way Doc Brown fuels the Delorean at the end of Back to the Future….it happened.

This album is indeed art and Kinane is indeed a comedy artist. 

Now let’s go see what’s up at the airport. We’ve got more art to find.

Derek Sheen’s “Holy Drivel”

On the new album “Holy Drivel,” comedian Derek Sheen starts things off at a nice steady pace. He begins with a fun bit on the differences between Seattle and Portland to kind of ease us into the proceedings. Nothing too crazy. Ribbing Portland for their hippy-dippy all-vegan strip clubs and explaining why daylight ruins the strip club experience (including the names of strippers who don’t qualify to appear during peak nighttime hours, like “Bruisy,” “Clumpy,” and “Knuckles”), Sheen plays it cool while the audience gets comfortable.
And then, without warning, Sheen slams the pedal to the metal and we’re off like a shot. As he lays in on The South and their collection of the greatest fat people ever, the laughs suddenly go into overdrive and there’s no turning back. 
I’ve heard comics take on The South before but no one has taken them (and their biscuit-based economy) to the cleaners quite like Sheen. One moment he’s rattling off what sounds like a pretty tasty and totally legitimate recipe for perfect buttermilk biscuits and the next he’s listing the secret process for the accompanying gravy that I believe is just as equally accurate.
With Sheen, you never quite know what’s around the corner and that’s a good thing. He has a passion that is reminiscent of Lewis Black and his references, stretching from Frank Herbert’s “Dune” to Coachella all in one Paula Deen joke, will keep you on your toes.
Sheen’s observations and insights are right on the money: Gay men have great yard sales, lesbians do not (what do you do with a huge box of wolf t-shirts and dreamcatchers?). Chattanooga is the Detroit of The South. And yes, there is a way to correct things if you’re raising a crappy kid (grab your pillow). Sure, these aren’t all things you can say around the water cooler at your job tomorrow without catching a weird look or two, but that doesn’t take away from their truthyness (thank you, Stephen Colbert, for that word).
Like many of my favorite comedians, Sheen is more of a storyteller than a crafter of yuk-yuk one-liners. Particularly memorable is his tale of the small town Tennessee bar that comes to life on Fridays due to a mysterious and frightening phenomenon and you won’t soon forget the nickname he came up with for his best friend’s new baby that even surprised Sheen with it’s complete inappropriateness. 
Not to be forgotten is the final track that begins with a simple desire to get away from the pressures of everyday life and ends with the idea of leaving Disneyland covered in child blood and enduring the parenting styles of lame fathers who don’t incur the wrath of the Portuguese Tack Hammer but instead opt for repeating their child’s name over and over again for five minutes. If your name happens to be “Micah,” prepare yourself, because from now on you will have a new way of being addressed by your friends.
I found myself enjoying this album so much, when it was over I couldn’t believe 45 minutes had passed. At first I was angry and thought, “What a rip-off! A 20-minute CD? I want more!” Then, after realizing how much time had actually passed, it made me happy. Forty-five minutes flew by and that’s always a good sign. And, even though I thought I might, I didn’t walk away with “It’s A Small World” stuck in my head. That’s always good, too.

Paul Morrissey’s “Paul Morrissey’s Back”

Every once in a while you come across someone who is so off-the-wall and delightfully random, you can’t help but watch and enjoy the show. I went to high school with a guy named Jack. He was gangly and birdlike with wireframe glasses that were much too large for his head. He spoke with a speech impediment that made his R’s sound like “ahhs” and his receding hairline at age 16, combined with his love for all things wizard-related, pretty much guaranteed he wouldn’t be spending much social time with the popular kids.


But I found him intriguing. 


He took things that others considered trivial extremely seriously and I loved that about him. Something about watching him bang his head against the wall of futility as he tried to figure out how people worked by using equations and theories instead of social interaction fascinated me. And now, years later, it still persists, as I read his Facebook posts with a rapt curiosity, lurking in the background as I watch him screaming to no one in particular about the GAS COMPANY SCREWING UP HIS BILL or THE FUCKING SCHOOL NOT BEING FAIR TO HIS DAUGHTER (who looks a lot like him yet is actually quite adorable. Go figure). Poor Jack. Even after all these years he still finds himself with the short end of the stick. John Hughes had it wrong. Anthony Michael Hall characters very rarely end up making out with the hot blonde in a convertible. 
So, what does all of this have to do with the new Paul Morrissey album, “Paul Morissey’s Back”? To be honest…not much. But there’s something about his comedy that reminded me of Jack. Maybe it’s Morrissey’s shaky, almost nervous sounding voice. Perhaps it’s the fact that, even on stage with a microphone in his hand, he still can’t get the idiots in the audience to Shut. Up. (Seriously, I mean, seriously, people, shut up. If you think you’re funny, show up at an open mic and give it a shot. Otherwise…for the love of Pete…Shut. Up.) 
But really, that’s where the similarities end. Where the sad sack I knew from high school pretty much stayed in his sad sack role, Morrissey faces his obstacles head on and bucks the trend by overcoming them. If the club won’t say something about the yammering audience members, then Morrissey will. If someone is going to shout something out, thinking they’re funny, Morrissey is going to show them what funny really is. And if the crowd is going to be all quiet and reserved on him (and, to be honest, they are. Unfairly), then he’s going to bring it up. So he made an innocent dead grandmother joke, get over it, already.
Morrissey has taken the hand life dealt him (he’s so pale, the “red eye fix” feature in photo programs has quite an unfortunate result) and found the humor of it all. Whether he’s being spattered with blood  while getting a haircut (and not his own blood, mind you) or explaining why he was disappointed the first time he witnessed a stripper jumping out of a cake, he takes the little things in life that seem predestined to trip him up and instead uses them to get laughter. And, in some instances, simultaneously sarcastic and racist applause.
I enjoyed Morrissey’s reaction to the lady at the deli counter who seemed genuinely confused by his turkey order and his bit on a girl’s most unusual tattoo goes exactly where you hoped it would. Only better. He loves Cinnabon so much they’ll probably never ask him to endorse their product and his questions about gay marriage and common-law marriage should give roommates everywhere a reason to stop and think.
This is a fun album that, although it brought to my mind a dorky kid from my hometown, is really nothing like him. Morrissey is engaging and someone you want to hang around with, not just stalk on social media sites. Morrissey isn’t afraid to take chances (except for hang gliding) and when something bugs him (home school kids with class rings) he knows how to express himself in a way that brings nice laughs.  From confusing bank fees to the kid at Subway who spray paints the meat, Morrissey has it all down and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He’s relatable and handles himself well and as a result, we all have a good time.
A guy like Jack could learn a thing or two. Heck, so could I.

Robert Kelly’s “Live”

Robert Kelly is an angry guy. I mean, really angry. On his new* album, “Live,” there are 38 tracks of him yelling and screaming about various topics and I’m still trying to figure out why he’s so upset. He doesn’t always explain what has him so wound up but instead ticks off each subject like he’s screaming a laundry list of things he hates. I hate dog shit! I hate playing video games with girls! I hate Osama Bin Laden! I hate being scared!
By the time I finished listening to the album, I hadn’t laughed out loud once but I did have a bit of a headache, so I guess that’s something. Where I felt Kelly fell short was he very rarely expanded on what it was he was screaming about. The average length of each track is barely over a minute, so he shouts what it is that makes him angry and then for the most part moves on to the next thing without really digging in to find the funny.
Although Kelly has a lot of energy on stage, when it comes to the actual writing of his material, I couldn’t help but feel he was slacking off a bit. It reminded me of being in school and not realizing a 3-page essay was due the next day. Sure, I can slap something together, but it’s not going to blow anyone way. I wondered if Kelly did the same thing, only instead of panicking about not realizing the CD was being recorded, he just said, “Ah, screw it, I’ll go up there, use some silly voices, make a bunch of fart sounds, and say “shit” a lot. And then I’ll use more silly voices and then more fart sounds and then scream “shit” a few times. They’ll laugh at anything.” 
I’m not falling for it.
Besides Kelly screaming at the drop of a hat, there’s not much here to set himself apart from every other comic working an open mike. With bits about New York being smelly, that rascally Osama Bin Laden (how come we can’t catch him?), and finding all sorts of reasons to force his “gay” voice into a bit, I can’t help but think I’ve heard it all before.
I knew we were in trouble when Kelly decided he wanted to talk about being in the cold and he smoothly transitioned into it by asking, “Have you ever been in the cold?” Really? Have you ever been in the cold? He did it with no sense of irony and it was at that moment I wondered if his heart was even still in the game. He seemed to be phoning it in with basic A + B = Comedy equations (where A = a Carlos Mencia voice and B = a Gabriel Iglesias voice).

*As pointed out in the comments below, I made an error in my review for not pointing out this isn’t a “new” album, but a re-release of a 2003 recording. It does show how much Kelly has progressed as a comedian since then, but I’m not sure it merits a re-release. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to release an old project, make sure it’s still funny (see my 2011 review of Lewis Black’s “The Prophet”). For a really good example of what to do with old material, stay tuned for my forthcoming review of Jim Florentine’s “Awful Jokes From My First Comedy Notebook.” 

Adam Norwest’s “One Of A Kind”

One Of A Kind from Adam Norwest is a fun look at a young comedian who is actively and passionately carving out a niche for himself. Enthusiastic and confident, Norwest is also self-deprecating and honest about his own shortcomings. It’s OK for him to poke fun at others because he’s the first to admit he is just as goofed up as the rest of us. Living with his parents until recently, Norwest gets some good mileage out of his less-than-masculine appearance as he struggles not with being gay, but by being perceived as such.
On stage there’s no question that Norwest is in control, rattling through one fun topic after another with the assured swagger of someone who is working well within his comfort zone. He has a vast array of sexy animal facts in his arsenal that work quite well and it’s likely you’ll never look at a stingray the same way again (and I probably shouldn’t love his phrase “sting-raped” as much as I do).
One trick Norwest really has down is what I refer to as a “hangtime joke,” a quip that, when first delivered, doesn’t really garner much of a reaction until…wait for it…and there it is. There are a handful of such occasions included on the CD and each instance is enjoyable listening to as the audience finally “gets it.” Sometimes the hangtime itself receives a reaction, which is equally cool.
There are a couple of groaners that don’t get as big of a laugh as I’m sure he would like, but Norwest remains undaunted, pushing through as if it didn’t happen, and the next bit always brings a nice laugh and the crowd is easily brought back around.
Another great source of material for Norwest, perhaps the one that clicks the most, is his outlook on/relationship with women. Whether he’s pining about the desire to get involved with a single mom (so he can have sex with her and play video games with her kid) or explaining the real purpose of Spanx (what girls wear under their dresses when they wanna become liars), Norwest always gets a nice reaction, be it a big laugh or an audible wincing groan (like when he reveals why the age difference between him and his girlfriend is especially fitting)
When it all comes down to it, Norwest is just a regular guy who happens to like rap music, finds a tricked-out Ford Focus amusing, and dreams of the day when he is physically strong enough to get ice cream out of the container. Of course, it’s his Red Bull-fueled approach and gently skewed reaction to those things that sets him apart form others.
He is still a young comic and at times it shows (that’s not a bad thing). Norwest has really come along and it’s fun to see him clicking along at such a nice trajectory. He has a nice rhythm and has found – and embraced – his voice as a comedian. For those not familiar with Norwest, this album serves as a nice introduction while at the same time providing him a sturdy jumping point from which to dive into whatever is around the corner for him. Adam Norwest is one of a kind indeed.

Don Friesen’s “Ask Your Mom”

When I was growing up in Indiana and attending Youth Group on a regular basis like a good Christian boy, I knew even then that I was into comedians, stand up, and humor in general. I just didn’t realize I was a bit of a comedy snob. Occasionally there would be get-togethers at the church or at the house of one of the members of the congregation and a parent or youth leader would inevitably say, “Hey, let’s pop in a video tape, this guy’s really funny!” 


And I knew what would happen next.


Everyone would gather around the TV and we would sit and watch as a comedian I never heard of – but was pre-approved by the grownups – would take the stage. The comic was usually in a massive venue and it wasn’t long before the crowd – both the live studio audience as well as those surrounding me in the living room – would erupt in wild laughter. I would watch as the other kids in the youth group would laugh and laugh and laugh and I often wondered to myself why I wasn’t laughing, too. The youth leaders and adults would be doubled over, tears of laughter streaming from their eyes as the family-friendly comedian with golden highlights in his hair and a shell necklace around his neck (to show us how hip he was), dressed in sensible sweaters or a silly tie (to show our parents how non-threatening he was) yukked it up.
I recall pretending to laugh when the others did but the ruse only lasted a short while. Even as a youngster I didn’t have the energy to fake having fun. I remember wishing I had my Bill Cosby cassettes or Steve Martin records on hand. I’d show those guys what funny really was. I knew the adults would probably frown upon the Eddie Murphy tapes I had stashed in my room, but I bet even they would crack up at the way Eddie called – screamed, even – for the ice cream man. But this… what we were watching…  I couldn’t grasp why I was the only one in the room who didn’t get it. Or maybe it was the other way around.
Years later I feel like I’m finally able to put it into words. A comedian doesn’t have to swear or be racy or talk about off-color material  in order for me to be entertained. My fondness for comics like Cosby, Brian Regan, Jim Gaffigan, and Jerry Seinfeld  are perfect examples of guys who generally shy away from blue material and still garner huge laughs. What’s interesting, though, is I don’t label the aforementioned as “clean comics.” They’re just…comics. 
But I’ve found those who promote themselves as “clean” usually have the same effect on me as those Christian comedians from years past and now I understand why. It’s not the “clean” aspect that turns me off. It’s when “clean” morphs into “safe” that I find the humor tends to get lost. I have nothing against comedians who work clean or even Christian comedians (although I can’t recall the last time I recommended one to a friend)…it’s that moment they veer into “safety” that loses me.
Which brings me (I know, finally) to Don Friesen and his album Ask Your Mom. Each time I listened to this project I was brought back to my junior high years, looking down on the people laughing around me.  I didn’t see the Showtime broadcast of this project, but judging by the audio version, the crowd loves him. They eat up everything he says and the number of huge applause breaks he garners would make any comic envious (if not a bit confused).
Then it hit me: This project isn’t for me. In fact, considering how safe Friesen’s material is, I’m shocked it aired on the same channel as Dexter, Weeds, and Homeland. This isn’t a project for die-hard comedy fans as much as it is for grownups who like to laugh without having their convictions prodded.
Friesen paints himself as a lovable loser, an “aw, shucks” adorable doofus much like Regan or Christopher Titus. In this case, though, he lacks the teeth of Titus and Regan’s explosive inanity. There are moments when his material feels stale, especially when he tackles topics like the toys kids have today (“Now we have Nintendo,” he says. Really? Now we have Nintendo?) and cutting-edge technology like… Instant Messenger (“I’m starting to get instant messages. Have you guys tried that, IM?”) that again put me in mind of those Christian comics who were always five to ten years behind the mainstream. When Friesen pulled out his George W. Bush material, especially his line about how he can’t pronounce the word “nuclear,” it made me wonder if this wasn’t actually recorded 12 years ago.
But again, the crowd loved it. They loved it like they hadn’t heard that same joke countless times on Late Night TV. When Friesen did standard gags on owing creditors and how marriage emasculated him, they rang with unoriginality. And the audience howled. When he teased someone for being behind the times with the latest electronic gadgets, he whipped out the standard overused phrase, “What are you, Amish?”


And the crowd lost. Their. Shit.

And that’s when I threw in the towel. This album isn’t for me. You don’t have to be a genius to hear the roar of laughter on the CD and know there are people who click with this style of humor. I’m just not one of them and it turns out after all these years, I still don’t have the energy to fake having fun.

Aziz Ansari’s “Dangerously Delicious”

Whether he’s referring to his familiar Southern-drawl hip hop swagger or the taste of tasty, tasty racist biscuits, Aziz Ansari is back and Dangerously Delicious. On his second album (originally released on his website as a five-dollar audio/video combo a la Louis C.K.), Ansari returns to the material he knows best which includes frustration with girls, his chubby cousin Harris, sex with girls, R. Kelly, technology, and frustrating sex with girls.
Despite his confident demeanor, Ansari shows us more vulnerability this time around, especially when it comes to approaching the fairer sex at a night club. You can’t help but feel sorry for him as he tries to put his best foot forward, only to have it stomped on by a stiletto. Ansari, being who he is, finds a way to tilt the scales back in his favor (anyone missing a really nice bag?).
People who only know Ansari from “Parks and Recreation” may be in for a bit of a jolt, as he loves to go blue, gleefully providing more details than you may be comfortable with as he gives you the rundown on a donut shop-based porno, the hazards of driving the bus on a Madonna tour, and finding out why tacos are a necessity for any successful Motley Crue tour. And if that’s not enough, Ansari revels in teaching you how to say a phrase in ASL that would make any 6th-grade boy snicker.
At times it seems Ansari relies less on finding the right punchline and more on shocking the crowd into laughter by seeing just how detailed he can get with his NC-17-rated descriptions. It’s one thing to wish someone the worst possible hippo-related death…It’s another to be taken through it step by cringe-inducing step and after a while, I was ready to move on. Not because I was grossed out or disgusted…it just got old faster than he may have suspected. Ansari mentions the Saw movie franchise during his set and that’s a good example of his comedy. Where the whole Torture Porn approach to scary movies may be more geared toward the 24-And-Under crowd (I prefer to get my suspense through dialogue and not showing me everything), that same demographic will probably eat up this special. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I’m just not the target audience this time around. There are a lot of genuine laughs but there are also times Ansari finds himself at the end of a bit greeted not with peals of laughter but instead an awkward, somewhat uncomfortable, Can-We-Get-To-The-Next-Joke silence.
On his first album, Ansari had so many solid bits that garnered huge laughs, you can’t really blame him for going back to the same well for more. Unfortunately, the re-visits feel a bit forced, sort of the sensation you get when “Saturday Night Live” rolls out yet another entry into the recurring French Cafe Dancers. At first I was excited to hear he was going to keep us updated on Harris and find out what he’s up to, but when it ultimately failed to live up to the huge laughs he got the first time around, it felt more like a crutch and even a bit of a cheat.
And that, I suppose, was my biggest letdown with this project. Ansari returns to a lot of the material that I loved the first time around and he’s simply not able to capture the spark and magic this time. Instead of coming across as another chapter in a fun comedian’s solid discography, it instead feels like a movie sequel that couldn’t live up to the hype. We were promised something Dangerously Delicious but were left with little more than a hangover. As in Hangover 2.
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Mike Brody’s “That’s Not What I Meant”

Mike Brody is a likable guy with a lot of energy and on his new album, That’s Not What I Meant, his love for comedy and being on the stage is evident. He covers a lot of basic topics we are all familiar with and can relate to and he’s quick on his feet when the unexpected happens. 
And yet…despite all that…I didn’t find myself laughing as much as I’d hoped to.
That’s not to say that Brody doesn’t have some good bits. I enjoyed his comparison of his lovemaking style to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and I also liked his theory on separate AM/PM kindergarten classes and how it affects those in attendance. Other than that, though, it was tough for me to find moments that really clicked and the laugh-out-loud count was slim.
Part of the reason may be the fact that Brody moves very quickly from one topic to the next and often times it feels like he’s barely scratched the surface before he’s off to the next story. Many times it was as if he was on to something, almost like the laugh was in the neighborhood, right around the corner, but as soon as we got where you could almost feel the big laugh coming, we pulled the car over to get some gas. 
To be completely honest, though, I think it’s my own fault. 
Ever have one of those moments where your mind picks up on something – the smallest, littlest detail – and suddenly that’s the only thing you can see? I remember the first time someone told me about the little “cigarette burns” in the upper right-hand corner of films that signaled the projectionist that the end of the reel was coming up and it was almost time to switch to the other projector. I was working at a small movie theater in Indiana and once I learned about these little dots that show up every 20 minutes, I couldn’t un-see them for the rest of my life (although now that more and more theaters are going digital, they are quickly becoming a thing of the past). Small and inconsequential and until then I’d never noticed them…until I was made aware of them. After that, it was pretty much all I saw. (Edward Norton explains them much better in the film Fight Club. The only clip of it I could find on YouTube is this one, a little promo someone made for their movie reviewing blog.(Not me.))
In the same manner, Brody has a little quirk that I picked up on halfway through my second listening of the album and after I noticed it, it was all I could hear. To put it simply: he laughs at his own jokes. It’s not a constant habit, but the further on we get into the album and the more energy he picks up, the more frequently it happens until, by the last track, it’s in nearly every punchline. It’s not a straight-forward “ha ha ha ha” but more of a laugh-while-talking thing. The last word of each punchline isn’t spoken as much as it is exhaled, and then it is followed by a loud gasp as he inhales to recover. And, as I mentioned earlier, once I heard it, it was all I could hear. Or, to put it in Brody-esque deliver, it was all I could heaaar. Pause. Gaaasp.
Yes, I know, it’s nit-picky, but it did affect the way I heard the project. What made it stand out to me all the more was when it would happen after punchlines that didn’t strike me as incredibly funny. Combine that with one of my biggest pet peeves (comedians laughing at their own jokes) and it soured my experience. 
But that’s just me. I am completely willing to admit you may have an entirely different reaction to Brody’s comedy. The audience in the club seems to be having a genuinely enjoyable time and he garners some big laughs. I never claim that my opinion is the right one and I don’t discount those whose thoughts may be different. And hey, if I’ve ever come across as pompous or superior, well…that’s not what I meant, either.

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