Christopher Titus’s “Neverlution!”

I always get a bit nervous when someone I’m a fan of comes out with a new project. I’m excited they’re coming out with new material, I’m always anxious to hear it, yet I always feel a tug of trepidation, as I am haunted by a nagging fear of being let down by someone whose work I really enjoy. I don’t want it to happen, but experience has taught me that sooner or later it’s bound to happen. Steve Martin had his Mixed Nuts, Steven Spielberg had his 1941, and Martin Short had everything he’s done since leaving Saturday Night Live (except for Three Amigos).
So, it was with a bit of a “Come onnnnnnnnnnn, dude” attitude that I approached the latest album for review.
As it turns out, I totally over-thought it. I had nothing to worry about. Nothing at all.
Christopher Titus is back again and he’s calling everyone to arms as only he can. There are a lot of things in our society that are unraveling and, with a total running time of nearly two hours, Titus pretty much touches on every last one of them. He’s not looking for someone to merely sign an online petition or stand by, nodding in agreement as he passionately implores the audience to action; to, as the title of his new CD explains, a Neverlution. This is a man who is not only willing to shine the spotlight on what needs to be fixed but comes prepared with a backpack stuffed full of solutions. True, they may not be the solutions you had in mind (extremely late-term abortions up to the age of 22 for kids who aren’t contributing, anyone?) but he offers them freely – and passionately – nonetheless.
Because the album has such a long running time, peaks and valleys are inevitable; Neverlution isn’t unlike a Judd Apatow film in that respect. There are a few spots here and there that could be snipped or shortened, but Titus always has full control of the reins and always manages to get the show back on course. Unlike an Apatow film, however, the slower spots don’t take away from the overall enjoyment. They’re almost a necessity, as he couldn’t physically maintain a level 10 performance throughout the entire show; he’d drop dead from exhaustion.
There are a handful of awkward moments but not through any fault of Titus’s. Instead it’s nothing more than a simple matter of bad timing, all thanks to the capture and death of Osama Bin Laden (he ruins everything!). Neverlution was recorded before that event had come to fruition and unfortunately it automatically nullifies a lot of what Titus has to say and his Bin Laden material already feels dated.
Despite that small hiccup, there’s more than plenty of good stuff to go around. Comedy fans are definitely getting their money’s worth and even if one bit doesn’t hit hard, you can rest assured there’s something that’ll get you laughing coming up around the next corner. His set is brilliantly written and executed and you’ll find yourself nodding along in agreement with much of what Titus has to say. We need to get our country back on track before it slips out of our hands, and that means accepting we’ve let ourselves go, taking responsibility, and smacking a few misbehaving kids upside the head along the way (It’s OK. They deserve it).
Granted, he says it a little better than I do, but that’s why he’s doing what he’s doing (creating consistent comedy with a conscience) and I am where I am (encouraging you to check it out).
Are you ready to step up to the plate and make a change? If you are (and, actually, even if you aren’t), then it’s time to hop on board with Christopher Titus and his Neverlution.
****

Joe List’s “So Far No Good”

The title of the new album from Joe List, So Far No Good , could not be more of a misnomer. Perhaps he just didn’t want to raise expectations too high, or maybe it would have been considered tacky to go with, “Are You Kidding Me, This CD Friggin’ Rocks.” No matter what the case, you can rest assured that with List, you’re in for a good time.
List has managed to transport the listener at home right into the comedy club, something very few comedians before him have been able to accomplish. One of the reasons behind that is the fact List is a real pro at interacting with the crowd. With everything that can – and often will – go wrong  while performing in front of a group of people where the alcohol is flowing, List never gets rattled for a moment. There’s no heckle too clever for him, no weird creepy laugh  or hacking cough that slips past him, and no group of unresponsive front-row audience members goes unnoticed.
There’s no doubt that List is in control of the room and his interactions with the audience never once detract from the business at hand. As much as I loathe hecklers and wish bad things upon them, with List on stage they never manage to slow down the pace. He’s able to incorporate them into the action with none of the awkward air that often hangs in the room when a comic is interrupted by someone who has suddenly decided they’re clever.
And sometimes it goes the other way and List’s material gets absolutely no response, something that I found quite surprising. I honestly wondered if the crowd joint-OD’d on sleeping pills because List’s bits are much, much better than the lackluster reaction it sometimes garners. That being said, List remains confident. He knows his material is solid and he’s working his ass off. When the reluctant-to-react crowd fails to reciprocate List doesn’t hesitate to let them know they’re out of line – and he does it with hilarious results.
Of course, to focus only on the improvised and his excellent crowd work wouldn’t be fair to List’s prepared material, which is second-to-none. He’s great at mis-direction and has come with an entire case of red herrings. His approach initially comes across as Woody Allen-esque self-deprication and insecurity and that’s the genius of his craft. Just when you’ve let down your defenses he goes in for the kill with a tag or punch  from the furthest reaches of left field.
I loved “Braces”, a track about List’s orthodontic experience as a kid and how their  unexpected side effects have followed him into adulthood. “Dirty Actions” recounts a hilarious tryst with a woman who was a little more adventurous in the bedroom than List was willing to be. “Cosmo” is next, where a magazine is called out for the horrible advice they give to women. “I didn’t read the article,” List notes, “‘cuz I was shitting blood from laughing too hard.”
The album wraps up with a great couple of bits, “Cops” and “Mugged.” The humor is heightened by the fact there is a cop sitting in the audience. You can feel the nervous tension in the room as the rest of the crowd hesitates to laugh but it isn’t long before List has them all letting go and a sea of laughter fills the room. “Mugged” is the true story of the time List was held up in New York City and it’s the perfect button to an already stellar set.
And that’s why I feel the album title is misleading.
So Far No Good ?” Whatever. So far…freakin’ awesome.
***

Amy Schumer’s “Cutting”

Once upon a time a local theme park was having a music day where they brought in a bunch of bands to play in the park’s various amphitheaters throughout the day. I was asked to emcee one of the stages and in a flash of improvised Only Ed Thinks This Is Funny brilliance, I introduced one of the bands like this,
“All right you guys, I know you all know this next band…they are truly a band who needs no introduction.”
And then, heeding my own words, I turned and walked off the stage. As I headed into the wings, I was met with looks of confusion by the band and backstage crew, the crowd’s bewildered silence filling the house. For some reason they didn’t find it as hilarious as I did.
Judging by the similar way Amy Schumer’s new CD Cutting ends, I believe I may have found my kindred spirit. Except, I’m pleased to say, Schumer knows how to do the gag and make it funny. That’s why she’s the professional here and I’m not.
Cutting is a wonderfully solid project by a comedian who knows how to use the power of misdirection and a well-placed tag. She’s confident, brazen, and unapologetic and why should she be anything but? Schumer has a solid 45 minutes that seems to fly by. Nothing lags here. The cover of her CD perfectly reflects the comedy to be found inside: Bright, cheerful, and playfully innocent upon first glance but a closer examination reveals there may be something darker lurking behind it all. From the very first joke about her finally hooking up with her high school sweetheart – and revealing that it is a literal high schooler she’s talking about – we know Schumer is going to keep us on our toes and nothing will appear as it first seems.
This is a comedian who likes to have fun. Maybe sometimes too much fun as she explains why nothing good ever comes from blacking out (“I’ve never woken up and been like, “What is this Pilates mat doing out?!”). But don’t let that give you a bad impression of her. After all, she explains she’s only had sex with four different guys. And then goes on to add that was a wild night.
Schumer’s off-the-cuff interactions with the crowd are just as brilliant as the material she came prepared with. Whether she’s lamenting the random “We love you!” screamed by a female in the audience or entertaining the crowd with a hilarious back-and-forth with the ill-named Don Diego, she proves she’s able to stand her ground and nothing is going to throw her for a loop. Not Swedes who are “sort of” circumcised. Not the woman in the parking lot who tried to convert her away from Judaism. And definitely not her dirty, dirty college roommate Denise who signed an affidavit allowing Schumer to explain to the world she probably has AIDS.
All of this, of course, is done with a wink and a smile and Schumer keeps the crowd stitched up the entire time. My only beef with the project is not with Schumer, but with the weird gay ghost who magically appears in the audience about halfway through the project. There’s a guy in the crowd with a very distinct laugh – and that’s putting it lightly – who really starts to let go about halfway through the album and it started to get on my nerves. He sounds like a young Paul Lynde trying to scare a house full of unsuspecting teenagers.
But hey, that’s a testament to Schumer’s humor. Not only did she keep the crowd rolling, providing non-stop laughs from everyone, she also managed to be so funny that she summoned up The Gayest Ghost in the Netherworld.
And when your humor makes people on both sides of the grave laugh, you know you’re doing your job.
***

Nick Griffin’s “Bring Out the Monkey”

Nick Griffinis a comedian with a fun approach. Like many other comics out there, he’s tired of life’s ridiculous quirks. But Nick Griffin actually sounds worn out by the small details that drive him crazy. It’s a fine line he’s walking, but he pulls it off successfully. His comedy doesn’t drag or lull. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. His album Bring Out the Monkeyclicks forward at a nice pace and the laughs come strong. Griffin’s style is such that it sounds like he’s been up all night at the world’s weirdest party and we’ve caught up with him at Westway Diner at six the next morning. True, he’s had a long night and he’s a little tired, but he has some really cool stories he wants to share before he hops on the train and heads home.
Naturally, Griffin starts off where any memorable all-nighter begins: Alcohol. He puts it best with this line:“When a woman says no, alcohol says, ‘Ya Sure?'”
When alcohol comes into the picture you never know what’s going to happen next and the same can be said of this album. Although Griffin covers a wide variety of topics, from why rich people really do have it better than poor people (There’s only one guy who rides the bus with a blue tooth, and he doesn’t mean the communication device) to the fact guys shouldn’t cry (“What’s wrong, does your vagina hurt?”) to explaining why sleep is nothing more than temporary suicide to punching a cop, his transitions are to be commended. They’re smooth and seamless and it’s hard to pinpoint where one bit ends and the next begins.
Looking through the track listing might make someone think there’s nothing new here that hasn’t already been covered (smoking, technology, celebrities, divorce) but to judge this album by the track titles would be committing a major injustice. Just like you wouldn’t write off a Coen brothers movie just because you’ve “seen a movie where there’s a gun in it,” you shouldn’t judge Griffin’s comedy until you’ve heard his fresh approach on these universal themes.
One of my favorite tracks is “Technology,” where Griffin runs through all of the different things that are out there to distract us. He then very smartly declares, “Your kids don’t have A.D.D. They’re just trying to pay attention!”
This leads into another great bit about “Energy Drinks.” The next few tracks that follow keep up the strong pace and Griffin doesn’t let up on the LPM (Laughs Per Minute). Griffin does what every good comedian strives to do: Tells us the truth – a truth that we need to hear but otherwise may be a painful truth to process – and makes us laugh while he tells it to us.
Another highlight comes near the end of the project with the title track. I won’t try to re-capture it here, as I freely admit I won’t be able to do it justice. You just have to hear for yourself how he is able to compare naked women with a guy who owns a monkey. And why he is 100% dead-on.
Bring Out the Monkey is a must-have for any comedy fan. Or for anyone who doesn’t consider themselves a Comedy Fan but wants a good laugh. Or for anyone in a bad mood who doesn’t think they want a good laugh. Or for…look, just pick this one up. You’ll thank me later. Or, more precisely, you’ll thank me 19 tracks later.
***

Jon Lajoie’s “I Kill People”

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Jon Lajoie is back with a new collection of music that is sure to illicit more than a few laughs. Allow me to clarify: It’s a new collection, but not a collection of new songs, as most of the tracks have been available on Lajoie’s YouTube channel for some time now.
iTunes seems to be flooded with musical comedians but most of them are  hardly more than smirk-inducing on the first listen.  This is not the case with Lajoie. For starters, the production value is much better than most of the overnight silly songs that crop up. True, LaJoie isn’t going to be winning any awards for his vocal prowess, but he’s too busy cleverly skewering rap, pop music, and rock ballads to let that stop him.
Lajoie kicks off I Kill People with the title track, an intentionally-stunted gangster rap complete with a 1983 Casio keyboard beat. At first it seems to be just another rapper bragging about how great he is until you realize…well…maybe he’s not the greatest.
“My lyrics are like the movie The Shawshank Redemption…..they’re really good.”
He’s like the Ben Stiller of comedic rap. He excels at portraying the over-confident guy who can’t really live up to his own self-created hype.
There are your few standard penis, masturbation, and ill-fated love songs that just lay limp – pun intended –  (“Listening To My Penis,” “Alone in the Universe,” “In Different Ways”) but Lajoie really soars when he gets a chance to show off his various characters. And when his characters bump into each other on the same track, there are hilarious results. “WTF Collective” (and its sequel a few tracks later) introduces us to rappers like MC Insecure, MC Amnesia, The Chorus Guy, MC Doesn’t Know What Irony Is, MC Gets Sidetracked Easily, and my two personal favorites: MC Lethal Weapon 1 2 & 3 and MC Lethal Weapon 4.
Lajoie is at his best when he goes at a subject full-force. “Michael Jackson is Dead” is an angry rap aimed at those who criticized MJ and suddenly became fans after his death. The genius of this song lies in the fact that the more the rapper defends The Gloved One, the more Michael comes out looking not-so-good.
“Mel Gibson’s Love Song” is one of those songs that I probably shouldn’t have laughed at as much as I did (“I love you…that’s why I punched you in the face”) and “Radio Friendly Song” is a nice companion to a song from his previous album, “Pop Song.” I freely admit that it’s probably my brief experience in the music business machine that makes me love these songs that call out the music industry.
All in all, “I Kill People” is a solid comedy album. Sure, not every track is a home run, but neither is every cut on Eminem’s new project. But at least Lajoie is funny on purpose.
***

The Top 10 Comedy Albums of 2009

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(Re-posted from The Blog of Ed)

Top 10 Album lists are pretty popular but I’ll be honest: I didn’t listen to enough full albums this year to feel like I really knew what I was talking about. Being a radio guy, I guess I mostly listen to singles. If you want someone who is a real music head, then check out Brad’s year-end best-of list. On the other hand, Idid listen to my fair share of comedy albums. I didn’t listen to everything that came out (as of this writing I still haven’t heard the new George Lopez album and I avoid any CD by a member of the Blue Comedy Collar Tour like a Blue Collar Comedy Tour audience member avoids evolution) but I think I caught most everything else that came by. I’ll include clips from the album when I can find them, so just in case you have kids…or office mates…nearby, you may wanna keep an eye on the volume. Most of them contain words that will get your mouth washed out with soap.
10. Stephen Lynch, 3 Balloons
Not my favorite Lynch album, but still worth a mention. I especially enjoyed “Fishin Hole” (Where everyone is a butthole) and “Dear Diary,” a collection of “he didn’t just say that, did he?” tributes to dead celebrities.

9. Greg Giraldo, Midlife VicesLike most people, I became acquainted with Giraldo through his work on Comedy Central’s Roasts. He’s always teased as “the comic no one has heard of.” Although this is funny because it’s true, it shouldn’t be the case.

8. Jon Lajoie, You Want Some of ThisOne of four comedians on this list that are comedic songwriters. I used to abhor musical comedians (besides Weird Al) but when they’re funny, they’re funny. LaJoie’s CD not only celebrates the joy of just being a regular guy, but does it to a beat that would get spins on any Top 40 station.

7. Nick Swardson, Seriously, Who Farted?
Swardson, the guy who appears in every Comedy Central show ever, returns to what (I think) he does best. Goofy voices and uncomfortable situations.

6. Christopher Titus, Love is EvolReleased three days after Valentine’s Day, the album is one long rant about someone facing the D-Word: Divorce. As someone who’s been in each phase of this journey, it’s as if someone took everything I didn’t know how to say and said it better. And funnier. I don’t know. Maybe I can just relate because I too once spent some time splitting up with a psycho.

5. Dane Cook, Isolated IncidentDane Cook got so big so fast, it wasn’t long before the backlash set in. At first he was the cool underground sensation and suddenly he became cool to hate. I don’t get it. If someone’s good, then they’re good. I mean come on, how does he keep coming up with great material…and so much of it! Another double disc. This new collection shows he isn’t just a jokey jokester, but he’s an amazing storyteller.

4. “Weird Al” Yankovic, Internet LeaksSomeone who’s been doing this as long as Al has shouldn’t be on this list. Compared to everyone else on the list, Al’s an old-timer. But his song “CNR” done in the style of the White Stripes and heralding the most surprising of heroes shows he’s still got it.

3. The Lonely Island, Incredibad 
My favorite songs on this CD are the ones I hadn’t already seen on SNL. And this CD boasts the best line-up of guest vocalists on any album this year: T-Pain, Jack Black, Norah Jones, Justin Timberlake, Natalie Portman, and Julian Casablancas. 

2. Patton Oswalt, My Weakness is StrongThere are some people that are just funny when they’re angry, and Oswalt is one of them. His album starts off with this “I Hate” bit and only gets better.

1. Jim Gaffigan, King BabyJust when you thought he’d never be able to top his own catch phrase (“Hot Pocket!”) he does it with just one word: bacon.