Archive for March, 2011

There are few things in the world I like as much as curling up with a good book on a cold, cold day. Whether it’s an elaborate novel or the latest jumbo collection of Dell word puzzles and brain teasers, give me a blanket to wrestle with and some Ghirardelli white chocolate powder to add to my coffee and it doesn’t get much better.

That’s what it’s like listening to A Twist Of The Wit, the newest release from wordsmith Dylan Brody. He’s a captivating storyteller with an amazing grasp of language. He doesn’t just “say words” but instead uses them the way a composer uses notes, chords, and the perfect instrumentation to construct a symphony. Brody uses stories instead of movements; alliteration and wordplay are his time signature changes and chord modulations.

Brody is an intellectual, of that there’s no doubt, but he doesn’t talk down to the audience. Instead, he reaches out a hand to lift us up to where he is, to see the world from his point of view, and to take it all in.

I’ve gotta be honest. It’s nice up here.

In a world where it sometimes seems comedians aren’t allowed to be the smartest guy in the room (Dance for us, monkey boy!), it’s refreshing to spend time with someone who doesn’t dismiss a heckler simply by presenting him with a few options of what he can go busy himself with, but instead opts for “What part of ‘no extraneous conversation’ did you not understand, sir?”

Brody, the self-proclaimed Purveyor of Fine Words and Phrases, doesn’t get on stage and tell jokes. He gets on stage and tells stories. Sometimes it takes him a while to get to the story, offering a “deconstructionist introduction to a deconstructionist introduction” here, a tangent there, and soon enough he’ll get to where he was headed. But we don’t mind the delay because Brody is the epitome of the old adage that it’s not the destination, but the journey that makes it worthwhile. We’re not working for one big punchline at the end of each anecdote, but instead we’re picking up on all of life’s little nuances along the way.

There aren’t really any “jokes” to be found here, but that’s not to say Wit is devoid of humor. Quite the contrary. There’s a difference between jokes and humor and the latter is exactly what Brody offers, and he’s generous with it. Brody doesn’t “do bits” but instead “performs pieces.” Comedy is an art form and watching – or in this case listening to – Brody work is witnessing a true artist in peak form.

Whether he’s talking about his two dogs and the new owner of “the poopy lawn,” a romantic encounter at a supermarket, or a jewelry gift from Steve Allen, Brody has chosen each and every word carefully. Nothing is where it shouldn’t be and it’s a pristine display of poetic prose perfection.

“The Story of Jeff Spikkhersbrokken and the Man We Will Call Arthur Grey” is a 14-minute marvel. What starts off as a smile-inducing tale about his manager and the writing jobs he brings to the table takes a few twists and turns before morphing into a very sentimental tale about the people Brody has come to know in his life and how fortunate he is to have found them.

Brody has a knack for callbacks, ending his stories where they began. Perhaps it’s because of his love of palindromes. Perhaps it’s his adoration of structure. Going back to my musical analogy, he’s like a composer using recurring musical themes to bring us back to a previous  and familiar phrase, a repeat bar-line for storytelling before bringing us to the coda.

A Twist of the Wit, not unlike a great work of music, can indeed be enjoyed in smaller segments, taking in one track at a time. But when you step back and experience it as a whole, really taking it in, you see it for what it is: a masterpiece.

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A Twist Of The Wit is available from Stand Up! Records

Fans of Reggie Watts, the one-man improvisational music-looping genius, know what to expect when they go see him perform live. To put it simply, they expect everything and Watts never disappoints. Folks unfamiliar with his scattered off-the-wall-ness are in for an experience they won’t soon forget and on his new EP recorded in Nashville, Live at Third Man Records, you get the sense that’s exactly the people Watts is aiming for. It’s easier to throw the audience for a loop – or in this case loops – when they don’t know they’re about to be thrown.

Watts opens the show in character, and for those who don’t realize he is noted for his various spot-on dialects and accents, nothing seems amiss. After all, why wouldn’t a black man with an afro that appears to be reaching for something across the room talk in barely-comprehensible urban slang? He sounds more like Ali G than someone raised in Montana. The joke, of course, is on the crowd and you can hear them “get it” as Watts morphs seamlessly from one character to another.

Watts keeps us entertained by doing nothing more than entertaining himself. It’s not unlike watching a child at play, carrying on conversations – and doing all of the the voices – telling stories of dragons and a little boy’s breakfast, of Nashville’s thriving industrial factories, and stopping everything altogether right as he loses interest. He’s a master of the improvisational riff and only his gift for the spontaneous could bring us the single most-hilarious Nabisco commercial ever conceived.

Watts is generally known for his music, free-styling with loop machines and voice changer-things (yes, that’s the technical term), but on Live he focuses more on his storytelling, regaling the crowd with stories of Smurfs, iPad covers, and other fantastical stories narrated in his best Gandalf-type approach.

The songs that do appear on the EP are nothing less than musical masterpieces. Watts is his own sound man as he controls everything from the reverb, pitch, sustain, music, and other vocal effects, accompanying himself on the loop machine and piano. You know someone has talent when they can sing a song from two different characters’ points of view and the entire thing is done entirely in gibberish. It isn’t until you realize you can follow exactly where the song is going and what it’s saying  despite not understanding a single word of his secret language that you’re knocked over again by Watts’s incredible talent.

Above all else, Watts makes comedy – and music – fun. The fact that this release is only available on vinyl – and only available through the Third Man Records store – means fans will actually have to put some work into getting their hands on it. But if there were ever an album worth the effort, Live at Third Man Records is it.

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Live at Third Man Records is a limited edition LP vinyl release available from Third Man Records in Nashville, TN.

Who Wants Me Now? Director’s Cut is an updated re-release of the 2007 album by the same name – except for…you know…the whole “Director’s Cut” thing. I freely admit I was completely unfamiliar with the original album, so I won’t be able to contrast, compare, and tell you if this re-release is a good or a bad thing. And the fact that I have nothing to compare it to may also be a good or a bad thing. In an interview with…someone (it’s never really made clear who the interviewer is) on the final track, Tommy Savitt explains this is basically a re-working of some of his older material, punched up a bit, expanded, and re-configured.

I will say this much: whatever it is Savitt tweaked, he did it well. Who Wants Me Now? is just what people look for in a comedy album: one-liners, mis-direction, a handful of groaners, and a lot of laughs. There are a lot of zingers packed inside and Savitt wastes no time getting to them. He begins by explaining he went to Brooklyn Law School – because it’s the best acting school there is – and graduated in the top 1/3 of the bottom 1/3 of his class. From that point on, we start to understand why.

Savitt plays the role of the happy, confident fool perfectly (“Think about it! Use your placenta!”). His statements are completely preposterous and it’s fun as he feigns utter incredulity when people don’t agree with his point of view. (“I fight for you! I’m against the seat belt laws; they tell you it saves lives. If you’re strapped in a Ford Focus, is your life worth living?…And the best part of being flung from your Focus? You may be hit by something nicer.”)

Despite Savitt’s tough exterior – he’s almost a cross between Eddie Pepitone and the late Mike Destefano – it soon becomes obvious that all he needs is love. He explains this to the ladies in the audience, listing off reasons why they should go home with him. Of course, the more he talks – pleads, almost – the more it comes to light why an evening with him may not be the wisest choice. (“Some of these men will make love to you and then brag about it to their friends. I would never do that. I would show them the video.”) After similar stories of why he is the “good guy,” revealing one embarrassing attribute about himself after another, Savitt delivers his signature tagline: “Who wants me now?”

Savitt only shifts gears to encourage the audience to buy his CD, which he claims includes relationship-saving hints,  tips, and pseudo-questions of advice from the public, all of which begin with his other catchphrase, “Hey Tommy.”  Savitt is proud to share some of the advice he’s given in the past and once again the more he brags, the more he shouldn’t. He has the audience under his full control and they respond exactly as they should; they’re playing the exact role Savitt has orchestrated for them.

A lot of comedians cover a vast array of topics and cover a lot of pop culture ground in their act, but not Savitt. He doesn’t need to. He’s carved out a nice niche for himself, sticking mainly to relationships and gleefully putting himself down along the way. He’s taken a smart approach to self-deprecation. We never pity or feel sorry for him. Because he’s so confident, his shortcomings don’t make him seem like less of a man. He states boldly his beliefs on women and what he thinks they want – and need – and basically ends up listing reasons why he finds himself alone. Savitt proudly portrays himself as a romantic idiot…and the way he does it is sheer genius.

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Who Wants Me Now? Director’s Cut is available from Next Round Entertainment

Upon first glance, If These Balls Could Talk may appear to be a puzzling title, but after listening to this hilarious new  project from Louis Katz, it all falls into place. If Katz’s balls really could talk, this album is exactly what they would say; this is the album his balls would want to make. And, as it turns out, Louis Katz has hilarious balls.

Balls is a stellar collection of groan-inducing, face-reddening, did-he-just-say-that comedy and I mean that in the very best way possible. Katz has somehow managed to blend the laid-back relaxed feel of Mitch Hedberg with the in-your-face hip hop sexual swagger of Aziz Ansari while still remaining completely original.

The first track starts off innocently enough with Katz lamenting about losing his hair. At first you may think you’ve heard this before and you know where he’s going, but then Katz explains why he can’t cover up the fact he’s balding by simply wearing a hat:  “I wear glasses. Can’t wear a hat and glasses, that’s a fake mustache away from being a disguise.” It was at that very point I knew this was going to be a great ride. Katz has found a way to see things through a life lens that skews everything to the point where you can’t see anything except for what’s funny about it.

From there it’s Game On and Katz jumps into the deep end of the pool without a second thought. From BBWs (and the correct pronunciation of their African-American counterparts) to vegans and pescatarians to close-talking men who invade your personal “V”, Katz covers it all and each laugh is bigger than the last.

Crystals for deodorant. Jugglesticks and Dave Meowtthews. Didgeridoos and the real reason hippies love them. Just a couple of things Katz touches upon in a track about an ex-roommate that should be used and referenced in every “Great Comedy Bits” conversation that is ever held from this moment on. It’s only a little over 4 minutes long, but Katz covers so much ground and so adeptly paints a mental picture of all that occurred, you’ll feel like you were right there under the same roof with them.

When Katz tackles the weird phenomenon that is The Marching Band, he does it with such precision it’s like he’s a master surgeon doing a baboon-heart-into-a-human transplant. Katz has skills – or in his case, skillz – and he’s not afraid to flaunt them.

Another favorite moment of mine came in a single, short bit that had Katz talking about what kids learn in school and why they’re taught cursive handwriting. It’s a line that was so good, I had to make it my Facebook status.

And then, there’s the “dirty” stuff, which is pretty much every other cut on the album. Anyone can work blue. Anyone can get on stage and spew expletives or talk about sex. I’ve touched on this before. Bob Saget is famous for how foul he is. Unfortunately, he’s not famous how funny he is. Jim Norton and Robin Williams both go off the deep end, but they also uphold their end of the bargain: They’re funny while they do it.

In my opinion, though, Louis Katz does it best. Katz is somehow able to pull off blue material without it feeling very blue. I honestly don’t know how he did it. When I listened to Jim Norton’s Despicable I felt like I needed a shower afterward (and before the hate mail starts rolling in, I just want to clarify, I liked his album. See?). But Katz’s comedy doesn’t come with that “I feel dirty” dark cloud hovering over it.

Maybe the difference is the anger level. Norton seems irate when he talks – or screams – about sex. Katz, on the other hand, is quite happy. Where Norton seems to approach sex from an enraged “This is insane!!!!” point of view, Katz is simply proclaiming “This is awesome!!”

Often times when I talk to people about comedy I hear the same questions. Who’s going to be the next big thing? What’s good that’s new? Who should I be keeping an eye on and who should I be on the lookout for? In this case, the answer to all of those questions is Louis Katz.

And I think his balls would agree with me.

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If These Balls Could Talk is available from Comedy Central Records


The new release from Lee Camp, Chaos For The Weary, is stand-up done right. Although it opens up with an introduction and stamp of approval from Kelly Carlin comparing camp to her legendary father George, Camp is his own voice with a unique approach to the craft.

He begins the album with a passionate rant about people over 50 (“In the big bag of trail mix, they ate the peanuts and the M&Ms and left us with f***in’ raisins”) and he doesn’t let up. Camp is angry, he’s frustrated, and he’s got a lot on his mind, but he says it all with a smile in his voice that lets you know he hasn’t lost all hope. Although things in the world seem to be spiraling out of control, they’re still kinda funny.

Like a well-seasoned boxer, Camp has learned that when you’re in the ring, it’s all about pacing. Each of the tracks on Chaos begins with a simple one-liner that comes from left field and tags the audience on the chin. It’s not a knock-out punch, but it packs enough of a wallop to let us know he’s running the show. It’s fast and comes from nowhere and while the audience is staggering with laughter, Camp jumps in with a flurry of body blows as his delivery becomes more passionate, louder, and nearing manic levels. The pace becomes quicker, sentences run together, and the only break we get from the onslaught of funny is the quarter-second it takes Camp to take a breath. Camp is light on his feet, smoothly transitioning from Radio Shack – and wondering why it’s still in business – to  Facebook to vintage T-shirts to Hallmark cards all within one hilarious minute. And then, just as you’re about to feel your feet collapse from beneath you, the bell rings and it’s back to your corner.

And then it starts over again. One-liner, laughter, BAM! jokesjokesjokesjokesjokesjokes, pause….one-liner, POW! funnyfunnyfunnyfunnyfunny. On and on, Camp has it all timed out perfectly. He knows just how long to go before he brings us down, letting us compose ourselves, before he starts in again. His comedy is like the inverse-bell curve chart Sean T uses on the infomercials for the Insanity workout program: 4 minutes intervals of intense comin-right-at-ya 100% comedy followed by a short rest period, and then….off we go for round 2.

Camp covers the gamut and is just as funny talking about the mundane (questioning the necessity of the rubber grips on a toothbrush handle) as he is when he tackles bigger issues (how he would protest if he were 80 and not allowed to pull the plug on his life support).

Unlike a championship fight, however, the action doesn’t slow down as we approach the final round. There’s no lumbering around, no excessive leaning on the ropes. Camp is just as on fire throughout the 15th track as he was in the first. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think his corner man had spiked the water bottle with Red Bull and espresso shots.

Chaos is 57 minutes of comedy at its finest. When you see a good boxer in the ring, you see there’s more to it than just hitting someone else. It’s called The Sweet Science for a reason. Likewise, Camp proves there is much more to comedy than knock-knock jokes and tiptoeing around hecklers. Listening to Chaos makes you realize there is a process to it, a thought-out approach, and Camp elevates making people laugh to his own sweet science. Loud, angry, furious science.

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Chaos For The Weary is available from Stand Up! Records.