Archive for May, 2011

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.

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So Far No Good is available from Rooftop Comedy Productions

Spencer Dobson’s Used Up is a bit of a comedic mixed bag. There are moments that really come together nicely, making for some genuine laughs. There are also moments that are still in need of a lot of work. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground, though. Dobson is either killing it or seemingly struggling to maintain his footing. After listening to the project multiple times, it left me with a dizzying sense of schizophrenia. Is it funny or not? Depending on what point you are in the album, the answer is yes.

It doesn’t take long (only about 40 seconds to be exact) before Dobson has to deal with a heckler. In this instance, I believe the heckler wins as Dobson is forced onto his heels and actually starts his first joke all over again. When he finally gets to the punchline he taunts the heckler with “Way funnier than yours. Way funnier.” While it’s technically true that Dobson’s material was funnier than the heckler’s, I’m still not certain it was way funnier.

That first interaction is an example of the trap Dobson’s material often falls into: His setups have a tendency to be long-winded and the punchline doesn’t always pack a laugh proportionate to the time it took getting there. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t have anything against lengthy anecdotes or setups. Comedians like Bill Cosby and Dylan Brody are great examples of people who excel in the storytelling process by keeping us laughing throughout the entire journey. Dobson’s approach lacks the laughs to keep us hooked throughout the entire narrative.

The track “The Hooker Story” is one example of how risky it is to put all of your comedic eggs in one basket. There are a few smiles along the way but it basically serves as  a two-and-a-half-minute  setup to a joke that falls flat; so flat that Dobson follows up the awkward silence with “Seems like that joke should end a lot bigger”. And he’s right. It should.

Another aspect that really stood out to me was the poor production value. The recording quality is less than ideal and the stunted editing only hurts Dobson’s transitions from one topic to the next. It may have been a technical glitch, but one track ends in the middle of a bit and immediately goes into the next, which seems to start in the middle of a setup. I also blame the editing for the fact that the same joke appears twice on the album (a throwaway line about his hillbilly hometown).

All of that being said, there are some genuine laughs to be found. I enjoyed Dobson’s explanation of why the music in clubs is always so loud (“Strippers hate the sound of their own thoughts”) and his story of trying to pee in sub-zero North Dakotan temperatures cracked me up. Another good bit includes  Dobson moving back in with his mother (despite the less-than-funny reason for his return) that includes a little-known less-than-convenient side effect of stress.

“Crappy Jobs” starts off with Dobson recounting his time as a telemarketer and includes the promise of “the greatest sentence ever uttered in the history of telemarketing.” And with that guarantee, Dobson manages to sabotage his own bit. He’s raised our expectations so high, there’s almost no way he can live up to his self-created hype. And he doesn’t. You don’t have to start off by saying, “This is gonna be funny.” Just be funny.

He does make up for it, though, at the end of the same track when he visits the set of an adult film. It is here that we get the best line on the album as he tells about the lackluster Craft Services table provided: “I have always felt that if a young lady has spent her day being sodomized, she deserves chicken.”

Compared to most comedy albums, this one is relatively short, clocking in at just over 30 minutes. I’d say 15 of those are good, solid comedy and the other 15 are still in need of some revisiting. The unfortunate thing is Dobson has burned 15 minutes of great material on a project that doesn’t consistently perform to match. Suddenly the title Used Up has an entirely new – and unintended – meaning.

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Used Up is available now.

Collin Moulton’s Chicken Stupid is one of the reasons I love writing comedy reviews. In talking with people about writing these pieces, I’m often surprised by the number of people who assume I love writing a negative review. They (falsely) think I take pleasure in expressing my lack of love for a project, but they couldn’t be more wrong. As someone who genuinely loves the world of comedy, I sincerely want every album out there to be stellar. When a project falls short, it’s not an exaggeration to say it hurts my heart.

One of the joys I get from writing reviews is (hopefully) introducing people to comics and comedy they might not otherwise have stumbled upon. Every time I get an email from someone expressing the purchased a comedy album based on what they read here, I feel sincerely honored to have helped spread the word.

Which brings me back to my original point. I went into Chicken Stupid not knowing what to expect and by the end of the first track I was already thrilled to be along for the ride. This CD is exactly what I hope every album will be when I sit down to listen: Comedy done just right.

There’s not a thing I don’t love about this project. Moulton has assembled every comedian’s wish: one of the most-solid 45-minute sets you’ll come across. There are 24 tracks on the project and I am more than pleased to say there isn’t a weak spot in the bunch.

Moulton is off to a solid start with the tale of an inadvertent garage sale trip and the comedy consistently ramps up from there and never falters.

Although he could be classified as an observational comic, Moulton’s perspective on life’s details sets him apart from the pack. There are no stories of airline food, the differences between the sexes, or examples of how white guys can’t dance. Moulton instead breathes life into a fresh laundry list of topics such as throwaway “I love you’s” and trying to explain to a youngster why the post office and email continue to co-exist.

On “Fowl” Moulton brilliantly captures the only three words chickens are smart enough to learn and “Wife’s Yawn Cry” is a hilarious take on the sun and how it affects certain bodily functions.

Moulton doesn’t rely on overly-contrived premises to bring in the laughs. The reason his material resonates as strongly as it does is because what he is saying is the truth: If we all treated puppies the way we treat fish, PETA would go nuts. But for some reason these finicky animal activists are absolutely fine with the fact we can slam a fish against a rock and rip off it’s lips. As Moulton points out, that’s what they get for not blinking.

When he’s not tackling the hard-hitting topics like racism (in pets), drugs (with Mom), and growing up with divorced parents, Moulton also finds humor in explaining why deaf people probably hate Muppets and the frightening secret lurking in Indiana Wal-Marts.

Despite the already-huge laughs in the first 23 tracks, Moulton manages to top himself on the final cut with a riotous bit on a handicapped police officer who meets his perfect foible. It’s exactly the finale a solid piece of work like this deserves.

If you aren’t familiar with Collin Moulton, he’s done his part by recording a brilliant work of comedy and I’ve done what I can do by spreading the word. The rest is on you. There’s a whole bunch of funny here waiting for you to discover. To sit by idly and let this one pass you by, quite frankly, is plain Chicken Stupid.

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Chicken Stupid is available from Rooftop Comedy Productions

King Ding-A-Ling is everything a comedy album should be. In fact, it’s almost too much. There are so many great laughs to be found, it’s hard to focus on just one without it leading to another and another and another. And another.

We’ve all been there: You buy a comedy CD and are disappointed with the severe shortage of laughter. There’s nothing more disheartening than a comedian talking for 45 minutes and only bringing one or two good moments. This project, my friends, is the answer to that dilemma. Andy Ritchie has jam-packed each track on the CD with so much comedy, I almost felt like I was ripping him off.

Ritchie gets things off to a great start with a bit about shower heads and the less-than-soothing  “massage” setting. His take on everyday items elevates the seemingly mundane to the heights of hilarity. He started off setting the bar for himself pretty high and he doesn’t falter once. This isn’t a guy who has a strong opener, a solid closer, and a mushy so-so middle. If this were a musical project, there would be no ballads to slow down the pace;  it’s just one captivating party jam after another. Even his off-handed asides and transitions between stories had me laughing out loud. I mean, come on, you won’t hear a better beginning to a story than, “Here’s the thing about me and pooping…”

As I listened to the album, I jotted down phrases and key words on a Post-It note to serve as reminders of what struck a chord with me. One Post-It turned to two, then three, and soon my desk was littered with a series of yellow squares with phrases like “Yogurt in the hot sun”, “PT Cruiser = Dick Tracy if he were a single mom”, and “Goth guys falling down the stairs” scrawled all over them. To most people, these would appear to be the random thoughts of a madman. In the hands of Andy Ritchie, they are the seeds of comedy brilliance.

Whether he’s comparing the bombing of Canada to the act of punching a blind baby or noting that we rate peoples’ level of retardation the same way we rate hot sauce, Ritchie has found a way of pulling the curtain back and revealing the seemingly ordinary for what it actually is: Completely jacked.

Ritchie is also quite skilled at misdirection. I won’t explain too much here, as the point of misdirection is to make you unsuspecting of what’s coming up around the corner, but suffice it to say he particularly shines when he’s trying to teach us something, whether it’s the Greenland/Iceland naming switcheroo or the real story behind the Huey Lewis/Ray Parker Jr spat.

When it comes to plotting gags, there’s no shortage of ideas here. From the moment Ritchie explained the cell phone candy dispenser, I haven’t been able to stop wondering if I could pull it off and have it be as funny in real life as it is when he explains it. The same goes for the funeral “Checkmate” trick. I know I would never have the guts to go through with it, but now that the idea has been planted in my brain, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if. Kudos to Ritchie for pulling off the seemingly impossible feat of transitioning from a funereal practical joke to injured corporate peanut spokesmen. I know, they have nothing in common, but they blend surprisingly well. It’s so smooth, you don’t even realize he did it.

As good as the beginning and middle are, the ending of the CD couldn’t have been any better. Ritchie dovetails a bit on ghosts, hauntings, and unfinished business into a wonderfully-crafted finale that wraps everything up with gut-busting simplicity. For those looking for an example of how comedy should be done – and a peek into the secret ingredient of shrimp-flavored ramen noodles – I believe I have found the answer.

All hail the King Ding-A-Ling.

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King Ding-A-Ling is available from Stand Up! Records

Read the full review at
the new Comedy Reviews website.