Archive for June, 2011

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.

****

Neverlution is available from Comedy Central Records

My reviews of comedy albums usually run anywhere from 500 to 700 words. I’ll be the first to admit that can be a lot to take in, especially in a day when we are being forced/trained to express ourselves in 140 characters (not words) or less. That being said, I don’t know how many of my posts are read in their entirety and Stand Up Comedy 2 by Tommy Johnigan is so good, I don’t want to risk losing anyone before I’m able to impress upon them how amazing this CD is.

Seriously. I’m not kidding around. If I go to see a movie and I love it, I usually only tell people “It was OK,” or “Yea, it was good, I really liked it.”  I hate raising people’s expectations because I don’t want them to be let down. I’ve often found myself disappointed in a movie only because it couldn’t possibly live up to everyone’s hype. That being said, I’m breaking one of my own rules by coming right out and saying it…you need to have this album in your playlist.

As a matter of fact, let’s pause for a moment right now so you can buy the album and then you can come back here and finish reading this while it’s downloading.

hmm hmmmm…

Dum de dum…

OK, sweet. All good? Excellent. You’ve made a wise decision.

And now, as if you’re reading the forward to a book, before you actually listen to your new purchase I will explain to you why you’ve just made the best comedy decision of the year.

To put it simply, this CD is nothing less than amazing. It’s hilarious. It’s clever. It’s smart yet the material is easily accessible. There’s something here for everyone regardless of your comedy palette. In fact, it’s every synonym for the word “great” or “wonderful” that Roget could come up with.

The secret of Johnagin’s success lies in the fact he’s just a regular guy who finds himself in some amazing situations. Actually, to call them “amazing” may be something of a mislead. When I think about it, they’re actually quite ordinary predicaments with no feel of being embellished for the sake of a nice gag. I’m not saying everything Johnagin says us 100% accurate, but there’s nothing here that doesn’t feel believable. Any or all of it could have happened. It’s comedy through utter plausibility. These are completely ordinary situations any one of us could have stumbled into. What makes them truly “amazing” is how Johnigan reacts and then relays what happened to us.

For example, Johnigan and his girlfriend recently decided to smoke weed and it was their very first time. Not their first time as a couple but their first time, period. What’s brilliant about his story is that he’s not a teenager in high school living on the edge. He’s an adult well aware of any and all consequences for his actions. His sense of responsibility only adds to the paranoia that swirls around them both and the situation takes a very funny turn when he realizes the drug’s effects are hitting his girlfriend first.

Johnigan is a man who is at his most comfortable when things are going just the way they’re supposed to go. When there is a hiccup, no matter how slight or inconsequential, he always has the best words to describe what’s going down:

  • On his sister’s 10-pound newborn: He looks like John Goodman from a distance.
  • On trying to carry on a conversation with younger women: Talkin’ to a 20-year-old is like talkin’ to a baby, except babies don’t have bad ideas yet.
  • On women who are extra-forward on a first date: Stop biting and go away.

One of my favorite bits on the album is simply called “A Whimsical Story About Throwing A Baby” and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Johnigan is up front about the fact that just because his sister has a baby, that doesn’t automatically qualify him as a competent babysitter. To prove his point, he shares a tale that left me in tears.

When Johnigan eventually sets his sites to women and relationships, he stays on top and doesn’t falter or lose his footing once. Safe words, mood swings that aren’t really mood swings, and accidentally clacking teeth while kissing, Johnigan covers it all with amazing precision.

Everything comes to a close with a hidden track that begins with a story that explodes with humor at an exponential rate all because of a simple slip of the tongue by Johnigan. What unfolds is a hilarious improvised rant about wearing tires instead of used clothing and ends with Johnigan simply declaring, “I think that’s gonna be a bonus track. There’s no way that could be on the CD.” I for one am glad he had second thoughts.

There’s honestly not a single thing I can think f I didn’t enjoy about this project and I can’t recommend it enough. Tommy Johnigan is as good as I hope every comedian will be the first time I listen to their album. It sounds like hype, I know, but it’s not. It’s just the truth. I laughed.

And laughed.

And laughed.

I mean…you know…it was good. I liked it, yea.

OK, enough with the soft sell. Now go buy it.

***

Stand Up Comedy 2 is available from Comedy Central Records

Tough Luck Chump is the new DVD release from Mike Stanley, a comedian who is three parts Dave Attell, one part Bill Burr, and one part Dave Attell.

It’s pretty common for comics who haven’t yet discovered their own voice to emulate those whom they admire and have studied for years. That’s not a bad thing; it’s natural. It’s just that Stanley really sounds like Dave Attell.

I freely admit I could be completely off-base in my theory that Stanley is an avid fan of Attell and, hence, has subconsciously picked up some of his nuances, but I found the similarities uncanny. Stanley’s timing, delivery, and inflection are almost eerily identical (right down to including Attell’s “Dumb Guy” voice) and there are moments that, if I closed my eyes, I couldn’t differentiate between the two.

Most comedians who have been around for years and years can look back at their earliest work and point out inflection, tone, or gestures that were influenced by their comedy heroes. It’s not the best example in the world, but even the old tapes of my performances in high school plays are teeming with Steve Martin references (Endless viewings of The Jerk and spending hours upon hours upon hours listening to A Wild and Crazy Guy tend to have that effect).

I don’t hold the fact that Chump sounds like a lost Attell album against Stanley. I’m just really pulling for Stanley to find a voice that’s his own and grow into it. Again, I could be completely mistaken. For all I know, this is Stanley and the fact he reminds me of someone could very well just be circumstance. If that’s the case, I’ll be the first to admit I’m full of it (And to be honest, even if it’s not the case, there’s a very good chance I’m still full of it).

One thing that I do know after giving Chump a few spins is this: There’s a lot of stuff that pisses off Stanley. It doesn’t take much to send him off the handle, whether it’s children with cell phones, Planned Parenthood, or guys who lie about the size of their junk. Oh yea, I almost forgot. He hates, hates, hates Indiana. He hates everything about it. I don’t know what happened to him in Indiana, but good Lord, he hates Indiana.

Hates it.

Stanley has some really fun premises that I would love to see him explore even deeper but he tends to wrap them up and ground them with an Attell-esque throwaway remark before they really get a chance to soar. At one point Stanley asks the crowd if they knew you could get a DUI while riding a bicycle and I was looking forward to hearing the tale of how Stanley discovered this fact. Instead he abandons the premise completely and transitions into something completely different. It left me wishing we hadn’t moved on so fast. What about the bike DUI? I wanna hear that story!

Although Chump didn’t bring many big laughs for me it’s not for any lack of trying. In fact, I wonder if maybe sometimes he’s not trying too hard. When he’s not abandoning an anecdote before it really gets humming, he sometimes conjures up a lengthy setup just to get to a punchline whose payoff isn’t proportionate to the time it took to get there. We follow his story of hooking up with a female bowler for quite a while before we finally get to the anticlimactic and sort-of predictable She Did Me Three Times, That’s A Turkey! punchline.

As far as I could find, this release is available only on DVD and not as a CD/MP3 format. Hopefully, Stanley will make an audio version of the project available for people who may not want to drop $20. Otherwise, the title Tough Luck Chump takes on a whole new meaning.

***

UPDATE (7/7/11) – I’ve been informed this project will indeed be released as an audio format. Stay tuned to Stand Up! Records for information and release dates.

***

UPDATE #2 (9/10/11) – This project is now available in audio format and you can check it out right here.

***

Tough Luck Chump  is available on Stand Up! Records

Almost Clean, the debut album from Adam Hammer, is a nice introduction to a solid comedian. First impressions are important, and Hammer is off to a great start with nearly 50 minutes of strong material. He takes a laid-back approach to his stories rather than the in-your-face louder-is-funnier method many new comics tend to fall back on. It’s a breath of fresh air and the laughs come easy. Hammer doesn’t talk at or down to the crowd, but instead settles in like he’s kicking back with friends on a Saturday afternoon; we’ve got a couple of brews, some great stories, and nowhere to go.

The CD kicks off with a couple of bits on hotels and life as a comedian on the road. Although it’s a topic most comics have touched on at some point, Hammer’s take is fresh and you aren’t hearing stories you’ve already sat through a million times before. When he aims his sites at Motel 6 and reveals Tom Bodett’s promise for the subtle, creepy threat it actually is, Hammer is banging on all cylinders.

With a proud confidence and an admission that he doesn’t know all of the facts, Hammer freely presents his solution to the Obamacare debate. Going to prison, where everyone gets free healthcare courtesy of the taxpayer, may not be the solution you had in mind but hey, sometimes we have to make sacrifices. If it takes going to jail on a DUI charge to get free ointment for a rash on your leg, then so be it.

When Hammer explains how the D.A.R.E. program actually led him to drugs, you find he’s got a twisted – but fun – way of being able to rationalize and explain pretty much anything. The reason he’s not rich and famous is because of his dad, who selfishly offered Hammer constant support and never left his family high and dry (Hammer vows not to make the same mistake with his sons). He wants to try heroin because he’d love to know how to play guitar. His alcoholism is the reason he’s able to stay so trim and fit. And soda, not global warming, is the reason polar bears are melting.

And yes, you read that last sentence correctly.

As laid back as Hammer is, there are a few things that get under his skin, namely people who feel the incessant need to explain their tattoos (regardless of whether or not anyone asked them), the whole concept of giving flowers (unless you’re breaking up with someone), and people who want to talk to him about his cute dog.

And speaking of pets, Hammer found a way to make sex with cats funny. I won’t go into it, but suffice it to say “It’s like a sock that eats” is one of the funniest lines I’ve heard in a while. It’s up to you to listen to the track on your own to get the full context.

If you’re ever looking for a reason (Or two. Or three.) to drink and drive, Hammer is the man for you. He’ll explain to you how drinking and driving could save lives and suggests getting behind the wheel when you’re tipsy wouldn’t have such a bad rep if, instead of crashing into upstanding citizens, more drunk drivers would aim for rapists.

The album ends with a special (secret) message (followed by one last joke for the road) encouraging the listener to share the project with friends. If you enjoyed Almost Clean let people know, and share it, at any price to Hammer (and his record label). Since I did enjoy the CD, I’ve decided to take Hammer up on his deal and spread the word.

I enjoyed this album and I think you will, too. 

There. Word officially spread. Now forward this review to everyone you know who enjoys laughing and encourage them to check out Adam Hammer. He’ll take it from there.

***

Almost Clean is available from LaughSpin

It’s been five years since “Weird Al” Yankovic’s last full-length album. Five long years. And for someone who’s a huge fan of Al and his music, that’s four years and 11 months too long. A lot’s happened since 2006 and it seems the music scene has re-invented itself at least a dozen times over. For someone like Yankovic who has always had his finger on the pulse of pop culture, he has no problem keeping up. With the recent release of The Lonely Island’s new CD, one might be tempted to assume there isn’t enough room for two comedy music acts to thrive. But we all know what happens when you assume: Al makes an ass out of you, me, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, B.O.B., Bruno Mars, and T.I.

Alpocalypse follows a familiar Yankovic-ian formula whereas the track listing alternates between parodies and completely original songs. To this day it intrigues me to find people who have no idea Yankovic isn’t just some guys who changes the words to popular songs. He’s also an extremely talented songwriter and musician whose chops literally span every musical genre conceivable. This time around includes a nod to The Doors mixed with America’s penchant for online classified ads (“Craigslist“) and a White Stripes-inspired ode to the greatest bespectacled Match Game regular ever to don a neckerchief (“CNR“).

One of my favorite songs on the album is “If That Isn’t Love,” a list of examples pointing out how much Yankovic adores the object of his affection set to a radio-friendly Hanson-esque Adult Contemporary track. Less-than-flattering love songs have always been one of Yankovic’s strong suits and is often when he’s at his funniest. This time around is no different.

“And if you cut the cheese then maybe I’ll wink and say the dog’s to blame
And I make sure to call you ‘baby’ every time I forget your name

I’ll even tell ya girl when you start lookin’ fat
‘Cuz all your so-called friends will probably neglect to mention that

And if that isn’t love…I don’t know what love is.” 

Of course, it’s the parodies that made Yankovic famous and he doesn’t disappoint. He and his band deserve credit not only for perfectly capturing the essence and musicianship of each twisted rendition, but also for injecting each one with a fresh sense of fun. The first track on the album, “Perform This Way“, puts Lady Gaga’s less-then-conventional fashion sense under a microscope and “TMZ” focuses on Harvey Levin and his pointless gang of legalized stalkers all to the tune of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong To Me.” “Another Tattoo” is the smile-inducing tale of a man obsessed with body art that will forever change your perception of the original B.o.B/Bruno Mars collaboration.

It wouldn’t be a “Weird Al” Yankovic album without another polka medley featuring your favorite – or perhaps least-favorite – songs that have been played to death on the radio set to a rousing polka party beat. You’ve never heard Katy Perry so enjoyable, Owl City so upbeat, Pink so not-angry, and Justin Bieber so…um…accordian-y.

For fans of Yankovic, not all of the songs on Alpocalypse are new. Five of the 12 tracks on the album were released as part of an EP, Internet Leaks, that came out back in 2009. If I had a complaint about this new project, the fact that I already bought nearly half of the songs two years ago would be it. Because I’m a fan – and knowing it may very well be another five years before new music rolls around again – I would have preferred if the EP could have been left as its own entity, a mini-project appetizer to tide us over, before Al came out with the main course chock-full of brand new songs I hadn’t heard before.

That being said, Alpocalypse is another solid release from Yankovic and it’s an understatement to say that I love it. I must admit that hearing the “old” songs sandwiched in with the new ones brings a welcome freshness to each of them. Whether you’ve been a lifelong fan or are just beginning to dabble in his music, there are a lot of laughs to be found here that don’t get old with repeated listenings. I mean, come on, he actually made a Lady Gaga song listenable. If that’s not proof of musical genius, I don’t know what is.

***

Alpocalypse is available from Volcano Entertainment