Archive for August, 2011

You probably think you know who Doug Benson is. Heralded for projects like Super High Me and “Marijuana-Logues,” it’s understandable why one might pigeonhole Benson as just That Guy Who Talks About Pot. If you think Benson is a bit of a stoner, you’d be right. If you assume a lot of Benson’s material will be rooted in that very topic, you’d also be right. But if you think that’s all Benson is…you would be very, very wrong.

On his new album Potty Mouth, Benson proves that although it’s true he’s down with the green stuff, he is first and foremost an accomplished comedian.This is no one-trick pony and Benson shatters any pre-conceived notions you may have held by displaying an amazing knack for bringing huge laughs with material both scripted and off-the-cuff. The prepared material he has scrawled in his notebook proves to be just as funny as his crowd work — and vice versa. Whether he’s reading Tweets written by his fans (and himself), responding to unsolicited audience participation, or marveling at the jokes he hastily scribbled on a Post-It note, Benson thrives. Although his stage persona is one of a relaxed, “whatever dude” kinda guy, don’t let it fool you. Benson is no slacker. Quite the opposite, he’s a comedy machine, cranking out one huge laugh after another.

One of the first things that stood out to me was the fact that Benson doesn’t get to a written joke until the third track. Where most comedians will open up with a throwaway hello and jump right in, Benson spends the first ten (count ’em, ten!) minutes interacting with the crowd, riffing on the venue’s name and location, and checking his Twitter feed to see what people in the audience are saying about the show so far. Benson tries to downplay the fact he’s getting so many big laughs by posing the question, “Did we just pay money to just watch you read tweets from your phone?” but the fact of the matter is, it’s killing. This guy could be reading an episode summary of Six Feet Under from and he’d still turn it into great material. It’s not what he’s doing that’s funny (yes, as a matter of fact he is just reading tweets from his phone) but it’s because it’s Benson who’s doing it that makes it so much fun. His initial reactions and responses to each tweet are proof positive that he is as good at improvisation as anyone on the circuit.

And then, of course, we get to the material he has come prepared with. When Benson says he wrote down everything he wanted to talk about, he meant it. At the top of the first page it says, “Hey everybody” and the bottom of the last page says – SPOILER ALERT! – “Thank you, good night.” Benson has some great stories stolen from real-life experiences and although many of them have to do with being a little less-than clear-headed, his stories aren’t just for pot smokers. His comedy is broad enough to include everyone in the room and no one feels left out.

Which brings up a good point. Listening back to the recording, you can hear that it’s not just people in the first few rows laughing. Benson has the entire room in stitches and a lot of it has to do with the fact that he’s so friggin’ likable. Whatever your stance is on marijuana, astrology, or bacon sundaes, you’ll find yourself on Benson’s side. He’s not unlike Mitch Hedberg in that respect. Everyone knew he was blitzed most of the time, but doggonit, everyone couldn’t help but love him. The difference between Hedberg and Benson in the party of life is a simple one: While Hedberg would be off to the side of the room next to the fireplace mumbling his sharp insight to a small group of people huddled around him, Benson is the guy greeting you at the door with a big hug and a smile. He takes your coat and yells to the room, “Hey everybody! Look who’s here!” Benson is the guy at the party that instantly makes you glad you decided to go to the party.

He has a great bit about his trip to a grocery store and the response he gave when asked if he wanted a bag for his items. The tale of some guys who wanted to show Benson hospitality after a show by smoking with him out in the middle of nowhere is a riot and when he talks about marijuana turning his brain into mush on a CNN appearance (“What?”), I absolutely lost it when orphans and Pauly Shore ended up in the mix.

For many reviewers, this would be the part of the write-up where I try to think of something I didn’t like about the project. For me, though, this is the part where I admit there’s nothing about this I would change. I’m not so vain to think I could have done any better or that there’s something Benson should have done differently. The bottom line is, this CD is funny. It’s non-stop funny and Benson deserves sincere congratulations on a job well done.

I guess that’s why this blog is called “Comedy Reviews” and not “Comedy Critiques.” There’s really nothing here to critique. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about this one and I couldn’t be happier about it. I guess that’s what happens when someone as talented and skilled as Benson takes to the stage.

Or maybe it’s just what happens when someone has a Potty Mouth.


Potty Mouth is available from Comedy Central Records

As if it wasn’t already hard enough for a comic to write an hour’s worth of material that keeps an audience engaged and laughing, Chris White has decided to challenge himself even more. The name of his new album, I Take Requests, is not a fluke. He takes requests. Literally. He took to his website and asked his fans to give him a topic, any topic, and he would write his entire set based solely on those suggestions. Although it sounds like a premise for bad improv, the resulting project is surprisingly seamless and if you didn’t know how the subjects White talks about came about, you’d be none the wiser. White quite skillfully delves into each theme as if it came naturally and I admit I went into this fearing there would be a “gimmicky” feeling about it. I’m happy to report, there isn’t. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Requests avoids coming across as a parlor trick and manages to stand on its own as a solid comedy project that brings laughs. White is an eager comedian who is excited to be sharing with the crowd some great anecdotes; he talks with the enthusiasm of a kid who just got back from summer vacation and can’t wait to tell you all of the new and exciting things he experienced while he was away.

Although White was faced with writing bits based on suggestions ranging from to Belgium to quadratic equations, he successfully makes them his own and he transitions from topic to topic with an impressive smoothness. The real proof of White’s skill isn’t just that he is able to jump from one seemingly unrelated subject to another; it’s that he doesn’t move on to the next talking point until he has thoroughly examined the current issue and squeezed every possible laugh from it. He approaches from one angle, takes a few steps to the side, and then enthusiastically goes at it again from a new point of view.

Of course, to focus solely on the fact that White is performing “requested” themes would take away from the fact that White is a great comedian who’s very good at what he does. He tells stories with an infectious fervor that draws us in and he doesn’t mind making himself look less-than-perfect to go to where the laughter is.

White also doesn’t shy away from cringe-inducing material. He wisely knows there are laughs to be found beneath each cringe and he dives in head first to find them. It always pays off and he resurfaces with buried treasure. Humor can be found anywhere and White invites us to enjoy the lighter side of swine flu, fart nostalgia, and yes…eating babies.

Crafting a joke can be tricky. Some comics excel in the basic setup-punch process, some are better with the out-of-nowhere left hooks that you never see coming. There’s also the bait-and-switch, where you think you know what’s coming and suddenly find your face smashed against the passenger seat window as the harsh left turn leaves you reeling. White has mastered all of these approaches and, because he so adeptly jumps from one style to the other, he keeps you on your toes. It’s impossible to predict where White is going and he takes full advantage of being two-steps ahead. Even when you know there’s a punchline coming, as in the story of his grandfather answering life’s more puzzling mysteries, White still manages to maintain the element of surprise.

The element of surprise.

Some would say that’s the root of all comedy. Not knowing what’s coming – even thinking you know what’s coming – and then being totally surprised. Chris White has done it, not only with each joke, each theme, or each story, but with this entire project. Going into the album, knowing the story behind the title, you may think you know what’s about to unfold.

But you don’t.

By the end of the project, with White describing his funeral and encouraging the audience to splurge on theirs, he’s taught us a valuable lesson: Laugh through life. It makes it so much more enjoyable.

And, when possible, take requests.


I Take Requests  is now available.

The new CD by Ramon Rivas II, High Brow, boasts 23 tracks but don’t let that fool you. It only clocks in at 21 minutes long so, needless to say, they come and go pretty quickly. On the night of this particular recording Rivas isn’t the headliner of the evening’s entertainment; he and his abbreviated set are there to serve as crowd warm-up for a sketch group (I know, I know, it sounds like a bit, and at first I thought it was a joke when it’s mentioned in Rivas’s introduction).

Rivas is likable and relaxed and the crowd warms up to him quickly. His comedy spans topics like being a Puerto Rican/Mexican mix, white people, and white people dealing with him being Hispanic. He also takes on being from a large family (he’s got a lot of fodder to work with), living with his sister and dealing with her horrible niece (Rivas’ interaction with her brings the first big laugh of the project), and animal appendages (i.e. dogs with no front legs and cats with robot feet).

Although this album isn’t jam-packed with huge laugh-out-loud-applause-breaks, Rivas does maintain a consistent pace and keeps the audience laughing throughout his set. That’s not to say that there aren’t any big laughs and when Rivas does hit, he hits hard. Likewise, a couple of bits –  specifically his new slogans for JoAnn Fabrics – don’t  always kill, but Rivas is onto something. It may not have served as the best closing material, but Rivas doesn’t let the anticlimactic finale throw him.

The final track is Rivas promoting the comedy shows he produces in the Cleveland area and then introducing the next act (“Are you guys ready for some sketch comedy?!”) and it seems to be an awkward note to end on. I’ve listened to a few albums this year that end with the comedian introducing someone else, and I still haven’t quite figured out why those introductions are left in the final mix instead of simply fading out audience applause.

High Brow is a decent introduction to a new comic and the fact that Rivas has it available for download on a name-your-own-price basis makes it easier to take a chance on buying an album from someone you may not be familiar with.


High Brow is available for purchase online.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: The new album from Lavell Crawford, Can A Brother Get Some Love?, had me laughing out loud. A lot. Non-stop. From start to finish. I laughed and laughed and laughed and then I laughed some more.

This is one of those albums that actually leaves you feeling better for listening to it; one that guarantees whether you put it on and listen to it with a group of friends or by yourself, you’ll have a good time. Crawford’s material isn’t particularly groundbreaking (game shows, black parents vs white parents, and President Obama) but Crawford himself is a true original and his approach and delivery are what makes this album such a success.

You don’t have to see Crawford to know he’s a big guy. He sounds heavy, and if you’ve ever heard Patton Oswalt’s “Fat” bit where he talks about “B-word fat…the kind of fat where people can tell that you’re fat if they just hear you talking”, then you know just what I mean. At times it’s a bit hard to understand what Crawford is saying – even his first name sounds more like “ew-ah-ew” than “Lavell” – but he’s aware of it and often uses his under-annunciation for dead-on comedic effect.

That being said, Crawford earns kudos for not using his size as the main focus of his material. He mentions it briefly at the very onset but then wisely moves on. He could very easily fall into the same one-trick rut as other plus-sized comedians (yes, I’m looking at you, Gabriel Iglesias. And John Pinette) but Crawford doesn’t have to rely on easy jokes to get a laugh. He’s better than that.

Much, much better.

Take, for example, his stint on Last Comic Standing. Forget that he didn’t win the grand prize. Crawford jumps into what would have happened if he did win, who he would have called from his past, and what he would have told them and it’s off to the races from there. Crawford works himself up into a condescending frenzy as he goes down the list of people who wronged him, and each imaginary revenge phone call gets funnier and funnier.

Yes, Crawford is black and yes, it seems the majority of the audience in the theater during the taping of this show is, too, but don’t let that for a second classify Crawford as a “black comic.” To do so would suggest that Crawford and his material could only be appreciated by African-Americans and there couldn’t be an assumption further from the truth. Crawford talks about issues all of us can relate to, from watching “Thundercats” as a kid to how we would really react if it turned out our house was haunted. Even when Crawford does touch on race, it’s not done with an approach of exclusivity. Crawford invites everyone in and even if we can’t relate first-hand, the material is still made relevant and approachable.

After listening to the album all week, I caught Crawford’s special on Comedy Central. If you caught the show, you know already how funny he is. If you only see the show, though, and don’t pick up the album, you’re denying yourself some of the funniest bits on the project. It’s understandable that some things had to go for the sake of time, but at the same time it’s a shame what didn’t make the final cut. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re this funny. No matter what gets cut, it’s going to be something good. I don’t envy the editor who had to cut that special down to from 57 to some 40-odd minutes.

One bit that is especially clever, mostly because he does the entire thing twice in a row, is about a mother giving her son a stern warning of how he needs to behave once they enter a grocery store. She breaks it all down for him: what he needs to do, what he definitely needs to not do, and exactly what will happen to him if he dares to do what he has been told not to do.

After a hilarious portrayal of the frazzled mom giving these directions, Crawford then switches sides and embodies the child, who has been told to repeat what was just told to him in order to ensure he was listening. What happens next is pure comedy gold as Crawford re-tells every last instruction, only this time in the unsure, nervous, deep-voiced persona of the youngster. It’s comedy characterization at it’s very finest and Crawford plays up every subtle nuance like a pro.

The title of this project asks the question, “Can a brother get some love?” After people spend some time with Lavell Crawford, I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem.


Can A Brother Get Some Love? is available from eOne Music

On his new album Congrats On Your Success , Dan Levy wastes no time in getting straight to the point. There are some things that need to be discussed and some people who need to be taken down a peg or two and doggonit, Dan Levy is the man for the job. He starts in with his terrible cell phone service provider (Levy has T-Mobile because Verizon is too expensive and Sprint … well … come on …he’s not homeless) and he continues down the line in rapid-fire succession. No one is safe (including his wife) and no punches are pulled, even when Levy shifts his focus onto himself.

That’s one of the reasons Levy gets away with his point-blank attacks so easily; he’s not dressed in full combat attire, running around firing an automatic weapon into a crowd of innocent citizens. Levy takes special care to remind us he’s just as vulnerable. If nothing else, he’s running naked through the streets tossing hand grenades into the air like a chaotic Easter Bunny in a very twisted alternate universe. The fact that he comes away unscathed only proves he’s done this before, and he’s got some skills.

It takes a guy with real juevos to name one of the tracks on his CD “My Wife Is Not A Bitch” and then proceed to explain why she is (or, more accurately, why she can be seen as bitch-y). Of course, it helps that he counters that with the admission that she is way out of his league. She’s hot. He’s a “Jewish troll.” As he explains people’s reactions when they realize who his wife is married to, he’s performed a slick sleight-of-hand: By taking a bit that started off poking at his wife and eventually making himself the butt of the joke, he’s made us feel comfortable to laugh, regardless of who he goes after, because we know in the end Levy is going to end up looking the worst. It’s self-deprecation without feeling like self-deprecation and it’s something Levy works well. This guy is good. He’s plotted this out Ocean’s 11-style, and Terry Benedict is about to get taken again.

Like many skilled comedians, Levy thrives when he finds himself painted in a corner with no obvious escape route. Whether he’s dealing with a stripper who’s drawn a line for what may very well be the wrong reason, trying to pick up a nurse at an STD clinic, or coping with a roommate who accidentally ate his doctor-prescribed pot cookies, Levy always knows which reaction will garner the most laughs. Sometimes he reacts with a condescending “Really? Are you serious?” approach and sometimes he can’t do anything but laugh and throw fuel onto the fire. Regardless of how he decides to react to the situation, the audience can be assured it will be funny.

The album’s title track is a particular highlight as Levy relays the time he met an international pop superstar at a shoe store. Not only does Levy paint the perfect example of why he shouldn’t be allowed to interact with celebrities, he also brings us a fun impression to share with your friends. More than likely, if someone compliments you on your footwear in the near future, you’ll find yourself acknowledging their compliment with a high-pitched, soft-spoken, “Oh dawg, they’re my ‘whatever whatever’ shoes.”

Levy closes out the album with a great story about his same-named doppelgänger who has incurred the wrath of Twilight fans everywhere. It’s a strong ending to a solid, consistent piece of work that deserves a listen. Dan Levy, job well done.

And, of course, congrats on your success.


Congrats On Your Success is available from Comedy Central Records