Patrice O’Neal’s «Unreleased»

Man, it’s good to hear Patrice O’Neal again.
Unreleased” features (mostly) brand new material that until now hadn’t been shared with the general public. This is the third album to drop since O’Neal’s passing (If you count “Better Than You,” the 20-minute EP that came out last year and is also included on this CD) and is yet another reminder of what an amazing talent we lost. Once again we get to see what a naturally funny man he was. It came so easily, so effortlessly, one hilarious line after another flowed from him and not even he was able to contain it.
If you’re familiar with O’Neal’s style of comedy, you know he’s not exactly ABC Family material. At the same time, though, his comedy doesn’t feel dirty. When you listen to a Jim Norton CD, for example, you may feel like you need a shower afterwards. A long, long shower. O’Neal doesn’t leave you with that feeling because he was so light-hearted in his approach. The way his voice squeaked with laughter as he uttered the most ridiculously graphic sentences gave his blue humor a light-hearted feel that took away any mean-spirited bite that might have been there if someone else uttered the exact same lines (Like the YouTube-r who recently landed himself in the spotlight for flat-out stealing material from O’Neal – and other comics. He’s repeating O’Neal’s comedy verbatim and totally missing the mark, only proving how much of a comedic presence he’s not, especially compared to O’Neal).
Not even three minutes into the album, O’Neal is already playing with the audience, taking on various people before they have a chance to get to him, and it’s a lot of fun. He thrives on interaction and as he sets aside his prepared material on Washington DC to instead deal with a man in the crowd from the UK and his uncircumcised penis, you can’t help but get swept up in the fun.
To be honest, I don’t even know if O’Neal has prepared material when he takes the stage. I’m sure he does, but you never get the feeling that he’s hitting points A, B, and C on the pre-arranged list in his head. Everything has an organic and natural effusion and O’Neal easily dances from one topic to the next so smoothly, you don’t even notice it happening. He playfully taunts a chicken finger-eating woman in the crowd who – at first – seems a formidable opponent, never backing down from his jibes and throwing some of her own back at him. But, like a cat playing with an injured mouse before going in for the kill, it is O’Neal who will have the last word. When it is finally revealed the woman is a mother of five, well…that’s all she wrote.
O’Neal really loved what he did and you can hear in his voice the pleasure he took in entertaining people. Whether he’s explaining how a good relationship is like a car accident or giving a young bull tips on dealing with women, you know that no matter where O’Neal takes things or how far he pushes the envelope, when we get there we’re all gonna be laughing. 
Thanks to CDs like this one, we’ll continue laughing for a long, long time.

Craig Ferguson’s «I’m Here To Help»

Allow me to start things off by admitting I love Craig Ferguson, so this review may be a bit biased (What can I say? It’s his own fault for consistently cracking me up). I watch his late night show with faithful regularity and there’s hardly a comment, aside, or mumble that is uttered that doesn’t strike me as hilarious. His brash confidence in not having a reason to be confident, his unrestrained self-deprecation, and his disdain not only for the Hollywood machine but for those who keep it going… I love it all. Even his intolerance for the audience itself, which one might assume would come across as off-putting or condescending, is funny. He’s mastered the art of sincere insincerity (or is it the other way around?) and I confess that, in my eyes, he can do no wrong. 
It therefore comes as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed his newest offering, “I’m Here to Help.” For someone who always wishes his opening monologue on TV would go longer, this CD is just what I was hoping it would be. The running time is a very generous 80 minutes (80 minutes!) and I loved every bit of it. 
I was talking with a friend of mine about Ferguson and although he also finds him funny,  he claims Ferguson’s use of profanity is a turn-off. All I could do was invite him to put on his big boy pants and get over it. Sure, it may be a little jolting at first if you’ve only seen him on TV where his slips of the tongue are dubbed over with foreign phrases like “Oo La La!” but I was too busy laughing at what was being said to worry about the words used to say it. 
Obviously influenced by the likes of Monty Python (a fact Ferguson himself touches on during the special), he approaches comedy with an air of gleeful abandon. Never afraid to commit to the bit and with no concern for looking too silly, Ferguson’s dedication to chasing the laugh is a wonderful thing to witness.
Those familiar with Ferguson’s comedy will not be surprised to find out he touches on topics like fatherhood, kids in general, and addiction. Those familiar with Ferguson’s comedy will also not be surprised to hear it’s still hilarious when he does. No one is safe from his sites and he doesn’t hold back a bit. People who say they have a chocolate addiction are stupid and so are people who claim they have “experimented” with drugs (No you didn’t. You’re not a scientist). And Angelina Jolie is a bitch(You’ll have to hear the bit for yourself to really get what he’s saying).
Interestingly, the sillier Ferguson gets, the more accurate his observations become. Tinky Winky isn’t gay, he’s drunk. The people on “Honey Boo-Boo” really do sound like they’re yodeling underwater. And yes, his impression of Hannibal Lecter is slowly morphing into Mick Jagger. 
What I found particularly genius about Ferguson’s set is it all starts – and ends – with a joke. He’s come for the sole purpose of telling us a joke. That’s right. A joke. He wants to tell us a joke passed on by his pal Drew Carey and then be on his way. But… well… speaking of Drew Carey….
Nearly an hour and a half later, we come full circle. Oh yea, that’s right, he wanted to tell us a joke he heard from Drew. And yes, in case you were wondering, when Ferguson finally gets around to telling us the joke, it is totally worth the wait. The CD begins with a joke and ends with the joke and everything in between is bonus. 

Owen Benjamin’s «High Five Til It Hurts!»

2013 seems to be the Year of the Nice Guy. So far we’ve had releases from the likes of Kevin NealonTom ShillueAl MadrigalDylan Brody, and Pete Holmes. Not only have they all made me laugh, but they seem like genuinely good people and it always makes me happy when good things happen to good people. Carrying on the Nice Guy tradition is Owen Benjamin and his album, “High Five Til It Hurts” and once again words like “likable,” “congenial,” “approachable,” and “friendly” immediately come to mind. 
Benjamin is a lot of fun and his laid-back stage presence is inviting. He’s comfortable to be around and he has an excited eagerness about him that is infectious. He comes across as sincerely grateful to be doing what it is he’s always wanted to do (or at least, to do the thing number three thing he’s always wanted to do) and his excitement carries over into every part of his set.
 At one point, Benjamin compares men to dogs and his way of breaking it down is fresh and accurate. Yes, we’re such dogs that we’ll even watch other guys play “throw the ball” and Benjamin himself could easily be compared to a canine. As a dog person myself, I mean that in the best way possible. Lovable, eager, and happy to please, Benjamin is an extremely tall golden retriever who just happens to occasionally get a shot of bear mace in the face from tiny cowboys.
Listening to this CD isn’t like listening to your average stand-up comedy album. It’s more like hanging out with your best bud at a Buffalo Wild Wings who just happens to be really super funny. I loved his summation of Twilight(“Two gay guys and a weirdo”) and I’m in total agreement with his request for additional car horns that carry a variety of different purposes. No longer will there be any confusion as to who is being honked at and why, and the feeling of camaraderie and bro-ness will abound on the city streets. He has some great “what would you do” scenarios on hand (He’s right….Dudes really do love that game) and I can’t wait to talk to someone on the phone with whom I don’t want to talk just so I can put to use Benjamin’s tips for how to get off the phone.
The last 20 minutes of the album are spent with Benjamin seated at a piano. He’s quite talented at the keys and before you have time to roll your eyes at the idea of another “singing comedian,” Benjamin cuts you off at the pass. His songs are short – and I mean short – and benefit from their brevity. He gets in, tells the joke, and then moves on to the next. His dissection of Timbaland and explanation of how every song is the same wouldn’t work nearly as well without the piano accompaniment and it’s a solid segment of his time on stage. 
My only complaint about the project is on the CD/DVD combo. I wish the DVD came with the full one-hour version as is on the CD. Instead, the version that is included (not to mention a couple of other bonus videos) is the 22-minute half-hour broadcast version. But, considering that the downside is the fact I wanted more, that’s saying something and is really a compliment to Benjamin and his comedy. I just wanted more hang time with  my new friend. You may call him Owen or Benjamin but his real friends know him by his secret name: Maricón.
Wait, what?

Kevin Nealon’s «Whelmed…But Not Overly»

You don’t understand how much I wanted to like Kevin Nealon’s new CD, “Whelmed…But Not Overly.” I’ve always been a fan of Nealon and his gentle, subtle approach to comedy. When he took over Weekend Update duties from Dennis Miller on Saturday Night Live, I recall it being a rough transition for him. He simply wasn’t Dennis Miller and many people who had come to love Miller’s sardonic, head-bobbing outlook on current events seemed irate that Nealon wasn’t Dennis 2.0. While people took to the streets in outrage, I seemed to be in the minority of people who liked Nealon’s contrasting persona. He didn’t take the news quite so seriously. Instead of trying to do what Miller did, Nealon drew from Chevy Chase’s time behind the desk, opting for fewer obscure Chaucer references and instead going with sheer light-hearted silliness. There was also an air of good person-ness that bled through.
Kevin Nealon has that nice guy aura that most celebrities hope they are projecting. He’s one of the few people you see on television or in the movies that you feel is genuinely a Good Guy in real life. I imagine if I ran into him at the grocery store or on the street and, surprised to be bumping into Kevin Nealon!, stumbled through some sort of “Oh my gosh, I’m a huge fan, you’re really funny” mini-rant, he would smile and say “Thanks, I appreciate it,” and I would feel as if he genuinely was thankful and he really did appreciate it.
Which is why I was somewhat crestfallen to not fall in love with his surprisingly appropriately-titled album. What really seemed to stick the knife in my gut and twist it is I think it falls flat because Nealon is a nice guy. There’s no bite, no anger or ill-will or spite that is sometimes so necessary in stand up. Nealon makes some good observations but he doesn’t seem to have an opinion about them one way or another. He just points out observations. It may sound nit-picky but it makes a big difference. 
I think it’s a fair statement to say Jerry Seinfeld wouldn’t be categorized as an «angry comedian.» But, for example, when he observes how small the packages of airplane peanuts are, the humor came when it irked him a bit. I feel if Nealon had a bit on airplane peanuts, he would just happily say they’re small. Again, I may be splitting hairs, but I think it turns out to be a key factor. It’s akin to comedy from Ned Flanders. He’s just too nice.
Another factor that stood out to me was the very-obvious laugh track present throughout much of the album. The producers didn’t seem to attempt to cover their tracks and there were more than a couple of occasions where it was so glaringly obvious, I wondered what they were covering up (maybe an audience that also wanted more?). As Nealon approaches his material on relationships, he mentions that communication is key. And there’s a HUGE roar from the crowd that screamed out, CANNED LAUGHTER. Huh? Why there? That’s not a joke, that’s part of a setup. Why they would sweeten a spot that isn’t even designed to be a punchline is beyond me, but it made me suspicious of every other crowd response.
At the end of the day, I still like Kevin Nealon. I think he’s a Good Guy and I’m glad he’s still working and doing his thing. He seems to be happy and I’m glad for that, too, but when it comes to his standup, I’m whelmed but…well…you know the rest.

Jack Hull’s «The Irreverent (EP)»

The Irreverent EP” by Jack Hull is a bit of a misnomer. Just under 40 minutes long, it’s not really an EP and, truth be told, it’s not all that irreverent. (It should be noted that, although the cover art indicates this is “The Irreverent EP,” it is listed on both Amazon and iTunes as simply “The Irreverent.) Hull has a lot of energy and is committed to his material but it never seems to click into place. Perhaps he’s too committed to the material. Instead of feeling like a loose flow of thoughts, it sometimes comes across as a humorous monologue. Regardless of how the audience reacts (even when they don’t), he barrels on, his delivery often coming across not as a stand-up comedian, but as someone on Saturday Night Livedoing a satirical impression of a stand-up comedian. 
Although it was released in April of 2013, a lot of the material feels dated. It was recorded in 2011 so topics like the death of Osama bin Laden and the Octomom feel stale. It felt as if Hull was using every bit he’s written for the past 10 years, so when he brings up the Michael Richards N-word scandal, Columbine, and the anti-piracy commercials in front of DVDs from the 90s as if they’re still hot topics in the news, it came across as worn-out and “been there, done that.” Hull isn’t breaking new ground and as a result, the laughs are few.
There’s a moment of confounding self-sabotage in the middle of his set where Hull decides to tell a poem. Of course, being a stand-up comic, we’re all expecting a joke, gag, or gimmick but instead we get a suckerpunch. He prefaces it by explaining he wrote it about having to perform his comedy in  “dive bars and shitholes,” inadvertently insulting everyone in attendance. I don’t think that was Hull’s intention, but when the audience suddenly goes quiet, you can tell they felt something. He then recites his downer of a poem in complete seriousness, lamenting how much it sucks having to perform for people in such crappy conditions and a cloud settles over everything. Should we apologize for making him perform? Is he mad that we came? Why are we being scolded?
The poem ends and there’s a brief round of obligatory post-poem applause. You can still feel the awkwardness in the room and Hull lets everyone stew in the silence. And then…out of nowhere… “Another thing I don’t get…why isn’t gay marriage legal?” It’s a weird transition if ever there was a weird transition and I’m not sure Hull realized how long it takes for him to bring the audience back around. Some of them, I think, never returned.

Tom Shillue’s «In Defense of Bullying»

If you like comedy done via storytelling, then the new album from Tom Shillue, “In Defense of Bullying,” is for you. It’s a great example of how to spin a yarn, keep it interesting and relatable, and get some big laughs at the same time. Over the past few months as Shillue has been rolling out his “12 in 12” series, he has shown just how good he is at the long-form approach, proving that good comedy doesn’t have to be a series of foul-mouthed one-liners and offensive insults hurled at the audience. Shillue has taken a page from the Bill Cosby Book of Comedy and instead recounts one childhood adventure after another. There’s no need to come up with silly made-up scenarios and “what if” situations when you have such a rich arsenal of experience from which to draw. Being inducted into The Crap Club, turning in vocabulary assignments that one could only get away with in a pre-9/11 society, and constructing a rumpus room from a failed go-cart are all examples of firsthand accounts that are too good to not share.
Each album in Shillue’s year-long experiment has a theme and this time around, as the title alludes to, it is his theory that bullying isn’t such a bad thing. I tend to agree with Shillue that bullying is a vaccine for life and when he explains that he’s a little tired of how bullying has become such a buzz word, I couldn’t help but agree. That being said, the album isn’t about what side of the issue Shillue stands on; it’s about his experiences growing up that were a result of being bullied (or, in some cases, bullying the bully)
Shillue didn’t grow up with play dates in the park but instead had…The Woods. He learned firsthand that sometimes the best way to confront a bully is to get in the first punch. He also learned the worst way to confront a bully is to not run away after you’ve sucker-punched him. Shillue had to navigate the perils of Boy Scout camp on his own and although his instincts led him astray when it came to whether or not he should bring along his Pillsbury Doughboy doll, they definitely saved the day when it came to his reaction upon the other scouts’ encounter with the toy. The moral of the story, of course, is “Laughter at Boy Scout camp can only mean one thing: Someone is being victimized.”
There is a nice feeling that permeates each of Shillue’s tales of triumph and adventure that gives the entire album a sense of nostalgia. Even though I wasn’t there to experience the Armour Hot Dogs jingle (Yep, those are the real lyrics. I YouTube’d it), the pillow fights with girls in a strange, hot room, or the wonder and majesty of the aforementioned ill-fated Ruggy Buggy, Shillue is able to make me feel like I was. It’s nice, and I’m looking forward to his next installment. It reminds me of the old Steven Wright joke: “I like to reminisce with people I don’t know.” When it comes to Shillue, there’s no one I don’t know with whom I’d rather reminisce.

Chris Hardwick’s «Mandroid»

Mandroid is a fun romp through the mind of self-proclaimed nerd Chris Hardwick that covers a wide variety of topics with the giddy impishness of a kid whose parents have gone out of town for the weekend and left him with free reign over the basement and the 2-liter bottles of Mountain Dew being stored therein. His approach is one of snickering deviousness without crossing over into being straight -up malicious. He scolds himself for coming up with what he calls “the dumbest joke ever written” about vampires and their girlfriends’ periods, but he can’t help himself from not going ahead and passing it along to us anyhow.
Hardwick may be the only person in the entertainment world with more jobs than Ryan Seacrest (he hosts a highly-acclaimed podcast, hosts two different chat shows spun off of two already-existing shows, and is a skilled voiceover artist) but it is his standup that I enjoy the most. His comedy gives him the freedom to work without a net and talk freely about his friend’s roomba experience that went horribly wrong, his suggestion for simultaneously battling teen pregnancy and teen obesity (it’s not what you think), and the day he murdered 41 sharks (an incident the no-animal-killing Hardwick found traumatizing, but for people like me with a horrible fear of sharks this may have been the best day ever).
Although I’m a little skeptical of Hardwick’s “nerd” status (I mean, come on. He’s a funny, well-liked, good lookin’ guy who knows how to make a roomful of people laugh. He wouldn’t have lasted a minute in a “King of the Nerds” casting session), he nevertheless takes a strong stance for all things geeky (Not dweeby. There’s a difference. Most notably the fact that dweebs swallow in the wrong places in sentences). He has a second (and first)-place chess trophy, he follows up on Comic-Con mechanical pencil-centered violence, and there are enough Harry Potter jokes and references here to make me snicker (and my more sport-centered friends punch me in the arm).
I like that Hardwick doesn’t mind revealing who he really is, no matter how vulnerable that leaves him. He admits to a less-than-impressive talent he mastered in high school (incorrectly assuming girls would come running after witnessing such hand dexterity) and he freely recounts the time as a teenager he almost lost his virginity. And yes, he wants to own – and ride – a tiger.
It’s only natural that Hardwick would take such a hilarious stance against things that are most decidedly un-nerd-like. Antonio Banderas really is too sexy to be the voice of the Nasonex bee, Target now sells Ed Hardy t-shirts (“for the thrifty douchebag”), and his impression of an ex-sports bar bouncer bumbling his way through a haunted hospital in the name of ghost hunting cracked me up.
Despite his alignment with nerd culture, there’s something on this CD for everyone, and you don’t have to identify yourself as a nerd to find yourself laughing along. Hardwick has a fun outlook that, although you may already be familiar with him and his work, still comes across as unique and freshly individual. I like the way his mind works – there’s a killer Earth/Crispix comparison and his breakdown of various social networking sites is also hilariously dead-on – and enjoyed the album a lot. Nerd, dweeb, jock, douche, or Trekkie, no matter how you classify yourself, Mandroid is a great album that deserves a home on your playlist. It’s a Pandora’s Box of comedy!

Dylan Brody’s «A Twist of the Wit»

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 exactlywhat 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.

Steve Hofstetter’s «Pick Your Battles»

How good is Pick Your Battles, the new CD from Steve Hofstetter? I sat down with my iPod and listened to it. And then I listened to it again. And then I listened to it again. That’s right. Three straight listens in a row without stopping and with no regard for the time. It felt like 20 minutes had gone by, not 141. Pick Your Battles is phenomenal.
Hofstetter’s press release tells me this is his fifth album, which made me feel a bit guilty, as I’m brand new to his comedy. My first gut reaction is to compare him to Daniel Tosh, but that’s not 100% accurate. I find Tosh very funny, don’t get me wrong, but he really works on stage. He expends a lot of energy to get the laugh (which is fine, I have nothing against it) and you can tell he’s working hard. Hofstetter, on the other hand just…well…for lack of a better word, he flows. He’s smooth. He’s obviously put a lot of time and effort into honing his craft, but it doesn’t feel like a chore. The laughs come easy. They come effortlessly and they come often. When you listen to Tosh, the comedy comes at you. With Hofstetter, he takes you with the comedy.
Hofstetter isn’t out to make any enemies, and he tells the audience that. He’s not out to make us angry or demand we agree with him. His goal isn’t to offend, it’s to make us laugh. He’s just talking, carrying on a conversation, and if you get offended by anything you hear, it’s not on him, it’s on you. It’s a genius approach because not only is it true, but it gives him license to talk about whatever is on his mind.
Everything about Pick Your Battles is perfectly planned out, right down to the track listing, where each one is titled «The War On…(insert topic here).» Most comedy albums begin with an over-the-top emcee screaming in your ear, «LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE NAME OF THE COMIC!!!!!!!!» Battles forgoes that and Hofstetter gets right into it. It’s a bold choice to start right in with abortion. A lot of comics have to get the crowd warmed up to them and ramp their way to the edgier topics, but Hofstetter sneaks in the side door with a new approach. Instead of going with the confrontational – and easier –  «You abortion protesters are crazy» approach, Hofstetter instead has a great anecdote about being stuck in line at Home Depot in front of a couple of guys who are late for a rally.
As you may have gathered from my opening paragraph, Battles is an album you can easily listen to multiple times and laugh out loud just as hard the third time as you did the first time at Hofstetter’s observations. A few of my favorites that come to mind:

  • On why mobile homes are terrifying, even to a guy who grew up in Queens: «How scary is it when a bad neighborhood can move?«
  • On being in Winnipeg, Canada in January: «That is religious weather. ‘Cuz you walk outside, you say, «Oh my God!», and then you die and you meet Him. Unless you’re an atheist. Then, you’re just cold.»
  • The noise Hofstetter makes when he imitates the sound of a Wal-Mart greeter greeting someone (Mah!).
  • Everything he says about Twilight.

As I finished my third listen to the album, I knew this would be a hard summary to write, because there is just so much about it I want to cover. Outside of writing a transcript of everything he says, there’s no way I can come close to capturing the full scope of what I want to say. There’s the man with the sideways face. There’s the one about the guy who got hit by a car while texting. There’s the one about the crazy tattoo the girl from Los Angeles had (and the tattoo she didn’t but would have been even weirder if she did).
The album ends with Hofstetter opening up a Q & A session with the audience that begins innocently enough and rapidly morphs into an all-out assault by the Louisville crowd on our hero, making fun of his glasses and his haircut. As he humorously faces off against them («I said ask a question, I didn’t say f***in’ take a shot at me!»), it quickly becomes one of my favorite comedy tracks of all time.
Listening to Battles did something that more comedy albums should do: It made me happy. It gave me hope for the future of stand-up comedy. It made me happy that there are comedians out there like Hofstetter knockin’ ’em dead. Sure, it made me a little sad that I wasn’t familiar with his work earlier, but then it made me happy that now I am, and I have a new favorite to follow. Pick Your Battles. Steve Hofstetter did, and he came out out on top.


The Top 10 Comedy Albums of 2010


One of my favorite parts of compiling my «Best Of» list was spending this last week re-listening to some of my favorite releases (according to my iTunes, I spent 21.4 hours listening to some of the best of the best). To say 2010 was an excellent year is putting it lightly. I had my choices narrowed down to 24 albums (you can see that list here) and narrowing that list down to 10 was not easy. As much as I listened and re-listened, I just couldn’t bring myself to not include a few names so I’m taking the easy way out and also including 5 Honorable Mentions.
If your only knowledge of stand-up comedy is Robin Williams and The Blue Collar Comedy Tour, you’re really missing out. Not that they aren’t funny (OK, the Blue Collar guys aren’t, but I’m still a fan of Robin…even though his absence from my list this year would seem to prove otherwise) but there’s definitely more out there than most people may be aware of. Hopefully this will help point you in the direction of some very deserving comics who are out there working the clubs, popping up on TV (both in front of and behind the camera) and bringing some serious funny. Follow the links, explore, and support them by buying an album or DVD (or both). You deserve it. And they do, too.

10. Janeane Garofalo, If You WillI’ll be honest: I went into this one with lowered expectations. I assumed this was going to be one long, angry political rant and after listening to the first few minutes I felt bad for pigeonholing Garofalo. I found myself really enjoying If You Will as she takes on Homeland Security, babies, and even her own public persona. Garofalo comes across as more relatable than ever and I’m hoping she keeps at least one foot firmly planted in her stand-up roots for a while.

9. David Cross, Bigger And BlackererNo one can point out our weird idiosyncrasies like David Cross. And no one can analyze those idiosyncrasies and dissect them, revealing the additional layers of idiosyncrasies hidden inside like David Cross. His breakdown of an actual British postcard/advertisement reaching out to date rape victims is nothing short of observational humor brilliance magnified to such a degree, if you deprive yourself of hearing it, you may regret it…or worse.
8. Joe DeRosaThe Depression Auction
Joe DeRosa is sick of it, and none of us are safe. He is more than willing to point out things in life that are so ridiculous, they need to be publicly called out and ridiculed. We all have guilty pleasures and DeRosa is a master at making us feel guilty for taking pleasure in them while laughing at ourselves the entire time. DeRosa isn’t perfect, either, and he doesn’t hesitate to take himself to task. As I listened to the album, I could almost picture him in front of a mirror yelling at himself, pointing a finger and wagging it in his reflection’s face. We’ve all shouted at ourselves for doing something we knew we shouldn’t have, but I’m willing to bet we’ve never been as funny as DeRosa while doing it.

7. Kevin HartSeriously Funny
Kevin Hart reminds me of Chris Tucker if Chris Tucker was funny and/or entertaining. His rapid-fire delivery and carefully chosen an-un-ci-a-tion of words add to each punch. He doesn’t approach various topics as much as they approach him, and his reaction – sometimes he’s confused, sometimes he’s angry, sometimes he doesn’t know how to react – resonates with the inner child in all of us. If you it’s been a while since your stomach hurt from laughing too hard, his story of the time he was in grade school and swore at a teacher will remedy that. This album couldn’t be more aptly-titled. This guy is seriously, seriously funny.

6. Lachlan PattersonJokes To Make Love To
If Christopher Walken ever decided to go into stand-up comedy and was amazing at it, people would accuse him of stealing from Lachlan Patterson. Patterson’s pacing and timing are certainly reminiscent of the famed actor, but there’s so much more going on here. His bold confidence in front of a crowd not only allows him to liken old ladies’ makeup application skills to getting into a paintball fight, but it then gives him the OK to ask why he’s not receiving a standing ovation for saying it. Patterson doesn’t apologize for anything, and he doesn’t have to. The «plate of food» button on a microwave does negate the other buttons. We should encourage Olympic swimmers to smoke pot. And saying you rescued a cat really isn’t the right way to put it. No doubt about it: Standing O.

5. Steve ByrneThe Byrne Identity
Whenever you make a Top 10 list, it’s bound to spark some conversation and controversy. «Hey, you didn’t include _____.» Well, buckle up kids because I’m about to take it a step further by stating The Byrne Identity contains the single best track of any comedy album this year. I’m talking about Track 5, «Stereotypes to Music.» Simply put, Byrne names a style of music and then begins to tell you the type of person who listens to that music. I freely admit my summation doesn’t begin to do it justice but that’s why I’m where I am and Byrne is where he is. Because his stereotypes are dead-on, you’ll find yourself laughing those big, full-on, I-can’t-believe-he-just-said-that-but-holy-crap-he’s-right laughs. That’s not to say the rest of the album isn’t as skillfully written and flat-out funny; it is. Byrne tackles the struggle of his identity: Who exactly is he? His Korean/Irish ancestry makes it difficult for him to know exactly where he fits in. Or should fit in. Or even want to fit in. Until he comes to a decision, he’ll just have to accept that he’s going to be identified as one of this year’s best.

4. Brian ReganAll By Myself
I started seeing people post Best-of-2010 lists on a variety of subjects as early as November. I chose to wait a bit, just in case something came out in December that deserved to be on the list. It’s albums like All By Myself that made me glad I waited. This one just came out and once again Regan knocks it out of the park. No one is funnier when they’re flummoxed and this time around Regan is undone by hearing tests, watching horse racing, and wrestling with his kids. There’s a reason Regan has made a name for himself and has become so popular: He’s one of the most consistently funny comedians working now, and this album does not disappoint.

3. Bill BurrLet It Go
Speaking of consistent, Bill Burr has fast become one of my favorite comedians. He’s flustered, he’s frustrated, and he’s not holding back. Burr tackles topics we’ve all thought about but never had the guts to say out loud. How many times have you heard stay-at-home moms commended for having «the most difficult job on the planet?» Well, Burr has an issue with that and makes a strong case for the other side. Sure, obesity is a problem in this country, but no one tackles the «horde of fat people wandering out of The Cheesecake Factory» with such side-splitting results. And I think it’s fair to say we’re all sick of the SPCA commercials set to that weepy Sarah McLaughlin song, but no one has been able to crystallize my hatred for this ad campaign quite like Burr. Let It Go is another solid project from a strong comic and never before has someone’s unbridled anger brought me so much joy and laughter.

2. Aziz AnsariIntimate Moments For A Sensual EveningBefore Intimate Moments, I was only familiar with Aziz Ansari’s stand-up work from his appearance on such projects like the Invite Them Up compilation. He only had one track on that album and as good as it was, it did not prepare me for how amazing his solo CD was going to be. Every track on this album is top-notch laugh-out-loud comedy. Ansari’s slight Carolina drawl mixed with his hip-hop sensibilities makes for a unique voice that left me in tears as he talks about his battle with his little cousin on Facebook. As he relays an evening out (and in) with Kanye West, you realize the story is just outrageous enough to be believable. The album comes to a hilarious climax as he re-caps an entire R. Kelly concert in under six minutes. If Parks and Recreation is your only knowledge of Ansari and his work, I cannot express to you how much you are missing out. Trust me.
1. Hannibal BuressMy Name is Hannibal
When I first heard this album back in August, I turned to my wife and said, «I just listened to the funniest album of the year.» Four months later I still stand by that statement. Hannibal Buress’s cool, laid-back Is-he-high?-No-He’s-Just-Cooler-Than-You approach left me laughing from start to finish. There’s not a weak link on this album. Whether he is arguing with computer girls in video games, adding an apostrophe to his first name to make it better, or explaining how one would judge a pigeon-kicking contest, each track is funnier than the previous one, leading to a hilarious finale with one of the best callback references in recent comedy history. The hardest thing about making this year’s Top 10 list was deciding which albums would make the cut. The easiest thing about making this year’s Top 10 list was placing My Name Is Hannibal at #1. If someone asks me what’s new in comedy, what’s good in comedy, who should they be listening to, I can answer their query with one name: His name is Hannibal.

There wasn’t room for these on the list, but I still felt it was important to give them a mention.

  • Lewis BlackStark Raving Black Lewis Black is back and he’s just as angry as ever. If you’re already a fan, then you won’t be disappointed.
  • Robert BuscemiPalpable If you like your comedy a little more than off-center, then Buscemi’s breakthrough Palpable will not disappoint.
  • Keith AlberstadtIt’s Pronounced ‘Jenkins’ Alberstadt’s refreshing outlook on life will leave you seeing things from a new – and funnier – perspective.
  • Anthony Jeselnik, Shakespeare At one point in the CD Jeselnik mentions he spent time in New Orleans. Someone in the audience whoops and Jeselnik immediately tells him to shut up. And it’s hilarious.
  • Brian Scolaro, DisasterPay no attention to the title of this album. It’s misleading. Lindsay Lohan is a disaster. Kate Gosselin is a disaster. This project from Scolaro is a rousing comedic success.

Which brings us to the part of the blog where you leave your thoughts. Agree? Disagree? Who did you like in 2010? As always, your feedback is welcome. Thanks for reading!