Paul Morrissey’s «Paul Morrissey’s Back»

Every once in a while you come across someone who is so off-the-wall and delightfully random, you can’t help but watch and enjoy the show. I went to high school with a guy named Jack. He was gangly and birdlike with wireframe glasses that were much too large for his head. He spoke with a speech impediment that made his R’s sound like “ahhs” and his receding hairline at age 16, combined with his love for all things wizard-related, pretty much guaranteed he wouldn’t be spending much social time with the popular kids.

But I found him intriguing. 

He took things that others considered trivial extremely seriously and I loved that about him. Something about watching him bang his head against the wall of futility as he tried to figure out how people worked by using equations and theories instead of social interaction fascinated me. And now, years later, it still persists, as I read his Facebook posts with a rapt curiosity, lurking in the background as I watch him screaming to no one in particular about the GAS COMPANY SCREWING UP HIS BILL or THE FUCKING SCHOOL NOT BEING FAIR TO HIS DAUGHTER (who looks a lot like him yet is actually quite adorable. Go figure). Poor Jack. Even after all these years he still finds himself with the short end of the stick. John Hughes had it wrong. Anthony Michael Hall characters very rarely end up making out with the hot blonde in a convertible. 
So, what does all of this have to do with the new Paul Morrissey album, “Paul Morissey’s Back”? To be honest…not much. But there’s something about his comedy that reminded me of Jack. Maybe it’s Morrissey’s shaky, almost nervous sounding voice. Perhaps it’s the fact that, even on stage with a microphone in his hand, he still can’t get the idiots in the audience to Shut. Up. (Seriously, I mean, seriously, people, shut up. If you think you’re funny, show up at an open mic and give it a shot. Otherwise…for the love of Pete…Shut. Up.) 
But really, that’s where the similarities end. Where the sad sack I knew from high school pretty much stayed in his sad sack role, Morrissey faces his obstacles head on and bucks the trend by overcoming them. If the club won’t say something about the yammering audience members, then Morrissey will. If someone is going to shout something out, thinking they’re funny, Morrissey is going to show them what funny really is. And if the crowd is going to be all quiet and reserved on him (and, to be honest, they are. Unfairly), then he’s going to bring it up. So he made an innocent dead grandmother joke, get over it, already.
Morrissey has taken the hand life dealt him (he’s so pale, the “red eye fix” feature in photo programs has quite an unfortunate result) and found the humor of it all. Whether he’s being spattered with blood  while getting a haircut (and not his own blood, mind you) or explaining why he was disappointed the first time he witnessed a stripper jumping out of a cake, he takes the little things in life that seem predestined to trip him up and instead uses them to get laughter. And, in some instances, simultaneously sarcastic and racist applause.
I enjoyed Morrissey’s reaction to the lady at the deli counter who seemed genuinely confused by his turkey order and his bit on a girl’s most unusual tattoo goes exactly where you hoped it would. Only better. He loves Cinnabon so much they’ll probably never ask him to endorse their product and his questions about gay marriage and common-law marriage should give roommates everywhere a reason to stop and think.
This is a fun album that, although it brought to my mind a dorky kid from my hometown, is really nothing like him. Morrissey is engaging and someone you want to hang around with, not just stalk on social media sites. Morrissey isn’t afraid to take chances (except for hang gliding) and when something bugs him (home school kids with class rings) he knows how to express himself in a way that brings nice laughs.  From confusing bank fees to the kid at Subway who spray paints the meat, Morrissey has it all down and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He’s relatable and handles himself well and as a result, we all have a good time.
A guy like Jack could learn a thing or two. Heck, so could I.

Robert Kelly’s «Live»

Robert Kelly is an angry guy. I mean, really angry. On his new* album, “Live,” there are 38 tracks of him yelling and screaming about various topics and I’m still trying to figure out why he’s so upset. He doesn’t always explain what has him so wound up but instead ticks off each subject like he’s screaming a laundry list of things he hates. I hate dog shit! I hate playing video games with girls! I hate Osama Bin Laden! I hate being scared!
By the time I finished listening to the album, I hadn’t laughed out loud once but I did have a bit of a headache, so I guess that’s something. Where I felt Kelly fell short was he very rarely expanded on what it was he was screaming about. The average length of each track is barely over a minute, so he shouts what it is that makes him angry and then for the most part moves on to the next thing without really digging in to find the funny.
Although Kelly has a lot of energy on stage, when it comes to the actual writing of his material, I couldn’t help but feel he was slacking off a bit. It reminded me of being in school and not realizing a 3-page essay was due the next day. Sure, I can slap something together, but it’s not going to blow anyone way. I wondered if Kelly did the same thing, only instead of panicking about not realizing the CD was being recorded, he just said, “Ah, screw it, I’ll go up there, use some silly voices, make a bunch of fart sounds, and say “shit” a lot. And then I’ll use more silly voices and then more fart sounds and then scream “shit” a few times. They’ll laugh at anything.” 
I’m not falling for it.
Besides Kelly screaming at the drop of a hat, there’s not much here to set himself apart from every other comic working an open mike. With bits about New York being smelly, that rascally Osama Bin Laden (how come we can’t catch him?), and finding all sorts of reasons to force his “gay” voice into a bit, I can’t help but think I’ve heard it all before.
I knew we were in trouble when Kelly decided he wanted to talk about being in the cold and he smoothly transitioned into it by asking, “Have you ever been in the cold?” Really? Have you ever been in the cold? He did it with no sense of irony and it was at that moment I wondered if his heart was even still in the game. He seemed to be phoning it in with basic A + B = Comedy equations (where A = a Carlos Mencia voice and B = a Gabriel Iglesias voice).

*As pointed out in the comments below, I made an error in my review for not pointing out this isn’t a «new» album, but a re-release of a 2003 recording. It does show how much Kelly has progressed as a comedian since then, but I’m not sure it merits a re-release. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to release an old project, make sure it’s still funny (see my 2011 review of Lewis Black’s «The Prophet»). For a really good example of what to do with old material, stay tuned for my forthcoming review of Jim Florentine’s «Awful Jokes From My First Comedy Notebook.» 

Adam Norwest’s «One Of A Kind»

One Of A Kind from Adam Norwest is a fun look at a young comedian who is actively and passionately carving out a niche for himself. Enthusiastic and confident, Norwest is also self-deprecating and honest about his own shortcomings. It’s OK for him to poke fun at others because he’s the first to admit he is just as goofed up as the rest of us. Living with his parents until recently, Norwest gets some good mileage out of his less-than-masculine appearance as he struggles not with being gay, but by being perceived as such.
On stage there’s no question that Norwest is in control, rattling through one fun topic after another with the assured swagger of someone who is working well within his comfort zone. He has a vast array of sexy animal facts in his arsenal that work quite well and it’s likely you’ll never look at a stingray the same way again (and I probably shouldn’t love his phrase «sting-raped» as much as I do).
One trick Norwest really has down is what I refer to as a «hangtime joke,» a quip that, when first delivered, doesn’t really garner much of a reaction until…wait for it…and there it is. There are a handful of such occasions included on the CD and each instance is enjoyable listening to as the audience finally «gets it.» Sometimes the hangtime itself receives a reaction, which is equally cool.
There are a couple of groaners that don’t get as big of a laugh as I’m sure he would like, but Norwest remains undaunted, pushing through as if it didn’t happen, and the next bit always brings a nice laugh and the crowd is easily brought back around.
Another great source of material for Norwest, perhaps the one that clicks the most, is his outlook on/relationship with women. Whether he’s pining about the desire to get involved with a single mom (so he can have sex with her and play video games with her kid) or explaining the real purpose of Spanx (what girls wear under their dresses when they wanna become liars), Norwest always gets a nice reaction, be it a big laugh or an audible wincing groan (like when he reveals why the age difference between him and his girlfriend is especially fitting)
When it all comes down to it, Norwest is just a regular guy who happens to like rap music, finds a tricked-out Ford Focus amusing, and dreams of the day when he is physically strong enough to get ice cream out of the container. Of course, it’s his Red Bull-fueled approach and gently skewed reaction to those things that sets him apart form others.
He is still a young comic and at times it shows (that’s not a bad thing). Norwest has really come along and it’s fun to see him clicking along at such a nice trajectory. He has a nice rhythm and has found – and embraced – his voice as a comedian. For those not familiar with Norwest, this album serves as a nice introduction while at the same time providing him a sturdy jumping point from which to dive into whatever is around the corner for him. Adam Norwest is one of a kind indeed.

Don Friesen’s «Ask Your Mom»

When I was growing up in Indiana and attending Youth Group on a regular basis like a good Christian boy, I knew even then that I was into comedians, stand up, and humor in general. I just didn’t realize I was a bit of a comedy snob. Occasionally there would be get-togethers at the church or at the house of one of the members of the congregation and a parent or youth leader would inevitably say, «Hey, let’s pop in a video tape, this guy’s really funny!» 

And I knew what would happen next.

Everyone would gather around the TV and we would sit and watch as a comedian I never heard of – but was pre-approved by the grownups – would take the stage. The comic was usually in a massive venue and it wasn’t long before the crowd – both the live studio audience as well as those surrounding me in the living room – would erupt in wild laughter. I would watch as the other kids in the youth group would laugh and laugh and laugh and I often wondered to myself why I wasn’t laughing, too. The youth leaders and adults would be doubled over, tears of laughter streaming from their eyes as the family-friendly comedian with golden highlights in his hair and a shell necklace around his neck (to show us how hip he was), dressed in sensible sweaters or a silly tie (to show our parents how non-threatening he was) yukked it up.
I recall pretending to laugh when the others did but the ruse only lasted a short while. Even as a youngster I didn’t have the energy to fake having fun. I remember wishing I had my Bill Cosby cassettes or Steve Martin records on hand. I’d show those guys what funny really was. I knew the adults would probably frown upon the Eddie Murphy tapes I had stashed in my room, but I bet even they would crack up at the way Eddie called – screamed, even – for the ice cream man. But this… what we were watching…  I couldn’t grasp why I was the only one in the room who didn’t get it. Or maybe it was the other way around.
Years later I feel like I’m finally able to put it into words. A comedian doesn’t have to swear or be racy or talk about off-color material  in order for me to be entertained. My fondness for comics like Cosby, Brian Regan, Jim Gaffigan, and Jerry Seinfeld  are perfect examples of guys who generally shy away from blue material and still garner huge laughs. What’s interesting, though, is I don’t label the aforementioned as «clean comics.» They’re just…comics. 
But I’ve found those who promote themselves as «clean» usually have the same effect on me as those Christian comedians from years past and now I understand why. It’s not the «clean» aspect that turns me off. It’s when «clean» morphs into «safe» that I find the humor tends to get lost. I have nothing against comedians who work clean or even Christian comedians (although I can’t recall the last time I recommended one to a friend)…it’s that moment they veer into «safety» that loses me.
Which brings me (I know, finally) to Don Friesen and his album Ask Your Mom. Each time I listened to this project I was brought back to my junior high years, looking down on the people laughing around me.  I didn’t see the Showtime broadcast of this project, but judging by the audio version, the crowd loves him. They eat up everything he says and the number of huge applause breaks he garners would make any comic envious (if not a bit confused).
Then it hit me: This project isn’t for me. In fact, considering how safe Friesen’s material is, I’m shocked it aired on the same channel as Dexter, Weeds, and Homeland. This isn’t a project for die-hard comedy fans as much as it is for grownups who like to laugh without having their convictions prodded.
Friesen paints himself as a lovable loser, an «aw, shucks» adorable doofus much like Regan or Christopher Titus. In this case, though, he lacks the teeth of Titus and Regan’s explosive inanity. There are moments when his material feels stale, especially when he tackles topics like the toys kids have today («Now we have Nintendo,» he says. Really? Now we have Nintendo?) and cutting-edge technology like… Instant Messenger («I’m starting to get instant messages. Have you guys tried that, IM?») that again put me in mind of those Christian comics who were always five to ten years behind the mainstream. When Friesen pulled out his George W. Bush material, especially his line about how he can’t pronounce the word «nuclear,» it made me wonder if this wasn’t actually recorded 12 years ago.
But again, the crowd loved it. They loved it like they hadn’t heard that same joke countless times on Late Night TV. When Friesen did standard gags on owing creditors and how marriage emasculated him, they rang with unoriginality. And the audience howled. When he teased someone for being behind the times with the latest electronic gadgets, he whipped out the standard overused phrase, «What are you, Amish?»

And the crowd lost. Their. Shit.

And that’s when I threw in the towel. This album isn’t for me. You don’t have to be a genius to hear the roar of laughter on the CD and know there are people who click with this style of humor. I’m just not one of them and it turns out after all these years, I still don’t have the energy to fake having fun.

Aziz Ansari’s «Dangerously Delicious»

Whether he’s referring to his familiar Southern-drawl hip hop swagger or the taste of tasty, tasty racist biscuits, Aziz Ansari is back and Dangerously Delicious. On his second album (originally released on his website as a five-dollar audio/video combo a la Louis C.K.), Ansari returns to the material he knows best which includes frustration with girls, his chubby cousin Harris, sex with girls, R. Kelly, technology, and frustrating sex with girls.
Despite his confident demeanor, Ansari shows us more vulnerability this time around, especially when it comes to approaching the fairer sex at a night club. You can’t help but feel sorry for him as he tries to put his best foot forward, only to have it stomped on by a stiletto. Ansari, being who he is, finds a way to tilt the scales back in his favor (anyone missing a really nice bag?).
People who only know Ansari from «Parks and Recreation» may be in for a bit of a jolt, as he loves to go blue, gleefully providing more details than you may be comfortable with as he gives you the rundown on a donut shop-based porno, the hazards of driving the bus on a Madonna tour, and finding out why tacos are a necessity for any successful Motley Crue tour. And if that’s not enough, Ansari revels in teaching you how to say a phrase in ASL that would make any 6th-grade boy snicker.
At times it seems Ansari relies less on finding the right punchline and more on shocking the crowd into laughter by seeing just how detailed he can get with his NC-17-rated descriptions. It’s one thing to wish someone the worst possible hippo-related death…It’s another to be taken through it step by cringe-inducing step and after a while, I was ready to move on. Not because I was grossed out or disgusted…it just got old faster than he may have suspected. Ansari mentions the Saw movie franchise during his set and that’s a good example of his comedy. Where the whole Torture Porn approach to scary movies may be more geared toward the 24-And-Under crowd (I prefer to get my suspense through dialogue and not showing me everything), that same demographic will probably eat up this special. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I’m just not the target audience this time around. There are a lot of genuine laughs but there are also times Ansari finds himself at the end of a bit greeted not with peals of laughter but instead an awkward, somewhat uncomfortable, Can-We-Get-To-The-Next-Joke silence.
On his first album, Ansari had so many solid bits that garnered huge laughs, you can’t really blame him for going back to the same well for more. Unfortunately, the re-visits feel a bit forced, sort of the sensation you get when «Saturday Night Live» rolls out yet another entry into the recurring French Cafe Dancers. At first I was excited to hear he was going to keep us updated on Harris and find out what he’s up to, but when it ultimately failed to live up to the huge laughs he got the first time around, it felt more like a crutch and even a bit of a cheat.
And that, I suppose, was my biggest letdown with this project. Ansari returns to a lot of the material that I loved the first time around and he’s simply not able to capture the spark and magic this time. Instead of coming across as another chapter in a fun comedian’s solid discography, it instead feels like a movie sequel that couldn’t live up to the hype. We were promised something Dangerously Delicious but were left with little more than a hangover. As in Hangover 2.

Mike Brody’s «That’s Not What I Meant»

Mike Brody is a likable guy with a lot of energy and on his new album, That’s Not What I Meant, his love for comedy and being on the stage is evident. He covers a lot of basic topics we are all familiar with and can relate to and he’s quick on his feet when the unexpected happens. 
And yet…despite all that…I didn’t find myself laughing as much as I’d hoped to.
That’s not to say that Brody doesn’t have some good bits. I enjoyed his comparison of his lovemaking style to Queen’s «Bohemian Rhapsody» and I also liked his theory on separate AM/PM kindergarten classes and how it affects those in attendance. Other than that, though, it was tough for me to find moments that really clicked and the laugh-out-loud count was slim.
Part of the reason may be the fact that Brody moves very quickly from one topic to the next and often times it feels like he’s barely scratched the surface before he’s off to the next story. Many times it was as if he was on to something, almost like the laugh was in the neighborhood, right around the corner, but as soon as we got where you could almost feel the big laugh coming, we pulled the car over to get some gas. 
To be completely honest, though, I think it’s my own fault. 
Ever have one of those moments where your mind picks up on something – the smallest, littlest detail – and suddenly that’s the only thing you can see? I remember the first time someone told me about the little «cigarette burns» in the upper right-hand corner of films that signaled the projectionist that the end of the reel was coming up and it was almost time to switch to the other projector. I was working at a small movie theater in Indiana and once I learned about these little dots that show up every 20 minutes, I couldn’t un-see them for the rest of my life (although now that more and more theaters are going digital, they are quickly becoming a thing of the past). Small and inconsequential and until then I’d never noticed them…until I was made aware of them. After that, it was pretty much all I saw. (Edward Norton explains them much better in the film Fight Club. The only clip of it I could find on YouTube is this one, a little promo someone made for their movie reviewing blog.(Not me.))
In the same manner, Brody has a little quirk that I picked up on halfway through my second listening of the album and after I noticed it, it was all I could hear. To put it simply: he laughs at his own jokes. It’s not a constant habit, but the further on we get into the album and the more energy he picks up, the more frequently it happens until, by the last track, it’s in nearly every punchline. It’s not a straight-forward «ha ha ha ha» but more of a laugh-while-talking thing. The last word of each punchline isn’t spoken as much as it is exhaled, and then it is followed by a loud gasp as he inhales to recover. And, as I mentioned earlier, once I heard it, it was all I could hear. Or, to put it in Brody-esque deliver, it was all I could heaaar. Pause. Gaaasp.
Yes, I know, it’s nit-picky, but it did affect the way I heard the project. What made it stand out to me all the more was when it would happen after punchlines that didn’t strike me as incredibly funny. Combine that with one of my biggest pet peeves (comedians laughing at their own jokes) and it soured my experience. 
But that’s just me. I am completely willing to admit you may have an entirely different reaction to Brody’s comedy. The audience in the club seems to be having a genuinely enjoyable time and he garners some big laughs. I never claim that my opinion is the right one and I don’t discount those whose thoughts may be different. And hey, if I’ve ever come across as pompous or superior, well…that’s not what I meant, either.


Andy Hendrickson’s «Underachiever»

As I listen to these albums for review, I usually keep my notebook on hand to jot down any moments that jump out at me which I want to be sure to mention in my final write-up. In general these notations are pretty brief, seven or eight short sentences that serve as milestones along the journey.
With Andy Hendrickson’s Underachiever I filled an entire page.

And it’s all good stuff. I probably won’t be able to touch on all of them but suffice it to say there are a lot of great things going on here. Whether he’s explaining how he «runs very expensively» or grows weary of the toddler seated next to him on a plane («Hi! Hi! Hi!») or comparing relationships to books, Hendrickson is performing at the top of his game as he approaches a vast array of topics without abandon. He’s a straight shooter who tells it like it is without coming across as bitter or jaded.
As a result, the crowd follows him willingly, laughing all the way as he navigates waters such as girls who wear low-cut shirts and cross necklaces simultaneously. His material is very relatable and we understand just where he’s coming from. We’ve all been there and it’s nice to have someone as funny as Hendrickson along for the ride to help us laugh at life’s little hiccups. We’ve all gotten long-winded voice mails from our mothers and we’ve all experienced what it’s like when our friends grow up and start having kids (Boo). Hendrickson takes such situations and injects them with his own unique style of humor. And he does it well.
What is just as entertaining are the insights Hendrickson clues us in on that we may not have picked up on before. Fire hydrants are like Facebook updates for dogs and living with a sleepwalking boxer who is prone to night terrors may not be the ideal roommate situation. Fortunately for us, his awkward living arrangement is our gain and the laugh count is solid and consistent.
Hendrickson has various ways of approaching the funny and he excels at each one of them. At one moment he may choose to go with storytelling (as he does when he talks about his interactions with his parents), later he opts for clever, insightful metaphor (his friend’s relationship with his fiancee is likened to an old Tootsie Pop commercial. How many licks will it take to break down his soul?) and sometimes he chooses to simply fire from the hip. When it comes to living up to his older brother, a Navy Seal with a Master’s in Business from Harvard, nothing sums it up quite like a simple, «Thanks a lot. Nice shadow, dick.«
The rapport he has with his brother is interesting and when Hendrickson shares with us his sibling’s secret to success (Hendrickson’s response? «You just put me down, taught me a life lesson, and wrote me a joke all with one swing»),we realize witty straight talk may very well be an enviable Hendrickson family trait.
It’s probably time I begin wrapping this up and there’s still a lot I haven’t touched on. I never got to the wine-loving girl who cleverly bookends the album. I didn’t get to talk about the 15-pound baby whose arrival spurs both a party and a funeral. Oh yeah, and there’s the one about the feature on a first-generation Kindle Hendrickson wishes his long-winded friends would develop. And his closer — his killer closer! — about the girl wearing glasses.
And then … well … you get the point. 
There’s a lot on this album that’s gonna make you laugh. Hendrickson brings to the table everything you hope to find on a great comedy album … and then he gives you more.
Underachiever, my foot.

Bryan Bruner’s «Welcome to Djibouti»

If life is a highway, then Bryan Bruner is a pretty safe driver. On his album Welcome to Djibouti, he steers us through life’s little road bumps cautiously, his hands firmly on the wheel at 10 and 2 (mostly because he’s trying to compensate for the fact he’s probably amid a marijuana high). The real question, though, is whether or not this is the sort of ride you prefer.
If you prefer your comedy reckless and pulse-pounding with hairpin curves taken on two wheels, Bruner probably isn’t the comedian for you. There are a few turns here and there, but Bruner turns on his blinker well before we get there, signaling the change in direction and taking away any real element of surprise.
The album starts off promisingly enough with a humorous explanation of why single people in bars are like clothes from factory outlet malls and what it would be like to party with NFL players. After that, though, the album seems to plateau and continue from there at the same level.
There are plenty of interesting launch points from which Bruner could take off (working for the FDNY, touring with a little person, and his sincere love of the aforementioned cannibas plant), but for the most part they simply remain as nice premises without a real punch. His bit on the midget has a funny visual near the end, but it’s a 7-minute cut, and the laughter is definitely not proportionate to the time it takes to get there.
Bruner talks about being a pothead with pride and I fear his love for weed may have dulled his comedic sensibilities. Instead of emulating someone like Doug Benson, arguably one of the funniest and most famous pro-weed comedians working today, his stories end up being just that: Stories. They’re interesting enough but there’s not much payoff when it comes to big laughs.
There are a few times when Bruner displays passion, but to be honest it’s hard to empathize with him because the things that set him off…well…probably shouldn’t. When he sends a Facebook friend request to a guy who shares the same name, the alternate Bryan Bruner responds with an understandable response to a complete stranger: «Who is this?» Comedian Bryan Bruner flips out. I’m still not sure why. When he overdraws his bank account and is hit with late fees, he starts a Twitter campaign railing against Bank of America claiming they are responsible for the AIDS virus. I’m still not sure why. And when he made the obligatory «it’s dudes catching crabs» Deadliest Catch joke, I didn’t wonder why, I just wanted something that had a little more effort behind it.
For the most part, this album seemed to be comedy done via the safest route. It’s the difference between a leisurely drive through the Indiana countryside and tooling along the winding, ever-shifting road on the cliffs of Palos Verdes. Bruner’s humor is more of the former than the latter. It’s a pleasurable enough ride, but there’s no risk. No cliffs, just corn.

Chris Killian’s «The Not Black Album»

On paper, comedians like Daniel Tosh and Lisa Lampanelli say some pretty horrible things. They get away with it on stage, though, because we all know they’re doing it to get a laugh. And, because they are genuinely funny as they go about it. The tricky part comes when you tweak the motive behind it. It’s a very fine line to walk. Unfortunately, The Not Black Album  by Chris Killian is an example of how things can go wrong.
The feeling I took away from this album is that Killian isn’t trying to say controversial things to get a laugh but instead to get a reaction. There may seem to be a minor difference between the two,  but in reality it’s pretty huge. Instead of coming across as shock comedy, it just comes across as mean-spirited and it takes away from the fun.
There are a number of times when Killian stuns the audience into shocked silence; their refusal to laugh serving as a signal to Killian (which he either ignores or just doesn’t pick up on it, I’m not sure which) that you can’t just say mean things into a microphone and automatically get laughter. You sort of have to be funny, too.
To me, the writing here is where Killian falls short. His jokes aren’t particularly insightful or cleverly constructed. They’re just…well…easy. He explains how he makes fun of his Asian girlfriend for being Asian because … «who wouldn’t, right?» The crowd’s response is so lukewarm, Killian is forced to address it. One example of his clever jibes he gives is when he’s out with her in public and sees an elderly Asian woman. He’ll point to her and ask his girlfriend, «Hey, is that your mom?»
Insert awkward pause here.
As Killian works through his set, it becomes obvious who his comedic influences are and each time he comes up short when he tries to emulate them. Don’t have an ending for a bit? Then just say something in an Aziz Ansari-esque razz-a-ma-tazz delivery. It won’t get you much of a laugh, but at least you can move on.
When Killian announced he was going to change things up by singing some original songs, I became hopeful. I thought perhaps he’s one of those guys whose stand-up isn’t that good but makes up for it with this other thing they do. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Killian’s singing and songwriting are just as good as his joke writing and that’s not a compliment.
The song structure and phrasing are clunky and the melodies feel forced and unnatural; Killian’s rhyme scheme is fairly predictable and, not to sound too much like Randy Jackson, his singing is pitchy. He sings above the note when he’s projecting and when he lowers his volume, the notes are flat. I imagine he had people like Stephen Lynch and Bo Burnham in mind when he sat down and decided to be a bad boy singing comedian but again the motive behind it feels «off.»
Besides being clever lyricists, both Lynch and Burnham are genuinely good composers and (especially Lynch) talented singers. Killian doesn’t seem to be especially concerned with musical ability but if eight tracks on your album are going to be songs, that’s probably not a good idea.
Once again, Killian isn’t looking to entertain or make people laugh, he’s out to shock and appall. It’s not about the writing, and it really should be. Just because you say/sort-of sing harsh things while strumming a guitar, that doesn’t automatically make you a comedian. That just makes you a bully with a guitar.

Josh Gondelman’s «Everything’s The Best!»

Josh Gondelman opens his new CD Everything’s The Best! by declaring he’s going to do his best to try to be fun. I assume this is just some sort of ruse, because after listening to this hour-long project I don’t think it’d be possible for him not to be. He is such a pleasure to be around, it’s no surprise to find out he can keep any crowd of people entertained, whether it’s a comedy club full of adults or a brightly colored room of kids (he reveals he is a pre-school teacher who’s just put in his two weeks notice).
Sure, the fact that this guy who works with kids moonlights as a stand-up comic (or, more accurately, vice versa) initially comes across as a Can You Believe It premise but the truth is I can believe it. I’d trust this guy with my kids* and would feel safe knowing that they’ll be in good hands. Sure, they may come back with a brand new mash-up of children’s songs in their heads or learn the ins and outs of the legality of gay marriage but I can rest assured knowing they won’t be taught the lyrics to any Def Leppard songs (that’s the other guy at the pre-school).
The youthful energy of Gondelman carries over nicely to his comedy. His ruminations about child detectives (Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys) and why we don’t hear from them as adults are paired together with his theory of why Han Solo isn’t nearly as cool as everyone seems to think he is.
The vast majority of his material is either culled from his own childhood experiences (opting to play the trombone in band class, how reading «The Catcher in the Rye» landed him in the principal’s office, why comic book readers are considered the jocks of the nerd community) or lifted straight from his encounters with the pre-schoolers (the recreation of a magic trick he learned from a student, the little Mexican boy who wants to be Batman, and how he was outsmarted by Jake, the little guy who has never seen a purple cow).
That being said, Gondelman is just as funny when he steps up his material to topics people face in their adult life. He is just as consistently funny whether he’s unveiling Boston’s racist tendencies («»I’m not racist, but…» is actually secret code for «I am racist, and…»»), explaining why he hopes his future daughter is a lesbian, or bringing to light the reason minor league baseball is the way to go.
The project draws to a close with the tale of how a one night stand blossomed into a full-fledged adventure in the pharmacy in search of a Plan B pill. Although the subject matter may not strike someone as the easiest, most-obvious, least-controversial choice for a series of light-hearted anecdotes, Gondelman navigates it with ease, never once crossing the line into Too Much or Too Dark. He manages to keep the tone light and humorous. Because of that, the laughs erupt just as easily and frequently as they did on the previous 19 tracks.
Another thing I really admire about Gondelman’s craft is his ability to seamlessly transition from one topic to the next without coming across as stilted or jumpy. There’s no whiplash here. His material flows really nicely and only when you look back at the track listing do you realize exactly how much territory was covered.
The title of this project really reflects not only Gondelman’s approach to comedy, but also his outlook on life. He never gets over-the-top angry and he doesn’t wallow in self-pity when he finds himself in a situation that may not be ideal. Instead, he looks at life through the eyes of an eternal comedic optimist. Instead of seeing the glass as half-empty or half-full, he opts to go for the laugh and pours the glass’s contents over his head. Then he’ll stand up, back away from the table with his arms stretched out to either side and declare, «Nothing in my hands!»
He’s right. Everything really is the best. And when you get to the point where you can look at life and believe that it’s true, well….if that’s not a great magic trick, I don’t know what is.

*For the sake of this review, let’s pretend I have kids.