Monday, April 28, 2008

Clumpy Reviews the Comedy So You Don't Have To (Oswalt, Proops and Wright)

My patronship with the local library has given me access to wonderful new worlds of music. For some reason, for years I've only skimmed the "Rock" sections of the shelves. I decided to expand my horizons last visit (well, a couple of visits ago). In that vein, I'd like to get some library-fresh stand up comedy albums out of my system. I've been playing these sorts of albums lately at work, and they've had quite a medicinal effect on my sanity. After nearly a year of owning an iPod, I think that I'm starting to understand the versatility of the thing.

All of these three records are enjoyable in their own way, but I don't really think that I'll be spinning any of the three again (well, maybe Steven Wright). Some of this is sick, sick comedy. When a terrible, yet well-crafted joke or anecdote makes you laugh, that's great - heaven knows that some nice shock value can add to comedy. Check out Jim Norton for an example of how to pull this off (or, better yet, don't). Richard Pryor, like Mitch Hedberg, came across as intelligent and classy despite occasionally base material. I'm not endorsing blue material, per se, but I will say that a good guilty laugh can be therapeutic now and then.

Keep in mind that I'll be doing these comedy reviews sporadically for the next few weeks, among other reviews. These are comedy reviews, meaning that celebrity hacks (*cough* - Dane Cook) won't be given much space. See how the trio did below:

Patton Oswalt
Werewolves and Lollipops

Sub Pop (2007)

Like most comics who also happen to do voiceovers, Patton Oswalt bears little resemblance to his animated ally Remy, the rat from last year's Ratatouille. He's a jovial, acerbic, overweight man with a penchant for biting sarcasm and a tendency to incorporate little songs and sound effects into his commentary. He's also very funny, but not in a joke-telling, Emo Philips sort of way; he builds off of his audience more, most famously in the prolonged sequence where he berates a "whoo-hoo!" guy before continuing with his story.

The sarcasm may be too much for some to take, as it's sometimes tough to figure out whether he believes what he's saying. Sometimes it feels as if he goes too far intentionally just to mock his own position; for example, a fairly hilarious bit satirizing television censorship begins with a shocking, non sequitur blur of profanity. If you plan on purchasing or listening to this album, I suggest you view some of his clips on YouTube or on Late Night talk shows - he's always in character.

Humor: 7.5
Personality: 9
Grossitude: 7


Greg Proops
Houston, We Have a Problem

Stand Up Records (2004)

Greg Proops is a gem of sorts, and probably one of the most audacious comics working today. Much like with Bob Saget, his television persona is far gentler and safer than the guy you see in the club. And exactly like Bob Saget, Proops gets most of his fun from mocking the audience, provided that they're in on the joke. Houston, Texas (hence the title) provides ample mining ground for stereotype exploitation and controversial statements. Proops' verbose commentary is never quite as flowery as when a joke bombs and he sets his sides on the crowd. I noted that the crowd seems to get quieter and quieter throughout this record, but it's not really a consequence of weak material; every word counts in Greg's delivery, and throwing out a guffaw might miss you a punchline.

Proops goes all-out for the final few minutes, in a prolonged gag questioning Jessica Simpson's mental acuity. Though he picks a predictable target, the magic is in the delivery:

"It's difficult to ascertain how much information Jessica is deriving at any given moment. Because her face, in repose, is a pizza of discomfiture and query. I mean, where you would see a person or a car, she just sees swirling oblongs and fractals. Everything looks like the Matrix; just green numerals running up and down a wall, unfathomable, eternal."

Humor: 8.0
Personality: 8
Grossitude: 6


Steven Wright
I Still Have a Pony
Comedy Central Records (2007)

(Note: I am required by law to use the following words in this review: deadpan, surreal.)

I review this album with an air of reverence. For the long-time comedy crowd, anticipation for this album rivaled the hooplah surrounding the release of all of the records that Brian Wilson's been sitting on. A subtler comrade to his brother comedians from the 80s (like Emo Philips - there's that name again), Wright finds himself in the company of the select few who fall so completely into their routine that they become original characters even as they mumble non sequiturs and surreal one-liners. ("I have a new camera. It's so advanced, you don't even need it.")

Wright's been at the top of his game for as long as I've been alive, and I must in all honesty admit that this album is the best of the three I've reviewed today. The jokes are top-notch and the delivery is deadpan but not without expression. Unfortunately for me, something about Wright's voice begins grating into my eardrums after a short period, slowly grinding out my nerves and auditory machinery until I'm forced to take a break. It's completely my problem, and I'm sure that most of the rest of you won't have this issue. In any case, it forces me to limit to about half of the album at a time. This is, of course, just fine; the other half isn't going anywhere.

Humor: 9.0
Personality: 7
Grossitude: 3


Note: I haven't just been playing comedy at work - I've also gotten into some great world music lately from Kenya, Mali and even ethnic music from Japan. Stay tuned for similar mini-reviews later this week. Fun stuff.

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