May 10, 2010
Comedy Part 4: New Shit
Now, I come to the end of my 4-part series on comedy albums you need to know. I started off with stone cold classics from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Then I continued to mine material from the same era by black comedians and by funny old white guys. For this last installment, I’m entirely skipping the ’80s and ’90s (nothing really funny happened then anyway) and bringing you four albums from this past, hilarious decade. Enjoy.
Maria Bamford always seemed like one of the weaker links in the Comedians of Comedy group (at the risk of angering comedy nerds, I would suggest Brian Posehn is the weakest). Maybe it’s because she’s a woman. (Probably.) When I found a used copy of this CD/DVD combo in Other Music for $2.99, I wasn’t expecting much. Damn, was I surprised. I immediately went and got all of Maria Bamford’s albums. Comedy comes from pain, and it’s obvious that Maria Bamford has led a painful life. She experiences not only standard-issue insecurity, but she has the kind of compulsions and crippling depression people go to doctors for. Her comedy relies on her playing different characters from her life, mimicking voices in a way that at first might seem too broad or gimmicky (that was my initial read). It turns out that Bamford’s voices may be big, but they’re not generic stereotypes; she makes very specific characterizations that bring a depth to her stories and make them resonate. This is even more pronounced in the webisodes of “The Maria Bamford Show” on DVD, where Bamford acts out scenes, playing all the characters (apart from her dog, Blossom).
When it comes down to it, Mike Birbiglia isn’t a groundbreaking comic. He’s pretty much your garden-variety observational comic, who leans more toward politeness than raunchiness (although he’ll stick a punchline in now and again that is less than family-friendly). In fact, the whole concept of this album is that he is doing bits he originally wrote for his blog. Birbiglia, however, is solid. He consistently churns out relatable and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny bits, as long as he stays away from his guitar. (The Achilles’ Heel of his albums are his “funny songs,” which are best skipped.) The topics range from Catholic school to George W. Bush to parents accidentally getting a porn computer virus. See? Nothing you haven’t been exposed to before. But Birbiglia’s average-joe persona makes it all pretty palatable and downright enjoyable.
Tommy Tiernan is from Ireland, and he begins this set, recorded in Chicago, by talking about the conundrum of expressing the Irish soul through the English language. “The English language is like a brick wall between you and me, and ‘fuck’ is my chisel,” he declares, before continuing to utilize said four-letter word liberally for the next 70 minutes. Tiernan is definitely not a dirty comic – an anecdote about mistaking Vick’s VapoRub for Vaseline before attempting anal sex notwithstanding – and it’s obvious that Tiernan’s use of “fuck” is like a spice added to a stew. It just adds a nice flavor. Tiernan is energetic and irreverent in a way that suggests a friendlier Denis Leary or, when he turns to domestic matters, a much funnier, Irish Jeff Foxworthy. This set was also videotaped for a TV special; you can check out a clip here.
Best known to alt-comedy fans as a cast member of Mr. Show, Paul F. Tompkins delivers a smart and sometimes absurd brand of analytical humor. Whether dissecting the oft-used mirror scare in horror movies (“It’s nuts out there… what do you say we treat ourselves to a little cold water on the face?”), amusement park penny-smashing machines (“Fifty-one cents!? Penny-smashing technology is so cost-prohibitive you gotta soak me for four bits!?”), or the raging rivalry between cake and pie (“Here’s how good frosting is: When you are eating it out of the can, you feel shame”), Tompkins inevitably breaks these topics down to their oddest components and picks apart the minutiae. In my favorite bit, the one that gives the album its title, Tompkins meticulously debunks all the supposedly true and horrifying aspects of the popular young-adult book Go Ask Alice.
by Justin Remer