Some might know Hilary Schwartz as a member of The Manson Family Singers, a band that would have to be filed under “inappropriate country”. But Hilary is also a stand up comic whose first CD (Jewish Princess of Darkness) came out earlier this year. Starting out by riffing on both her Jewishness and her name, she covers some fairly conventional topics (jobs, kids, family, race relations) in a voice that communicates skepticism, frustration and disappointment. I’d never heard her before and had no expectations, but I found her material to be hit-and-miss; a few solid chuckles but no bust-a-gut moments over approximately thirty-five minutes.
Not trying to play Comedy Coach here, but I think what hurts the overall CD is the lack of interaction with the audience and the way her material seems scripted and devoid of in-the-moment adjustments. Granted, Hilary’s set is all about the bitter things in life – bad dates, rude people, depressing love life and the consequences of getting older without achievement – so it’s not like I expect her to be peppy. But she’s mining some pretty well-worn territory and isn’t playing the pity card. Instead, she’s trying the more difficult route of trying to point out what assholes other people are and trying to get the crowd on her side. But rather than try to work them up a notch when she does get the laughs, it seems like she’s moving ahead with the set exactly as designed, without regard to what’s working or how well the last bit did.
This clip gives a pretty good indication of what I mean. Now granted, it’s supposed to be a different cadence because it’s not feeding off a live crowd, it’s just a to-the-camera shot. But that’s the same pace that most of the material on her album undertakes, and it think it works against her in two ways. If there is a great line, there’s an opportunity for momentum to slip away before the next laugh, so it’s difficult to cascade. And if there is a dead spot or a lull it tends to accentuate it. (The sound doesn’t help either; it’s brassy and thin like a bootleg although she is clearly understandable throughout.) Her appearance at Comix (link below) is a little better, but her onstage style reminds me of a TV appearance, where a comic comes out to hit the marks and deliver a deliberate set, rather than walk the high-wire by playing with and off the audience.
That said, there are several good cracks on here (and I won’t spoil them) like how her aversion to women being rated by numbers makes her consider becoming a lesbian, getting “almost” compliments, or dealing with her Mom who cuts articles out of People Magazine as not-so-subtle lifestyle tips. She’s far funnier when she’s able to weave a few of these moments together into a story than when the more rudimentary “he said this/and then I said this” formula that the majority of the set relies upon. The final piece, about her ideal way to run into her ex, is both filthy and funny, a good close.
This is her first CD, so I look forward to the next album being stronger and tighter. (And for the record…despite what she says on the album, she does have pretty eyes, and they look a lot better on her face than they would floating around by themselves.)
Clip of Hilary at Comix.
Here’s her blog, but I’m not going to read it.