Monthly Archives: January 2011

Best Comedy DVDs of 2010: #8, #7

We continue the countdown of the ten best comedy DVDs of 2010…

#8) Darren Frost: Dead Inside

If there’s anyone else out there plowing the road Darren Frost is on, there’s no way they’re doing it anywhere near as well. Funny, sick, twisted and absolutely for an adult audience not afraid to step out on the ledge with him, Frost holds nothing and no one sacred, including himself. Don’t confuse him with a vaudevillian pervert like John Valby; Frost is a solid writer who sees the same dark thoughts that you and I do, except that he doesn’t filter anything to avoid an uncomfortable moment between strangers. Nope, if you board this ride, you committed, and he’s not letting you dismount. How’s this for a credo?“I do every fucking show like I’m never fucking coming back…”

This is Frost’s third release, and every one of them is packed to the gills with hours of outtakes, commentary, video clips, failed experiments, high-wire acts and heckler mania. Unlike many, Frost gives it to you warts and all, as if he’s his own documentarian. It’s certainly not for everybody, but as he likes to say, “you saw the sign on the door before you came in“. This is daring, gutsy comedy and we are lucky that we have a man brave and honest enough to plunge in and do it, taboos and repercussions be damned. (Comedy Whore)

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#7) David Cross: Bigger and Blackerer

In an unusual bit of cross-pollination, Sub Pop issued this title separately on CD and DVD, but the material is wildly different. Unlike previous simultaneous Cross releases, where the different titles confirmed different content, it wasn’t until people started comparing reviews that they realized what they were missing between these. So if you know anyone pissed off at this marketing campaign, please don’t remind them that Cross wrote a book, also. Find out when their birthday is and get them a three-pack of DC.

But format aside, Cross has made a strong and welcome return to recorded stand up. Equally intolerant of social, religious and political buffoons, yet willing to point the barrel of the gun inwards as well, his stage work is a combination of logical rants and surreal thoughts. Sure, it’s snarky and offensive, and on occasions he might tread in areas that make even the most open-mided comedy fan cringe. But sacred cows are there for the tipping, and Cross remains a master.  (Sub Pop)

***

The countdown continues tomorrow with #6 and #5

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Best Comedy DVDs of 2010: #10, #9

Today starts the countdown of the ten best comedy DVDs of 2010…

#10) Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments For A Sensual Evening

Aziz Ansari’s high-energy performance largely centers around him being famous, and you…well, not so much. But we like his self-centered Tom Haverford character on Parks and Recreation because under all that obnoxious pretense, he truly does have a big heart. In the same way, Ansari’s stage persona just comes off like the friend of yours who lucked into something good, but is still cool enough to hang with you anyway.

The best comedy comes from reality, and while Aziz might embellish a few bits about Kanye West or R. Kelly, they’re that much funnier because they’re totally believable coming from a guy whose career has just blown up. Ditto the best parts of his set when he’s riffing about his nephew Darwish and cousin Harris; while the anecdotes are pretty hilarious, this is probably a normal day in the real life of a young comic who is famous. Ansari sounds pretty grounded, unlike Raaaaaaaandy (his shock comic character from Funny People) who hopefully will not become the more famous of the two. (Comedy Central Records)

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#9) Orny Adams: Takes The Third

Like the bastard love child of Jerry Seinfeld (physical appearance and joke structure) and Denis Leary (intolerant raging at incompetence), Orny Adams is just plain fed up. Technology, fat kids, bad drivers, marriage, customer service…it’s all a conspiracy to drive us crazy. Like Path Of Most Resistance, his prior DVD, his topics are ordinary but his take on them is very funny. He’s outraged, but self-deprecating, like a slightly saner Lewis Black; and despite the title, it is social outrage, not political.

Impressively, the entire program is cut from one performance. Besides the hour-long set, the DVD includes a few minutes of additional onstage and backstage footage, largely a mutual love letter to and from his fans. Adams might not be a huge name but he’s got a solid routine and charm to burn. And if this flames out and, as he fears, he’s selling cars this time next year, at least those who saw him as his own worst enemy in the film Comedian will know that he finally figured it out. (Image Entertainment)

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The countdown continues tomorrow with #8 and #7

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Village Voice Pazz & Jop

One of my favorite things every year is contributing my “best of” list to the prestigious Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll, a compilation of the opinions of seven hundred music critics. I consider it an honor as well, and I’m happy that the albums I vote for at least get a little bit more attention. I don’t keep track of favorite songs closely enough to always do the singles; last year I figured that Ce Lo Green’s “Fuck You” was so dominant that any of my other nominations would concede defeat, so that’s exactly what I wrote down when I submitted my ballot. And the song, as expected, took the top prize.

What did surprise me was how much of my ballot placed me on a deserted island. While I thought these artists released incredible efforts, in most cases I was the sole person to nominate them. I’m well aware that my preference for powerpop, glam, rock and blues doesn’t endear me to a world of rap, shoegazing indie pop and ludicrous Autotune warriors. But where are my brothers and sisters who celebrate this music, despite its low profile?

Each year a brilliant data analyst named Glenn McDonald produces some amazing metrics regarding voter centricity – whose ballots were the most consistent with the results, and whose were in the stratosphere. According to the 2010 report, I’ll need an oxygen mask and a very long cord.

 Here is my top ten, in order, along with the number of votes each album received in the poll. If that number is one, that means I am the only Pazz&Jop critic who voted for it.

Len Price 3 – Pictures (one)

Christine Ohlman and Rebel Montez – The Deep End (one)

The Jim Jones Revue – Burning Your House Down (two)

The 88 – The 88 (two)

The Grip Weeds – Strange Change Machine (two)

The Mother Truckers – Van Tour (one)

The Sights – Most of What Follows Is True (four)

Edward O’Connell – Our Little Secret (one)

The Greenhornes – Four Stars (one)

Farrah – Farrah (one)

Now some of these I can understand. Farrah is all but unknown in the USA; O’Connell is a DC musician making a debut album that’s self-promoted and self-distributed. But Ohlman and The Greenhornes have history and a strong legacy; Len Price 3  and The Grip Weeds were getting a massive push from Little Steven and The 88 are well-known from their film and TV work.

WTF, people?

Click here for a trove of comments and essays along with the final results.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten More 2010 Comedy Albums

Yeah, I know it’s the end of January.

I’ve been compiling Top 10 album lists (and beyond) for music for over twenty-five years. It started as a conversation piece among a few friends (and as frightening as that sounds, that group continues to swap lists annually) and eventually worked its way into magazines I write for. I’m proud to have been part of the Village Voice Pazz’n’Jop poll for the last decade, even as my nominees seem to distance themselves from the vox populi a little more every year (tomorrow’s entry will delve a bit deeper into that).

But I have always been a comedy fan and a fan of comedy albums. Many friends wonder how I can listen to a routine more than once and find it funny. I’m not sure I can explain why except to say that (1) not every comedy album is worth multiple listenings and (2) I don’t even want to analyze and define the formula that will make me gasp for air in fits of laughter. I just know that funny is funny.

So this week after much hand-wringing and ear-wrangling, I laid out the Ten Best Comedy Albums of 2010. And trust me, 2010 was a great year for comedy albums – there are many more beyond this. And 2011 is already off to a great start with Brian Regan, Louis CK, Jim Norton and Nick Griffin having new releases on the shelf, with a ton more on the schedule.

So for now, allow me to bring your attention to Ten More 2010 Comedy Albums to should check out. Alphabetically arranged, but jump in anywhere…

01) Will Durst, Raging Moderate (Stand Up! Records) – One of the best political comics of our generation; I wish he had a bigger pulpit to preach from.

02) Chris Fairbanks, Fairbanks! (Rooftop Comedy) – You know that friend who will say anything to make you laugh? The sillier it gets, the further he’ll go?

03) Janeane Garofalo, If You Will (Image Entertainment) – Few people are as adept at stripping themselves bare, warts and all, no apologies.

04) Tommy Johnagin, Stand Up Comedy (Rooftop Comedy) – Just missed my Top Ten, a little short and crashes at the end. But the first 30 minutes is gold.

05) Jackie Kashian, It’s Never Going To Be Bread (Stand Up! Records) – Next time someone says there are no good female comics, slap them and give them this album.

06) Simon King, Unfamous Comedian (Uproar Entertainment) – Almost an hour-long of non-stop tangents, and when you open with “llama fisting”…

07) Shane Mauss, Jokes To Make My Parents Proud (Comedy Central Records) – Imagine Kenneth from 30 Rock…only he’s high, sarcastic and condescending.

08) Tom Simmons, Keep Up (Rooftop Comedy) – Another Top Ten near-miss, mixes puns and one-liners with strong political and social commentary.

09) Dan Telfer, Fossil Record (A Special Thing Records) – I know, when someone said “dinosaur jokes”, I rolled my eyes too. Trust me.

10) Reggie Watts, Why Shit So Crazy? (Comedy Central Records) – By comparison, I’m not a big fan of comedy musicians, but this guy is a genius.

Starting Sunday, the countdown of the Ten Best Comedy DVDs of 2010.

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Best Comedy Albums of 2010: #3-2-1

Year End List caveat: I’m splitting comedy albums apart from comedy DVD projects, so if someone had a DVD that was basically the same as the album I’m rating it as an album. If someone winds up in the DVD category that doesn’t mean their album wasn’t top ten material…just trying to find some way of being fair. That said, there’s not an item on either of these lists that I don’t think is worth your immediate attention…click to hear clips and judge for yourself!

Maybe the most amazing thing about my list – and I didn’t realize what was happening until after I locked everything down – is that nine of the top ten were debut albums. That is partially due to the likelihood that an established seller will more likely get the financial backing for a DVD project. But it also signals the fact that a group of brilliant writers and performers (many of whom have been staff writers for successful and established shows and performers) are getting an opportunity to get their unique voices out there. 

It’s heartbreaking to realize how many great comic minds we’ve lost in recent years, but it’s reassuring to know that so many have picked up the torch.

Finalizing a top ten was tough, determining the top three was exasperating.

But here we go…

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#03: Kyle Kinane, DEATH OF THE PARTY

Great imagery and material; immediately captivating with an incredibly original style. Sure, he looks and sounds disheveled, but this album straddles the line between stream of consciousness riffing and nuggets of cosmic gold. I will always marvel at the way Mitch Hedberg’s brain worked for puns and one-liners; and I think Kinane’s storytelling presentation is on that same level of greatness.  (A Special Thing Records)

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#02: Anthony Jeselnik, SHAKESPEARE

He might be the smartest writer out there; if you don’t believe it just ask him! Deliberate slow pacing, where he clearly enunciates every word to squeeze every nuance, silence and twist for maximum effect. You have to be very skillful to present yourself as an arrogant know-it-all constantly baiting the audience, but when your CD is one perfectly constructed joke after another, you are acquitted. (Comedy Central Records)

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#01: Auggie Smith, SMELL THE THUNDER

A great combination of social exasperation, political/religious commentary and brilliant writing. Smith’s album is a blend of Patton Oswalt, Dave Attell, Lewis Black, Bill Hicks and Doug Stanhope – basically everything I like about standup comedy. Great pacing, exceptional delivery and inflection, and even his throw-away lines are hilarious. In a year when many strong comedy albums were released, this was the cream of the crop. (Rooftop Comedy)

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Next week: The Best Comedy DVDs of 2010.

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Best Comedy Albums of 2010: #7-6-5-4

Year End List caveat: I’m splitting comedy albums apart from comedy DVD projects, so if someone had a DVD that was basically the same as the album I’m rating it as an album. If someone winds up in the DVD category that doesn’t mean their album wasn’t top ten material…just trying to find some way of being fair. That said, there’s not an item on either of these lists that I don’t think is worth your immediate attention…click to hear clips and judge for yourself!

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#07: Bill Burr, LET IT GO

Ok, probably cheating a wee bit here, because Burr does have a DVD of this show and there were a couple of extra jokes on it, but the two are very close in content. (I’m an equal opportunity cheater, as you’ll see when the DVD list is posted.) But no matter where this is listed, it’s great. Burr just keeps getting better every year, baring his soul in his shows and flushing out his brain, unfiltered, on his weekly podcasts. He’s the guy like you and I who is just too fucking tired of putting up with the lack of common courtesy, the ineptitude of customer service and the complete banality of what passes for modern society. The odd thing is that a lesser comic would go down in flames trying to work these topics, but Burr is so passionate and magnetic that he sells every moment. (Image Entertainment)

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#06: Joe DeRosa, THE DEPRESSION AUCTION

A comedian – and an album – that deserves to be far better known. Both self-deprecating and intolerant of others, Joe’s aptly named collection of rants places him as the man who just doesn’t fit, whether it’s ineptitude at sports, being taken seriously as a person or just trying to justify his own anger at boorish people and bad cable before realizing that it would probably mean more if he wasn’t observing this from the fetal position. He tees off on hecklers, reality stars and himself and caps it all off with the tale of performing for fans of The Insane Clown Posse. I don’t know what’s stranger – that the Juggalos invited him to perform and he accepted…or that afterwards they invited him back again . (Comedy Central Records)

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#05: Myq Kaplan, VEGAN MIND MELD

A master of language, one of the best comic wordsmiths that I have heard in a long time. With his intellect, he could leave most of the audience in the dust and be the ultimate nerd comic playing to tiny Mensa gatherings. But fortunately he has a good dose of silly in his DNA and he loves puns. There are so many jokes layered within jokes that it will take multiple listens to shake every one of them loose. Incredible with call backs – if you saw him on Last Comic Standing you watched him weave them into every set. And for the icing on the cake, he’s a razor-sharp moralist taking society to task on politics and religion, which means he’s leaving you laughing and thinking.  (Live at Comix)

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#04: Hannibal Buress, MY NAME IS HANNIBAL

Buress redefines casual; unlike comics who start their set with a bang, he’s so laid back that you might wonder if he’s talking in his sleep. But he’s s sneaky bastard. Little jokes start piling up one after another and before you know it, that snowball is hurtling down the hill like an avalanche. And when he does eventually explode with an expletive or a loud voice, it only makes the punch line that much funnier. He has a great knack for making the mundane sound insane, and his absurdist takes are stellar. It’s as if Louis C.K. and Bill Cosby had a love child – he’s got the Cosby pacing and the lunacy of Louie. How could SNL suck so bad if he is writing for them? (Stand Up! Records)

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The countdown concludes tomorrow with #3, #2 and #1.

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Academy Award Nominations (and Razzies, Too!)

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning with few surprises…

I don’t know why they do this at such an ungodly hour (5:30am PST!) unless it’s to capitalize on a full news cycle, including green rooms filled with likely nominees ready to haunt the set of AM YourCityNameHere or The View. Imagine being on set at a talk show and having your agent tweet you to quietly slip out the side door since your name didn’t get announced.

(Hey…that’s Christopher Nolan slipping into that cab…)

Is Nolan so good that he’s being taken for granted? Even if Following didn’t make its mark until after the similarly structured Memento broke big, all the guy has done is make successful motion pictures that combine escapism with intelligence. I could see overlooking Batman Begins but The Dark Knight was a critical and popular success. His filmscapes are daring; for him to go from Insomnia to the world of Batman and Inception shows huge range. And he wrote and directed most of these films.

Two Academy Award nominations for screenplay, including this year. But not one nomination as Best Director; his omission for this latest masterwork is inexcusable.

The King’s Speech led all films with a dozen nominations; True Grit followed with ten and both Inception and The Social Network have eight. Roman Polanski’s film The Ghost Writer was blanked, as was Shutter Island. Black Swan might have been overtaken by The King’s Speech as the likely main competition for The Social Network.

Colin Firth is probably as close to a lock as there has been in recent memory, but the other acting categories have at least a strong two-way competition. The wild card could be True Grit’s Steinfeld stealing a win if Adams and Leo split votes for The Fighter.

Here are the six major categoriesthe full list can be found here.

Best Picture: “Black Swan,” ”The Fighter,” ”Inception,” ”The Kids Are All Right,” ”The King’s Speech,” ”127 Hours,” ”The Social Network,” ”Toy Story 3,” ”True Grit,” ”Winter’s Bone.”

Best Actor: Javier Bardem, “Biutiful”; Jeff Bridges, “True Grit”; Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”; Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”; James Franco, “127 Hours.”

Best Actress: Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right”; Nicole Kidman, “Rabbit Hole”; Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”; Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”; Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine.”

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, “The Fighter”; John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”; Jeremy Renner, “The Town”; Mark Ruffalo, “The Kids Are All Right”; Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech.”

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, “The Fighter”; Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”; Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”; Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”; Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom.”

Best Director: Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”; David O. Russell, “The Fighter”; Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”; David Fincher, “The Social Network”; Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, “True Grit.”

My immediate hunch picks are in red, but I’ll revisit this in more detail as we get closer to February 25th.

On the other side of the coin, there’s always Ashton Kutcher, Megan Fox, Twilight and the Sex In The City movie franchise, all proud nominees for this year’s Razzie Awards. (I link you to the Wikipedia listing because the Razzie site is loaded with pop-ups.) Like their nominations, their ceremony also usually occurs one day prior to the Academy Awards.

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