On the appropriately titled Hilarious, standup comedian Louis C.K. writes off much his bitterness as a side effect of growing old, but growing wiser seems to have much more to do with it. His disgust with the class of 2010 and their lack of a connection to the real world -- if it doesn’t plug into a USB port to charge, it’s worthless -- makes for the comedian’s richest set to date, and when he covers his recent divorce and the absurdity of reentering the dating world at 41, he elevates his material to a Pryor or Carlin level. Through it all he maintains his regular-guy status and all the accessibility that has made him the people’s comedian, but if any of that sounds like he’s given up the gross, check the climatic “My 3-Year-Old Is a 3-Year-Old” for a scatological tale of parenting that causes some in the audience to shriek with horror while most others erupt with laughter. These crude moments wouldn’t be so impactful if everything else wasn’t so smart and honest, and as Louis C.K. goes further down both ends of that spectrum, the results keep getting better and better.
David Jeffries, Rovi
A masterwork close to his beloved "Hot Pockets," the highlight of Mr. Universe is "McDonald's," since the "aw shucks" but terminally ticked comedian Jim Gaffigan finds his muse in the most high carb of places. It's a hilarious cut as the pale man strolls into the Golden Arches with the cocky attitude and drawl of Matthew McConaughey ("That's right folks, this is what a size 38 waist looks like. Read and weep, y'alllllllll"), but it's also the reason the world -- or at least Middle America -- needs Gaffigan as bad as it needs the annual return of the McRib sandwich. After professing his love for the fast-food chain, Gaffigan laughs "I love the silence that follows that statement, like I just admitted to support dog fighting or something...," and in spite of what Mom, the media, the entire medical field, and your very own stressed heart is telling you, that delicious tradition of having dinner handed through a window, and at rock-bottom prices, is lightheartedly blessed by the comedian. You can accuse the later "Domino's" of borrowing from Patton Oswalt's Taco Bell routine a bit, but "If my Dad loved me, why would he eat a pasta bread bowl?" is entirely Gaffigan's voice, and just because Patton first discovered that those fast-food pop-up specials are the favored forbidden fruit in a vanishing garden of Eden, that doesn't mean Gaffigan isn't closer to the situation. He sounds like it, and as bodybuilders devolve into Schwarzenegger-styled dolts while hotel rooms give up their riches of free shampoo, free robes, and free toothpaste, it's a pleasure to hear that none of this hack material comes off as such, thanks to Gaffigan's pacing, his full-on embrace of guilty pleasures, and his willingness to stumble through this cool world as an everyman anti-hipster. Business as usual, but if you've ever partied so hard that trans fats came out your pores, then this business is delicious.
David Jeffries, Rovi
For a comedy group that was born and raised in visual mediums -- web videos and the Saturday Night Live television show -- the Lonely Island are still way ahead of the curve when it comes to the comedy album format. Of course, music was at least half the reason links to their series of SNL Digital Shorts would dominate in-boxes every following Monday. The smart mimicry of teen pop ("Dick in a Box"), Euro-disco ("Jizz in My Pants"), or old-school rap ("Lazy Sunday") is half the attraction, and when you add the "aw shucks" look of on-camera Islander Andy Samberg, you can get away with a lot of shocking material. So many mentions of naughty bits would be tedious if Samberg and SNL writers Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone didn't have the brains to pull it off, and dealing with the differences between races seems much less dangerous when the trio show they're well-versed in the works of their hip-hop guests, E-40 and T-Pain. Their hiring of eccentric underground rap producer J-Zone shows their in tune with what's next and when white rasta wannabe "Ras Trent" complains of his "bomboclat parents" and declares he can make a chalice out of a Sprite can, the snarky commentary is made all the sweeter by a lyric that drops two deep reggae references: "Me night nurse never want to plant de corn." The track has also been updated so that a visual joke from the original SNL version is removed, and with all the interludes and new material, plus fake alternative album covers throughout the booklet, this isn't an afterthought but a fully committed comedy album. On top of that, it's a hilarious comedy album that's just as hip, inventive, and inappropriate as their digital shorts.
On Rodney Carrington's Morning Wood, a couple of the country comic's songs are included twice, in both live and studio versions. It seems to be a requirement of country comedians that they also sing humorous country songs, and Carrington thankfully has a good voice, although his topics are the usual ones. This time around, Carrington's attitude prevails, as he spins out his jokes and relies heavily on audience interaction.
William Ruhlmann, Rovi
On the way to his 2006 release, everyman stand-up Jim Gaffigan worked the late night and comedy club circuits hard, building a sizeable, loyal fanbase along the way. They don't overlap much with the David Cross crowd but they're just as willing to drag you to a show or email you an MP3 of his brilliant "Hot Pockets" routine. Beyond the Pale offers plenty of reasons this quirky but entirely approachable comedian packs them in. He's a crowd-pleaser first off, expanding his beloved "Hot Pockets" into an almost five-minute routine and using that doubtful, falsetto alter ego more than ever. This back-and-forth Gaffigan does with himself -- telling a joke and then mocking himself in the falsetto voice -- is a bit overused this time out and bringing that tired "nobody eats fruitcake" shtick into the 21st century is a bad idea. Otherwise the album satisfies with the comedian sounding more relaxed and in command of his ever-growing audience. Identifiable, domestic issues -- mostly concerning food -- lead up to his "Freebird," his "Stairway to Heaven," "Hot Pockets." Like Live/Dead had the quintessential performance of the Grateful Dead's "Dark Star," Beyond the Pale contains the quintessential "Hot Pockets," making previous versions obsolete. The most persuasive material for the Gaffigan doubters follows as religion gets a flippant and funny treatment while the falsetto crutch takes a break. Gaffifans can also grab the DVD of the same name for more material, more falsetto voice, while the casual Gaffigonian should start here.
David Jeffries, Rovi
While comedian/musician Bo Burnham came to fame via YouTube, his talent is much deeper than that might infer. Besides his advanced skills at the piano, he can play with words like few others, and refreshingly, he never panders to his audience, presenting himself as highly self-satisfied young stallion but with an innocent, Charlie Brown-esque underbelly. Spend five minutes listening to his material and he’s undeniably talented, but that doesn’t keep his Steven Wright-meets-George Carlin-meets-Ben Folds-meets-Eminem act from being an acquired taste. You’ve got to have a high tolerance for clever when Burnham starts his act with the joke “My ex-girlfriend had a really weird fetish; she used to like to dress up as herself and then act like a bitch all the time” and then launches into song with the truer-than-true lyrics “My show is a little bit silly, and a little bit pretentious/Like Shakespeare’s Willy, or Noam Chomsky wearing a strap-on.” Think that’s overly showy, and you’ll just puke when you learn he was only 20 at the time of this recording, but if you happen to enjoy the way Burnham turns from erudite to ignorant on a dime, then Words Words Words is the gift that keeps on giving. Things move fast in this act, giving the home listeners a distinct advantage over the audience captured here, who often seem to be laughing five seconds after the fact as they unravel the wordplay. If you still can’t decide if this offensive brainiac is for you, try one of his Shakespearian Sonnets (“And now my belly is yellow/My pole gives cause to storms and earthy quakes/But tis not massive, I am no Othello”), evil haikus (“Even if he is your friend/Never ever call an Asian person”), or hip-hop boasts (“If you’re lucky, I might just bring you home/And I’ll having you going down, like a girl with an extra chromosome”). Hilarious, plus you get the thrill of feeling smug and horrible at the very same time.
David Jeffries, Rovi