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
Planned, recorded, and almost entirely executed before the comedian's illness and untimely passing in late 2011, Mr. P is Patrice O'Neal's debut album, definitive work, and bittersweet triumph, all at once. Save this document and a handful of television specials, little is available from this "comedian's comedian," as much of his work was for broadcast-and-gone radio, specifically for the "Opie and Anthony" show on satellite, where every Patrice episode was a side-splitting, cherished episode. Here, on this DC Improv gig recording, you get a taste of the easy, conversational, yet highly confrontational comedian's style and how his loyal radio fans couldn't wait for the whole "is that your girlfriend?" routine to escalate into the ultimate dogging of an audience. That happens right off the bat during the excellent "Intro," a casual track that runs over six minutes, because Patrice is just as good off the cuff as he is with a more standard, planned routine. Here, that standard part covers "TSA," the "Race War," and the whole "White Women Are Pleasant" versus "Black Women Get You Refunds" issue, and if that looks like the kind of clichéd routine that Chris Rock loves to skewer, Patrice is old school, although never to a vault. He's of a charming vintage, despite some racial stereotypes aftertaste and the brash "I Like Hoes" finish, and considering how rare his output, Mr. P is an easy recommendation for anyone who likes comedy that's audience-badgering and entirely bold. R.I.P. Mr. P.
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.
Take the rapid wit of Dane Cook and trade his hyper-cockiness for dry wickedness and you've got Daniel Tosh, which is by all means a compliment. Tosh matches Cook's ability to spit wry crassness, but he's more absurd and complex. Much of his material hits two to three seconds after the fact, partly because it takes awhile to unravel and partly because of the "I can't believe he just said that" factor. The title True Stories I Made Up is the least witty thing about this package, but it references a core routine, "Fictitious Disorder," that will one day be thought of as trademark Tosh. The comedian explains how living in denial is easier than reality on the track, and goes off on a long series of made-up stories that connect. It's the brilliant, standup equivalent of a Rube Goldberg machine, but Tosh's less obtuse, blunter, edgier, and crueler side is just as funny. Suggesting athletes should be pumped with steroids because he has a high-def TV and wants his sports like his video games ("Who cares if you die at 40, you hate life after sports anyway. I'm doing you a favor") or drawing comparisons between the Abu Ghraib prison and the world of baby photographer Anne Geddes is sick and downright startling when delivered so casually by the comedian. In a lot of ways he juggles and alienates the audience in an Andy Kaufman style but without breaking the rules of standup. It's exciting and subversive and you only need to gauge the audience reaction captured on the disc to see how effective it is. At first they are quiet, probably creeped out, but by the end of the disc they're guffawing. The bonus DVD from his 2002 Comedy Central special is less interesting, either because Tosh hasn't matured his act to the sharpness of the audio portion or because the network's censors shaved off the more risky and rewarding material. It's a letdown, but the audio portion of the set is one sick, twisted, and hilarious stunner of a debut.
A gonzo country comedian in the not-so-grand tradition of Cledus T. Judd, Rodney Carrington delivers a Molotov cocktail of stand-up and satirical songs on his major-label debut, Hangin' with Rodney. While the stand-up material, recorded live in a variety of clubs, is certainly outrageous, listeners will get an even bigger kick out of musical performances like "Dancing with a Man," "Letter to My Penis" and "Fred." Fun-nee!
Chuck Donkers, Rovi
As anyone who witnessed their legendary shorts on HBO will attest, Tenacious D is indeed the greatest band on earth. Bad D is still better than the Beatles and good D is transcendent. Even so, Tenacious D's debut album will likely kick fans on their asses because the D is no longer just about JB and KG. They're even ready to be more than a power trio -- they're ready to be backed by a full band, complete with Dave Grohl on drums and the Dust Brothers behind the boards. After years of hearing them as an acoustic heavy metal duo, that's a real shock, but they've also overhauled their repertoire, reworking and retitling several songs and leaving many tunes behind. Most regrettably, there is no "History of Tenacious D," even if it is quoted in the liner notes, but there's also no "Rocketsauce," no "Kyle Took a Bullet for Me," no "Sasquatch," no "Cosmic Shame," no "Special Things," and no "Jesus Ranch." "You Broke the Rules" becomes "Karate," "Song of Exultant Joy" is "Kyle Quit the Band," "Sex Supreme" becomes "Double Team," "The Best Song in the World" becomes "Tribute," lacking many of the "Stairway to Heaven" allusions in this version, and so on and so forth (elements of their opening theme are incorporated into "Kielbasa," thankfully). Furthermore, the dynamic has shifted drastically because the group no longer sounds like maniacal misfits who've conquered the worlds in their own minds playing to an audience who just hasn't caught up yet. Here, they sound like victors who've had their delusions of grandeur come real (which is true when you think about it -- those shorts might not have done much on HBO, but videotapes passed through a lot of hands on the underground video railroad). This is a bigger change than you might think, and while the acoustic D sounds better, weirder, and purer, this still is a hell of a record, particularly because it rocks so damn hard. The worst thing about it are the sketches, which may be funny, but not nearly as funny as the plots that tied the shows together (nothing as funny as asides from the show, like "circle church," either) or the live routines; they tend to distract from the music. And the music is indeed what matters, since no matter how silly and gleefully profane this can be, Tenacious D rules because the music is terrific. The tunes have hooks, Kage and Jables harmonize well, and the cheerfully demented worldview is intoxicating, since their self-belief and self-referential world is delightfully absurd and warm (think about it -- the sex songs may be vulgar and may be about their prowess, but their prowess is about making those backstage Betties feel good). Sure, some listeners may chuckle because this all comes from two large, cute, 30-something slackers, but they're missing the inspirado behind this record -- Tenacious D certainly know they're funny, but that doesn't erase the fact that they rock so hard. They came to kick your ass and rock your socks off, and that is a very special thing.
Dan Cummins' third album of new material finds the acerbic comedian chronicling his many, many annoyances. For Hear This! he deadpans his way through observational humor furiously fast, with razor-sharp delivery. While it's hard to defend a man who wishes death upon the smoothie guy and admits that it's sometimes difficult to resist the urge to kick toddlers, this Portland set at the Helium Comedy Club shows Cummins tightening his craft of being a venomous smart-ass, and builds on the strengths of his debut Comedy Central album. When he dissects the events of his day-to-day, he takes on Dane Cook's hyperactive way of breaking down every detail, and Bill Burr's rage for anybody bothersome. Sometimes his hatred is so uncontrollable that it worries him. He understands that he shouldn't be mad at someone for merely smoking a pipe (too showy), but he just can't help himself. He singles out hipsters in particular: "Hells Angels motorcycle club vest, over the My Little Pony T-shirt, plaid pajama pants, Italian leather yachting shoes...You know what would really top off that ensemble? You bouncing off the windshield of a truck." He calms a bit toward the end of the set, when he goes into parenting. The title track of the CD comes from his son, who opens with a disarming "Hear this!" before proclaiming "Hear this! Tiny people can't eat tiny ants" and "Hear this! I sure hope when I grow up I can be a dwarf; that way I can still crawl through logs." Cummins' bafflement about this prophet-like six-year-old and his thuggish baby sister is hilarious and a nice break from all the mean-spirited jabs at his frustrations, as funny as they often are.
Jason Lymangrover, 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