Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dana Carvey 2008 (or 2003, it's hard to tell)

Telling jokes isn't easy. Getting in front of a crowd of thousands of people with elevated expectations and a desire for an evening of mirth is difficult, mostly because you won't know what's going to play with these people. Can you tell genuinely insightful jokes about politics? How about religion? These subjects can be touchy, and Dana Carvey has decided that they don't have to be. In his 2008 HBO special Squatting Monkeys Tell No Lies, the title alone pretty much tells you everything you need to know-- this is a comic who has managed to find out which words people find amusing, and he isn't afraid to use them even if they don't belong there.

In a one-hour set which feels less like an edgy HBO comedy special and more like an audition tape for corporate gigs, Carvey gets to trot out a number of impressions which should be recognized by the bulk of people in the English speaking world. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Gore, John Travolta, they're all here. Putting one's heart and soul into a routine is what a lot of funny people aspire to do today, laying out one's peccadilloes and phobias for the world to see as the comedian pretty much disembowels him or herself in front of a live audience. The other option is to play it safe, which few do well, but with this special we have a guy who has mastered it. George W. Bush gags? Oh yes, they're here, and these funny voices are what pass for political satire in this special-- and oh, the applause! It's really amazing, but it does show that there aren't just two Americas in terms of economy, but also in humor. There's a joke about John Kerry looking like Herman Munster. The early 1990s were a time where stand up comedy was available on television-- cable or network-- constantly, and it was not particularly common to see people making Mondale or Dukakis jokes after the election season was over. People moved on, and found new material. Perhaps it had to do with the changing political administrations, or perhaps DuPont developed a new technology which allows you to keep jokes fresh in some new plastic container only available to comedians that play venues of 1,000 people or more.

For a set jam-packed with so many jokes, it's really quite stunning how safe Dana Carvey plays it. The political aspects celebrate the mundane, allowing the comic to engage the audience by letting them all feel like they're in on the joke by trotting out voices they're sure to recognize. The bulk of the references seem to be designed to be understandable by anyone presently in their 50s, and due to the kind of things you might know if you're 50, odds are most younger viewers will get the references but unless English is your second or third language, they probably won't appreciate numerous callbacks to the wacky political voices. OK, we got it. Thanks. Carvey infuses his political humor with all the subtlety and with you might expect from Elmo's dissertation on the letter "Q".

Much like the recently released Mike Meyers vehicle The Love Guru, this special seems to be aiming to capture the audience who was aware of SNL back in the 1990s, and may have even enjoyed a few bits, but isn't one of the people who would nitpick the show. In short, if you're the kind of person who might actually find this blog and read it, Squatting Monkeys Tell No Lies is the kind of special you probably won't enjoy all that much. If you're the kind of person who records a program just to check it out as you're a curious fellow, your attention span and immune system may well compell you to watch something else in the first 5 minutes.

Seeing the massive selection of what HBO has offered comedy fans over the years, this is on par with what you can expect. Some things appeal to a broad audience, which seems to be the opposite of where their niche programming seems to go. Robert Schimmel, David Cross, Robert Klein, and others have turned in specials which may not be things anybody could sit down and enjoy, but at the very least you can walk away knowing that someone (me) loved them. I don't think I can say the same thing about Pistachio Disguisey here. The comic earned a tremendous amount of good vibes from comedy fans during his stint in the trenches of sketch comedy, and it's hard to dislike the man. Hopefully he's making good money in corporate gigs, as the special makes a person yearn for something just a little bit better.

Additional Comments:
- There are comics who serve a specific niche. The Blue Collar crew, love them or hate them, has discovered their audience and plays to them. Dana Carvey is your man if you're 45-60 and generally unfamiliar with the material used for Tonight Show monologues over the past decade.
- Dana loves saying "Barack Hussein Obama," giving it a verbal emphasis I've only seen during the local news coverage of the West Virginia primaries. Mr. Obama is also the most timely of the references in the act-- and they're very brief.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger remains the goose that lays the golden eggs. "Hans & Franz", now "the Governator," proving once again that if you're looking to mine comic gold, look to bootleg shirts sold during a long-since-passed election.
- "Gay Al Gore" = "Lock box" plus a lisp. For an amusing joke of that nature, nothing can surpass the passing "Gaybraham Lincoln" gag on 30 Rock, which pretty much starts and stops with the mention of the name.
- Dick Cheney shot someone in the face? No shit! I must take this piece of information back to myself in the DeLorean so that I may capitalize on it before Dana Carvey, as surely no one else has come up with any material on this event.
- On Clinton: "Comedians will still be making fun of your horniness in the year 2008." Yes, but those who do tend to use current events, you see.
- Classic rock jokes. Let's throw the baby boomers a bone here, as nobody old enough to remember the music of the 1970s when it's new would be comfortable with a reference that takes place after the Carter administration.

What's Next:
Mr. Carvey will be performing live in San Diego on July 30, and has shows in Livermore, CA and Saratoga, CA on August 20 and 21, respectively. Tickets start at $65.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Take Offs and Put Ons

Take Offs and Put Ons
George Carlin
Originally published on LP by RCA Victor 1967
Published on CD by One Way Records in 1997

George Carlin died earlier this week at age 71, and so I felt it would be good to take a look at his first solo album Take Offs and Put Ons, first released in 1967. This album has absolutely nothing offensive in it, no political commentary, no deep satire, no denouncement of religion just a bunch of various character performances for only 37 minutes.

It's kinda like opening a box of Cracker Jacks and finding not only that there is no prize inside, but no Cracker Jacks. Just a sheet of paper that reads "Sugar is Bad For You."

How to explain this travesty? It wasn't inexperience - Carlin had been a successful comedian for nearly a decade at this point, appearing on Ed Sullivan and headlining in Vegas.

Well, for the early part of his career George Carlin aimed to be a successful, a mainstream comic like the mainstream comics of his day, Danny Kaye or Bob Hope. He did this despite being mainstream and conformist was completely in conflict with himself, which was not conformist and anti-authority.

As expected, this created a conflict that he wrestled with for many years. Finally, as the end of the 60's approached, in a difficult decision that must have amounted to "Fuck the consequences to my career, I'm going to be myself!" Carlin changed the way he did comedy.

Carlin embraced the counter-culture that was around him, grew his hair long and started changing his act. As expected, he lost jobs at a lot of the mainstream places he was performing at. He got fired from a job in Vegas for swearing. He moved from there to small, out of the way venues. There was suspicion from the audience at those venues that the change wasn't genuine, that he was trying to go after the "Hippie Dollar."

This is understandable. It is not unlike Robin Williams saying "Everything I've done up to now is crap," then completely changing his act to low-energy one liners, dressing in black and performing at small coffee houses under the name "Rob Will." The cynicism was justifiable strong.

Yet, Carlin proved his genuine conversion from mainstream comic to...George Carlin. He went and started to swear in his act, and talk about why we swear. He did material that investigated words and language. He did material that questioned the government. He did material that questioned God. He opened up and talked about what he liked and disliked. The comic timing, the delivery was the same, but the material was not.

As an example of the transformation, Take Offs and Put Ons was re-released on LP in 1972 with a different cover than the LP release in in 1967.

The cover of Take Offs and Put Ons from 1967 has Carlin making goofy faces, but wearing a very neat haircut and a suit and tie. A suit and tie of all things!

See the difference from the 1972 reissue?

Of course, the follow up albums to Take Offs and Put Ons were the fantastic FM & AM, Occupation: Foole, and Class Clown, all of which are works of genius. No, they really are, and unlike Take Offs and Put Ons, still in print. You can even get them in a collection called Classic Gold, which is just all three of those albums together in one neat package. If you haven't listened to any of those albums, GO OUT AND LISTEN TO THEM. They are truly fantastic. Then, after you've done that, go and listen to Take Offs and Put Ons. You'll see the stark difference. It's like night and sitting on the sun.

It's interesting to think that George Carlin might have not made this choice, that he would have made the safe choice and been the same mainstream comic for his entire career. Doubtful he would be remembered with the same admiration and praise he is remembered for today. He would have been another bland comic in a long line of bland comics. Fortunately for us, he didn't do that. He embraced himself. He became the person he was offstage as he was on, and we all benefited.

So, we should all be thankfuls that George Carlin was George Carlin for so long. He'll be hugely missed.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Notes on listening to a Dane Cook album in its entirety for the first time

Often times, when talking to comedians that I know or don't know, I will find them saying:

"Doesn't Dane Cook suck?"

Or some variation thereof. Dane Cook has become the current default person to go to to define "terrible comedian." However, in asking people who make the comment that Dane Cook sucks, if they had listened to one of his albums, they usually say "no," or "Why the hell would I do that?"

It got me to thinking that I myself I had not listened to one of his albums in it's entirety, only listening to one routine here and there. I hadn't liked what I little I had heard, but I decided that I would listen to an entire album by Dane Cook and see exactly how much Dane Cook sucked, or see if perhaps, my hatred of Dane Cook was unjustified, black was white, and dogs were imaginary.

I asked one of the few friends of mine who likes Dane Cook what album I should listen to to get a proper sampling of his work. He told me that all of his albums were equally "Dane Cook-y" so I decided to go with his first album, Harmful if Swallowed.

I was going to write a standard review of the album, but after listening to the album, I thought it would be more---informative to simply post the notes I took as I listened to the album for the first time.

So, here they are:

Trepidation at starting.
"Harmful if Swallowed" - title suggests Dane Cook is poison.


Track 1: Intro

Wonder if applause is all women. Sounds like.
Cook asks audience to applaud for retarded crap.

Track 2: Parking Structure

Cook starts talking about parking structure. Makes horrific sound like the screaming of lost souls as a reference to the squealing sound a car makes moving around a parking structure. Keeps making sound. Have to turn volume down. Asks people to applaud the joke. Starts to do the joke again.

Track 3: Umm, Hellllo?

Talks about driving and a man about to merge into his lane. Shouting.
Makes derogatory statement about Chinese with screaming of lost souls.

Dane Cook laughs like Butthead of "Beavis and Butthead" fame.

Nobody has a pen when you get into an accident according to Cook. Proceeds to make annoying act out about people not having pens and panicking like nobody ever does. Makes the comment that people who write out information when exchanging information cannot write legibly.

Apparently Dane Cook thinks everyone tends to shout everything and repeat it over and over again.

Track 4: Car Accident

Listening to Dane Cook is starting to make me think retarded.

Makes acceptable observation that people are obsessed with car accidents and will hope to hear a crash when hearing tires screech. People will run out of their houses without shoes to see an accident. Only chuckle thus far.

Track 5: Tire in the Face

Title of track "Tire in the Face" is what Dane Cook keeps repeating.

Talks about car accident on TV.
Makes Highlander reference.
Makes comment that saying someone was killed by a tire in the face would be a hilarious thing to say. Not hilarious.

Track 6: Would You Rather...
Tracks seem to be very short. Oh, here's one that's six minutes.

Talks about punching bees in the face. Cook wonders how bees could possibly kill people. Wonders why sharks attack at all. Dane Cook does not understand nature.

Dane Cook = dumb

Talks about man surviving shark attack. Whole topic seems to be an excuse for Dane Cook to shout and make noises.

Cook talks about drowning. I want Dane Cook to drown.

Scenarios he describes do not happen in reality - only in sitcoms.

Makes comment about being burned by hot pots. Three stooges?

Puts forth the the scenario "What if someone lit a pool on fire while you dove underwater and then left a space open where if you surface a fat man punches you in the face."

Dane Cook stop yelling, you have a microphone and speakers.

Track 7: Fireman & Policeman & Miniature Golf Security Guard

Talks about cops shooting guy for eating a pear that they thought was a grenade.
I would like Dane Cook to eat a grenade.

Track 8: The BK Lounge

Dane Cook worked at Burger King and called it the "BK Lounge." Should still be working there.

Talks about how annoying it was to have people yell into the drive-through microphone when he was working the window. Fucking irony. Uses story to shout into the microphone.

16 more tracks. I think I hate Dane Cook even more now.

Dane Cook doing sultry, sexy woman voice is fucking horrifying.

Tells story about woman not knowing where to go in a drive through. Hrn?

Track 9: Pregnant Lady

Cook talks to pregnant woman in the audience. Asks if she still fucks. Cook talks about how he started jerking off in the womb.


Audience thinks this is funny? What???

Track 10: Five Sisters

Cook informs us he had five sisters.

Cook tends to do act-outs where any issue turns into an excuse for him to be
really loud.

Track 11: Slip 'n' Bleed

Recalls how if there was rocks under a "Slip and Slide" he would call it "Slip and Bleed" adding "From the anus." I always slid belly down. Maybe Dane Cook just wanted to say "from the anus?" MAYBE

Track 12: Speak 'n' Spell

Most tracks are less than two minutes. Good. Maybe Dane Cook fan would feel ripped off at this. Then again maybe attention span of Dane Cook fan is short. Don't know.

He does this impression of a Speak and Spell with screaming and distorted voice that
sounds like the world ending. Speak and Spell did have a distorted voice, but not a horrifying loud voice.

Track 13: Operation - Monopoly

Mentions the guy in the game "Operation" had no visible penis and how he must tuck it in.

Who are the morons in the audience?


Dane cook talks about tucking his own penis in to fool his girlfriend, who surprises him with revealing her own penis.


Makes observation that everyone gets sick after Monopoly after a while of playing it. That's true. Can't get penis tucking image out of head.

Track 14: Don't Tickle Me

Cook talks about tickling and how it leads to not breathing and screaming and I want him to die.

Track 15: Bathroom
Making note of how people write "Mike is a Faggot" whenever someone writes "Mike was here" or someone else of a similar name.

Track 16: Pranks
Cook describing practical jokes to do. Shit.

Talks about "joke" of standing close to people in airports and telling them "not to get on the flight." How is that clever? How is that not just being a dick?

Another "joke" - pretend to be a bank robber in line. Ask person in line ahead "how do you spell 'I'm going to fucking kill you?'" While writing note. Want Dane Cook to be sent to Federal Prison.

Suggests "joke" of telling woman in a bar "Are you going to walk by yourself to your car later?" Women in audience laugh and don't leave immediately? Maybe all these would be funny in some alternate dimension?

Track 17:Fuk and the Finga
Dane Cook talks about the sound of the word 'Fuck' similar to a George Carlin routine I heard once, except Carlin was articulate. Cook goes on to say the word Fuck over and over.

I dub him Retard King.

Track 18: Just Wanna Dance

Cook about how guys go dancing only because women like to dance. Grinding penis on women. Lots of women in audience still. Oh so many women want to fuck Dane Cook. Those poor women.

Talks about music at club being too loud. Proceeds to act-out the music really loud. I feel like someone needs to give Dane Cook a juicebox, cookie, and nap-time.

I hate Dane Cook.

Suggests name of bar of "T.G.I. Lick My Pussy."

Please destroy world.

Track 19:Head
Track about wanting blowjobs.


Cook talks about having sex.

I might have a stroke.

Not even going to make a note of what he was talking about.

Him and Ashton Kutcher should do a buddy movie in which they attempt to solve people's problems by being fucking morons and die in a trash compactor.

Track 20: Nightmare

Track about nightmares. Dane Cook's nightmares.

Dane Cook has nightmare of being chased by a giant crab all night. Makes observation about nightmares - you can't run from things in nightmares as you run really slow and the monster moves fast. No shit.

Dane Cook makes the sound of pages being flipped and manages to make it annoying.

Track 21: Hopped up on the Q

Everything is this loud incident. Obnoxious. Have I written loud enough in my notes?

Cook talks about snorting Quik. Explains a lot.

Observation: King of Frats? Dane Cook worshiped by frat boys as their God? I'm thinking yes.

Track 22: Not so Kool-Aid

Cook comment about how the Kool-Aid man must have debris in his head when he bashes through buildings. Mental image of that makes me laugh. Only real laugh thus far.

Rest of premise is about how Kool-Aid man hurtling through walls is not socially acceptable. Really?

Track 23: Pick a Number Please!

Talks about paper fortune tellers that little girls make. This is a closer? End.

Wait, actually a minute plus of just people clapping? Was that left on there to show you how
awesome Dane Cook was? No, seriously, who the fuck puts a minute of applause in?

Track 24: Bonus Track!

Oh shit, a bonus track that is the longest track in the fucking album. Just when I though my nightmare was over. Cook talks about how he was hours late for a job at a video store when he was 19 after he made manager. Story might have been good in someone else's hands. Talks about urge to shit on chest of boss to make his future reference seem better? How is it that Dane Cook has the career he has? How the fuck did this happen?

Finally over.

Want Dane Cook to die in an accident in which my hands accidentally find my way around his neck.

How the fuck does he sell out Madison Square Garden? DIE! FUCK FUCKRRRRGGGGHHH

Conclusion: I not only now feel completely justified in my hatred of Dane Cook, but I feel that I am not hating him enough. The fact that he exists and continues to sell albums at record-setting paces is an abomination against all that is good in the universe.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Areas of My Expertise (Audiobook)

The Areas of My Expertise (audiobook)
Released: 2006
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Obtained through: John Hodgman - The Areas of My Expertise - The Areas of My Expertise

Would you like an Audiobook in which 700 hobo names are read to you aloud? Then this might be for you. Wait, that's not all to this. Maybe that's misleading. Let me continue.

This is an audiobook of a book written by John Hodgman. Hodgman is known from his appearances on the Daily Show, NPR and "That PC Guy" from the Get a Mac Apple commercials. He also wrote a book, called The Areas of My Expertise, a bestselling book, now available at bargain prices almost everywhere.

Now, if you liked that now-inexpensive book then you will like the reasonably-priced audiobook even more. First, it's got John Hodgman reading most of the book, and his deadpan comic delivery adds a lot to the material, making it much funnier if you had read it yourself. More nasal.

Second, it's got John Coulton as straight man musical accompaniment on acoustic guitar. Nerds may know him as the guy who wrote that Portal song. Coulton's talents provide meat to sections, such as the section about the fifty states. In that, Hodgman reads factually inaccurate pieces about each state, and asks Coulton to play the song for each state, which is also inaccurate.

For example, the lyrics for the state song of Arizona:

"Airy Arizona, very airy, there's lots of air in Arizona."

There are many more examples of fine musical accompaniment, such as a Dungeons and Dragons theme, background music for the section about the Hobo wars, and a theme song for the entire audiobook itself.

The overall production of this audiobook is good. It's got the aforementioned reading of 700 hobo names which comes through your audio device as if it is being picked up on a ham radio and the information being relayed to you is coming to you from some pirate radio network. There's the descriptions of various snowballs read by Hodgman, presented with a dulcimer bells and the chorals of children playing behind him, making even snowballs called "The Gouger" come across as whimsical holiday fun.

I personally like the "Top Spots For Crabs" section, presented as if is if from a television food program. Here Hodgman gives an overly-enthused description of various fictional crab restaurants with upbeat guitar background music.

For those who have read the physical book itself, material in the audiobook covers a great portion of it, running at just about seven hours in length. The material ranges from the description of common short and long cons, to the tour of the Mall of America, to the reading of many charts.

I would recommend doing what you should do with most audiobooks and purchase them through digital methods rather than shifting around a pile of CDs, fumbling through them while driving cross-country, accidentally plowing into a cow outside of Redmond, Washington.

It's well worth the purchase.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Stand-Up Comedy of Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV is the record-annihilating bestselling video game for the XBOX 360 and Playstation 3. In it, you can run over pedestrians with an ice-cream truck, throw grenades into Internet cafes, and watch stand-up comedy.

This is what this article will focus on - the stand up comedy. The least interesting of the above choices. Sure, there's been games with comedians in them, like Gallagher's Gallery, (which was neither stand-up or comedy) but I do not think there has ever been a game with stand-up comedy in it. My, the advancement of gaming technology. Revel in it. Revel.

So, let us examine the stand-up. You have comedy from the likes of Kat Williams to Ricky Gervais. Actually, just Kat Williams and Ricky Gervais. Not too many choices there, but a good range of demographic is covered, from pimp lover to comedy nerd. Perhaps in the future incarnations of the game one can see the likes of Maria Bamford and David Cross. Or more likely, charged ten dollars to download them into the game.

The stand-up comedy is performed at a comedy-club stereotype, the "Split Sides" comedy club. The outside of the club is pictured above. You can either go to the club itself in the game or occasionally catch the acts on television...also in-game.

I think this is the first video game in which which you can sit down at your television, playing a video game in which you are watching television. The mind reels.

When you are at the comedy club itself (in the game) one thing of note is that you can't actually interact with the club or the comics. You go to the club, and basically you are treated to a non-interactive cutscene rendered in the game engine.

This is a bit of a disappointment. Not that I would like to shoot Ricky Gervais or Kat Williams and hit them with a car in real life, but GTA IV is all about doing stuff in the game world you would never do in the real world, so it feels like you are getting cheated that you can't just walk in and blast a comic with a shotgun mid-act. Or blast an annoying audience member. Or set the bar on fire.

Perhaps there was an agreement with the comics that they would only appear in the game as long as you couldn't kill them. For that I say: give the comics guns. Does anyone not want to play a video game in which you can get into a gun battle with Ricky Gervais? I submit this question to you.

Okay, well, let us put hypotheticals aside and go to the presentation as is. You go to the club, the cutscene begins, and the comic comes out and does about ten minutes of stand up. Occasionally the camera cuts back to you, Nico, sitting at your table stone-faced. That part is actually amusing. The audience, being that it's essentially computer-animated canned-laughter does what canned laughter does and laughs like people have never laughed ever in recorded history.

Also, obviously a lot of work was done with motion capture to make the comedians move in a way that represents the actual comedian's movements themselves, but they still don't look quite right in the game engine. For example Kat Williams does a bit about listening to a song about "Hustling" and how that might make him move in places like, the supermarket. So he moves but it's like looking at a well-done marionette.

Ricky Gervais I have not seen do stand-up ever and after watching him do stand-up in game I still don't think I've done stand up. He's done brilliant work writing and performing in The Office and Extras, but here, just doing straight stand-up it is just weird. Especially with the LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE coming from the NOT REALLY AN AUDIENCE in reaction to his very dry humor. For instance, he talks about how he talks about how he was incensed that a cancer patient he was doing a benefit show for was still around years later. ENORMOUS LAUGHTER. Yeah.

Kat Williams is presented as the "local" so he mentions living in the city. Since the city is a facsimile of New York, one of his bits is about living in a studio apartment and how hard it is to move around. Again, the marionette factor kicks in with a bit like this, where you are distracted by the fake Kat Williams moving around in the game engine, trying to demonstrate how small his apartment is and not actually enjoying the physical comedy. It's unfortunate that a lot of his stand-up bits are physical in this sense.

Overall, the stand-up is a nice bonus feature to an already very fun game. It's a little odd in it's implementation, but then again, it's a bonus. You can always go back to killing hookers with shotguns at any time.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Downloadable Content

Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins at San Diego Comic-Con 2004

Downloadable Content
is a sporadically-posted Podcast that documents the creative writing process between Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, the driving duo force behind Penny Arcade.

I would like to say that if you like Penny Arcade you will like this podcast, but that is not accurate. I think it's more accurate that if you like video games and have friends who like to discuss video games at length, and wish everyone was funnier, then you will enjoy this podcast.

A lot of this podcast centers around Mike and Jerry writing their comic. They put a lot of care into the writing; they take the whole thing seriously. They discuss whether they've used jokes too many times, how to make what they've written better, what to cut out, what not to cut out. They don't stop working on the writing until they are satisfied that what they have written is the best they can do. Interesting stuff.

The rest of the podcast often centers around (shock) video games. The podcasts come out sporadically, so naturally the more recent ones have more relevant content. Since the podcasts go back to 2006, you may find them talking about things such as "I don't think the Playstation 3 is going to come out in November" and "I don't know what they are thinking with the name 'Wii.'"

Beyond the comic-creating process and video games one gets to listen in to Mike and Jerry discuss such things as personal ideosyncracies, such as how Mike will stab through the candies a See's candy box with a knife in order to find the few candies that he enjoys and then throws out the rest, which he says is around "Ninety percent."

You can also hear about Jerry and how, when he was in a band, he had to be on the same bill as a band named "Anal Cunt." Thus followed a long discussion as to why the band had picked that name and how they must have trouble selling t-shirts. Stories like these are pure entertainment.

So download the podcast and enjoy.
If it is the sort of thing you like.