Friday, August 22, 2008

Lewis Black: Anticipation

Published in August 2008 by Comedy Central records
Available at Amazon or through Lewis Black - Anticipation

Coming off his 2006 album The Carnegie Hall Performance, Lewis Black's latest album simplifies things.

This album is a lot less topical than previous albums, no long rants about Rick Santorum or the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime show. Instead there are more general topics like Christmas, golfers, and a guy almost getting his penis bitten off while making blueberry pancakes.

Yes, indeed, that. I won't ruin that family-oriented bit (that I'm sure you are already fascinated to hear about) with further specifics other than it is a true story from a newspaper.

I think the move to make it less topical helps the longevity of the humor as, really, going back and hearing bits about Janet Jackson's nipple slip just is not as funny now as it was then. "Then" being 2004. In fact, even then, you were sick of hearing about anything to do with it.

Interesting to note is that Lewis Black uses the title, Anticipation, as a theme throughout. Every comedy bit on this album ties into it. For instance, the anticipation one gets to lose their virginity, or the anticipation one gets at Christmas, or the lack of anticipation one has for Chanukah vs. Christmas growing up Jewish as he did.

As he puts it:

On every Christmas day as a youth, I would go and see my friends, my Christian friends, and see what they had got, and under the tree was everything I dreamed of having...and that's when I learned for the first time what the biblical word covet meant, it means, "I WANT ALL YOUR SHIT NOW!!!" And then I went next door to celebrate Chanukah and that's when I first understood what the word depression meant. "Oh boy, a pen and pencil set. How lucky for me that I have two eyes."

This album comes with nothing extra, just a cardboard cover and the CD, no extra video content or special insert and runs at just under an hour in length. You aren't missing out on anything if you download this digitally unless of course you are a fan and a completest and want the albums sitting on your shelf, perhaps next to your first editions of Moby Dick and Wuthering Heights, or more likely Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. Which is fine. If you are a fan of Lewis Black's previous albums, you'll be a fan of this one too.

Back cover:


Monday, August 18, 2008

Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People - Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner

For Wii and PC
Released in August 2008 by Telltale Games and Videlelectrix.

Do you happen to remember the point-and-click style of adventure game with a comedy theme? You know, like Space Quest? No?

Well, okay, Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People is like one of those games you don't remember. This is Episode 1 of 5, and this game is $10, so in the end you will be paying something like $50 for a complete game. Thus it is in this age of buying games in pieces.

It helps if you happen to like Homestar Runner cartoons in order to like this game. You know, Homestar Runner, the cartoon that was wildly popular five years ago, now is merely just popular? Well, if the clean, pop-culture referencin' humor of the cartoons doesn't entertain you, then you will probably get no enjoyment out of this game.

This is an adventure game in which you play Strong Bad, with the objective of trying to ruin Homestar Runner's life as the title of this episode suggests. To do this you wander around the locales present in the Homestar Runner cartoon - Strong Bad's House, Bub's Concession Stand, Strongbadia, and so on, pointing and clicking your way through puzzles and through random non-puzzle related stuff, which almost always comes with some sort of joke to it.

Like, clicking on the Cheat gets you to say "Hey, look over there!" Then, of course, when the Cheat turns to look, you throw him in the dryer.

There are also little side-games to play too, like one can turn on the Atari-like console, and play "Snake Boxer" where you control an 8-bit boxer trying to fight snakes with his fists in a ring. There's also the ability to make your own "Teen Girl Squad" cartoons, which has the premise of you trying to make a cartoon in which all the Teens get horribly killed before the cartoon is over. You can also, at any time, take a screenshot using an interface that looks like you are using an early-model digital camera, then use Strong Bad's computer to e-mail the screenshot to your Wii friends.

As far as the concept of the game, it's nothing groundbreaking. However, the writing, done by the Brothers Chaps, who write the Homestar Runner Cartoons, makes this game entertaining. You go through the tutorial and you are treated to Strong Bad explaining how to use the simple controls for talking, using inventory, etc, except everyone in the tutorial is aware it is a tutorial. Like Strong Sad says "I told you that I didn't want to be in your tutorial, Strong Bad!" Then is forced to reading his "lines" for the tutorial, which he does in a very unenthusiastic way.

This Episode isn't that long, taking you about seven hours to complete if you just play through and don't click on random stuff or play any side games. Again, if you like the Homestar Runner cartoons, then you will probably want to play this game. Keep in mind that like most comedy related adventure games, there's not much replay value the second time through as you have heard all the jokes. It's up to you if you want to spend $10 on it now, or wait a few months to get all the episodes together for $50 as they will inevitably come together in one standard release.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Steve Martin Brothers

The Steve Martin Brothers
Published on CD in 2006 by Wounded Bird Records
Originally published on LP in 1981 by Warner Bros.

"Well good evening, motherfuckers. You probably think of me as the happy-go lucky 'Wild And Crazy Guy' you see on TV---that's a lot of fuckin' bullshit. I just do that to earn a living. This is the real me, so fuck you."

That's from the intro to the second track from Steve Martin on this album. It seems to exemplify this release, being that:

It is Steve Martin's last comedy album.
It is just over thirty minutes in length.
It contains very little comedy, some of it written by Jack Handey of Saturday Night Live and performed by Steve Martin.
Over half the album is banjo music.

An interview with The Banjo Newsletter indicates how old the banjo music was, and Steve Martin's own opinion of the album:

Banjo Newsletter: (The Steve Martin Brothers) came out in '81, so these cuts were already 10 years old at the time, right?

SM: Yeah. By that time I was out of comedy material. I needed to put something on the record. I think I had a contract to come up with another record. I really didn't have [enough material for] one; I'd sort of moved on from standup at that point.

This album was not even published by Warner Music on CD, as was the past few Steve Martin Albums: Let's Get Small, A Wild and Crazy Guy, and Comedy is Not Pretty. This CD was licensed from Warner Music by Wounded Bird Records, which typically shuttles out re-issues of lesser known albums from artists. So, Warner Bros. didn't even want to re-issue their very own Steve Martin album. That should tell you something.

It should also tell you something that the banjo music is the more entertaining part of this album. In fact the banjo music was the entire B side of the LP, as indicated by the dual nature of martin on the cover.

As to be expected from banjo music, it has a lot of nice, upbeat tunes, some of which with musical accompaniment by flute and fiddle. It really showcases Martin's skill as a musician which is often overlooked as nowadays as he does Cheaper by the Dozen 27: Cheap Harder.

That last part segues nicely into the downside of this album, the poor jokes. The two comedy tracks on this album, creatively labeled "Cocktail Show, Vegas" and "Comedy Store, Hollywood" are obviously thrown on there with all the care of a Starbuck's worker on their third consecutive shift in five days being asked to brew an espresso at exactly 279 degrees.

The Comedy Store routines are slightly better than the Cocktail Show routines, which actually ends with Steve Martin pointing out Carl Reiner and Eddie Fisher in the audience. All of which you can't see. Perhaps it's an existentialist joke, or perhaps, as said before, Martin just didn't care at this point. You get that sense throughout the entire series of comedy bits. The jokes fall flat, the enthusiasm is faked. It's obviously still Steve Martin, but it's Steve Martin tired of stand up.

Overall, I would say get this if you are a Steve Martin fan and really want the complete set of albums or haven't heard enough of his banjo music. Which, again, is quite good.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Lewis Black's Root of All Evil

Lewis Black's Root Of All Evil
Available on Comedy Central and Lewis Black's Root of All Evil

Take Lewis Black. Make him a judge. Then take two comedians and make them lawyers. Have the two of them argue over which is more evil in something that isn't really a trial. Sounds like a hilarious show, right? RIGHT??

The format is thus: Lewis Black is the judge. One comic makes an argument for one thing being the Root of All Evil, and another comic makes an argument for another thing. Say like, Patton Oswalt argues that bloggers are the Root of All Evil, and Andy Daly makes an argument that Ultimate Fighting is the Root of All Evil. This goes on for a while, to where the comics put forth a hypothetical monologue as to what will happen if their evil thing is allowed to continue. Then they give their closing arguments and Lewis Black decides which is more evil.

Essentially, it's a bunch of different ideas shoved together in a formula, which makes it broken.

So you have stand-ups doing material on a set subject. Okay, they've got some talented comics so that should be fine, but then you have them present the material as lawyers. This is kind of like going up to a gourmet chef and saying "hey, I know you are a gourmet chef, but could you do your cooking as if you were a gay pirate?" In essence, it takes people who are good at something and has them try to force it into a bad idea.

Then there is the concept of comparing two things and deciding which is the more evil. This is interesting, but it's done in a way that isn't interesting. It would be interesting if this was an actual jury of ordinary people giving their actual opinions as to what is more evil. That would be full of suprise and insight. This is just again, comics doing stand-up material on a set subject crammed up the ass of a bad idea.

I kinda wish that this has been more of a "This Week" format. You know, where comics sat around and had a round table discussion about what subjects considered evil. That would have provided a more open format for comedy and not seemed so forced. Also, it would have made a trifecta of news show satire. You would have the Daily Show for fake news, the Colbert Report for fake Fox news, and Root of All Evil for fake NPR-like discussion.

Ah well, I'm not the programming director of Comedy Central. If I was, then Mind of Mencia would be about cutting open Carlos Mencia's skull to see what brain processes make him suck so bad and develop gene therapies to prevent that in future comedians.

I want to like this show as it is. I really do, because I like the people in it. I like Lewis Black, and I like Andy Daly, Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins....and the others, but this format really doesn't work at all. It's kind of sad, like watching Eddie Murphy's career since 1991, except so much more so.

Expect Root of All Evil to run for five more seasons on Comedy Central.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Patton Oswalt 222

Patton Oswalt 222
Released in 2004 by United Musicians

This album is essentially the unedited recording of which Patton Oswalt's debut album, Feelin' Kinda Patton was cut from. The title comes from the fact the audio is 2 hours and 22 minutes long. I thought it was a reference to Room 222, the TV show from the 1970's, but that is just me.

The album itself is completely no frills, with two trackless CDs, and nothing much of liner notes. You may want to put this on your favorite digital music device because of this. It will allow you to skirt around at will.

It is interesting in the world of comedy recordings because this is essentially the "warts and all" edition of a comedy performance. Every awkward chuckle, every Oswalt sip of Dewar's, every audience member howling like Chewbacca is all there. Actually, considering the amount of alcohol Patton indicates he is drinking during this recording, it is amazing that he does not end his long set with him dying on stage with blood shooting out of his liver. It's an impressive alcohol tolerance.

It's a good bit of comedy, it's an interesting recording of comedy. If you wish you can get this over Feelin Kinda Patton, because this contains all the material in Feelin Kinda Patton and more, just unedited. Or if you want something a little more organized, you can not get this and get Feelin Kinda Patton instead. It's your choice, really.

Overall, I feel like perhaps this is not an album for people who are new to Patton Oswalt as the long, trackless presentation might be too much to handle. For those who are already a fan, this is a fine purchase.