Friday, October 30, 2009

Review: The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History

WHAT: An unofficial oral history of The Simpsons, with interviews from ex-staff, by journalist John Ortved.

GOOD IF YOU LIKED: ‘Live from New York’, which is the same basic thing for SNL.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Major bookstores, Amazon

The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History is basically a series of interviews with ex-staff who were willing to dish about the show’s 21-year history, without the first-hand participation from any of the series’ major players. Sure, there are excerpts from interviews other people did with Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, Sam Simon and Mike Scully, but none were conducted for this book specifically, which of course is immediately suspect.

Then again, in the (vastly superior) Live from New York, there were no direct interviews with Lorne Michaels, either, so it’s easy to just forget all that and dig in. This book is, firstly, really fascinating stuff. Although a little too much time is spent in the show’s early days (probably due to the fact that the author’s stated thesis is that The Simpsons did not “spring forth whole from Groening’s brain” but instead was a massive collaboration and was probably built more by raging eccentric Sam Simon and his writing staff than Groening himself) but the interviews with the staff members they could get to talk are excellent. For the first two-thirds or so of this thing, it’s an engrossing look at what is probably the most influential sitcom of the last 30 years or so, and there are plenty of revelations to be had, including:

  • Matt Groening was always way more interested in approving licensed Simpsons merchandise than working on the show itself
  • Conan O’Brien had to fight Groening to get the Leonard Nimoy ‘beam out’ gag at the end of Marge Vs. The Monorail because Groening was still completely opposed to any gags that felt “too cartoony”
  • Sam Simon is likely directly responsible for the show being what it is
  • Pretty much everyone except Al Jean will admit the show has sucked pretty hard for the last 10 years and bears little resemblance to the show’s golden years
  • The Simpsons has generated over 3 billion dollars for News Corp.

However, in the last third, the author basically throws out any attempt at objectivity and starts injecting his often surprisingly blunt personal opinions into the non-interview bits. The endless comparisons to South Park and Family Guy are particularly pointed and it’s like he’s trying to compose a theory that one of them is the successor to The Simpsons but never really comes to a conclusion. He also spends a weird amount of time bashing The Simpsons Movie, which most fans (and critics) who grew up on the show in the 1990s felt was close enough to a long and generally good episode of the series. But it wasn’t good enough for John Ortved, I guess. Basically the last few chapters feel like someone’s disorganized blog post rather than a proper oral history, but it’s still amusing and interesting enough to keep going. Worth picking up if you find it cheap.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Road Trip Halloween Party Album Picks: "Eban Schletter's Witching Hour"

WHAT: Spooky music from the guy who did a lot of Mr. Show's score with some funny lyrics, but largely instrumental
NOTABLE GUESTS: Jill Sobule, Dave Allen, Paul F. Tompkins, Dave Foley, Scott Aukerman, Tom Kenny, Samm Levine
LABEL: Oglio Records, 2008
GOOD IF YOU LIKE: Mr. Show's soundtrack and/or Halloween CDs
WHERE TO FIND IT: Some record stores, Best Buy has it for $7.99
LENGTH: 1 hour, 32 seconds

If you listen to the Comedy Death Ray Radio show/podcast, you no doubt recently heard a spot promoting Eban Schletter's Witching Hour with Paul F. Tompkins. As I'm a sucker for PFT and anything he touches, I had to go track this one down. So who is this guy? It turns out that Eban Schletter is not some spooky character like the Cryptkeeper or Colonel Sanders, but is in fact an actual person responsible for composing numerous soundtracks.

This is something to throw on at parties or, if you were a bit of a dork for this sort of thing, a decent enough listen. Most of the songs fade into the background nicely and seem to borrow from cartoon soundtracks and surf music, which is where you want to be. It's not like the Cryptkeeper Christmas CD in the sense that this isn't likely to ever make it on any torture tape mixes-- it's just decent and for the most part, pleasant enough to add some noise to an otherwise quiet evening. A spooky story by Dave Foley is indeed delightfully spooky, and the songs range from mostly somber to a more upbeat number with Scott Aukerman. In short, nothing to be ashamed of.

If you're looking for a collection of goofy novelty songs this isn't it. If you keep the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack or Haunted House sound CDs on a loop this time of year at get-togethers, this is probably a better alternative. to answer your question, no, this isn't good for road trips.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sitcom Report Card: Fall 2009

Sitcoms are often called the lowest form of comedy, simplistic repetitive garbage designed to amuse the drooling plebs among us while the world melts into a steaming heap of shit outside.

Okay, so maybe they haven't been called that, but some of them certainly are. There are a boatload of sitcoms on the air this season, and since we have a terrifying television addiction and the urgent need to cast judgment on everything we see, here's a report on what's worth your precious DVR space and what you can brutally mock others for openly enjoying.

Note: calling HBO series like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Bored to Death "sitcoms" seems kind of wrong, so they're not included here, but you should be watching them, as they are excellent and completely worth your time.


Community – Easily the best new series this season, Community is really refreshing after a mountain of Office-alikes that directly copied the single-camera documentary-style, relying way too heavily on cringing awkwardness rather than just being funny. Community, on the other hand, is sharp, sarcastic, mean-spirited, biting and meta (without being too cute about it). It takes the best elements of the single-camera style (meaning no laugh track) and has a pretty great cast lead by Joel McHale. Hard to say if this will still be as good as it is now 2 or 3 seasons in, but for now, it’s great stuff.

30 Rock – Nobody needs to be told that 30 Rock is the best sitcom on the air and one of the best shows on TV period. Perhaps the mountain of Emmys will convince anyone who isn’t already watching this.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia– Several years after this modern-era "Three Stooges"/"Marx Brothers" started airing on FX, it remains funny. Sunny's manic energy has spilled out and is slowly eroding at the fourth wall in episodes like "The World Series Defense," in which the cast invents horrifying revelations under a hotel to keep the audience and judge interested in a story which basically goes nowhere. Most of the episodes can be watched in any order, which is rare in TV these days, so if you haven't started watching yet this is as good of a place as any. Also: Riot Punch, Box of Hornets.

Parks & Recreation – This started out as “Hey, you kids like The Office, here’s The Government Office!” and has slowly become a solid, funny show in its own right. It’s all in the characters – the cast is diverse enough to where all comparisons to The Office are purely surface-level. Aziz Ansari is particularly good, and the lead character isn’t grating or annoyingly stupid and awkward. It really has developed into its own thing, and it only seems to be getting better in the second season; there hasn’t been a bad episode yet.

Also Louis CK has a recurring role. Which really would elevate pretty much anything to "great" status.

Well, except for that Jenna Elfman shit on CBS.


Almost Everything on CBS – CBS continues to be the Old People Network, as is evidenced by their sitcom lineup (with two exceptions). Look at this shit – Gary Unmarried, Two and a Half Men and The New Adventures of Old Christine all on the same channel. Most of these shows seem to have been designed specifically to be inoffensive enough so your parents can fall asleep during them without being rudely awoken by something funny happening. They are painfully generic and patently unfunny to their very core.

To add insult to injury, CBS actually cast professional comedy repellant Jenna Elfman in Accidentally on Purpose, which is literally just Knocked Up: The Sitcom. It’s fucking terrible. All this shit gets an F, avoid it.

Modern Family – It’s hard to put this in this category because it’s so completely unremarkable, but ultimately, this show falls short. It’s yet another documentary-style sitcom, this time about an extended family split into three chunks – divorcee grampa with young latina wife, standard family with standard kids, and then gay couple with adopted baby. It’s trying to be sort of an unflinching look at family life, but it’s just too safe and isn’t particularly funny or clever or really anything.


The Big Bang Theory – Odds are every generic self-proclaimed “nerd” you know goes on and on about how funny this show is, and it does have plenty of moments and some good characters, but this is as standard as sitcom fare gets. Oddballs living across the hall from stereotypical “normal” hot girl, who’da thunk their worlds would collide? It’s chock full of dork-pandering jokes (comic book references, science jokes, you name it, it’s in here) and the laugh track is hyperactive, but it has gotten better over the years and in its’ third season it’s still genuinely amusing often enough to warrant renting the DVDs when you’re bored or hung over.

How I Met Your Mother – Now in its fifth season, How I Met Your Mother is basically Friends with a better cast and much better writing. It is unabashedly a show about generic white people for generic white people, but it has its own absurdist sense of humor and some seriously good running gags. While on its surface the show looks and feels like it belongs lumped in with the Two and a Half Mens of the world, the writing elevates it beyond that. If you do decide to pick this one up, rent the first season and shotgun it in a marathon session; otherwise you’ll be turned off by the first few bland episodes and will never really get why the show has a small but dedicated comedy nerd following.

The Office – This show is still on and is now more than a hundred episodes longer than the original series, and it’s still funny from time to time but it’s also getting pretty tired. The “wedding” episode was old-school sitcom smarm at its smarmiest, and the whole “Jim and Michael are both the boss now!” thing doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere. Still, the show has Kevin. Which is enough for a mild, continued recommendation.

That said it's time for them to own up to the show's premise and let us know which season they're finally going to stop filming and release the documentary, which is really the only big plot point left that seems like it has any juice in it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weekly Comedy: Leslie Nielsen Rises from the Grave

Not a whole lot out this week, unless you’re really excited about yet another Ice Age movie. Which you really shouldn’t be. At all.


Monty Python: Almost The Truth – Easily the highlight this week, IFC’s 6-part in-depth and surprisingly candid documentary featuring all of the remaining Pythons (although it is a little strange to continue referring to them as “the remaining Pythons” considering only one of them is dead and according to this doc, it’s a shock he lived as long as he did). Interviews with a huge range of comics and comic actors are included; everyone from Simon Pegg to Russell Brand to Ricky Gervais to… OK so it’s mostly British comics but still, pretty fascinating stuff. Definitely worth a rental, or catch it in reruns on IFC.

Whatever Works – Woody Allen’s latest attempt to wring comedy out of a creepy May – December romance, featuring Larry David doing his best Larry David impression. Sounds like fun, right? This thing got pretty mixed reviews, but many said it was the best thing Allen’s done since Match Point, so who knows. Oh, and for the record, the poster for this is awful.

Adult Swim in a Box – This is a pretty odd box set; kind of a “best of” Adult Swim seasons (ironically missing Venture Bros., the best show on the network). You get: Aqua Teen Hunger Force season 2, Space Ghost Coast to Coast season 3, Moral Orel season 1, Robot Chicken season 2, Metalocalypse season 1, and Sealab season 2. It’s kind of a motley collection of episodes, but I suppose someone at Williams Street just cherry-picked what they thought were the best seasons they had. Probably makes a good gift for.. uh… someone who loves absurdist humor but somehow doesn’t own or hasn’t seen any of these.

Stan Helsing – Someone exhumed the corpse of Leslie Nielsen for this tired, sad-looking horror spoof about a video clerk who does battle with parody versions of famous movie monsters (Freddy, Chucky, maybe some Critters or Ghoulies show up, who gives a shit). This thing went straight to video, so yeah, now you know.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Road Trip Album Picks: "NPR Funniest Driveway Moments"

WHAT: Collection of interviews with comedians and amusing interviews from NPR
LABEL: HighBridge Company, 2008
GOOD IF YOU LIKE: NPR, but don't listen to it much, and comedy new or old
WHERE TO FIND IT: Your library, book stores, online
LENGTH: 2 hours, 10 minutes

Depending on your entertainment affiliations, you may listen to either a massive amount of NPR or none at all. As I listen to a lot, much of NPR Funniest Driveway Moments had already graced my iPod through podcasts of shows like Wait Wait Don't Tell Me and others. If you permanently have your tuner set to your local NPR affiliate, odds are you've heard many of these, and the bulk of the collection is pretty timely. Some of these segments were older, some are newer, and there's a really good mix of the new generation of comedians with some of the older ones, plus a segment with Richard Pryor that sort of sticks out because he's not really involved as such. Also sticking out is a bit with Justice Stephen Breyer, who is not a comedian so much as a member of the judiciary. It's not so much a comedy thing, it certainly qualifies as amusing but it also doesn't fit here particularly well.

Since this is a collection of radio broadcasts with new segments introducing them, what you have here is essentially a perfect driving companion for fans of comedy. It isn't always funny so much as it is informative, but there's quite a bit to enjoy here if you're already a fan of the personalities on the discs, like Demetri Martin or Phyllis Diller or Sarah Silverman. Or Dame Edna. (Which we are not.) If you already have it in for these people, clearly, skip that segment-- but the whole collection is great. It's a delight to hear Steve Martin's early stories about making two cents at Disneyland, or how Mel Brooks used to play music with comedians before getting involved with Your Show of Shows.

Unlike most things I post here, this is one of very few family-friendly collections in the sense that if you're reading this, odds are you could pass it along to your parents and they probably wouldn't have a problem with it unless Lily Tomlin really pissed them off for some reason. Besides, they're going to need an introduction to Larry David, and this collection has all that and more. Heck, it's worth hearing just to hear another interview with LD, so be sure to track this one down for your next road trip. Just do it soon as it's starting to feel a little dated as some comedians go on to new things or, in some cases, retire from the business.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pip pip cheerio bob's your uncle Weekly Comedy!

Hey, there’s actually a lot of stuff out this week! Glory be! Depending on your taste!


It’s Garry Shandling’s Show: The Complete Series – Garry Shandling’s beloved fourth-wall-breaking surrealist sitcom on Showtime is now finally available as a single box set containing the entire series from Shout! Factory, the fine people who are apparently responsible for bringing everything that was ever awesome to DVD. If you’ve never seen it, now’s your chance, and it’s also your chance to start pestering them to pick up the Larry Sanders series.

Fawlty Towers: The Complete Collection Remastered – One of the only classic Britcoms most people seem to appreciate, now remastered and available in one cheap boxset. Considering all previous releases of Fawlty Towers have looked like they were “remastered” by someone’s anus thanks to the BBC’s firm policy of not taking care of their television archives, this set promises to look decent. Here’s hoping.

Black Adder: The Complete Collection Remastered – It must be British comedy week! Either that or we’re getting close to Christmas, and what better gift for your PBS-loving dad than 895 minutes of Rowan Atkinson. Perhaps next week we’ll get a complete remastered collection of Are You Being Served!

Smothers Brothers: Best of Season 2 – There must be no market for complete season releases of the Smothers Brothers, so here’s the “good stuff”. Not sure how well this act has aged, but again, this is “Christmas presents for your parents” week, it seems.

SNL: Best of Amy Poehler – Hope you like Hillary Clinton impressions! Actually, I'm a fan of Poehler, but if you're not creeped out a little by that hellaciously over-photoshopped pic of her on the cover of this DVD, something's wrong with you.

Greg Giraldo: Midlife Vices – Greg Giraldo’s sorta-OK Comedy Central special. Worth a rent if you’re a fan but it isn’t really Giraldo’s greatest material ever.


This happened on Sunday, but don't forget The Venture Bros. is back on, and it is glorious. You can watch the Season 4 premiere right here.

Comedy Challenge: Secret Girlfriend

Now and then, I will be challenged to view something that our world puts out that is presented as funny, but is most likely horrifically unfunny, and live to write about it.

Secret Girlfriend
now playing on Comedy Central

Here now is a show that you won't like even if it is the sort of thing you like.

Secret Girlfriend on Comedy Central has a concept of this: you, the viewer, are presented as a character in the show in which your two loser friends  (Sam and Phil) help you try to get away from your current girlfriend and on to a girlfriend on the side.

This was originally a show on the Internet (from Atomic Wedgie TV) and it certainly shows it, with the episodes consisting of two 15-minute episodes within and probably the lowest production value of any show on Comedy Central.

So, where does the humor in this show come in?  It makes attempts with your loser friends being dumb and doing dumb things but they aren't "funny" dumb, just "dumb" dumb. For instance, in one episode, Sam, never having a wet dream in his life but wanting to have one, decides the best course of action would be not to masturbate or Interact with women so he can have a wet dream.  He eventually has a wet dream, and of course, it's at a party, which everyone films with their phones.  Fat guy having a wet dream.  There's your comedy.

For women, certainly this is not a show for you.  Even if you are a lesbian.  The women are portrayed as all hot and dumb as a lukewarm glass of tap water.  Women are shown as easily wooed by men with cute dogs or strip naked to signs that say "Nude Beach" hastily tacked up to public pools and so on and so forth.  If you have a boyfriend and see him watching this, watch it with him, and see how quickly you start hitting him.

For men, I don't know if this is a show for you.  Clearly it's aiming for someone who liked The Man Show, but that show had at slightly more nuance and much greater production values.  This doesn't have anything appealing for such types except half-naked women.  In this day in age, when you can go on the Internet and the other half of the naked women, putting things here and there, why watch something that is not the full experience? This show features no nipples and even the swearing is bleeped out, so why bother?

Overall, it's a show that is insulting to women, not satisfying to women who might like a show that is insulting to women, and perhaps an ominous portent for future comedy program in a recession, where the cheapest is appealing, even if it isn't funny.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

HBO: Wanda Sykes' "I'ma Be Me"

The Special: Wanda Sykes' "I'ma Be Me"
Runtime: 90 minutes
As seen on: HBO October 10, 2009 (and repeated until the start of the zombie apocalypse)

She's been a sitcom actress, a famous stand-up comic, a maker of prank phone calls. Tonight, she's the star of I'ma Be Me, a rather large collection of jokes and other material. Watching the special, it's clear that what you're seeing is a mix of monologue-style jokes on recent events like Obama and other political happenings with a series of personal stories about the goings-on for her life.

Most HBO specials, particularly George Carlin's, were about an hour long. This length was about perfect because it didn't ever feel like it had been going on for too long, plus it had the added bonus of being the appropriate length for a cassette or CD. In the MP3 era, time has no meaning, and should this ever see release on an audio format, well, length isn't an issue. The material is enjoyable, Wanda's clearly having a good time, and seems to have a great rapport with her Washington D.C. crowd.

Other topics covered include: waxing, babies, aging, and what appears to be the female equivalent of being kicked in the balls. At 90 minutes the show is about 30 minutes too long-- none of the material is bad, it's just that our MTV-addled brains are used to shorter bursts of comedy. She had enough material to do two specials here, so this is more of a king-sized mega-performance that her fans will no doubt love and fans of comedy in general will likely enjoy.

Worth seeing! Just budget some time or watch it in pieces.

Also notable: She reveals her age during the performance. I personally would not have guessed this one. Also, she's getting her own talk show on Fox shortly, if what she's done here carries over to broadcast TV she's probably going to have a great run.

Weekly Comedy: Now We're Into the Dregs

It’s yet another light week. You could call it ‘WEAKLY COMEDY’. Get it? Eh?



Land of the Lost – This spectacular failure probably belongs in Comedy Skippables, but it’s such a weird-ass, completely unhinged flaming trainwreck that it’s hard not to recommend it only as an oddity and to experience just how unfunny two normally funny people (Ferrell and McBride) can be when they’re clearly improvising more than 2/3rds of the film and nobody’s telling them that what they’re doing isn’t funny.

Mighty Boosh Special Edition – All three seasons of The Mighty Boosh in limited edition packaging. A must-have for those seeking to define ‘acquired taste’.

Married… With Children Season 11 – This is still coming out.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (Bluray) – The movie that has absolutely no need to be seen in high definition, in high definition. Although this film has held up pretty well over the years and is still pretty good – certainly much funnier than most recent episodes of the series.

Futurama: Complete Collection – Every single piece of Futurama, in a plastic Bender head. You get all four seasons and all four “movies”, a collection rendered incomplete the second the new episodes hit next year.


The Proposal – Although I have not seen this film, I can tell based just on the DVD cover that at least one (1) wedding cake gets destroyed and perhaps we then see a dog reaction shot wherein the dog either (A) covers one eye with its paw and whimpers or (B) cocks its brow and gives a quizzical grunt.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Comedy Death Ray This Week: All Singing, All Dancing

It seems music is increasingly the order of the day at Comedy Death Ray here in Los Angeles, as tonight's packed show was hosted by The Devil's Purse, or "a band with Charlyne Yi and Paul Rust." Dial up the quirk to 9, and you pretty much get the band's sound.
  • Kicking off the show is Donald Glover, who you may have seen on NBC's Community as one of the students in the core study group. While not given a ton to do on the show's episodes which have aired so far, tonight's set shows that he's a fountain of material and should be absolutely handed some more screen time. This was the first of a three-week residency, meaning if you're in the neighborhood you can see him again next week. And you probably should.
  • From Australia and/or the UK, Brendon Burns had a strong set with his new catchphrase "it's not racist where I'm from," which basically set the tone of the set nicely. Offering insight on the wonderful differences between the English-speaking nations of the world, the set was enjoyed by the audience and this is probably someone to see if you also enjoyed the works of Jim Jeffries.
  • Maria Bamford held up the middle of the show with a ton of new stuff and a couple of classics, which, it turn out, have a strong visual component. If you've only heard her albums, you may be unaware that she does a great deal with her hands. (You've only been getting like half the show as a result, you poor schmuck.) The rapid-fire set was firing like crazy, with so many jokes you might have missed a few. Given Bamford just released a new album earlier this year, it looks like she's well on her way to having enough material for another one in the not-too-distant-future, and we're totally game if she decides to crank one out. Good stuff.
  • Reginald D. Hunter-- a comic orignally from the south and then from the U.K.-- managed to slay the audience, repeatedly, and while we'd like to reprint the jokes here decorum (and the desire to not ruin his act) prevent us from doing so. If you have not previously seen him, make sure you do so. It's rare to see a set open with "I'm from the South" and "I have a very British sense of humor," particularly when the comic manages to destroy the audience. Well done, sir.
  • Special surprise unannounced guest Aziz Ansari came in to do some material, most of which-- while excellent-- was performed at a recent show which we covered a few weeks ago, with a couple of new bits at the end. Very funny stuff, including an exchange/fight with someone online regarding the quality and price of the popular Gmail service. He does not disappoint, but he did allude to lengthening his set to make time for Nick Kroll, who did not end up showing. More on that in a jiffy.
  • Ending the evening was Garfunkel and Oates, who played three songs in a very brief concert-let. As many of their songs are regularly featured on Comedy Death Ray Radio, a great podcast/streaming program, you may recognize a tune or two. The set included "Fuck You," "One Night Stand," and a third song, the name of which we didn't quite get. Ah well. The audience loved it, and they seemed to totally dig the entire show tonight.
So, about Nick Kroll-- he and comedy partner dude Jon Daly posted a new video to Funny or Die earlier in the morning and I assume the plan was for to have them come to the show and play it for the audience. Since I'm making a guess here, I have no way to know for sure, but I can embed it here for your amusement either way. Behold, The Ed Hardy Boyz!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Weekly Comedy: Kind of a Crappy Week, Really

Wow. Not a whole hell of a lot this week. There's a ton of great stuff in theaters, though, so go to the movies instead.


Good Hair – Not entirely certain how funny this is (or is supposed to be) but Chris Rock has a new documentary out about how black people do their hair like this and white people do their hair like that (content assumed based on trailer and Chris Rock’s entire career). Might be worth checking out once it hits cable.


Year One – Spectacularly unfunny “historical” comedy starring Michael Cera and Jack Black, directed by Harold Ramis. Even though there’s a ton of great talent in this – David Cross, Paul Rudd, all those folks – it’s a pretty awful movie. Ramis was aiming for a movie that questions the tenets of faith while farting and pointing to its weiner, which I guess is what this is supposed to be, but it isn’t funny.

Red Dwarf: Back to Earth – I don’t watch Red Dwarf but people who get all excited about Monty Python re-releases and new Rowan Atkinson projects seem to love it (Johnny English 2, anyone?). This is apparently the final final final end end end of the series, which is fine with me.


Eugene Mirman: God is a 12-Year Old Boy with Asperger’s – New Mirman CD. The only must-have release of the week. So go get it.

This Week in Late Night: Post-Post-Letterman Edition

Everybody's on TV this week, making the rounds throughout the late night suit-and-tie circuit. This week's big winner is clearly Jimmy Fallon, although the battle between Regis Philbin and Larry David on Live! might be well worth seeing tomorrow. Set your DVRs, productive and employed people!

10.5 Kevin Nealon
10.7 Jason Bateman

10.5 Kristen Wiig
10.6 Lewis Black, They Might Be Giants
10.7 Chevy Chase
10.9 Martin Short

10.5 Seth Green
10.9 Glenn Howerton

10.5 Steve Martin
10.9 Jon Hamm, Andy Kindler

10.5 David Alan Grier
10.7 Joel McHale

10.7 Wanda Sykes
10.8 Jack Black

10.5 Sarah Vowell


10.6 Steve Martin, David Alan Grier
10.7 Chris Rock

10.6 Larry David
10.7 Chevy Chase

10.5 Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Schwartzman
10.7 Kevin Nealon
10.9 Jason Bateman

Road Trip Album Picks: Neil Hamburger's "Hot February Night"

WHAT: Live comedy concert recorded before a Tenacious D show
LABEL: Off-Price Value Center, 2007
GOOD IF YOU LIKE: Neil Hamburger, audience baiting
WHERE TO FIND IT: Heck if we know, it's a rare promotional album
LENGTH: 33 minutes

While we do not advocate media piracy, we are huge advocates of artists making money off of things. And if you can't buy it, well, borrow it or something. Neil Hamburger's Hot February Night is pretty much impossible to get, it's a crying shame that this recording is something of a rarity. Eschewing the usual quasi-sad sack comic motif in favor of full-blown confrontation, we see moments of delighted anger that rarely come across in a comic performer's albums, much less in one of the biggest shows he may ever play.

Tenacious D fans, apparently, to not have a sense of humor. The album kicks off with some of the most vicious jabs at the audience I've ever heard on an album this side of a live show from The Stooges in the 1970s, railing against uninterested observers calling them pigs, cocksuckers, and other terrible things. It's hysterical.

This too-short live recording includes other versions of things like "Cranberry Sauce" and "The Jackson Five," plus some of the best jokes about Santa Claus you will ever hope to hear. Assuming, of course, you enjoy Mr. Hamburger's style, otherwise you'll likely consider this the worst thing you've ever heard. It's just so astoundingly venomous that you can really taste the hatred the audience has for its opener, who may have recorded one of the finest live recordings we're likely to hear. He even tailored some bits to the music audience with knocks against Pink Floyd and the Beatles, which will likely slay you if you aren't a boomer. (And maybe if you're a boomer.)

Clearly, Neil Hamburger knows this is not his audience, and he fires back to chants for "D! D!" with something to the effect of what their grades in school were. Oh, and numerous references to additional opening acts to follow, including the then-timely and much disliked Kevin Federline.

"Hot February Nights" is too good to save for a road trip or journey somewhere. If you can find it, get it, pay whatever you have to pay, borrow whatever you have to borrow. Other albums like "Raw Hamburger" and "America's Funnyman" are funny and enjoyable, but odds are you've never heard anything like "Hot February Nights." Hopefully Neil will perform other shows like this one in the future. We positively do not suggest this album to all of you, but if you already like this amazing artist, this will likely be a holy grail recording that we hope to see released to iTunes some day.