Comedy stars miss, miss and miss
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Why can't everyone be like Louis CK. I have every one of his recordings and there is not a one that disappoints. I can say the same thing for Patton Oswalt. But for others of my favourite stand-ups (John Mulaney, Kathleen Madigan, Ryan Stout, Amy Schumer) you have to be prepared for disappointment and three recent discs from three comics who previously thrilled are - frankly - awful.
Demetri Martin, Standup Comedian v. These Are Jokes
Martin begins Standup Comedian with a pretty good comment on the venue, "The best rooms for comedy are the ones that would be worst in a fire." However, that's pretty much as good as it gets. Compared to his previous outing, These Are Jokes, this is insanely weak material. Martin peaks somewhere 10 minutes in with a bit on the electronic gadgets in public washrooms, but - insisting on the title (Standup Comedian) - he eschews the quirky things that made him a star on his TV show, Important Things, and with Jokes (strange songs, drawings, jokes with musical scores). This is a mistake. Martin, for lack of a better term, is a hybrid prop comic. Compared to the worst (Gallagher and Carrot Top) he is incredibly subdued and that is his strength; jokes slip in. On the previous disc he does a song about Sames and Opposites that is doggedly goofy until the memorable: "Saying I'm sorry and I apologize are the same - except at a funeral." There is nothing memorable about Comedian. This could all signal Martin is tired of comedy. His acting career is solid (he was quite fine in the lead role in Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock) and many of his roles are dramatic so that may explain the lack of timing here. Whatever the case, there is no tragedy if Martin is moving on. We are not talking about a standup who is iconic, but we are talking about one who worked outside the box and those are rare.
Speaking of iconic... Izzard admits, at the beginning of the recording in front of a mammoth crowd, that he is nervous. Perhaps that is why we get what follows. Izzard is the king of tangential humour (it is no surprise Izzard and Mike Birbiglia admire each other). Here, Izzard travels familiar territory - God, computers, dinosaurs - and flies off. In previous outings - all of which I own - the tangent is the fun and despite the recurrent themes, there is always freshness. In Garden, he just seems to wander off towards nothing and the comforting familiar becomes annoying. Now, this must be said: the recording is merely the soundtrack from a performance that was also filmed and is available on DVD. However, this was also the case for many of his other recordings and the comic's nimble wit painted the pictures so you weren't lost if you were just listening. Here there are long, long sections of visual humour which are lost in the audience laughter (which also weakens towards the end of the show). So what you get is a lot of vocal sound effects that don't work (Michael Ian Black often has the same problem - funny as he can be). I am going to let this go because Izzard is brilliant and brilliant comics have the right to fail from time to time and, this must be said as well, he's never failed before. (One note: another recent recording, Live from Wembley, is virtually the same material he performed in Brighton in Sexie...just so's you know.)
Lewis Black, In God We Rust
Black proves the rule that the bigger a star gets, the larger his halls get, and the larger the halls, the less subtle he is. In God We Rust is not the first time Black has recorded in The Twin Cities. Minneapolis/St. Paul love him (as they showed for Rules of Enragement). Black warns them he doesn't do comedy, despite the fact people "laugh their tits off" at him. Black, as the initiated know, does rage. Political rage and rage at the world's love of the trivial (celebrities). But there is a thin line between satire and crankiness and with this recording Black crosses it. Everyone is angry about politics and celebrity culture. But a riff about Valentine's Day goes nowhere. Discussion on the War on Terror is same-old, same-old. Apps? iPhone? Droid? Facebook? Farmville? Really? Yes, these things are an extension of the world's delight in the stupid and ignorance of the important. But, Come on, Lewis! We all know the Tea Party is dumb. It's time to do as you did with Clinton - lace into Obama!