Just from its premise alone, Vimeo’s 2016 release, Trying to Be Special, the second TV performance from musical comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates, stands as quirkily original.
Laid out in the show’s cold open, the duo of Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome concoct the ludicrous idea of putting on a comedy special in order to raise money to “record their own comedy special.” After a brief fake-out opening set by Anthony Jeselnik, in which he expectedly insults the duo on performing old material, Garkfunkel and Oates enter the stage next to an oversized thermometer designed to measure audience applause.
Over 60 minutes, Micucci (on ukulele) and Lindhome (on acoustic guitar) perform some of their best known material (from their four LPs and various YouTube clips), including “Pregnant Women Are Smug,” “Fadeaway” and “Fuck You” (with the latter enhanced with a joyous crowd kazoo-along). Although the duo come off confident and inventive during their performances, their between-song banter and jokes unfortunately feel a bit awkward.
After a mid-special highlight that covers hilarious crass songs about handjobs (“I Don’t Understand Jobs”) and post-secondary sexual experimentation (“The College Try”), Garkfunkel and Oates hit their stride, combining clips from former tours, hilarious song intros and animated video for a song about Lindhome freezing her eggs (the Emmy nominated “Frozen Lullaby”). On Trying to Be Special, Garkfunkel and Oates prove that they’re industrious, clever and possess just enough crowd control to give this comedy special the same energy and panache as any classic concert film.
It was 2010 that created the Louis CK we know today. After decades toiling away as a club comedian and television writer (Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Dana Carvey Show, The Chris Rock Show), the DC-born comedian became a household name with Hilarious, his sixth special.
Originally released on Epix, the 80-minute program led to FX giving CK his own TV show, Louie, and inspiring him to write a whole new hour each subsequent year up to 2014. Filmed at the 1,300-seat Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee, CK picks up where he left off on his last special, 2008’s Chewed Up, offering a frank and unflattering look into his own pathetic life.
Kicking his set off with a run of jokes about how the majority of people in the history of the world are dead, specifically Hitler and Ray Charles, Louis briefly revisits the brand of absurd humour that he originally cut his teeth on. Freshly divorced, CK offers his take on being a middle-age man attempting to date again, bringing out a stack of brand new jokes, as he compares his out-of-shape frame to a ’73 Dodge Dart sitting in a backyard that one suddenly has to rely on it to get to work, followed up by his now commonplace material surrounding his eating and masturbation schedule (or lack of it).
But it’s his left-field observations, like his impression of the guy who demonstrates the hand job pantomime, only to continue it to completion, or his run on “white people problems” (being one of the first comedians to bring that term into the comedic lexicon), and the annoyingly hyperbolic use of the word hilarious (hence his special’s title) shows just how far ahead his humour was from his schlocky contemporaries. On Hilarious, Louis CK finds himself commercially, showing the audience that the funniest version of Louis isn’t necessarily the prettiest version of Louis.
Since his untimely death in 1994, Bill Hicks has been recognized as one of the most celebrated and iconic comedians off all time. And although there’s been some great unearthed material released since (including seven posthumous comedy LPs), Hicks was always at his sharpest, smartest and most vitriolic when the cameras were running.
Despite the fact that his first recorded special — released on VHS in 1989 and filmed in his home state of Texas — suffers from poor sound and editing, it’s riveting and gratifying to watch Hicks in the midst of his transition from hackneyed joke-slinger to political pariah.
Opening with a voice-over speech — on top of footage of Hicks traveling from city to city on his Flying Saucer Tour — about how he would hijack a plane just to get his destination on time, gives the viewer a glimpse into just how subversive and fearless Hicks comedy was, even from the beginning. Although he starts off with a bit of obvious humour on how he once saw someone selling dirt in Tennessee, he incorporates it into a larger narrative about his perceived notion that American Southerners are almost exclusively hillbillies, giving a hilarious impression of a waitress asking him “What are you reading for?”
But once he launches into his now famous pro-smoking and pro-drinking-and-driving run (with the former later adopted by Dennis Leary), he demands complete control of the audience as the crowd squeals in laughter and shock. Although throughout the 60-minute set, Hicks never ventures too deeply into the coiled and politically-charged psyche he’ll later been known for, only briefly touching on Bush Sr.’s “war on drugs” and a few of his own drug stories, Hicks still manages to come off hilariously sardonic and opportune.
For all of its surface flaws, his debut special shows how — even in his comedic infancy — Hicks was a one-of-a-kind comedian: clearly brave, clearly relevant and pretty clearly not a sane man.
Over the past decade-and-a-half, Thomas Meluch (aka Benoît Pioulard) has covered a lot of musical ground. The Washington-via-Michigan producer has averaged a release per year, tackling electronic, ambient, electroacoustic and even shoegaze and folk along the way but on his latest LP, the aptly titled The Benoît Pioulard Listening Matter, Meluch has focused on a subject that has seemed to elude him over the years: himself.
According to Pioulard, the album was recorded during a rough period in his life; the 13-track LP tackles such subjects as grief (“I Walked Into a Blackness and Built a Fire”), turmoil (“In-the-Vapor”) and self-medication (“Narcologue”). Opening the record off with the bleary and antonymous electronics of “Initials B.P.,” Pioulard goes on to fill the album with guitar strums and vulnerable vocal sighs, while distancing himself from his most recent work. Despite the themes covered throughout, tracks like “Defect” and “A Mantle for Charon” sound honourably optimistic and cheery as Pioulard’s voice comes off clean, clear and often chatty, akin to the warbling vocals of the Beta Band’s Steve Mason.
Surrounded by ambient hiss and faint female backing vocals, The Benoît Pioulard Listening Matter shows Pioulard expressing emotion through simple but intensely personal songwriting. (Kranky)
Known as one of the first comedian to fully embrace Twitter — certainly among the most successfully — Rob Delaney has found a large and diverse audience thanks to this proclivity for giving away jokes for free.
On Live at the Bowery Ballroom, shot in 2012, Delaney packs Manhattan’s snug, smug and iconic 575-capacity Bowery Ballroom. As many of the people in attendance haven’t actually heard Delaney tell jokes in person, the Boston-born comedian starts off his hour-long set with a barrage of outrageously explicit material that wildly differs from his online presence, as he lasciviously discusses trying anal sex with his girlfriend, fucking mouths on his tour bus and having a new year’s resolution of losing 20 pounds of… wait for it… jizz.
As Delaney moves into less sexual but equally uncomfortable material, including bits on contracting Hepatitis A from a shit-covered cake and locking eyes with a Hasidic woman while experience a release of diarrhoea, it becomes apparent that Delaney’s humour doesn’t miss the mark because of its sophomoric nature — which is fair game (and often welcomed) during any standup set — but because he never seems the least bit interested in presenting these thoughts in any sort of clever or subversive manner, as if he’s hoping that the raw shock and awe of his material will suffice.
Following this up with more jizz material, including how the new style of hand soap dispensers are basically cumming in your hand, followed by a cheerily detailed description of exactly how he ejaculated in his wife to impregnate her, along with an anecdote about masturbating in a parking garage to deliver his doctor a sperm sample, the Netflix special finds Delaney repeating much of the same style of jokes ad nauseam.
But throughout his set, Delaney does possess the ability to come off compellingly charming and likeable, even while audience members are shown laughing with their hands covering their faces in embarrassment. Live at the Bowery Ballroomshows a talented comedian with the gift of a built-in audience showing off just how daring, edgy… and unfortunately single-minded he can get.
Although he’s probably best known to younger audiences for his appearances on Chappelle’s Show, Paul Mooney started off as one of the architects of the ’70s black comedy scene, as the Louisiana-bred comedian worked on Good Times, Sanford & Son and Saturday Night Live before finding his true voice co-writing much of Richard Pryor’s ground-breaking material.
Recorded at the 2,700-seat Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in 2014, A Piece of My Mind finds the 75-year old comedian in the midst of a prolific stretch after two decades of lingering towards obscurity. Opening with a poorly edited and assembled documentary-like montage that shows radio and TV interviewers fawning over his credits, Mooney’s seventh standup special begins with the 75-year-old looking sharp and youthful in a jacketless two-piece suit while seated amongst a lavishly designed living room stage setup.
Beginning his 80-minute set exactly the way you’d expect him to, by discussing race, Mooney doesn’t hold back, cunningly and hilariously pointing out certain things that white women are complimented for that black people aren’t (i.e. big lips, tanned skin, cornrows).
Although Mooney is refreshingly raw, insightful and pleasantly subversive throughout his performance, including bits on how the children’s rhyme “Ten Little Indians” seems a bit too hopeful these days, and how people from the Islands think they’re better than African Americans because they were dropped off first, a portion of his material seems a bit too trite, as if he’s coming up with subjects that he wants to talk about (Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin) and stretching to find punch lines (“how he’s actually a pimp” and how “she should strip”).
After the first half of the performance, Mooney unfortunately shifts his focus from social issues to his beefs with celebrities, including Lindsay Lohan, Madonna and a rather tasteless joke where he victim-shames Nicole Brown Simpson for being a “drug-addict ho.” On A Piece of My Mind, Mooney shows that he’s a true original when he’s working hard to deliver his biting social commentary, and just like any other comedian when he’s leaning back to skewer decade-cold celebrities.
Myq Kaplan has pretty much based his act on three things: he’s vegan, he’s an atheist and he’s a nerd. Despite the fact that, a decade into his career, this character-defining trifecta has become commonplace in comedy, the New Jersey standup sticks to his M.O. with his 2014 Netflix special, Small, Dork and Handsome.
Recorded at the 1,200 seat Wilbur Theater, the Boston University alumni returns to his old stomping grounds for his first televised special. Warming up the crowd with his cerebral and wry observations about how comedy is the only art form that only exists when it’s working, (“If you don’t like a movie, it’s still a movie”).
Although Kaplan’s set comes off very typical, including jokes on philosophy (“I was a philosophy major… or was I”), feminism (“When you add a ‘y’ to ‘womyn,’ you’re taking the man out but adding a male chromosome”) and being a beta male in an alpha male world (“If you didn’t want to hear rape jokes, you shouldn’t have dressed like you do”), his humour possesses so many layers that it manages to separate him from his peers.
Although Kaplan spends the hour delivering short setups, as he’s not characteristically known as a storyteller, while never truly pushing the envelope, Small, Dork and Handsome shows Myq Kaplan giving the audience a package of typical material into the most clever, informed and atypical manner possible.