It's all about bouncing back

Monday, July 13, 2009

Classic Comedy Clip of the Day: The Smothers Brothers' "Boil that Cabbage Down"

This even pre-dates The Comedy Hour. The video quality is terrible, but that only adds to its charm. Tip to remember: "puma" is always a funny word.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Return Engagement / Final Engagement

Final Engagement

Marc Maron
2 Stand-up Comedy CD
Stand Up! Records 2009

Unprofessional though it may be, I'll start with a personal note: Yes, I'm back. Yes, it has been a long time. And no -- I don't feel like talking about it. (Okay fine -- we can talk later. But after this. I'm busy.)

Personal note #2: Maron's latest, "Final Engagement" was taped at Giggles in Seattle -- so I had the pleasure of sitting in the audience for the taping. It has been a long time since I reviewed the CD of a live performance that I attended; but it's always a treat. I love to compare the anticipation and surprise of hearing the material fresh to the more analytical experience of examining it repeatedly on tape. Hearing it again months later, knowing every punch line in advance, I still enjoyed remembering how each one arrives and lands.

But that's enough about me. What's been up with Maron? Quite a good nasty deal, it turns out. As usual.

Marriage number two is over. And in typical fashion, he uses the tale of that gruesome change as an opportunity to make himself look vulnerable -- so we can feel compassion and empathy for his story, even though he willingly admits that he may have driven her away. Even though he confesses that, in the back of his mind, when he reflects on her departure, he thinks only: "Good for her. I've been trying to leave me for years."

I enjoyed this material for many reasons; but I think my strongest connection to it arises from the associations with middle age. Let's be honest: the break up story of an attractive and virile 25 year old is frequently trite and overplayed. But the story of being left again at 40 is a far richer tale. But it takes confidence and skill to find the funny in an experience that is not only painful but which could easily spill over into pathetic if not diced precisely. Thankfully, after 25 years at this, Maron can avoid those traps with artistry.

Instead, it's all handled deftly. By the time of this taping, he had the whole separation defined and summarized by one or two quick jokes. "My wife recently brought it to my attention that I have an anger problem. But she didn't say it like that; she said: 'I'm leaving.'" And everything from that point forward is just exposition. With that simple set up, we maintain enough sympathy to hear out his side of the story.

The non-divorce sections of the performance focus on more classic Maron material. The core of it is reflecting on how to get by in the world as an aging romantic who is constantly at risk of turning [even more] cynical. Who can't relate to this? It's the joy of day to day mental struggle. As in: "[I]f you walk up to someone and say 'Hi, how are you doing?' and they say "Fine", what they really mean is 'Help me! Don't walk away! . . ." But you can't say that because they will only respond 'Don't worry you'll be fine.'" It stays with you throughout the day and makes life's little interactions and annoyances all that much easier to bear.

Recommend. Download immediately.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Crowd Control

Last year, not long after Bernie Mac passed away, Todd Jackson over at Dead Frog posited that this brief Def Comedy Jam performance -- taped when Mac was quite young -- was, quite possibly, one of the most perfect little bits of stand up on record. The canonical example of how to turn a hostile crowd into a worshipful throng.

Recently I was thinking about this bit again and pondering: was Todd's observation (with which I agreed at the time) just hyperbole born out of our collective grieving? It's an interesting point to debate, especially for me. Because I'm someone who wants to spend hours in scholarly analysis of comedy, dissecting jokes line by line and wondering how each will be remembered -- how each will impact broader society. And there's just no room for that here. This is very simple and base material. As a scholar, it leaves me cold. As a woman, it makes me swoon.

Because what this performance has is power, timing, commitment, raw charisma and audience control at a level I've never seen in a comedy club -- a level reserved for a handful of the greats (and Bernie Mac was most certainly one of those). How does he do it? Can skill that intense be taught or cultivated? I am dubious. Some people are just born with it -- and it's always a joy to behold.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Coulton and Hodgman: Tonight You Belong to Me

This was just too adorable to pass up. Brings back happy memories of Hodgman's last book tour -- which was a delight. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ricky Gervais Taunts Elmo - Muppet Fights Back

As the parent of a preschooler, this brought me great glee: