Perennial comics’-comic Louis CK has made no bones about his, well, hatred for his wife and kids, but with his first HBO hourlong, the Emmy-winner spreads his vitriol to coffeehouse hipsters, unself-conscious roller-bladers (“Go skate into an AIDS tree!”) and pretty much the human race as a whole. Chalk it up to the cancellation of his short-lived Lucky Louie; with all that time freed up to write and tour, he’s never been more on top of his game.
CK never panders, and he has an uncanny ability to keep it real as both a bewildered human and a stand-up (“I was at a bar the other night, doesn’t matter where because I’m lying ...”). While he only slightly touches on such social issues as gay marriage, he can immediately flip the premise, spinning the connecting theme of blow jobs into solid-gold segments on his wife, Ewan McGregor and more.
CK is one of the few who hasn’t gone soft with the onset of domestic life; in fact, he’s gotten more hard-hitting. Why such filter-free verbalizations as, “My wife assassinated my sexual identity, and my children are eating my dreams” didn’t earn Lucky Louie a following on par with Roseanne in its heyday is one of the great head-scratchers of modern comedy.
Completely Serious (DVD)
If Dane Cook and Sarah Silverman were to engage in hot, steamy fornication, their golden-cheekboned offspring would be Daniel Tosh. The perpetual on-the-cusper overexaggerates every facial contortion, whether adding new twists to Ashton/Demi and teacher/student romances or obsessing over The Price Is Right. His Waverunner rider gives Cook’s fibbing car-crash victim a run for his money. He’s also a slight, earnest specimen who bats those big eyes and lets loose with the most demented takes on Katrina, obesity and abortion imaginable. “I love seasons,” he muses sarcastically. “I enjoy that 10-month dead period where you get to stay inside day after day ... and eventually you have to stab your wife to death just to see some color. That’s my favorite season, where your wife is lying dead on the floor. Those reds, am I right? It’s like Maine!”
Doesn’t seem like it would. But the shit works.
And he doesn’t stop there. For every “Have you heard about the morning-after pill, or as I like to call it, breakfast in bed? A few women have taken it and died a few days later. Talk about two birds!,” there’s a barrage of such one-liners as “I don’t think I could ever stab somebody because I’m really bad with a Capri Sun”; “Do you know who loves to get fisted? Sock puppets”; “I was watching the Country Music channel the other day, and I fell asleep, and I woke up racist”; and “Butt sex is a lot like spinach. If you’re forced to have it as a child, you won’t enjoy it as an adult.”
At this point, Tosh’s give-and take is unparalleled. He reacts to every giggle and groan, sometimes with a crowd-member POV à la Jim Gaffigan (“Do you like how I start jokes with mass appeal and continue till only six people have a clue what I’m talking about? That’s not a good style. That doesn’t make you famous”); sometimes not (“My girlfriend is Korean ... for this joke”).
The top college comic has grown immensely since 2005’s so-so True Stories I Made Up. He’s observational. He’s relationshippy. He’s a tiny smidge sociopolitical. To mismangle a certain beverage’s tagline, Tosh has appropriated characteristics from all the best comics on Earth. When he says of himself, for unrelated reasons, “That guy’s like a damn Snapple,” he’s more right than he knows.
Flight of the Conchords
The Distant Future EP (CD)
The first rule of musical comedy club is, “You always go for the DVD.” The second rule of musical comedy club is, “You always go for the DVD.” Those spoken-word types can do without the visual most of the time. But what would a Stephen Lynch show be without the evil grin and skyrocketing eyebrows? Tenacious D without the bug-eyed mania and righteous dance moves? Ray Stevens without Mississippi Squirrels and animated streakers flying across the frame?
Anyone who’s caught HBO’s newish Flight of the Conchords series will appreciate the opportunity to further memorize five tracks (and a live “Banter” session) by the earnestly deadpan, fourth-most-popular folk parodists in New Zealand. But learning ’em doesn’t necessarily equate to laughing at them. The Barry White-inspired “Business Time,” techno-apocalyptic “Robots” and falsetto-drenched “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room” are refreshingly silly and remarkably well-crafted overall, but they’re still just something to hold fans over until Season 2. A full-length CD is due out in October; here’s hoping it includes some bonus material of the eyeball-pleasing variety.
Standing Up (DVD)
A theory as to why it took Vegas resident Brian Regan so long to land the Comedy Central hourlong: His jokes don’t translate well to print. For example, “Politicians like to use the TV for their negative ads ... ‘He voted to give himself a pay raise!’ Wouldn’t you?” Or his impression of a pilot, “Uh, somebody put our engine in upside down, and there’s only one tool in our galaxy that can fix this ... and it’s in Madagascar. The tower has instructed us to go to a holding area and remain there until everyone on-board dies a natural death.” The material’s difficult to analyze, to describe, to wrap up in a tidy package for the Suits. But zero in on the facial contortions, defeated slouching and dumb-guy voices that often dissolve into shouted, nonsensical rambles, and you’ve got something unique. For Regan, it’s never been about the material so much as the delivery.
His is a world of scenarios; a straight setup followed by this-is-how-it’d-go enactments (buying greeting cards, visiting butterfly habitats, devouring chips on the couch while watching a program about string theory). They’re all short, punchy and endlessly broad, and after each, Regan does a little shoulder-shake, squints like a dumbfounded George Bush and takes a few swaggering steps. Bit officially over; on to the next.
Is mimicking Riverdance funny? When it’s preceded by an atrocious Irish accent. Are Kennedy impressions funny? When they’re combined with insight about Dora the Explorer. Is squeaky-clean, heartland-approved humor something to be praised or disdained? Seems it doesn’t matter, as long as it sells tickets and merch. He might not lead any trends, and his onstage persona may involve acting more dumbfounded than any of those Blue Collars, but it took some serious brains to come up with this particular comedy-chemistry equation. Consider it a compliment that a watered-down sitcom can’t be far behind.
No Refunds (DVD)
Though he detests the comparison, Doug Stanhope is unequivocally the second coming of Bill Hicks. The real question is why he hates the comparison. He doesn’t want to be thought of as too derivative? His material’s not as focused and hard-hitting? Or he’s just too full of loathing for himself, the state of comedy and the world as a whole to glean any joy from such apt and well-deserved praise?
“If the cigarette bothers you because you’re envious,” he precedes his Showtime special, taped before the darkly mirrored backdrop of Gotham Comedy Club in New York City. “Well ... vote next time.” Then, haggard and pale, he smokes, drinks, blasphemes and machete-hacks his way through the jungle of evils populating this “horrible, inbred corporate landscape.”
Stanhope’s always been more of a conversational rambler than a crafter of setups and punch lines. He values good stories, bemoans the futility of hard work (“I drank, smoked and did drugs to get where I am!”) and takes pride in arriving ill-prepared ... and frankly, if you don’t like it, he couldn’t care less. “Some of this is going to make me sound like a grumpy old f--k, and I am,” the 40-year-old admits. “We’re going to be the first generation of elderly people complaining in the opposite fashion ... these pussies drink their Red Bull for pep, and they prefer if you went onto the patio for a cigarette. The closest they come to a fistfight is a message board somewhere.”
Drug companies preying on “mental disorders,” the benefits of abortion, organized religion and the government’s propagation of sexual inequality through shame, the lack of parental responsibility, racism and nationalism—all receive verbal lashings; even the Yankees get crucified (and speaking of crucifixion, check out his Jesus-hopping-along-on-a-cross impression). “Buy shit you don’t need! At least black people knew when they were slaves. You people remain clueless,” he harangues at one point. Is he paranoid? Sure. Is he right? Probably. But as he puts it, “Throwing logic at a problem is like kicking water uphill.”
Though the editing’s full of strange jumps and faux-artsy close-ups, No Refunds nevertheless showcases a man saddled with “a head that won’t shut the f--k up” in his element. He’s wearing his Libertarian ’08 jersey. He’s worried that he’s generally out of shit to talk about. He’s adamant that if he dies in the near future, it won’t be too young.
Would we expect anything less from the former Las Vegan who gives thanks The Illuminati, Cigarettes, The Black Panthers and The Brave Men & Women Behind the Controlled Demolition of the World Trade Center, and special thanks to Freemasons, Prostitutes, Actual Jews and The First Seven Beers of Any Given Evening in the credits? Comedy doesn’t get any more controversial than Doug Stanhope, and it doesn’t get any more honest.