Skyscraper Magazine » The Punch Line: No. 1
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By Rob Browning January 26, 2011

Welcome to The Punch Line. On a monthly basis (content and lifestyle permitting), I’ll be reporting on all the new developments in that staggeringly broad world that has come to be known as “indie comedy,” whether it be big-budget concert DVDs and CDs, feature films and TV series, or self-released stuff taped at the local chuckle hut. Documentaries and books will be covered as well, regardless of the amount of lip moving it may require on my part. [Comedians and labels out there: if you’ve got something you think I might like, hit me up here care of Skyscraper.]

2010 was a good year for indie comedy fans. Big guys like David Cross (pictured above), Paul F. Tompkins, and Brian Posehn released new albums, while Louie C.K. launched a hit TV show (Louie on FX), Patton Oswalt issued a memoir (Zombie Spaceship Wasteland), and Zach Galifianakis continued his transformation into a full-fledged Hollywood movie star (The Hangover, Due Date, Dinner for Schmucks). Veteran comedians and life-long metalheads Jim Florentine and Don Jamieson made the most of their talents for five seasons on That Metal Show and new jacks like Hannibal Buress and Kyle Kinane released debuts. Don’t even get me started on Todd Barry opening for Superchunk. Like I said, things have been good. Of course, Greg Giraldo’s passing does cast a bit of a shadow on the proceedings, but for the most part the laugh fodder has been ample.

It’s been interesting to see how comedy and music had each other’s back as their respective trades take the hit financially. The new David Cross record is on Sub Pop (as was the last Patton Oswalt effort) and Posehn continues to assert his metaldom by dropping discs on Relapse. All of these heavyweights bring solid material to the table. For those of you who like to judge a book by its cover, BRIAN POSEHN’s Fart and Weiner Jokes should be your kind of disc. Don’t get it twisted: this isn’t a Blue Collar Comedy Tour low-brow kind of vibe, but baser subjects are soundly addressed, including but not limited to masturbating while cuddling, wives who fart and blame their husbands, weed, and the invocation of Slayer to negate homosexual acts. It’s worth checking out, even if Posehn insists on recording metal tunes with bros like Chris Adler from Lamb Of God and the oddly ubiquitous Scott Ian. Luckily, those tracks are sequestered at the end of the album.

DAVID CROSS has taken six years to release a new record, though he certainly has not been idle, appearing in scads of movie and TV roles. He has returned to the recorded medium with a release called Bigger and Blackerer, which appears in three different formats – a TV version followed by CD and DVD releases – each containing exclusive content.  The show came on the heels of a month-long sold out theater residency in London, and Cross brought his A-game to the packed Boston crowd.  Usual Cross touchstones of drugs and religious material are present, along with newer jokes about Skymall, Coors Light, and a couple DVD bonus clips from 2004. Watch and listen to all three.

Speaking of consuming in threes, upstart internet comedy engine A Special Thing Records offered a three-fer of comedy EPs including PAUL F. TOMPKINSYou Sir Have Fooled Me Twice, GREG PROOPSProops Digs In, and Fossil Record by DAN TELFER. It’s a pretty decent trifecta. Tompkins is always great, sort of a West Coast (yes, I know he’s from Philly) Todd Barry, albeit with a smoother delivery. This EP is extra stuff from the recording that yielded another AST release, Freak Wharf. I was only really familiar with Proops through Whose Line Is It Anyway, a program I utterly loathe. Had I known he was as smart and bitter as he is, though, I would have signed on sooner. Proops is another Los Angeleno, although he started off in San Francisco. His mindset is much more Northern Californian and, consequently, Hollywood sacred cows are skewered. Wonderfully enough, there’s nary a bit of improv. Call that a win. Bringing up the rear in the show slot is Dan Telfer, a Chicagoan who seems to specialize in the science end of sci-fi. Not as bad as it sounds – and he hates geese, which is a huge plus personally – but may fall on the bad side of the nerd comedy tracks down the line. He plays the nerd middle ground between the Oswalt-ian comic fan and the Posehn-ian metal vibe, that of course being Star Wars and Voltron. Worth a look.

More of a sure thing is HANNIBAL BURESS (pictured left) and his My Name Is Hannibal. He’s from Chicago, has written for SNL over the last few years, and is now on the 30 Rock writing team. In his off time, he has a regular gig at the Brooklyn Knitting Factory and does stand-up akin to the set captured on this record. It’s truly good, covering interpersonal relations and the benefits of owning metal arms. The pickle juice material kinda fucks with me, but I think that’s more a reflection of my own issues than anything else. Get it from the good folks at Stand Up! Records and revel in the fact that Hannibal and Slipknot have now shared a record label.

Another guy from the Midwest I’m digging is KYLE KINANE. Naming all the tracks on his debut, Death Of The Party, after the tracks on Cheap Trick’s Dream Police (1979) was a step in the right direction. He backs it up for the most part, although let’s not run with the idea that Death is a comedic Dream Police equivalent. He’s good, sort of an indie rock Brian Posehn with a Mitch Hedberg spin on things.

For those of you who enjoy comedy documentaries, the BILL HICKS portrait, American: The Bill Hicks Story, is a must-see. Initially a BBC program, it follows Hicks from his days as a teen tearing up the Houston comedy scene through to his rise to fame and tragic death from cancer at age 32. No US deal as yet for the feature, but there’s a trailer and more info out there. Stateside Bill Hicks fans should check out the new Rykodisc CD/DVD set called The Essential Collection. It’s got two DVDs of unreleased video stuff as well as a two-disc unreleased live set. Both American and The Essential Collection are authorized by the Hicks family, if that’s of concern to you.

That’s my time, but tune in soon for more comedy coverage….

Photo of David Cross: Ryan McGinley