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A Funny Post
I was thinking to myself that most of the times I have laughed out loud were when I was listening to stand-up comedy. I was at work last week listening to a comedy CD on my headphones and tears were streaming out of my eyes. I was trying to keep quiet and cover up my laughter with a series of coughs, but it didn't work. People were coming by my cubicle to find out what if I was OK.

Last week I went to Amoeba Records and spent a hundred dollars on comedy CDs. I consider it a "work-related expense" since laughing helps me get through the week. Here are some things that I've been listening to lately:

1. Bill Hicks


My hero. He died too soon in 1994 at the age of 32 from pancreatic cancer. But before he died, he left behind a half dozen incredibly funny comedy CDs full of the world's best stand-up. His routines still make me laugh, and I have many of them memorized word-for-word. The following routine is funnier with Bill's delivery, but it's still good. It reminds me what a tragedy it was that he died so early. He could have single-handedly prevented George W. Bush from getting elected, just by coming up with a killer routine. I would have loved to hear what he would have said about 9/11.

"Here's another idea that should be punctured, the idea that childbirth is a miracle. I don't know who started this rumor but it's not a miracle. No more a miracle than eating food and a turd coming out of your butt. It's a chemical reaction and a biological reaction. You want to know a miracle? A miracle is raising a kid that doesn't talk in a fucking movie theater . . . I'll go you one further, and this is the routine that has virtually ended my career in America. If you have children here tonight — and I assume some of you do — I am sorry to tell you this. They are not special. I'll let that sink in. Don't get me wrong, folks. I know you think they're special. You think that. I'm telling you — they're not. Did you know that every time a guy comes, he comes 200 million sperm? Did you know that? And you mean to tell me you think your child is special? Because one out of 200 million sperm connected . . . that load? Gee, what are the fucking odds? Do you know what that means? I have wiped entire civilizations off of my chest, with a grey gym sock. That is special. Entire nations have flaked and crusted in the hair around my navel. That is special. And I want you to think about that, you two-egg-carrying beings out there with that holier-than-thou, we-have-the-gift-of-life attitude. I have tossed universes, in my underpants, while napping. That is special."

2. Bill Cosby


For my brother's birthday earlier this month, I bought him eight of Bill Cosby's CDs. I have no idea if he liked the gift: my family and I have a "black hole" theory of gift giving. You might get a polite thank-you card, but otherwise, they can buy any necessities they need. So why send a gift?

But I was thinking of a pleasant memory between my brother and I. We had a cheap portable record player, and he and I would put on one of the Bill Cosby records we owned and we would laugh and laugh. It's a shame the guy's smarmy upper-class politics have tarnised my memory of how funny he once was. Plus, all those horrible sweaters he used to wear. But if you only know the guy from the unfunny "Cosby Show", give some of his stand-up a try.

This video is dedicated to my brother Barton James Kellogg (or "BJ"... that's really his name), whom I slept with:

3. Patton Oswalt


His new CD "My Weakness Is Strong" made milk squirt out of my nose last week. I don't know why I found it so funny. He's not a very good writer - every time I've tried to retell one of his jokes, I've realized there isn't much there. But for some reason, it works. Whether he is describing playing a Chipmunks record at 78 RPM, accidentally texting his wife "I HATE", or eating a KFC "Famous" entree, which he calls a "a failure pile in a sadness bowl".

4. Monty Python's Flying Circus


When I was ten years old, I read the TV Guide religiously. I mean, I *studied* the motherfucker, circling my favorite TV shows in pencil, and charting the best path through that night's prime-time shows. You see, back then, children, there were only three channels (plus public broadcasting, which didn't count), and no TV had a remote control. So, it behooved me to figure out before the evening what shows I wanted to watch.

I noticed a show that was on at midnight, "Month Python's Flying Circus". Wow! I loved circuses... the clowns, the jugglers, and the exciting animals. I pretended to fall asleep at my 9 pm bedtim and waited until my parents watched Johnny Carson's monologue and went to be themselves. Then I crept downstairs, turned on the television (with the sound turned almsot completely down), and proceeded to blow my little pre-teen minds.

What I saw was no circus. Or rather it *was*, but of a bizarre adult-themed type. I quickly made this an evening ritual for several weeks, until the local channel had rebroadcast all the available episodes and I had memorized my favorite routines. I went to school and tried to tell my friends about this crazy show that was on late at night, but none of them tried to stay up. My parents never found out about my nighttime routine.

A few years later as a teenager, I found that my local library had the Monty Python "Instant Record Collection": a box set of their best routines. I quickly taped dubber it to cassette and brought it to school, and forced all of my friends to listen to the "Dead Parrot Sketch" over and over. Some of the those friends still haven't forgiven me. But then came out "The Life of Brian" and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and the rest is history.

5. David Cross


I first saw him on the "Mr. Show" series with Bob Odenkirk. It was a two-man sketch comedy show much like recent "Little Britain" or "The Mighty Boosh" shows, but with a distinct American flair. Bob has gone on to act in some funny stuff, but it's David's stand-up that I love. He had two routines on his CD "It's Not Funny" that I played over and over: one about John Ashcroft covering up a naked statue, and these ten minutes on religion.

6. Steve Martin


Martin has a new CD out called "The Crow", but it's just traditional banjo music. And while the guy can play... it's not why I like his work. I love some of his movies like "L.A. Story" and "All of Me", and I was pleasantly puzzled by his books "Cruel Shoes" and "Pure Drivel". I even saw some of the plays he has written like "The Underpants" and "Picasso at the Lapin Agile". Steve Martin has done a lot of things well, but bluegrass music isn't one of them that I care about.

But as a kid, I had vinyl copies of "A Wild And Crazy Guy" and "Let's Get Small" and I played them to death. I'm not sure his humor has held up; dadist meta-humor must be more fun to perform than to listen to... see Andy Kaufman for more proof. But for a while, Martin reinvented stand-up comedy and stole it back from the Catskill hacks, turning it into an art form for the next generation.

7. Stella


I met a bay area stand-up comedian last week, and he and I agreed that these guys aren't very funny. Or rather, Michael Ian Black's new CD "I Am A Wonderful Man" and Michael Showalter's new CD "Sandwiches & Cats" are both rather flat. I don't know why this is... maybe both comedians are infected with the latest "too hip" comedy scene, where it's more important to appear as smart than to be humorous

This could be a bad trend. It's all white guys in their thirties doing absurdist sketches. Maybe they grew up on too much Saturday Night Live, but while it's very intellectual and edgy, there's nothing there. By eschewing the tools of set-up, delivery, professionalism, and callbacks, they are trying to invent a new method of humor where you simply state cultural references and the attractive young audience knows what you're talking about and chuckles introspectively.

But when Showalter and Black teamed up with David Wain for a short-lived Comedy Central series called "Stella", they really brought the funny. And they've contributed to other things as well, either singly or together: Black is funny on "I Love the Eighties/Nineties/Etc.", and now teams with Showalter in the new series "Michael & Michael Have Issues". I just bought the DVD "Stella: Live in Boston", which I will peruse at my leisure sometime soon.

8. Steven Wright


God, I used to love Steven Wright. In the eighties, he had a unique brand of deadpan humor. The late eighties had an explosion of stand-up comedy, with the opening of hundreds of comedy clubs nationwide. Unfortunately, there wasn't a corresponding explosing in unique talent. I liked Eric Bogosian, San Kinison, Ellen Degeneres, Bob "Bobcat" Goldthwait, and Paula Poundstone. I reviled Andrew Dice Clay.

But Steven was incredible, tossing off bizarre one-liners like and emmissary from Mars. Check out his classic "I Have A Pony" (recently reissued with DVD):

"I used to be a narrator for bad mimes." "I was once walking through the forest alone, and a tree fell right in front of me — and I didn't hear it." "For my birthday, I got a humidifier and a dehumidifier... put 'em in the same room. Let 'em fight it out." "Right now I'm having amnesia and deja vu at the same time." One night, I stayed up all night playing poker with Tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died." "I like to reminisce with people I don't know. Granted, it takes longer." "I have map of the United States, it's actual size. It says one mile equals one mile." "I got up the other day and everything in my apartment had been stolen and replaced with an exact replica." "I went into a place to eat, it said 'breakfast anytime' So I ordered French toast during the Renaissance."

9. Forbidden Broadway


I don't know why, but recently I bought them all. Seriously... that's like a decade of musical theater parodies. I'm so gay, it's unbelievable. Worse - I understand all the jokes. I've seen everything they talk about, even the obscure snarky comments about "Steel Pier". It's like Weird Al Yankovich for theater fags. But hey... at least it's not "The Capitol Steps". Now *those* fans are really pathetic {grin}. No, seriously, I like the Capitol Steps, too. And Mark Russell. And Liam Lynch's "Fake Bjork Song". I don't even draw the line at Renassaince Fair filking. And if you don't know what THAT is, then consider yourself lucky.

Forbidden Broadway may be hit-or-miss, but when it hits, it sometimes suceeds better than the original. Sometimes I find myself singing their parody "Into the Words" more than the Sondheim original. I can't picture Annie without a cigarette dangling from her mouth singing "I'm thirty years old... tomorrow". When I saw "Spamalot" and realized that the ballad "The Song That Goes Like This" was basically a Forbidden Broadway co-opted number, and that Mel Brooks only *wishes* Young Frankenstein was as funny as this. Well, I spend my money off Broadway on the original parodyists.

10. Jonathan Coulter


This guy is a genius. And I'm saying that not simply because he's the first computer geek guitarist to make it big. The guy is such a dweeb that he has *both* a myspace page (http://www.myspace.com/jonathancoulton) and twitter (http://twitter.com/JonathanCoulton). Riffing off of They Might Be Giants' "Dial-A-Song", the guy has released a "Thing A Week"... free music for download on iTunes or his own webpage. In short, if you can't find funny stuff for free from this guy - you aren't trying.

Some of my favorites are "Re: Your Brains" and "Code Monkey". But his song "Still Alive" was the incredible ending to the videogame "Portal". And to say that an acoustic song trumps thousands of lines of computer code is high praise for a song, indeed.

If you have time, also check out the following CDs and DVDs:

Amy's Answering Machine "Volume 1" and "Volume 2"
Brian Posehn "Live In: Nerd Rage"
Demetri Martin "These Are Jokes"
Todd Barry "From Heaven", "Falling Off the Bone", and "Medium Energy"
Russell Brand "The Russell Brand Radio Show: The Best of What's Legal"
Mike Birbiglia "Two Drink Mike" and "What I Should Have Said Was Nothing"
Paul F. Tompkins "Impersonal"
Doug Benson "Unbalanced Load" and "Professional Humoredian"
Zach Galifinakis "Live at the Purple Onion" and "Visioneers"
Eugene Mirman "En Garde, Society!", "Invite Them Up", and "The Absurd Nightclub Comedy of Eugene Mirman"
Lewis Black "Anticipation", "The Carnegie Hall Performance", "The White Album", "The End Of The Universe", "Rules of Enragement" and more
David Attell "Skanks For The Memories"
Jim Gaffigan "King Baby", "Beyond The Pale" and "Doing My Time"

In addition, in the past month I've bought a bunch of DVDs of comedy series that I never got to watch on cable: The State, The Whitest Kids U'Know, Flight of the Conchords, The Big Gay Sketch Show, The Upright Citizen's Brigade, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Not The 9 O'Clock News, Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple In The World, and Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!

However, I haven't watched any of these yet, so I'm not sure which ones are the best.

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JoCo fuckin' rocks. I loveLoveLOVE "Code Monkey", but like this one a whole big bunch, too:

Staci and I went to amateur night at the Comedy Works one week night and Steven Wright just appeared between two acts. Rambled for forty minutes till the audience was asphyxiated from laughter. The man is a rare, rare talent indeed.

Other works to check out: Dennis Miller's The Off-White Album, Brian Regan's debut CD, and (oh dear God) Joe Rogan's I'm Gonna be Dead Some Day. Lemme know if you need rips, I can supply.

Lol! Those were fabulous...
Have you had a chance to check out some good ol' Aussie comedy acts? I think you'll like them.

The only Australian comics I know are: Dame Edna (and I own some of Barry Humphries early CDs), Yahoo Serious, and Ryan Shelton. Sorry.

"Forbidden Broadway" always makes me laugh. I can still remember seeing one of the last performances they did when the Boston production closed up shop circa '91. I actually pirated a recording from that show.

It also serves as an interesting archive of Broadway. For example, the one I saw, it lampooned Kathleen Turner in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", Sting in "Threepenny Opera" (remember those??), and the Jonathan Price debacle of "Miss Saigon". On one of the CDs, a hysterical number that sends up both David Mammet and Madonna's B'way debut. it's a great snapshot of what was happening on B'way in the late 80's/dawn of the 90's. It's a little reminiscent of reading old copies of "Spy Magazine".

Of course, the bonus, Gerard Alessandrini is a cute bear dude-so I suppose this technically qualifies as bear comedy??

I really, really miss Bill Hicks. Greatest comic most people have never heard of. Cosby is responsible for my first exploration of existentialism, for asking "Why is there Air?" - his explanation was that it exists to fill up basketballs, which to my teenaged dope-addled brain, sounded VERY deep. Next trip, pick up some Emo Phillips, arguably one of the smarter comics ever, purely amazing at wordplay without being pseudo.

Oh God, how I love Steven Wright. I went after the CD of Pony as soon as I found out it was available. And although he's lost his cachet, I still go nuts for Weird Al. His "One More Minute" is still a classic SM comedy song.

"Oh I'd rather have 100,000 paper cuts on my tongue
than to spend one more minute with you."

Jonathan Coulton rocks my socks.
Whitest Kids U' Know is incredible. i dunno which DVDs you have, but i highly recommend the autoerotic asphyxiation and "gallon of PCP" sketches.

in a similar vein to Coulton, there's Jon Lajoie:

Of those DVD’s, Not the 9 o’Clock News gets my highest recommendation. If it doesn’t have Pamela Anderson’s devastatingly accurate Kate Bush parody, it should!

The American series inspired by this one, HBO’s Not Necessarily the News, was good too. Both have some dated moments, always the peril with topical humour, but the funny stuff evens it out. I remember a very funny bit on NNTN where they re-edited a Margaret Thatcher interview to make it look like a commercial for Calvin Klein jeans.

The State can be a bit hit-and-miss but when it hits, it hits hard. I think the problem was it was a big troupe, only a few members of which (Thomas Lennon, Kerri Kinney, Michael Ian Black, Ben Garant) actually had talent. Their post-State TV show, Viva Variety, had some hilarious moments and is tragically underrated. Like a lot of sketch comedy of the period, The State wears its influences (mainly The Kids in the Hall) heavily on its sleeve.

Upright Citizen’s Brigade was one of the biggest comedy disappointments ever, at least for me personally. All the cast members were hilarious as bit players/writers for Conan O’Brien, so I’m baffled as to why their actual show should be flatter than Coke™ left out in the hot sun for a week.

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