Tig Notaro – “LIVE” + Maria Bamford- “Ask Me About My New God!”

Grade: A/A

Let me preface this review by saying that I am not lumping these two comediennes together for any reason other than their total opposites. Tig Notaro’s album “LIVE” is the rawest, most unprepared and emotionally heart-wrenching comedy album ever. Maria Bamford’s “Ask Me About My New God!” is a wholly prepared journey through characters and comically dramatic situations that many of us have been through. My purpose for combining the two in a review is simply to highlight the versatility two combined comediennes can have. Stand-up comedy is still dominated by men, despite there being many outstandingly funny women out there, and I want to highlight two in the most opposite way possible.

So let’s start with Notaro. Notaro was a relative unknown before her 2012 sophomore album “LIVE” (which is pronounced “to live” and not “to see someone live”) as Louis C.K. plugged the album to everyone in his e-mail outbox. A simple $5 donation was needed to download an album that was “revolutionary.” Her biggest acting credit was one episode of the Office and she only had one album to date, but the word of Louis was enough to push “LIVE” to the forefront. Notaro’s comedy is dark, and usually more easy to relate to than on this album. But 2012 was a bad year for Notaro. She suffered a bacterial intestinal disease, and her mother died tragically shortly after she got out of the hospital. Her girlfriend left her soon after, unable to deal with the stress. Only a few months later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The album was recorded only a couple days after this. “LIVE” is a short set, one that is definitely improvised in parts. Notaro says that she cannot competently tell the jokes she has written and talks mainly about all of the problems in her life. Thankfully, the audience plays into her troubles and is sympathetic. Towards the end of her set, she says that she should probably tell some actual scripted jokes, to which some audience members yell “No!” and “This is awesome!” because no such display of brutal and personal honesty has ever graced a comedy album, and maybe no recording ever. Notaro’s jokes on the album grace along her cancer, and the death of her mother, and it is painfully aware to the listener that Notaro is doing comedy because she has nothing else left to lose. The album came out last year but just got a physical release this week. Pay for it, if you can, because she is one comedienne that deserves it. I am not reviewing it for the grade; I am reviewing it for the publicity of her name coming up. “LIVE” is the most brutal record you’ll ever hear.

Maria Bamford, meanwhile, released her fourth album “Ask Me About My New God!” to the typical audience. Bamford is now most well-known for her turn as DeBrie in season four of Arrested Development, and I’ll admit that I was not familiar with her comedy beforehand. But Bamford shares some personal problems throughout her comedy. While Notaro deals with physical illnesses, Bamford deals with depression and her family’s misunderstandings of it in a long burst of practiced characters and dark honesty. Ironically, the thing that the two comediennes share in common is an age – 42 (Notaro is roughly four and a half months older than Bamford) – and both use it as a gauge of immaturity and not growing up among traditional standards. Bamford cites people saying that she should be married by now as one of the main inspirations for the album. She jumps between voices and characters – her specialty – to emphasize the heaviness of mental illnesses and the families that don’t understand them. Her humor is dark throughout, in a more realistic way than Notaro’s. Think of the cynicism of Seinfeld updated for the Internet age and done solely by Elaine.

“LIVE” and “Ask Me About My New God!” couldn’t be more different. “LIVE” is only thirty-something minutes long, and is like no comedy you’ve ever heard. Seriously, it is revolutionary. Notaro plays into her audience’s reactions to all of the bad news and gives a superior set of raw, emotional comedy that both assures the listener that someone always has it worse and prompting the listener to want to reach through their listening device and give Notaro a hug, because no one has ever sounded more in need of one. Bamford’s album trusts audience participation, meanwhile, through many practiced acts and bits that lead into humor almost as dark as Notaro’s. Bamford’s album is also very long, compared to Notaro’s. Yet both are hysterical, and emotionally draining, and both defy the long-standing sexist myth that male comedians are funnier than female ones. These are honestly two of the funniest comedy albums I have ever listened to. Notaro’s album is painful and honest, a look into maybe the worst year any human has ever undergone. Bamford’s album is satirically dark with many personas and voices in a predetermined setlist. They are both hysterical, and both Notaro and Bamford should be forces to watch out for in the near future.

I don’t have an “If you like this” because of how much I stress listening to these two albums.

-By Andrew McNally

The Lonely Island – “The Wack Album”

Photo Credit: Pitchfork

Photo Credit: Pitchfork

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “I F****d My Aunt,” “The Compliments”

“The Wack Album” is more of an amalgamate of ideas. The band throws a lot of ideas at the wall,and as soon as one starts to get stale, they move on to the next. Not everything works, but some stick very well. Only two tracks from this album were viral sensations from “SNL,” a show which none of the three members are a part of anymore. This has allowed them to expand into some new territories, with mixed results.

Comedy troupes that spoof hip-hop are certainly not a new thing. It is a very tired route for comedians to take, thanks to the Internet. The Lonely Island were by no means one of the first groups to do it, but they were among the first of the Internet era (remember “Lazy Sunday”? The song aired on “SNL” eight years ago). The Lonely Island have come under the ironic problem of having to sidestep the generic hip-hop parodies that they helped spawn. “The Wack Album,” their third full-length, has its hits and misses. The guest list on the album is as expansive as anyone could possible ask for: Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, the return of T-Pain, Kendrick Lamar, Adam Levine, Kristin Wiig and Hugh Jackman, among others. The guest stars, all having fun in the studio, help to add to the album’s theme of spoofing the very foundations of hip-hop.

The best bits on the album are the ones that have the simplest concepts. “The Compliments” is the three band members – Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone – simply complimenting each other, making fun of insult songs. The song features the best guest spot, from rapper Too $hort, who has no idea what he is doing there. “Meet the Crew” is a parody of rappers constantly saying their own names in songs by being a band introduction with many, crazy personalities (ending with Rod Stewart, played by Samberg). “I F****d My Aunt” has the band members (and T-Pain) recounting childhood memories and following them up with “and [x] years later I f****d my aunt.” It’s an incredibly simple concept with no context, and works well because of it. The album’s best tracks all share this.

The more inventive and inspired bits actually do not work as well here. “YOLO” and “3-Way” are well thought-out, but regular “SNL” viewers are already familiar with those two tracks. “I Run NY” features Samberg rapping from the perspective of NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg. The song’s inspiration was, inventively so, to spoof all NYC rappers that claim to own the city. But the song falls flat as it quickly becomes a bit about Bloomberg saying profane things he would never say normally. “I Don’t Give a Honk” and “Hugs” cancel each out, as both songs are about replacing the F-word with a safer term, neither of which are very funny. Finally, “Diaper Money” is rapping from the perspective of a married man, but a very profane one, and it all doesn’t really make sense. The Lonely Island have never been ones to stray away from crude and bodily humor (“Dick In a Box” won them an Emmy), which is why the more inspired ideas end up missing. The characters themselves tend not to make sense. “The Wack Album” is at it’s best when the trio, guests or not, are stripped down and working solely with funny concepts.

If You like this, try: “The Sounds of Science,” the Beastie Boys box set that contains some of their lesser-known funny songs. Another white trio from NY that revolutionized comedy-rap.

-By Andrew McNally

Myq Kaplan – “Meat Robot”

Photo Credit: Vegetarian Star

Photo Credit: Vegetarian Star

Grade: A

Key Bits: N/A, because they’re all equally great.

“You seem like a good crowd, like my demographic, which is people that know the word demographic” quips Kaplan on the opening bit of his album, “Meat Robot.” The comedian, still on the rise, is known for rapid-fire jokes that often involve clever wordplay and math. Kaplan is a vegan, and has used that as the basis on many bits from his two albums, this and his equally excellent debut, “Vegan Mind Meld.” The third track on “Meat Robot” sees him coming up with names of fake meats that have yet to be invented, including fake chicken called “Fiction,” “Chicken Pretenders,” “Baby Back Fibs” and “Ven-Isn’t.” This is just a taste (pun somewhat intended) of the wordplay Kaplan delves into.

Kaplan comes off as being as nerdy as he looks, and he has always used this as an advantage in his comedy. “Apollo is Apollo in Greek, in Roman, in French, in everything except Spanish, where he is a chicken.” Yet he still makes bathroom humor and race jokes, in totally inverted and original ways that appeal to broad audiences.

The only fault in “Vegan Mind Meld” is that Kaplan’s rapid-fire delivery went too fast at points, and although it makes it funnier, it requires a few listens to pick up every joke. He is still very speedy on this album, but he slows down a bit. At points, he audibly stops himself to slow down. Every bit on this album sticks. Some require a little work and patience, others are instant one-liners. But Kaplan’s grasp at smart and original stand-up is wholly original. The only fault on this album is not one of Kaplan’s, but the constant shrill of one audience member who almost ruins jokes. “Meat Robot” is a work of comic brilliance, one that tests the audience, but pays off on every single joke.

If you like this, try: “I Have a Pony” by Steven Wright. A classic comedy album from an even more deranged mind.

-By Andrew McNally