bout a month ago, I went to see some amateur comedians performing at a dive bar in my neighborhood. I wasn’t expecting to see anything particularly revelatory, and the night proceeded to live up to my expectations. By the time the third comedian had gotten up, most of the audience had cleared out. It seems that making blasé observations about McDonalds and then engaging in a political discourse with a heckler in the front row doesn’t make for great comedy; big surprise there.
Comedy Death-Ray is a well-known stand-up showcase held on Tuesday nights at the UCB Theatre in Los Angeles, attracting some of the best comedians in the business, including Louis C.K. and Zach Galifianakis. For an event that is becoming somewhat of an aspiration for comedians, what’s shocking about this trudging two-disc compilation is that it runs like a Laughetizers Night at the Applebees in Aurora, IL. If this CD proves anything, it’s that comedians are beginning to run on tired material, trying to shock their audience with AIDS jokes, Paris Hilton jabs, and obnoxious yelling.
Missteps occur from the very first comedian, who, surprisingly enough, is Patton Oswalt, despite the fact that fault lies elsewhere. It’s just that the Einsteins who put this thing together thought his Kentucky Fried Chicken bit was so funny on Werewolves & Lollipops that they’d use it again in a valiant attempt to beat it into the ground. Mission accomplished. Afterwards, they sat around and said, “You know how we could really make this thing suck? Let’s follow it up with an 11-minute Jimmy Pardo bit! That’ll show ‘em!” Sure enough, listening to Pardo make jabs at audience members like a drunk blowhard at your parents’ failed dinner party is tantamount to watching Mickey Rooney MC a librarian’s convention.
For the level of craft that walks through Comedy Death-Ray, why give funnier people less time on the album? David Cross, whose seven-and-a-half minute bit touches on horror pornography, S&M masks, and how much he hates his dog, is forced to follow sixteen-and-a-half outrageously boring minutes by Paul F. Tompkins. Brian Posehn, who has perhaps the funniest opening line on the whole album (“You know, I discovered that it’s not at all gay while you’re blowing your buddy, if you yell ‘Slayer’ during it”) gets under five minutes. And Andy Daly, whose four minutes of lampooning the stand-up format accounts for the most brilliant and innovative four minutes of this two-and-a-half hour trek (“All this stuff that’s going on in the world today, it’s like, HE-LLO!”), is stuffed in as the second-to-last track of the first disc, right before more tired material from the fake cops over at Reno 911.
Of the comedians who are given long stretches of time, the two who really shine are Maria Bamford and Doug Benson. The former’s sixteen minutes provide perceptively personal and unusually theatrical material. With her quirky pipes, which ululate, clench up, and swerve from a raspy choke to a cartoon mouse to Midwestern housewives at breakneck speed, Bamford brings originality in a field of comedians who persist with angry tirades and yawning sarcasm. Discussing returning to her hometown and finding that her high-school bully still picks on her, despite her fame, Bamford offers up a drop of sympathy before dishing out cold revenge (her nemesis: “Cash, credit, or debit?”). Benson isn’t as original as Bamford, but he makes up for it by being consistently funny for his allotted time, even though the majority of it deals with pot. One of his best jokes arrives in an observation on cities, “They have a saying in Seattle, if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes, and then shoot yourself in the face.”