Word on the street is that comedy is the new rock and roll. People follow young hip comedians the way they used to follow indie bands. Take a gander around; you’ll see what I mean. I couldn’t tell you who started the whole thing, but I can tell you that it’s not new, just revived. Bill Hicks and George Carlin lived the rock and roll comedian lifestyle back in the day. But lately, there seems to be a comedy explosion that has infiltrated indie rock. Sub Pop seems to sit at ground zero of this phenomenon, housing such comedians on its label as David Cross, Eugene Mirman and now Patton Oswalt. Most of America will probably recognize Oswalt either from his varied television experience or as the voice of Remy in the new animated film, Ratatouille, but he was also part of the revolutionary Comedians of Comedy. Besides Oswalt, the Comedians of Comedy (its title somewhat of a spoof on the Kings of Comedy film) included Maria Bamford, Brian Posehn and Zach Galifianakis. That quartet and the previously mentioned comedians, along with such figures as Sarah Silverman, Aziz Ansari, Michael Showalter (and for that matter, the rest of the members of The State and Stella) and Flight of the Conchords represent the new era of indie rock comedy. It’s not just because they might appear on indie labels, or that they play indie rock clubs. It’s more of a question of style and substance. Each one of these people perform comedy without really telling `jokes.’ Just like indie bands play whatever they want without influence from a major label telling them what to wear or how to look or sound, these comedians say whatever they want as long as someone laughs. And there’s plenty of people laughing, especially me.
This is my kind of humor. Whether or not it really has anything to do with `indie rock’ is debatable, but this is the type of humor that I not only respond to, but use in everyday life. Everyday observances are amplified and ridiculed to expose the absolute absurdity of life and daily occurrences. For instance, Oswalt opens his show with a bit on the KFC bowls, those `light brown hillocks of glop,’ as he calls them. It starts out simply enough, and then escalates hysterically into commentary on various aspects of American eating and living habits. I couldn’t do it justice. I should insert here that Werewolves and Lollipops, Patton Oswalt’s latest CD, also comes with a DVD. The video portion was recorded at Athens, Georgia’s 40 Watt Club in October of 2006 while the audio portion was recorded a month later at the Cap City Comedy Club in Austin, Texas. What this does is provide the viewer / listener with a little demonstration on how comedy is refined over time and with each performance. Somehow, even though the material is the same, the later audio performance is a lot funnier, having had some time to marinate in Oswalt’s brain as he discovers what works and what doesn’t. That being said, the CD doesn’t have an audience member peeing on another audience member. Yes, this actually happens in the DVD.
One of the changes that took place within the mere span of a month’s time was the changing of the House of Representatives to a Democratic Majority. Oswalt changes his act accordingly, going from doubt at the possibility to sheer amazement, which leads into one of the funniest bits on the disc, and one of the most polarizing. Oswalt compares the Bush administration to the Dukes of Hazzard, constantly getting themselves out jams that are seemingly impossible. The genius part of the whole piece lies in Oswalt’s mimicking of the banjo interludes between commercials. At the Athens show, there’s a few scattered boos that can be heard, but Oswalt is no stranger to this reaction. In fact, he considers himself somewhat a man without a country since he equally makes fun of hippies and Republicans. He’s been booed off stages in San Francisco and Pittsburgh for each respective lampoon. Equally funny to the `Duke Boys’ bit are the pieces about a Star Trek-based word problem in “Physics for Poets” and using a time machine to kill George Lucas with a shovel before he can make the prequels. Oswalt’s incisive and funny take on the prequels is far more entertaining than anything else I’ve heard on the subject. He declares that he doesn’t want to see either Darth Vader or Boba Fett as little kids. His basic point is, “I don’t give a shit where the stuff I love comes from, I just love the stuff I love!” The best comparison comes when he says, “Do you like Angelina Jolie? Does she give you a big boner? Well, here’s Jon Voight’s ball sack!” I’ll give you a moment on that one. Oswalt also shows his ability to adapt to pressure when he takes an awkward moment with a hooting audience member during a quiet moment and transforms it into his patented (no pun intended) escalating comedy.
Amongst all the jokes, Oswalt throws in references to Minor Threat, Fugazi, This Mortal Coil and My Morning Jacket. In interviews he’s been known to praise Hot Chip, TV on the Radio and other indie rock powerhouses. In other words, he’s one of us. I don’t know whether that makes him funnier, but it allows us to relate to his sensibility. He has the same vitriol as friend and labelmate David Cross, yet is not quite as angry. He has the same non-sequitir sense as friend Zach Galifianakis (who makes me laugh hysterically with his impression of a five year-old with a beard, “My Bee-ood huhts!”), though he’s slightly more linear. For a good sense of how off-the-wall he is with his descriptions, listen to “Great Food is Cooked By Psychos” or “Wackity Schmackity Doo!” The latter gets so dangerously off-color that you just can’t help but lose control. He’s as dirty as most of the famous comics, but somehow brings everything into some sense of normalcy by giving us perspective while making us laugh. Above all, he gives us line after line to quote to friends. This is what we used to do on the playground after sneaking a viewing of Eddie Murphy’s Delirious when our parents weren’t paying attention. The next day at school was chock full of references and imitations, the sincerest form of flattery to a comedian. With Werewolves and Lollipops, Patton Oswalt makes me want to memorize his entire performance and repeat it verbatim to all my friends.
David Cross- Shut Up You Fucking Baby!
Zach Galifianakis- Live at the Purple Onion
Eugene Mirman- En Garde, Society!