As with any art compilation — whether it’s a book of landscape paintings, a CD of jazz standards or a double-live album collection of some of LA’s best known and under-the-radar comics — there’s going to be, at best, some disposable samples and, at worst, so much collateral damage that you spend most of your time sifting through the rubble for something with a pulse.
Luckily, in the case of Comedy Death-Ray, Comedy Central Records’ new 18 tracks of stand-up, it’s more of the former. And even at this collection’s lowest points (see Andy Daly’s excruciatingly heavy-handed satirical take on cliched comedy premises and one-liners or Neil Hamburger’s needlessly slow-paced 11-and-a-half minute series of bad (and not in the ironic way jokes) you’re still experiencing something unique.
More than a random selection of comics, Comedy Death-Ray gives its listeners a peek inside an entire culture of comedy. This weekly show in LA (from where the name of the album derives) showcases talented comics, and, over the past five years, it has also created a community. And while it’s surely an exclusive community, it also brings together comedians of wildly contrasting levels of popularity.
While obvious stars like Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Maria Bamford and Paul F. Tompkins turn in killer sets on Death-Ray, what makes this album such a satisfying listen is that it’s exposing newer talent.
Coming off an excellent showing in the New Faces show at Montreal’s Just for Laughs comedy festival, for example, up-and-comer Ian Edwards proves on Death-Ray that he belongs with the big boys and girls.
His shark-attack bit — wherein he pits Bethany Hamilton’s supposed bravery at facing another surfing accident against most people’s common sense that tells them never to go in the water again — is hilarious and also well-measured; somehow after spewing venom, he avoids sounding like a cynical jerk.
Guitar-wielding comic Nick Thune turns in a down-tempo series of concise, smart quips: “What if you could respond to what people wrote in your senior yearbook?’ Thune asks. “Dear, Mackenzie: Thanks for encouraging me to have a kick-ass summer. ‘Cause I did. Sincerely, Nick. P.S.: I haven”t changed.”
Doug Benson, recently knocked off this season of Last Comic Standing, proves that with a little insight and a lot of talent, a comic can take contemporary traditional comedy premises — O.J. Simpson, TiVo, smoking pot (he’s the Rosa Parks of pot smokers) and make funny jokes out of them.
But if there’s a best part of these two albums — and why not have some balls and pick one — it would be Jimmy Pardo taking 9 minutes, 3 seconds to get to his first joke. He uses all that time to mess with the audience, start and stop the first lines of bits and explain that he’s about to tell jokes; it’s hilarious.
Pardo’s faux cockiness and his perfectly proportioned old-school, buttoned-up-charm-meets-hipster-swagger make for an incredibly funny and wholly welcomed recursive comedy ride.
That it’s safe to assume that Pardo was the host of that night’s CDR show, and thus was afforded a lot of time to soften up the crowd (where other comics were expected to launch right into jokes) doesn’t matter. You’d struggle hard to find another comic who could entertain so thoroughly for that long without telling one joke.