On Sandwiches & Cats, The State alum Michael Showalter, so often part of an ensemble, takes to the stage all by himself. He brings some of what his fans will expect (random, bizarro studio-recorded sketch and improv) and some of what they won’t (straight-up old-school stand-up).
Showalter’s debut CD is a jumble of non sequiturs, and the comic’s at his best when he’s just thinking out loud. On “Coffee,” he riffs on the suckiness of Starbucks (“It’s too bit-ter. It’s just too bit-ter. It’s way too bit-ter.”) and the absurdity of the uberchain’s in-store hawking of the movie Akeelah and the Bee.
On “Requip,” one of the few genuine laugh-out-loud tracks, his delivery is flawless as he marvels at the fictional-sounding but apparently epidemic Restless Leg Syndrome. One of the funniest bits, “Screech,” during which Showalter recounts the horror of being mistaken for “one of the most iconic losers ever of all time,” unwittingly cock-blocks itself: The track’s title blows the punch line before the joke’s even begun.
There’s a lot of that kind of thing on the CD: jokes that miss by a hair or a line that gets repeated one too many times, but the live track “Cats” shows the potential of Showalter’s comic prowess: After hearing the faint sound of meowing, the comedian realizes an audience member — in the front row, no less — has had the audacity to bring her cats along. Showalter goes after her so effortlessly, so unflinchingly, that when it’s over, you’re not sure if he’s genuinely furious at Cat Lady for doing something so fucking stupid or he’s simply had some innocent fun at her expense. Probably a little of both. It almost makes you think he should consider planting a Cat Lady in the audience at every show.
Showalter does enlist some friends for the sketch portions of the album, most notably Janeane Garofalo, who does a dead-on impression of an automated help-line drone on “Term Warner Cable,” and Eugene Mirman, whose “Berhune Orchards” bit is as creepy as it is hysterical. Hearing Mirman (and Showalter, in the background) cracking up at the pure insanity of a sexually suggestive apple-orchard ad (“Just imagine the fun your teeth will have puncturing the skin of these tree-ripe healthy snacks, like they are your husband’s balls”) doesn’t hurt, either. Witnessing comics having fun is, after all, funny.
The CD weaves back and forth between stand-up and sketch in the same way Sarah Silverman’s Jesus Is Magic does. Disconcerting scenes apropos of nothing are clearly Showalter’s bread and butter. If they’re yours, too, you’ll really like the adventure journalism/porno track “Erotica” and the sort of pointless “Lake Wasood.” If they’re not, your mind will wander and you’ll wish Showalter (like Silverman before him), wouldn’t rely so heavily on what sometimes feel like tangents and spend more time on more straight-forward funny stuff.
Which isn’t to say he should give up the tangents all together. (Especially since sometimes they work. “Sandwich Commandments” is a particularly silly but sort of charming track all about, well, sandwich commandments.)
When you do the kind of comedy Michael Showalter does, you’re inevitably going to miss sometimes if you ever want to hit. How else do you stumble upon unlikely gems like “I’m outta heeeeeeere”? Showalter’s humor is so intrinsically out-there, not everyone’s always going to get the joke, which probably explains why Stella was simultaneously dubbed one of Entertainment Weekly’s Top Ten TV Shows of 2005 and canceled after one season.
Showalter’s CD gives the distinct impression that we’re witnessing a comic at work, seeing him in the throes of the creative process. This is his first comedy CD effort, after all. And it’s hard not to wonder what he’s got in store for us next.