I first became acquainted with Jen Kirkman’s work through the epic Funny or Die web series Drunk History, where a subject would drink insane amounts of alcohol before sharing a history lesson that would later be acted out verbatim.
While Michael Cera’s portrayal of Alexander Hamilton will always hold a special place in my heart, Kirkman’s interpretation of the life of Oney Judge, a slave, is totally top notch.
That comedic storytelling ability is readily apparent on her sophomore album, Hail to the Freaks. Following some spontaneous banter with the audience – as a side note, beginning a comedy album with unscripted material is wicked ballsy, to boot, so she gets mad props for that alone – Kirkman launches into some personal anecdotes about her wedding. Though wedding tales can be insufferable, her off-the-cuff, colloquial delivery makes these stories feel like shared hilarious moments among friends, rather than a tired comic routine.
That intimate connection is the biggest strength of this album, which is uber hard to cultivate outside of a live performance. Instead of a one-way relationship between comedian and audience, Kirkman’s routine is conversational in tone. It’s self-deprecating, engaging, meaningful and relatable. Not to mention, you know, really funny.
Though much of the album centers on those personal moments, be they wedding tales or the trials and tribulations of weight gain, the Chelsea Lately regular does occasionally offer social commentary to great effect. In her discussion of gay marriage, for example, she utters perhaps the best critique of Obama’s position I’ve ever heard: “I’m very mad at Obama, I think he’s a big nerd.” It’s not a particularly vivid statement, nor does it really make much sense, if you think about it. But man, what a great insult. You can’t tell me you’re not imagining Obama wearing taped plastic glasses and suspenders now.
And, along those lines, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention her hilarious yet blood-curdling take on Sarah Palin’s existence. Just like a horror movie, she explains, Palin’s not just gone for good after her loss in 2008: we’re in the tense lull before the monster returns with a vengeance to win, destroy the country– all that jazz.
Even if her political pontification occasionally borders on cynical, she manages to keep those moments just shy of irredeemably pessimistic– as frightening and soul-killing the prospect of a Palin in power is.
Overall, Hail to the Freaks shows how a conversational tone is an asset for a comedy album, even if the medium is less intimate than a live performance. So take a listen and see if you feel like you’ve made a new friend.
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