Sometimes a crowd just isn’t on your side. Sometimes, timing isn’t on your side. And sometimes, the powers combine, and the time you’ve chosen to record your comedy album happens to be a time when the crowd doesn’t want to listen to or laugh at your jokes. This seems to be the unfortunate fate of Paul Morrissey’s latest release, Paul Morrissey’s Back. Recorded in front of a lukewarm crowd in Appleton, Wisconsin, many of the jokes don’t hit right, and the comedian falls heavily on crowd work to keep the audience laughing.
While this sportscaster-turned-comedian certainly has a quick wit and plenty of entertaining material, when the crowds won’t shut up and listen to it, the performance degenerates into a plea for attention that makes for a slightly uncomfortable album. Morrissey has a charming, awkward-kid-at-school vibe on stage, so it’s not a surprise that he can’t help but acknowledge the audience’s lack of response to most jokes. He mentions it early on, but when he’s still unable to win the crowd over, he winds up finishing many of his jokes with something like, “Okay, most of you didn’t find that funny…” This, actually, often gets the biggest laugh.
When watching a show live, audience members have the benefit of being swept into the moment. We can be carried along by the laughter of the people around us, and we can enjoy a show filled with crowd work because we’re there to see the crowd. We can even enjoy a comedian who repeatedly laments a chatty table up front or a disengaged crowd or the fact that we didn’t seem to get his last three punch lines. It’s all part of the experience of being in the club.
Listening to the album alone at home, however, the experience is quite different. Removed from that crowd, all the listener hears is a comedian not getting laughs and talking to people we don’t know. And it’s hard to enjoy a joke that doesn’t get laughs. After the first plea to the audience to shut up and laugh at his jokes, Morrissey kind of loses the at-home listener. Morrissey is clearly a skilled writer and comfortable on stage in a way that puts his audience at ease. I’m sure he sent home happy crowds all weekend in Appleton. Unfortunately, little of that experience translates to this ill-fated album.
You can listen to a few sample tracks and pick up a copy of Paul Morrissey’s Back here. You may also want to get a taste of Paul live on tour so you can see what it’s like to be in on the joke. Check out PaulHasAWebsite.com for more info.