The more conversational, storytelling type of stand-up performance is perhaps the most difficult for a comedian to master. There’s a sense of trust involved between performer and audience that doesn’t come easy, as the comic asks you to follow them along on a possibly discursive journey…But when it works, it’s a delight.
Chris Gethard possibly has another strike against him with this approach, as he’s not a “name” just yet. Dropping the needle or pressing play on this, his first comedy album, might be a harder sell for some comedy fans. But, boy is it worth the effort.
My Comedy Album is, in a fashion, an extension of the spirit of Gethard’s public access TV show (The Chris Gethard Show, natch) in that it has a very inclusive, exploratory feel. His stories, whether they focus on his experiences doing drugs or losing his erection while being fellated, have a therapeutic quality. In relating some of his most awkward moments, you can almost hear the weight being lifted off Gethard’s shoulders. He also seems to want to find common ground with his audience; I can picture him chatting and decompressing and encouraging fans for hours after his set wrapped up.
What fuels that thought could be a small detriment to this album. If you don’t know Gethard’s show or his work with IFC or his well-documented struggles with depression, his stand-up style might be hard to get comfortable with at first. But that’s where I think the sequencing of his stand-up set comes into play.
There is self-deprecation in the early part of the hour tempered with hilarious padding. Like losing his boner by getting stuck on the thought that Alan Rickman (who lived in the building on whose roof he was getting blown) might stumble upon he and his date. Or the surreal juxtaposition between the horrific stories being told on the reality show I Survived and the commercials that interrupt them (a woman recounts being raped, and then stabbed in the head by her assailant which cuts to, “Do you need a more comfortable bed?”).
It all provides a great setup for the later, much more confessional material that explores his fraught relationship with drugs through the lens of getting completely wrecked on molly at Bonnaroo or wrestling with the news of how his large head almost destroyed his mother’s lady parts as he was being born. If only he would have stopped at the stand-up, and not tacked a folk tune titled “Crying at the Wawa” to the end, this would have been a near-perfect album. It isn’t difficult to preserve My Comedy Album’s greatness though: you just have to hit the stop button or lift the tone arm at the right moment. A little extra effort is not too much to ask.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter @bob_ham.