Ian Karmel burst into the still nascent Portland comedy scene fully-formed. He’d done a bit of acting and improv, but was confident and comfortable enough that when he tried out stand-up for the first time, he immediately soared. And just as a comedy boom started to slowly explode in his hometown, he quickly eclipsed it, grabbing touring gigs opening for John Oliver and then decamping for L.A. where he almost immediately landed a job writing for Chelsea Lately (he’s now working for The Late Late Show With James Corden).
So while this unnervingly talented comedian hasn’t landed an HBO or Netflix special, that can’t be too far around the corner. Especially after the release of his first album on former hometown label Kill Rock Stars. Sure, he’s been at this game for a while, but you can hear how completely at ease he is with a mic in his hand. Just jump ahead to the third track and listen to him handle an audience member who, instead of laughing or applauding, was apparently saying, “Terrific. Terrific joke.” Instead of a quick shushing or dismissal, he riffs for nearly two minutes on this poor soul while also trying to put him at ease for his unusual reaction.
Karmel has great material, as well (I particularly loved his extended bit in support of the folks working the graveyard shift at 7-11, and his love of monkeys dressed like cowboys that ride dogs around like horses is beyond reproach), but so much of it is in the delivery. He’s one of the few recent stand-ups that know how to use silence and repetition to elevate the material. The cowboy monkeys bit is a perfect example. At first, Karmel slowly reveals the source of his great joy (“monkeys….dressed like cowboys…riding around dogs…as though these dogs were horses”), then he builds and builds upon this image to a huge crescendo. He could move on, but instead, he circles back around to the beginning, quietly pushing the audience inch by inch closer to the image of a little primate sitting on the back of a canine. It’s masterful work.
Again, this all stems from confidence. Karmel’s sure enough of himself and his material that he can move what used to be his opening gambit—a segment making fun at his unusual name (heard here on the track titled “Whimsical British Candy Store”)—to the middle of his set, and then dropping what was his big closer—the horror novel description of a burger known as “the Juicy Lucy”—as a bonus track on the disc. The rest of the album is as good or better and another huge leap forward for a comic already well on his way to greatness.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.