Lewis & Kathleen Escape to Canada isn’t so much a stand-up album as it is a travelogue of a Canadian tour that comedians Lewis Black and Kathleen Madigan embarked on. Cut together like a great podcast episode or NPR field piece, the recording stitches together recordings of the two hanging out together on the road, snippets of their stand-up acts, and lots of material from a kind of post-show Q&A session where they respond to comments and queries written down by the audience ahead of time.
It’s a great concept that allows the comics to keep the bulk of their acts separate from this release, ostensibly for use in a filmed special or CD release. But the results are as mixed as the sound quality of the recordings.
At its best, this feels like an extension of Black and Madigan’s stand-up, with the former reading the complaints and personal rants of the audience with his well-known mixture of phlegmy fury and bemused indifference, and the latter chiming in sporadically with snappy asides and eye rolls. But it is hard to feel terribly connected to much of this release if you weren’t in the audience on the night of the recording. Without much context to grasp on to, it often feels like a podcast made up just of raw audio without any framing devices or true structure.
As well, though she is given co-credit on this recording, Madigan is barely a part of these proceedings. She pops up most frequently in the on the road segments, recorded between cities on a tour bus. But even then she is often drowned out by Black’s ravings about his disgust with the fall and winter and comments about how segments of Canada look like the Dakotas.
When Black and his audience are on, this set is a blast to listen to. The pieces recorded at Toronto’s Massey Hall are particularly great, with someone in the crowd giving voice to his frustrations about cows and the removal of an airline ad because it referred to passengers as “cattle.” Through it all Black gives these little rants his all, as if they were his own, which is what made him such a vital presence to The Daily Show and in films like Inside Out. No matter if he’s reading off a TelePrompTer or from a script, he can make it all feel extemporaneous.
Lewis & Kathleen Escape to Canada is available exclusively on Audible.
Robert Ham is an arts and culture journalist based in Portland, OR. Read more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.