Comedy has gotten much more democratic over the years: It’s no longer limited to guys in clubs or major-network TV shows. With a bit of free time and minimal iMovie know-how, everyone from budding young comics to name-brand stars can carve out some Internet space for their sense of humor. At the same time, traditional outlets like comedy CDs and DVDs are growing in breadth with the art form itself. It’s a great time to be a comedy fan, and Laugh Track, The A.V. Club’s monthly comedy column, will round it all up—new and noteworthy stand-up, sketch, and online video, much of it courtesy of under-the-radar comedians with a little too much time on their hands.
CD: Snakes, Network Takeover
Billy Scafuri and Adam Lustick wear their pop-culture influences on their sleeves. Members of the vaunted New York sketch group Harvard Sailing Team, Scafuri and Lustick broke off and formed the duo Snakes. They’ve done a few video sketches—containing the twists and turns of a Harvard Sailing Team piece—but their latest is a full-blown hip-hop album, Network Takeover. The beats sample such nostalgia-laden songs as the late-’90s NBA intro music, The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, and Rockapella’s rendition of “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?,” and the words follow suit. On “Bulls Vs. Knicks,” Scafuri and Lustick remember the days of Michael Jordan, Chris Webber, Patrick Ewing, and a pre-sex-scandal Marv Albert. “I’m In Love With Larry David,” prominently featuring the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme, skews more modern by having them confess feelings for the “weird grumpy Jew sea urchin.” The tracks not obsessed with pop culture skew toward playful and uncomfortable humor. “Move To The Garage” is a letter to a live-in girlfriend invading the guys’ personal space. (“Now you’ve got your own space / A space where the car goes / Now you’ve got a vroom mate.”) And all you need to know about “Hip Hop Body” is the line, “You’re makin’ me wanna wack off in this bedroom.” The catchy lyrics and unexpected musical cues keep Snakes from becoming yet another Lonely Island novelty act. Network Takeover serves as a celebration of the arcade-fueled days that guided Scafuri and Lustick’s senses of humor.
You can download the whole thing here for whatever price you want. Check out this one track, though, that was made in collaboration with comedians Tom McCaffrey and Chloe Wepper, “Top Dolla (My Dad’s A Proctologist)”:
CD: Tom McCaffrey (TMC), Get Rich Or Move Back In With My Dad
And while on the subject of Tom McCaffrey… last month found plenty of comedians throwing themselves into the rap arena—most thanks to Tom McCaffrey and his debut album. Good hip-hop tracks need collaborators, and Get Rich Or Move Back In With My Dad features appearances by Snakes, Hannibal Buress, Joe DeRosa, Rob Cantrell, Carolyn Castiglia, and Aisha Tyler, among many others. McCaffrey enlists them to help tackle worn comedy topics, creating songs about hack stand-up material, working as a headliner, and a lack of cash. McCaffrey is clever and well-versed in comedy, packing a track about joke-stealing with names and pertinent bits. (“I robbed Jim Gaffigan of his last Hot Pocket”; “Ripped the tattoos off Janeane Garofalo,” courtesy of Castiglia) He’s also managed to mock rap from the inside—Get Rich is rife with inflated grandeur and jokes about how sampling “Wonderwall” automatically makes a song a hit. The album kicks off with a wink to Joaquin Phoenix’s big faux-announcement that he was quitting acting to become a rapper: McCaffrey’s doing something similar, he quips, but no matter how true it is, there’s no denying his rapid-fire wit fits hip-hop quite well. And the other comics seem to enjoy their bout with the form, too.
Here’s “I’m A Headliner,” featuring an awesome interlude by Hannibal Buress:
Sketch: My Mans
Online, sketch comedy, especially sketch that originated on the stage, can be a tricky thing. Watching through a tiny computer window almost always mitigates the immediacy and danger of live performance. Thankfully, My Mans, a Chicago-based sketch duo, loses almost nothing in its transition from stage to screen. Its independently made TV pilot, a highlight of the 2010 New York TV Festival, contains all the whimsy and mischievousness that made the live show so compelling. There are outbursts of “Bad To The Bone,” a comical fistfight on rollerblades, a riff on ridiculous spoiler alerts, and tributes to uplifting ’80s movies. It sounds random, but it’s about as random as an episode of Mr. Show. Which is to say, okay, yes it’s random, but tiny details (like the seemingly disposable phone conversation that kicks it off) neatly tie the loose plot together by the end.
Here’s the full 17-minute My Mans pilot, along with some standalone sketches that demonstrate My Mans’ potential:
Internet: Toon Wolf
On the other end of the spectrum is Toon Wolf, a budding web series wholly reliant on impressive film tricks. Cartoonist Matt Mattigan discovers that, uncontrollably, he’s been turning into an animated wolf and cartoonishly terrorizing folks around the city. (The violence is more Who Framed Roger Rabbit? than actual violence.) In the two episodes thus far, Matt transforms, freaks out his friends, then hides the mayhem from two smooth-talkin’ FBI agents hot on his trail. The already giddy series benefits from additional flights of fancy, like in the second episode when Matt and one of the agents act out part of the “Opposites Attract” video. These are jokes and scenes made for the web, and Toon Wolf’s embrace of the form pays off.
There are two episodes thus far; the second one came out just a few days ago. Here they are, embedded below:
Internet: The Bear, The Cloud, And God
The Bear, The Cloud, And God, another NYTVF favorite, is an exercise in the utmost minimalism. The series is thus: An adorable bear and a cloud are interrupted by a vengeful God, who smites the bear for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Blood splatters all over the place, there’s an uncomfortable pause, and the credits roll. It felt odd calling this a TV pilot in The A.V. Club’s NYTVF coverage, but it works wonderfully as a standalone web series. A healthy number of the videos (most under a minute) are available on the creator’s YouTube page. Witness how The Bear, The Cloud, And God can wring so much comedy out of simplicity and restraint.
Here’s one to tide you over:
Internet: Tiny Apartment
There’s a notion that web series should be fully realized right out of the gate. Some, like Very Mary Kate, are. But in the case of Tiny Apartment, the promising premise—a couple has exploits in a miniscule-yet-not-unrealistic living space—has found its sense of humor more with each episode. The tiny apartment itself is now only a launching point for social satire. A recent episode was a montage of friends telling the couple all about The Wire and how they couldn’t believe they hadn’t seen it yet. The latest, posted a few days ago, is a conversation with a visiting friend, occasionally interrupted by actor recasts and small apartment-induced physical gags. Episodes still feel a bit bloated, but get leaner and meaner with each new outing.
Here’s the episode about The Wire, with a guest spot by Will Forte:
Bonus: Inside Joke Films
Celebrate the return of Glee with this spot-on mockery of the show’s melodrama:
Super bonus: Dead Drunk But Trying
This is a web series where two people get ridiculously drunk and are then tasked with multi-step labors. In one, they make a pizza for each other and have to eat the entire thing; in another, they compete against each other to see who can build a piece of IKEA furniture first. It’s not comedy in the sense that they’re trying to be funny, but parts of it are hysterical in a Drunk History sort of way. Get ready to laugh at others’ expense.
Last one, promise: Greg Franklin’s animated stand-up videos
A few months ago, animator Greg Franklin created a cute little video to run alongside a track from Kyle Kinane’s excellent Death Of The Party album. He’s done it again for one of Myq Kaplan’s jokes from Vegan Mind Meld. The videos are excellent, managing to support the comics themselves while throwing in a few visual jokes of their own. Plus, clearly Franklin has impeccable taste in comedians.
Also there’s this one for Jackie Kashian: