While not a theme album exactly, Big Dumb Animal is a lengthy—18 tracks, 67 minutes—meditation on the various, embarrassing, idiotic behaviors of human existence. But particularly the behaviors of guys. On “Stupid Indestructible Maniacs,” L.A.-by-way-of-Portland-by-way-of-Chicago comic Matt Braunger, 40, describes his typical male friend from his early 20s, the type who “shotguns, like, three boxes of wine” as “a real fucked-up cocktail of a human being.” This isn’t revelatory stuff, exactly, but the way Braunger delivers it, especially from his point of view as an aging single guy who wants to keep up with the kids, keeps it silly and fun throughout.
On standout track “That’s Not The Point,” the MADtv alum rewardingly mocks a guy who hits on a woman at 10 a.m. on a crowded bus. Without completely giving away the bit, the man ends his failing quest by yelling out the track’s title across dozens of people. Braunger says everyone on the bus “laughed so hard we met each other. ‘Diane? I’m Matt. This is my friend, Brian. We play soccer together.’” Unlike 2012’s funny-but-uneven Shovel Fighter, Big Dumb Animal feels like it was put together thoughtfully as opposed to just a bunch of new jokes smashed together.
But Big Dumb Animal’s best material is when the animal in question is Braunger himself. His gruff-but-polished voice goes from zero to horrified in an instant, which keeps even banal descriptions exciting. On “I Like Young Dudes,” he laments he’d do almost anything to make cool, younger guys like him. On “Peaches,” he details a bingo night gone awry where he earned the title as his nickname while making an ass of himself. “Koko Mad” is a hilarious tale of Braunger yelling at a group of strangers at a restaurant. And during “Mall Therapist,” he cries in a food court.
Like Kyle Kinane, Braunger does a winning job of conveying progressive ideas in a foul-mouthed, everyman manner. There’s something refreshing about a guy who refers to “dudes and chicks” in one breath, and then fantasizes about “harnessing gay activity militarily.” (Indeed, “Gay Power” takes the phrase to new, hilarious places.) Or a man who will admit he’s nothing but a bozo with “a meat arrow” only to then make fun of the “not all men” guys in the audience trying to disagree with him.
The three longest bits scattered throughout Big Dumb Animal are where Braunger really shines. While the shorter jokes are punchy and keep things interesting, extended gags like “My Dad, My Mom, And Even Once” (where he somehow ties the magnanimity of his parents to the awkwardly worded gay sex questions asked when you give blood) and “Quiet Jägerbomb” (where he yells at a poster in a liquor store and then fantasizes about sipping a single Jägerbomb in a frat bar) are true works of art.
Perhaps that’s why he closes things out with “Wildcattin’,” a six-and-a-half minute exploration of how even idiot humans can learn from experience. As a bartender in Chicago, Braunger grew to dislike police quite a bit. But, as he advises his Brooklyn audience, “Don’t let your imagination get the best of you. Don’t think one situation is gonna be like the next.” Sure enough, “Wildcattin’” involves a delightful “Andy Griffith on steroids” cop in New Orleans, “an indestructible, suave Hulk” who suggests restaurants and charms patrons while removing an overserved, hostile menace with grace and skill. Maybe there’s hope for the big dumb animals after all.