Regaining Consciousness in 1,096 Days (and Counting)

I had dated Shevannah for only a couple weeks or less, and our feelings were already extremely strong for each other. It was only natural that I would make a playlist in her honor. I knew that she would appreciate it if I put some really stupid love ballads on there along with all the awesome tunes by Jeff Buckley, Al Green, and The Smiths, etc. After completing her eponymous playlist, I picked her up for a comedy show. This would end up being an epic evening in so many ways. One of the best nights of my life so far.

On the way to the show, she got a little preview of the playlist. Mostly awesome stuff alongside a little bit of Survivor and Damn Yankees, among other ridiculously beautiful garbage. I felt some giddiness brewing.

The comedy show was phenomenal. I lost a comedy contest, but even though I was only on stage for three minutes, the positive feedback was overwhelming. A famous comic who happened to be there even approached me, and was shocked that I didn’t advance, but I was already over it, because honestly, I felt enormously lucky before I even stepped foot onstage. The woman that I was falling madly in love with was by my side, proudly wearing my overshirt, as the air conditioning chilled her bones. I was on top of the world. And I knew that our relationship would soon be advancing bases.

It was still too early to go back to my place, (there are two types of comics in the world: those who are living the dream, and those who live with their parents, and at that time, I was living with my parents) so I went to a parking lot where we could sit and talk while listening to music and where I could smoke a cigarette or three, while taking the whole evening in. Minutes later, we were making out like high school kids. I swear I could see heart bubbles floating all around us.

Cut to about 9 minutes into an apocalyptic lip battle, and Phil Collins’ “One More Night” comes on. We are in the middle of kissing, and all of a sudden we can’t contain ourselves and start busting out laughing. We giggled like teenagers at camp for about 30 seconds, before returning to the part  that a younger Fred Savage would have begged his grandfather to skip.

By the time she went back home the next afternoon, I knew that I would love Shevannah forever. But it was that one unadulterated laugh in the middle of a Phil Collins song that made me realize for the first time that she cared for me deeply. It was an incredible evening. And the genesis (sorry) of an epic pairing. I wish I had more nights with her, but I’m truly lucky that I got even one. The fact that I got more than that was just another stroke of inexplicable luck.

Three years.
Three years goes by just like that.
Three years is a pretty long time.
Three years is a blink of an eye.
Three years is an eternity.
Three years.

Three years ago, nearly to the day, I received a phone call I was dreading. I knew something was wrong. I hadn’t heard from her in more than 24 hours, and for her, that was highly unusual. Not hearing from her for even 8 hours would have been relatively shocking, so you can imagine what kind of head space I was in.

Then it came.

In the blink of an eye, all the flawless, blissful magic I had been a part of over the last few months was over. The love of my life was dead, and I was empty. I didn’t cry. I think I shook a little, and had a bit of an out of body experience, but more than anything else, I was just blank. I definitely felt a lot, but I couldn’t put any of it into any words. My head was spinning, and I didn’t know what the fuck to do, say, or feel about it. I was obviously crushed. My soul was being tenderized. The vast majority of my life since the moment I fell for her, was spent by her side, and in an instant, I knew I would never be by her side again. There really is no way to process that kind of information. You just kind of hear it, and then you feel what you feel, and emote how you emote, or you go completely blank, and then once you figure out how to physically move again, you try to go on with your life, even though you know that you don’t really want to leave your bed, because sleeping and despair are the only two things that make any sense in that time, and even though you know your life will never be the same again. When someone is your life, and then they stop living theirs, life doesn’t feel like life again for a long time. Saying that you are numb is an understatement. You kind of just feel like you’re underwater, or dreaming, or dreaming underwater. Slowly, but surely, you get your legs back, but three years later, I’m still not the same.

The good news about tragedy, is it gives you superhuman perspective. At first you don’t feel or hear anything, then when you start breathing again, everything is suddenly amplified, and magnified to the nth degree. You tend to pay attention to the world a lot more, when you’re trying to figure out how to walk again. The beauty that someone has left behind is that much more visible when you see how ugly other people are to each other, and that’s the kind of perspective that some people sadly only get after going through something horrible in their personal life. Not to say that I didn’t already know how wonderful Shevannah was. That kind of thing is unmistakable. But you appreciate it even more when you see how few other people get to experience it. It’s an indescribable feeling to have loved someone so amazing, that every time you think of your time together, you can’t help but smile, even though you miss them so much that at times, it’s hard to breathe. But I guess that’s why people like her were invented. To make us feel like we’ve never truly felt before. What a spectacularly complex thing it is to have to hurt so much to love so much. I’m still searching for my next inspiration, but a muse that essential is extremely hard to find in a new model.

The good news about losing the person in your life who meant the most to you, is…well, there’s not much good news, but it does get better. And you will meet other people who tickle your fancy. I have even loved again since she has passed, but not all good things stick. Even really good things, sadly. And the superhuman perspective comes along with everything that your late love taught you, simply by being themselves. When someone loves you unconditionally, and loves you differently than anyone else ever has, and seems to understand you more than anyone ever has, it’s hard not to learn from that, be inspired by it, and use it to your advantage in the future. The only real good that comes from losing someone that close to you, is when you hold onto all that they taught you about love, and use it to love everyone you know, and meet from that point forward, that much better.

Shevannah reminded me how to love again when I met her, and she has reminded me how to love again countless times since she left this mortal coil. All I have to do is think of her, and I’m reminded that I have to be strong, and love strong, and be myself in the face of all of life’s black matter, because she had a lot of black matter in her life, and she never let that stop her from loving the shit out of me. Being good is a personal choice, but being loved by someone that good, makes not being a douchebag so much easier. Not that I ever really felt like one. I think I was a good man when she found me, and that’s probably part of why she found me, but someone like that makes you a better man just by being them. The kind of person who doesn’t expect you to change in the least, but makes you change in a thousand ways nonetheless, because you strive to be as awesome as them, and work hard on earning the love they throw your way.

One evening, as I headed home with my driving playlist on shuffle, Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart” comes on. I hear the lyric, “If I leave you, it doesn’t mean I love you any less” and I almost break down crying, because I’m picturing Shevannah saying this to me on her death day. I didn’t hear anything from her that day, but I do have some peace in knowing that her leaving wasn’t my fault. In fact, I’m sure it had absolutely nothing to do with me. She might have even stuck around as long as she did because of me. But it still hurts, it still sucks and I still feel robbed. I am healing. I am doing okay. But I will always miss her and I will keep her in my heart for more than just a while, even though I’m doing my best to move on in every way possible. As much as I selfishly wish she had said goodbye, I will never stop thanking her for reminding me what love was again. If it wasn’t for all the love she gave so freely and happily, the void wouldn’t be so sizable and it wouldn’t take so long, or be so hard to find anything or anyone even close to making it go away.

My heart is with a few people as I write this. First off, to anyone who has lost their significant other, my heart is with you. I don’t know your individual pain, but I feel a kinship with you. An unfortunate one, but a kinship nonetheless. We share a unique loss, and the fact that we all soldier on is a beautiful thing, if you ask me, and I’m proud of you. I’ve always felt a special kinship with Jim Florentine, now that I’m doing comedy. We both lost loves to suicide while we were comics. I’m happy to say that Jim has now moved on, and is happily married, but I will always feel like his brother, even though I have yet to meet him. And Patton Oswalt.

Mr. Oswalt has been a hero of mine for about 20 years. I felt a strange kinship to him long before I even met the love of my life, and now that he has recently lost his, I can’t help but feel that even stranger, unfortunate kinship to him. My heart ached for him when I heard the news. I wasn’t thinking about my loss. I was just so sad for his. But now that my anniversary of an awful event has sneaked up on me again, I can’t help but feel for him on a more personal level. He didn’t lose her in the exact way that Florentine and I did, but that is insignificant. We are three comedians who have brought joy to people, and have had some of ours taken from us. And we all continue to fight. And we learn to laugh again, as well as make others laugh, because that’s really all we can fucking do, and it’s also part of what our lost loves loved so much about us. To stop the laughter would be an insult to their memory. My heart is with you, Patton. And with you, Jim. And with anyone else out there who has been through this. It doesn’t matter if it just happened, or if you love someone else now. That person will be by our side forever, and as we are now all a part of this accidental brotherhood, we will be by each other’s sides forever, too. It always helps knowing you’re not the only one with a hole in your heart.

Flashing back to our first date: We hung out after a comedy show and just talked, and listened to music. Mostly Joy Division and the Smiths, because sometimes it’s fun to be miserable together, too. She was being kind of odd and confrontational at first, because she was nervous and trying to figure me out. I’m sure I was being weird, too, for the same reasons. But when I dropped her off at home, we hugged and it was honestly the best hug I’d ever received. She wouldn’t let go and I didn’t want her to. I  believe that she started falling in love for me at that very moment and I have no doubt she loved me very much, even though she wasn’t much of a word person. I guess that’s why it hurts. It only hurts so much, because we loved each other so much. But life goes on and I just hope she’s not hurting anymore. And while I never want to forget her, and I know I never will, and her love will always live inside of me, I have to move on and I know that I will probably find another. I’m just happy that the memories are still with me. Sometimes they break my heart, but they also remind me that I am capable of having everything I need and that I will more than likely find it again.

And so will you.

It sucks at first, but trust me, it does get better, and eventually, you will even feel kind of like a real human being again!

Three years.

It’s a pretty long time.

Album Review: “Kids Birthday Parties” by Andrew Locklair

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Just a couple of years ago, a young, fresh-faced, ball of energy burst upon the Hawaii comedy scene virtually out of nowhere. He wasn’t a very tall man, and was pretty unassuming overall, but as soon as he hit the stage, a lot of other comics seemed nervous, which is always a good thing, because it means a new threat has emerged, and everyone has to step their games up, which improves the general talent level across the scene.

The man turned out to be Andrew Locklair, a United States Marine with the unique voice of a man who appears to come from a mildly conservative background, but has a relatively liberal matter of relating to comedy audiences, along with a voice far beyond his years, thanks to that military service, and a natural edge and vulnerability built by years of living through things that I could never even imagine having to go through. I can’t even imagine having the energy to do comedy if I had to go through the things an active soldier has to go through, but Andrew didn’t just show up. He was an instant success, and it’s great to see that he also had the energy to release his debut album, Kids Birthday Parties.

With a voice that slightly recalls a less weathered Robin Williams, Locklair comes out swinging relentlessly, on topics such as relationships, illness, racism, sex, and religion. The crowd doesn’t meet him all the way on every joke, but he has their attention the entire time. Locklair has the tendency to get a little frenetic here and there, and audiences don’t always know how to deal with that kind of energy. When this is the case, Locklair’s more cerebral moments win out. I personally would also love to hear Locklair get deeper on later releases, because I know he has it in him. Not only is he a solid writer, but he’s been through enough shit to create hours of material. There’s nothing wrong with any of what Andrew has provided on this outing, but I think even he would tell you that he’s merely scratching the surface here.

Hi-larity-lights include “Better Put the Glove On”, where Locklair graphically details getting a prostate exam, and imagines the doctor sniffing the glove afterwards and telling other doctors what a bitch he was.

On “Family Reunions”, Locklair made me chuckle audibly when he spoke of a black Labrador named “Toby”, and on “Jesus”, he paints a beautiful image for the world by referring to the title character as “The Criss Angel of Jews.”

On the title track, Locklair discusses feeling uneasy when hanging around children, saying that his friend made him shave his mustache before being allowed to hang out with his daughter.

 

He makes a solid argument on “Bowling’s Not a Sport”, but my two favorite spins were the part about a bowler applying powder to his hands, creating a “cloud of visual desperation”, and a bowler wearing fingerless gloves and imaging himself as a “ladykiller”. “He might actually kill one of us”, Locklair comments, in character as an uneasy bowling tournament-goer.

On the simple, yet masterfully titled, “Sex Is Gross”, Locklair reveals some of his bedside mannerisms: “Let’s not even go into anal. That’s a whole other shit show.” The track culminates with his comparisons of the male and female genitalia, saying that after sex, “the dick immediately just shrivels up and dies in shame.”

I’m happy to report that the performer stays fully erect throughout the set, leaving the crowd wanting more, which is a good thing, because I have a strong feeling that when he comes back for a second round, he’s going to give you an even more memorable thrust of comedic pleasure.

All kidding aside, as a serviceman, Locklair has already lived a full, and rewarding life, but I think comedically, he’s just getting started. He has all the potential in the world, and I think time will prove that his voice is an important one, and he definitely has the overall presence and package that will serve him well on his quest for success and relevance. As a first chapter, Kids Birthday Parties does more than enough to whet a comedic appetite. I can’t wait to see what the second course consists of.

Album Review: “Drunk In a Basement” by Dwayne Duke

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Dwayne Duke is the consummate road comic. A constant work in progress. A rambling man. A soul that can’t help but connect with random strangers all over the continent, accompanied by a vagabond heart. A man with no route set in stone, but who is infinitely comfortable in his own skin nonetheless. A man who has grown accustomed to the unaccustomed.

Duke’s new comedy album, Drunk In a Basement, is less a collection of jokes, and more a seamless journey on the road to finding out just what the man is all about. What he is to me is a casual, laid back, easy to love, charming, man. The gay friend that every straight person would actually love to have, and not the cliched Hollywood version. The gateway drug to a more diverse and exciting social life. His loose, effortless crowd work featuring both a down home delivery, and easy tones, make even potentially dark topics like alcoholism seem sunny and romantic.

Duke’s stories aren’t all gut-busters, but they are all engaging, genuine, and unhinged. I would love to see him really let it flow on a Moth-type set in the (hopefully not too distant) future. The crowd here sounds like a tiny one, which is unfortunate, because I see Dwayne Duke as the type of comic who excels in large rooms, especially with the type of party atmosphere that the imagery of his material (on topics such as drinking, sex, race, and life as a touring comic) depicts. I also feel like with a comic like Duke, the smarter the crowd, the better. His full potential is better served for a grander audience, as a good chunk of his material is so subtly hilarious, it’s simply the kind of stuff that the more refined audience craves.

Highlights include Duke talking about a friend of his getting married, on “Biology”, where he recalls her calling him to report that he proposed to her at an Olive Garden, to which Duke replies, “Our love is as endless as a soup and salad.” Later on in the track, he offers invaluable advice to future married couples: “If you don’t have an open bar at your wedding, your single and bitter friends will rise as one to slay you.”

On “Needs Love”, Duke starts off by telling the crowd that he’s single, in case they know anybody, and a man shouts out, “Hell yeah!”, which garners the response “You said that really aggressively.”, explaining that it sounded like the man was exclaiming from experience, as if he was selling drugs, and not a man. “It was on my gums for weeks”, Duke further imagines.

“Cool For the Summer” earns a breakdown of the Demi Lovato song of the same title, as Duke opines that the tune is about her seducing a teenage boy who lives down the street from her.

 

On “Whiskey, Richard”, he says that he’s never had whiskey dick, but he has had tequila dick: “When you’re staring at a bag of McDonald’s, fucking a guy you met at the bar, saying to yourself, ‘I just wanna cum and eat that.'” Duke expands the thought by concluding that they will end the night by cuddling and watching SportsCenter.

There’s a story about the man of the hour auditioning for a porn producer who rejected him, but was kind enough to say that Duke did have a “Nice Smile”, as he contemplates losing weight for his next audition. “I’m an Ohio 7; I’m fat in California”

The set is closed out by Duke talking about being in the deep south and worried about driving a car that was too fancy for him, on “Lady Bits”, but experiencing a moment of calmness after he sees another fancy car with four black men in it, which features a punchline that is too good for me to even imagine ruining for you here.

Dwayne Duke is an evolving comic. Dwayne Duke is not a zinger machine. Dwayne Duke does not preach. Dwayne Duke is not wacky. Dwayne Duke is Dwayne Duke. A man on a journey to find even more of himself, and to tell us more about him, as he discovers it. He is more of a master storyteller, and cerebral jabber, than a rapid-fire clown on 12. I love the clown as much as the next comedy nerd, but I also can’t help but love and appreciate the pace and perspective that Duke brings to his setlists, as well as the overall aura of his onstage persona, which I’m happy to report, doesn’t seem too far removed from his actual self.

I for one am ecstatic to travel along on this journey with Dwayne, as he learns, grows, and reports all the happy and horror stories that he encounters. Being Dwayne Duke is an adventure, and we are very fortunate that he lets us inside his wondrous mind. So join us on the next trip, won’t you? Don’t forget your drinking shoes, Demi.

Drunk In a Basement available now on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/drunk-in-a-basement/id1083549056

Album Review: “Words On Play” by John Hilder

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Hailing from Utah, John Hilder is one of stand up comedy’s best-kept secrets, but as many of his fans and colleagues in Las Vegas–his current home base–can tell you, he’s already one of the finest comics working today. His talent is no secret to anyone who has seen him perform regularly, and with the arrival of his second album, Words On Play, it’s time for anyone who doesn’t know Hilder, to catch up with what everyone else already knows.

“My shade of white is actually called ‘Mormon'”, Hilder–who is Agnostic–cracks, on the opener, “Being From Utah”, as he waxes hysteric about his early days in Utah, and his family. Throughout the album, which was recorded back in his home state, Hilder touches on topics such as being broke, his experiences living in New York City, life in Las Vegas, and even when approaching such common fare as sex, porn, and marijuana use, he does so via savvy, uncommon avenues.

 

On “Drinking Booze and Drinking Sperm”, Hilder discusses the urban legend about pineapples making one’s semen taste better: “I drank nothing but grape soda for an entire year, and now my sperm produces black children.” His best trait as a performer is his rapid-fire delivery. He is impressively quick on his feet, and a superb writer. Hilder’s tone is classically smooth and succinct, with a pleasantly assured cadence–hallmarks that all of your favorite comedy legends excelled at.

Other highlights include “The Wonderful World of Weed”, where Hilder talks about being put in his place by a stripper: “What do you do?”, she asks, and when he reveals that he’s a stand up, she chides him for not having any money, before exiting abruptly. “You’re not wrong”, Hilder comments, “but this is a service industry.”

On “My Painfully Broke Existence”, Hilder reaches what may be the acme of his set, when he talks about a pair of shoes he purchased on a hanger, which were manufactured by a Walmart brand known as “Faded Glory.”: “If you’re buying your wardrobe at Walmart, your glory has long since faded”, he ribs. Another memorable moment happens shortly thereafter, with a tale about his mom buying him a chocolate chip-scented candle: “I couldn’t afford dinner, and she gave me the smell of dessert.”

“My First Gay Pal” features his angle on the age-old question, “Would you suck a dick for a million dollars?” Hilder’s take: “I always say yes, but nobody ever pays up.” This track most prominently displays his deft crowd work skills, which is one of his other strong points, and what sets him apart from many of his colleagues.

“Most women have a dream pair of tits, but no man in this room has a dream dick”, remarks Hilder on “The Power of Tits”, further cementing this as a stellar release with the awesome quote, “the dick is basically a hanging felony”, which I will let you digest fully on your own, for proper impact. (That was not meant to be a phallic pun, but it certainly sounds like one.)

Hilder is one of those comics who everyone knows seems to love, and I see no reason why he can’t become even more of a household name with the release of Words On Play. He’s put in his work, and honed his craft. Let’s do our part to make sure the guy can afford a full, three course meal by the time album number three drops.

Stay tuned to http://johnhilder.com / @johnhildercomic / http://facebook.com/johnhilder for more details on how/where you can purchase the album.

Album Review: “Pacifist Aggressive” by Dwight Simmons

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The world is a magical place. For all the drawbacks that come along with the mammoth beast known as social media, for example, it does provide opportunities that were once virtually impossible, and that often introduces us to some of our favorite things–things that we may have otherwise never even discovered.

I’ve never met Dwight Simmons. I frankly have not really heard much about him to be able to report any worthy information to you. But at some point in time, (December, Facebook tells me) I did a search to find out if anybody on my friends list had any albums out that they needed help plugging. Dwight and I weren’t even Facebook friends yet, but he showed up on there somehow nonetheless, so I added him as a friend, and his album to an an expanding playlist I was putting together on Spotify.

If not for Facebook, I might have had to wait until Mr. Simmons became famous before I had found out about him, but now I get to brag about finding out about him before he blew up, and that’s a pretty magical feeling, as I have just completed a listening of his solidly titled comedy album, Pacifist Aggressive, and not only am I an instant fan, but I am blown away by his comedy prowess, and equally floored by the fact that I haven’t really heard any other comics talking about this guy. Remember this name. Before long, you won’t have much choice anyway.

One thing is immediately evident upon hearing Dwight Simmons for the first time: He is extremely likable and easy going. He leads things off by talking about his family, public transportation, and Alcoholic’s Anonymous, among other things–telling us about a pimp he encountered at an AA meeting, on the latter subject (on “Once A Pimp”).

On “Poor Halloween”, Dwight talks about the makeshift costumes his mother would put together, on what turned out to be a rather ghetto holiday for him. His manner stays chill, but he adds an enviable confidence to his flavor that make even unpopular topics resonate with audiences. The crowd doesn’t seem fully on board as he mildly disses Marilyn Monroe on “Ida vs. Marilyn”, but that confidence (along with a high level of intelligence and top shelf writing) win out, as he schools them on the fact that nobody knows who Ida B. Wells is, in spite of all her accomplishments, but that “if you fuck a Kennedy, basic bitches will quote you on their Instagram pages forever.”, citing her famous quote about handling her at her worst, which he masterfully calls back to on more than one occasion.

Simmons is the rare talent that can maintain cultural diversity, while also displaying vulnerability, and his nerdy side, along with a boldness (“Cosby’s Drug Dealer”; “Bigotry Is a Choice”–in which he imagines, first person, what it would be like if bigots didn’t have the ability to evolve) and infinitely unique perspective that makes him as close to universally accessible as one could hope for. The sound on the recording is not the strongest, but the material is undeniably awesome, refreshing, and every joke hits. Seriously. All of them.

Another highlight is “Keurig”, wherein Simmons talks about that brand’s coffeemaker being the loneliest kitchen appliance on the market, noting that they only offer a single serving size: “How caffeinated do you want, to be alone for the rest of the day?”, he quips.

I would be here forever if I told you all of my favorite parts, but I do feel the need to mention two more moments that really stood out to me: “Yoga pants are like the white woman’s weave”, he says on “Creepy Ageism”, and on “Whitest Black Guy”, he talks about how being the whitest black guy ever (as his white friends refer to him as) has no benefit. “If I get pulled over by the police, I still look like a black black guy.”

 

There’s not really much more to add here, other than that I didn’t find any of the bits to be weak, easy, safe, or shortsighted, and nothing fell flat. There’s honestly not a dull moment to be found, which is really impressive, and hard to do when telling jokes for an extended amount of time.

I for one, think that this fine stand up has all the potential in the world to be a household name, and I believe he’ll get there in a very short time, so do yourself a favor and get yourself a copy now. Then brag about it on Facebook.

The world is a magical place. And sky’s the limit for Dwight Simmons.

Album Review: “Tabitha” by Josh Johnson

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About 10 years ago, I came across a young man named Josh Johnson on an ancient internet relic known as MySpace. At the time, I was a relatively popular blogger on the site, and I enjoyed finding other up-and-coming writers to help inspire me to stay hungry, and to keep my brain from being less bored. I also have always been the type that would rather share the work of someone who wasn’t already mega-popular, but had talent in spades nonetheless.

At the time, Johnson was in high school, and I immediately saw a wisdom way beyond his years. We became fast online friends, and helped support each other’s work whenever we got the chance. Over the years, Johnson’s writing consistently improved and continued to inspire, but along the way, he joined the Army, and MySpace was imploded to make way for the Facebooks and Twitters of the world. I lost touch with Johnson, and unfortunately, dozens of other friends and colleagues whom I admired greatly.

A couple years ago, I came across a Josh Johnson on Facebook. This Josh Johnson was a stand up comedian, but upon further investigation, I soon gathered, to my delight, that this was the same Josh Johnson I had met years earlier on whateverthenameofthatsitewas, but this time, Mr. Johnson was an official grown up, and as I mentioned, was now, like myself, trying his hand at stand up. We got to know each other again (admittedly not as much as I would have liked-he’s just a cool cat) and late last year, he released his debut comedy album.

In about six years of performing, Johnson has garnered a loyal fan base, made a name for himself with numerous clubs and scenes, and become a respected colleague among loads of other stellar comics. After listening to Tabitha for just a few seconds, it becomes immediately evident why this is the case. Johnson is simply an easy to like person. He’s good looking, but not annoyingly so, and his delivery is fun, smooth, and he sounds like he’s having the time of his life up on stage. He doesn’t need much time to warm up. He just starts talking, and makes you feel right at home inside of his brain space.

He self-deprecatingly starts things off by saying that he is about to disappoint the audience, but he does so in such a fun loving way, that it immediately gets the crowd on his side, and they are fully on board as he waxes poetic about the reason he decided to get a vasectomy. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Johnson has a very infectious, and unique drawl, but if forced to come up with a comparison, I would say that it sounds a bit like what Dave Chappelle would sound like if he was more hyperactive, and born a little south of Washington D.C.

Johnson is gifted at storytelling, and improv, as he rips rapid-fire through his first few jokes, which touch on subjects such as music festivals, eavesdropping on breakups, and performing in less-than-favorable cities. It’s impressive to hear a comic who has only been at it for a handful of years already comfortable enough to just riff onstage, as opposed to relying on gimmicks, or going for easy laughs, as so many others choose to do, sadly. Johnson isn’t always getting guffaws, or huge belly laughs, but they are definitely more than a few here, and his timing and delivery are always on time, which, along with his far above average energy, means never a dull moment, as a reward for the steadily chuckling room.

Highlight from “Buffy”: (on homeless people in Hollywood wearing mascot outfits) “I’m not going to give you money for wearing a dirty Spider-Man costume. Also, there’s like six other Spider-Men on this block. Do you not have territory? Like there’s six Spider-Men… Spider-Mans? Spider-Men. What’s the plural for a group of assholes, ’cause that’s what they were.”

Josh Johnson is the quintessential comedian who is writer first, and comedian second. This fact is displayed most prominently on “Spike”, in which Johnson eloquently tells a story about how he stopped catching the city bus in Fort Worth after a homeless man kissed him on the lips after he missed his stop and fell asleep. It’s one of those shining moments of pure comedy gold, non-judgmental social commentary, master storytelling, and improvisational wizardry that takes some comedians twice as long to develop, and honestly, some never will. Not at this level. Patton Oswalt would be proud.

The greatness continues on “Buffy”, where Johnson shouts out his dad in the audience, who he goes on to say thought that Josh was gay, which the heterosexual Johnson defends by saying that he loves musicals, and wore a lot of nail polish as a goth teen. Following that comes a story in which Josh (whose inner-child is a girl named Tabitha) loses his virginity at a very young age, only to run home crying before writing about it in his diary. On the next track, “Lorne”, he speaks candidly about being clinically depressed, and is still able to do so in such a joyous manner. It’s complexities such as this that have helped make up many of comedy’s greatest legends. I would obviously prefer that Josh not have to deal with depression, but I felt it necessary to note the parallels between his brilliance, and others who have dealt with similar issues. Let’s hope if he experiences the success that he has all the potential in the world to reach, that he’s able to manage his depression better than some of our fallen heroes. The world needs people with this much lust for life to stick around as long as they can.

Johnson gives love to so many of topics, and that is my favorite kind of comedian. It’s basically like being on Twitter, but it’s only one guy talking about all this awesome stuff. He talks about cats, Ken Burns’ baseball miniseries, Christianity, and the NBA over the next few tracks. Colorful wordplay, and a healthy grasp of the English language helps lines like “Chris Bosh looks like a chocolate ostrich.”, or “They should pimp Xzibit’s career.” hit even more delightfully than they already would.

On “Darla”, Johnson talks about how weird job interviews are, specifically when the interviewer brings up unlikely scenarios. An interviewer at Best Buy asks Josh how he would sell a cellphone to her if she was from the 1800s, and Josh’s first instinct is to welcome the person to the future, and inform her that black people are now free. He follows this up with an encore that includes a couple of nightmare date stories.

The entire set goes about as well as one could hope for their debut album recording, and much of that is owed to Johnson’s skill set, but a very giving, and attentive crowd definitely helped. Regardless of the reasons, the album is an accomplishment, and sets in stone Johnson’s standing as a force to be reckoned with for years to come. I am proud to say that I witnessed his writing prowess years before he did stand up, and am so happy to be able to hear him share that on a grander, and far different stage than the blogosphere.

Johnson will be appearing soon on Comedy Central, and before long, will probably be all over the place, so listen to this now, and share my pride in watching an up and comer become larger than life, while staying humble, and true to himself. Johnson is not just fun to root for because he’s a great artist, but because he also just seems like a great guy.

Tabitha is available now on iTunes, Bandcamp, CDBaby, and a bunch of other places, and you can find a criminally underfollowed Josh on Twitter @joshthesandwich

 

Album Review: “Sacred Snail” by Oil In the Alley

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The problem with most best-kept secrets, is that they are the kinds of secrets that shouldn’t be secret at all. A really good secret is something that you should forever keep as such, because a secret is really only any good if it’s sacred. Once it’s no longer sacred, a secret can really lose its luster. But when it comes to best-kept secrets, the odd thing is you want to tell everyone you can about them, but there never seem to be enough people around to hear you. Oil In the Alley is one of those best-kept secrets. They are one of those entities that is loved universally by everyone who crosses their paths, but the problem lies in not enough people crossing their path. Even with their storied history.

Oil in the Alley is a rock band. No, Oil in the Alley are a rock band No, Oil in the Alley are a comedy rock band. No, wait, Oil in the Alley are an improvised comedy rock band. It’s hard to define in simple terms. And none of that is important anyway. They are pure fun, magic, and mystery. Imagine if This is Spinal Tap was not just a mockumentary, but all the songs were also made up on the spot, and you will understand a little bit about the vibe that Oil in the Alley brings to their shows, and this predictably sublime album, Sacred Snail.

But comparing this to Spinal Tap, or anything else, really, barely scratches the surface. Oil in the Alley are truly unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. On album, a lot of the same rawness from the live shows translates well. Live, they are known to ask the crowd a random question about the fake history of their real (fake) band, and can build an entire set based off that one suggestion. Other live shows have been made up of songs based off of Facebook posts of the band’s friends, and songs from any given album, may be songs that were originally improvised live, or improvised in the studio based on a new suggestion, or inspired by someone connected to the band somehow, via social media, or otherwise. In other words, the possibilities are endless, and always fresh.

Another thing to keep in mind about Oil In the Alley, is how amazingly dry their humor can be. I’ve found myself from time to time wondering how much, if any, truth is in any of their numerous backstories. With such a quick, and straight-faced delivery, it’s easy to forget that the whole thing is a game sometimes. You will see what I mean right away on Snail, as before the first song, “Way Up There”, the band mentions that the author of the liner notes also inspired the song. Again, I have no idea if this is one of those true things, or if it’s another part of the improv madness. Just the fact that one might ponder that, makes it awesome in and of itself. And in between songs, R Kevin Garcia Doyle and Sean Tc O’Malley have included a flawlessly effortless (and hilarious) dialogue that goes over the ridiculously awesome history of the band-often in explaining the previous track, and the discussion will inevitably lead to a segue, which introduces the following track.

This album was recorded live in the studios at KTUH-University of Hawaii’s stellar radio station, which adds even more to the concert-type feel of things, and that very live feel makes what transpires even more inspiring, because I’m confident much of what you are hearing here has never been heard in quite this way before, if at all. Definitely not the lyrics. (The impression I get is that the suggestions they were working off of on this night, were “memories” of the band sent into them by their Facebook fans, but that’s just what I gathered, based on no research whatsoever. I could probably find out for sure, but why ruin the mystery?) With Oil in the Alley, one thing you can always count on is never running out of creative, imaginative, and tongue-in-cheek moments of groundbreaking improvisation.

The first of these moments I want to touch on is in “Down Under”, where Doyle sings choruses that are very close lyrically to Men At Work’s song of the same name, but different in tone, as suggested by a fan commenting that the band went through a phase where they used Australian accents for no apparent reason, and this led to a story in which they discuss writing this song. Before Men At Work wrote theirs, naturally.

“The Neverending Line” follows a discussion about the band having had a whole album full of songs written about other bands, and features a beautiful guitar riff that I want to say sounds like a mix between Fleetwood Mac and Blue Oyster Cult. These guys are so good at what they do, it feels like there’s some kind of Easter egg hidden around every verse. The music itself runs the gamut from classic rock, to REM-inspired jangle rock, power pop, new wave, and post punk.

If you’re a fan of comedy that doesn’t hit you over the head with obvious punches, you will appreciate songs like “Wet French”. There are many moments where Oil In the Alley could go for far easier, and sillier lyrics, but always seem to go out of there way to try riskier outlets, and the comedy does not suffer in the least. It’s not the kind of humor that will have you doubled over with laughter from start to finish. It’s more of a refined brand of comedy that pays off the faithful, and attentive listener.

The dialogue that follows “Wet French” is one of many incredible flashes. Doyle talks about how they received a cultural sensitivity award from the United Kingdom, and O’Malley brilliantly adds, “and New Jersey”, before mentioning that they haven’t played in France since. Later, as he talks about the next song being inspired by a rock festival they played in Germany in 1992, Doyle riffs, “We still go to Berlin, and they smell far worse than the French.” Another running joke throughout the set, is that they are playing in the nude. There is layer upon layer of improv mysticism here, which bodes well for mandatory repeat listens.

“Sprinkles (Mauled By the Staff)” is another one of those amazing moments which have me wondering whether it was completely made up on the spot or not, and my instinct is that it was. Someone in the studio approaches the band before the song and informs them that someone brought by cupcakes for the band, but then the staff “mauled” the cupcakes before the band got to them, and the band proceeds to play this song. Pretty frosting awesome.

In fitting fashion, Oil in the Alley close out the mind-boggling production with another completely improvised moment, the title track, which was delivered to them moments before playing, via a KTUH DJ reporting that one of their radio towers was down, and that they couldn’t get to it because of some sacred snails in the area. Or perhaps this was all a set up? I doubt it, but it doesn’t matter. It’s one of those jokes I wouldn’t mind being on me, if indeed it was the case. You never feel like you’re left out. It’s just really smart, and dry, and executed so well, that you never really feel like you 100% know what’s going on, but you’re always 100% entertained, and this makes me happy, because listening to this album gave me the same feeling as going to one of their live shows gives me, and that’s impressive, because things like these are not always easily translatable to other mediums. But this is no ordinary band. This is Oil In the Alley. I mean there’s a reason they’re in the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, after all.

I have a feeling this is one Sacred secret that will have a hard time staying that way. Things this brilliant have a way of spreading like wildfire. Fortunately, Oil in the Alley has the luxury of having already been famous a dozen times over, so I’m sure they can handle any of the pressures that come along with it.

Sacred Snail is available now on iTunes
https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/sacred-snail/id1051926619

Review: S/T LP / “Awkward at Parties” EP by Turbo Pascal

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Before he was one of Hawaii’s top stand up comedians, Anthony Silano was the lead singer of a punk band named Turbo Pascal. The band started when Silano was a teenager, and they recorded a cassette in 1995, but years went by, lives changed, members got married, singers became comedians, and Turbo Pascal was all but a faded memory…

Then in 2015, Silano contacted Eric Lagrimas at Honolulu’s Pass Out Records, and they started discussions about properly releasing the album they had recorded way back then. A few months later, Turbo Pascal’s self-titled debut was finally available to a wider audience.

If you’re nostalgic for the early-mid 90s punk sound of Lookout Records and the like, you will be in heaven. Being that they were teenagers during that very era, their sound is heavily influenced by early Green Day records, among other influences. I know for a fact that Silano was also a huge fan of Fugazi, Jawbreaker and many other groundbreaking artists of that era.

The album starts off perfectly with “7:10 AM”, a song about how horrible waking up early is. Before you hear music, you hear an alarm clock go off, but the song itself is a great way to start your day. I bet skateboarders would have gone crazy for this album if it were available for them back in the 90s. If you’re still skateboarding, and like me, still a fan of this era, put this in your ears immediately.

I wish Turbo Pascal had stayed together the whole time, because there are glimpses of massive potential throughout this LP. For a band that was a virtual unknown, and was turned down by many labels, this is a terrific album, and I think it would have earned a loyal following if it was given any airplay back then. All the stuff you love about the genre is there. The rapid fire drumming, the angsty vocals, the smooth basslines, and even a few reggae-ish and surf moments thrown in for good measure. Even the song titles sound like they were catered to mid-90s pop punk fans with handles such as, “Alien Woman”, “Love of a Good Riot”, “Letter From Carly”, “Be All You Can Be”, “Three Piece Suit”, and the stellar closer, “Lunatic Fringe”, which I hope WWE’s Dean Ambrose will one day adopt as his ring entrance music.

While Silano is known these days as a comedian and a chaplain, don’t be fooled. The man has impressive skills as a punk rock vocalist, and put many of his contemporaries to shame without them even knowing about it. I imagine some of them listening to this album circa: now and being excited to hear something new from that time, and also being happy that they didn’t have to compete with them.

While there aren’t a bunch of songs that necessarily stand apart from each other, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because so many of the songs are great, and there is very little filler here. In fact, nothing sounds like it doesn’t belong. It’s a pretty mature output for a bunch of young punks in a Midwestern garage who had no idea what the future had in store for them. Again, if you love pop punk, and especially that era of it, you need to own this.

Another funny thing happened on the way to adulthood and responsibility, or more accurately, after that: Under the radar, the band decided to record some new material together, and the result of that is the brand spanking new EP, Awkward At Parties, which comes 20 years after they originally made that exuberant tape together in Decatur, Illinois.

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The title track is a lot more metal driven than anything on their debut, and as you can imagine, Silano’s voice has changed a lot over the years. Overall, it’s more of a new wave/post-punk sound than the straight forward punk of Turbo Pascal. The song is quite literal, and comically details a myriad of uncomfortable things that can occur at a party.

“Limited Time Only” is another kind of departure altogether, as the band’s sound has matured with their age. The lyrics definitely reflect that, as they ponder whether life is really providing the necessary oomph.

The EP closes out with “Static Dispenser 2015”, which sounds closest to the debut, but still miles away, as far as maturity in growth, and voice goes. Silano’s voice is a lot more confident, but it is also more wary, and weary. If there is a contrast between the two albums, it’s probably a pretty obvious one when you peel away the layers. When we’re young and don’t know any better, it’s easy for us to sound like badasses, but when we grow up, we kind of know what makes us badasses already, but we are unfortunately also aware of our faults, and how vulnerable we can be, and how fragile life is. A band that has not played together for 20 years cannot possibly keep up the same energy, so they create a new one, and I’d really like to hear what a circa: now version of Turbo Pascal could do on a full length.

Would I love to hear a more balls to the walls approach? Sure. But that’s also kind of unfair to ask of an outfit who has obviously grown so much as people. I don’t think the kind of energy I’d selfishly ask for out of them is even something that they should strive for. As a human being, and a wannabe intellectual, I’d prefer them stick to the mature side of things, because I’d like to think I can relate. But the music fan in me is still a fan of fun and gimmicks, and wants them to all get mohawks. Thankfully, I still think they have enough of both to offer, and hopefully we’ll get a full album in the future.

Album Review: “Library Mafia” by Anthony Silano

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Anthony Silano is a mild-mannered renaissance man. He’s also a comedian, and one of the most easy to like individuals I’ve ever met. Silano has been making a name for himself in the stand up and improv scenes in Hawaii for years, and I’m happy to say that now, he also has his own comedy album, Library Mafia.

The title of the record refers to a running bit he has (which can be heard here on “Mafia Brows”) about his name sounding like a tough guy on paper, but when people meet Silano, who also works as a chaplain (“A Chaplain Walks Into A Bar” is the title of one of the tracks), in person, instead of assuming he’s in the mob, they assume he’s a librarian.

Silano works as a mostly clean comic, but it’s never too squeaky, or bland. That’s what I’ve always loved about his comedy. He never has come off to me as a comic who does his best to stay clean because of his morals. He’s always come off as a great comic that just so happens to talk about primarily clean subject matter.

Some of the stuff he tackles here include growing up Italian, married life, his family, getting old, and the future.

The crowds at the two shows that make up this album were a real hit or miss bunch. One of my other favorite things about Silano is how he’s become so great at being sarcastic on stage, that sometimes the crowd doesn’t even realize he’s trolling them. Sometimes this can backfire though, as so many of the improvised moments, and clever tags on this album go right over their heads. I wonder if maybe it can be baffling to crowds if they perceive someone as being more straitlaced, even though the real person is actually a lot more liberal thinking than they realize, but comedy crowds are often hard to figure out.

Highlights of the album include Silano talking about how his mother used to be mortified at the idea of him being a father, and now she wants it so bad, that she might even be okay with a grandchild being conceived with someone other than his wife (on “1885”).

On “Trance On Vinyl”, he tells a story about staying with a girlfriend for three years, just because he didn’t like awkwardness.

On “Grandson Nike Swoosh”, Silano talks about his grandfather sending him emails, that come a couple days later as snail mail, followed by a phone call making sure he got the letter. Classic comedy gold there. This track also features a great Insane Clown Posse reference that is one of those moments they don’t really get, sadly.

“Switchblade Nostril” touches hilariously on his battle with thyroid cancer, as well as getting old in general.

If there’s anything to nitpick about here, it’s that the album is a bit short, and I’d like to see Silano take more risks in the future, but as a debut, it’s a perfect introduction to who he is as a man and a comic, and I have no doubts that his material will continue to build off the stellar momentum established on Library Mafia.

Note: as a special bonus feature, you get a song from Anthony’s band, Turbo Pascal at the end. (I’d also recommend getting a CD copy of Library Mafia, because it comes with this awesome pull out sleeve that looks like a library checkout card)

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Album Review: “Death By Snu Snu” by Harold Wong

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Honolulu musician and comedian Harold Wong is not a household name by any means, and I’m not sure he even has any desire to be one, but in my opinion, he definitely should be.

Not only has Harold been getting some local coverage in Hawaii for doing such selfless things as handing out free Gatorade to commuting drivers, for no reason other than Mondays being stupid, but he’s been one of the island’s best kept secrets for years now, and I for one, hope that this album is the start of that best kept secret becoming a nationwide phenomenon. The fact that Mr. Wong is also one of the most handsome, best dressed, and well groomed men I’ve ever met, is frankly, just cheating, but let me get back to his art.

The first time I met Harold Wong, I wasn’t too impressed with his personality, but I was immediately blown away by his brand of musical comedy. Musical comedy is one of those things that can be either the most wonderful, original thing you’ve ever experienced, or the most hideously hacky garbage you’ve ever laid ears on. When I saw Harold perform a handful of songs at Station Bar on that fateful night a few years ago, I remember telling a mutual friend that I would buy his album right that second, if he had one out. Unfortunately, he didn’t have one out at the time, but a few of the songs I heard that night are now available for the world to hear on Death By Snu Snu, his debut album on Passout Records, and I’m over the moon about this, because it’s long overdue.

(Oh, and for the record, over the years, I’m happy to say that my first impression of his personality was totally wrong. I think he was just shy at first, or maybe he just has resting indifference face.)

When you come across something new and special in your life, you just know it. Hearing Harold Wong for the first time was as equally inspiring to me as the first times I heard Tenacious D, Flight of the Conchords, or Bruce McCulloch’s oft-overlooked classic, Shame-Based Man (or watching This Is Spinal Tap for the first time). I loved that he was singing about things that people could relate to, even though he clearly leaned toward the nerd spectrum of things, creatively, but his angles, and his songwriting skills were so engaging, refreshing, hilarious, and leaps and bounds ahead of so many others in the genre. I honestly don’t remember being more certain that I was watching a future star.

The first song on Snu Snu, “Dots”, is the first song I ever heard Harold Wong play live (I think), and I remember listening to it with the stupidest grin on my face, because I couldn’t believe how perfect it was. The song is basically from the perspective of Pac-Man, as he enters the arcade battlefield for the very first time. Pac-Man is as bored by all the dots he has to eat, as he is shocked when he’s faced with the first curveball the game has to offer. It’s one of those songs that perfectly captures something from so many of our childhoods, says it in a way we wish we could have said it ourselves, and is presented with a rollercoaster tempo that flawlessly compels the listener to hang on every word. That, along with the layers, and “wait for it…” moments make for an effortlessly joyful listening.

“Star Wars Nerd” could have been the kind of hackneyed material I alluded to earlier, in the hands of a lesser artist, but Wong nails all the notes that every fan of the original trilogy will go gaga over, but it’s never stale, or predictable. And if Harold’s career takes off the way it deserves to, the phrase “Hotter than the sands of Tatooine” is gonna sell a lot of t-shirts.

“The Zombie Song” is simply one of the greatest music comedy songs I’ve ever heard. Again, it’s not the most original subject to ever be touched on by a comic, but it’s Harold’s way with words, and his awareness, vision, and intelligent framing that saves the day time and time again. His songs are so easy to love, and the best thing I can say about them is that they warrant dozens of repeat listens, which is always a telltale sign of a genius. I’ve heard some of these songs over 100 times myself, and still get tickled by them, and “The Zombie Song” is obviously no exception. Wong’s got a knack for having the scope on what will definitely work, and doesn’t even approach anything that wouldn’t. That’s the kind of talent that you can’t teach. It’s one of those things that seems to just come to artists of his caliber.

Not every song here is a surefire knee slapper, but if anything, it’s another feather in Wong’s cap. While not every song is a big winner, there are enough moments here to surprise and captivate you, when they’re not blowing your mind, or making you spit out your favorite beverage. There are even a few subdued moments here that aren’t meant for laughter, and it shows a depth and potential way beyond his years, and makes one wonder if Wong could succeed in more than one genre. A few subtle seconds here and there even brought to mind the likes of Mason Jennings, Elliott Smith, and comedian Mike O’Connell’s Sad Songs To Get Sad To album. There are also times when I selfishly would like to hear a little more production bells and whistles, but I also admire the fact that pretty much everything you hear on the album is Harold and his trusty guitar, Francesca. I actually have no idea if he calls his guitar Francesca, but let’s just pretend for a moment that he does. Don’t judge me.

There are some songs here that I don’t even really understand, because I’m frankly not nerdy enough, but I’ve heard some of the reaction to them live and in person before, and they seem to strike a nerve with those who understand the subject matter, most notably, “Poke Massa”, which I still enjoy as much as I possibly could without knowing really anything of the Pokemon universe.

As far as first attempts go, I can’t imagine someone doing much better than Harold Wong does on Snu Snu. His premises don’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, but what he does with these premises could certainly be seen as groundbreaking on many levels, and you’ll definitely be rewarded with more than a handful of things that you wish you had thought of first.

Wong has all the talent and potential in the world to become a superstar. If his desire to do so is as powerful as those two things, his contemporaries had better take notice. I for one am excited at this prospect, because Mr. Wong is the type of voice that could help inspire a whole new breed of artists to pop up and try to match his brilliance, or it might help light a fire under those who are already trying their hands at this brand of hilarity.

Death By Snu Snu is a great debut, by a dangerously talented up-and-comer. And I think the world may soon be on the cusp of finding out what I’ve known since the very first moment I ever heard Harold Wong sing into a microphone: he’s a force to be reckoned with. With resting indifference face and all. You’ve been warned, dudes, and dudettes.