How the Internets Was Won: a Tribute to @midnight

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Nearly four years ago, Comedy Central took a gamble on something called @midnight, a game show experiment type-thing starring super-host Chris Hardwick, and featuring some of the best established and up-and-coming stand up comedians in the game. The game show element gave the program a solid hook, but @midnight was basically a nightly recap of whatever was popping off on your timeline that day. It felt like a nightly live-action meme, and like most great shows, it even touched on important issues on those days in which such coverage was virtually unavoidable. Over the last decade, we have seen many “internet-based” shows come and go, but few dismantled the interwebs as gloriously, hilariously, slickly, and passionately as @midnight did, and much of the credit goes to Hardwick himself.

As someone who followed Hardwick from his Singled Out days, and as a huge fan of everything Nerdist industries, I knew I would probably enjoy the show, but it almost instantly surpassed my expectations, and I’m sure that goes for a lot of you reading this. Hardwick was the perfect choice on a show that came along at a perfect time. Not only was Twitter becoming the social networking choice of a cool generation in 2013, but you got the feeling that Hardwick practically woke up with his finger on the pulse of what was really happening on the platform on any given weekday. A huge nod goes to the writers and researchers for sure, but Hardwick’s affinity for the internet’s hot topics must be noted and celebrated. And where other hosts might go for low-hanging fruit, or approach things more snobbishly, Hardwick appears to have utter joy, knowledge, and belief for, and commitment to what he’s presenting, whether it be on @midnight, or one of his other gigs. Part of Hardwick’s allure is his boyish charm, but I think it’s refreshing to see someone who seems to only take jobs he feels passionately about, and like many of my favorite people, I can’t help but love a guy who isn’t afraid to be as silly as he is professional.

I’m sure for some, the show was mindless, throwaway fun, and at the core, sure, there’s a healthy chunk of that, but for me, it was much more than that, and ultimately, a pretty important show. As an up-and-coming stand up myself, as well as an unabashed fan boy of all things comedy, it made me feel closer to the comedy world, and it made me feel like I was in on jokes that I might not have even been privy to you a decade ago. Being that I don’t always get to perform, as a comic who still has a day (night) job, it was a pastime that kept me engaged, and kept my comedic mind working, plus I got to see another side of people I’d admired for years, and it brought legitimacy to all things Twitter (among other social media sites) and made hashtag games feel cool. Hashtag games still feel like the redheaded stepchild (or orange-faced dictator, to stay current) of social media, but I still enjoy participating in a good one, and I can’t lie, it always made my day when the folks at @midnight would like or retweet one of my contributions to their #HashtagWars (and I’ll say it, the day their account followed me on Twitter was quite a highlight for me. It’s possible I care way too much about social networking, but I felt pretty special nonetheless).

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And now, alas, the time has come for another good thing to come to a close, and it’s bittersweet. On one hand, I’m going to miss having @midnight as part of my almost-nightly routine, but it’s always good to see Chris Hardwick branching out, and becoming more successful, being that he has battled hard times in business and in life. Much like LeBron James, I will follow him wherever he goes. (That’s right. Chris Hardwick is the LeBron James of TV hosts.) And it’s great that the show is ending while it’s still awesome. It would have been tragic to see @midnight jump a shark, only to be devoured by a sharknado, so kudos to them for exiting in style. The show won two Emmys during its relatively brief run, and it captured my heart. But again, all good things must come to an end. It’s just rare to feel so closely related to something that I had no direct involvement in. Then again, I think part of the magic of @midnight is that all of us who loved it were a part of it. It was certainly its own thing, that a lot of talented people made happen, but those gleeful wizards were also smart and kind enough to make it our show, and that’s why I’m going to miss it so. I’m sure a lot of you can relate.

Join me under the red light, won’t you?

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#PointsMe

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Reel Around the Years ’94: the Year Pop Broke Punk

November, 2016:

Hi. My name is Johnny Sparkles, and I’m a music fetishist.
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As 1994 began, I was 6 months out of high school, with no idea of what to do with my life. I had some ideas, but most of my ideas had to do with how to escape adulthood. I had just barely turned 18, and I was too busy with things like silliness and wonder to worry about stuff like careers, or wearing ties. At that time, I was hellbent on being a musician, or screenwriter, but was too lazy to learn an instrument, and too scared and idiotic to focus on writing the way I needed to. It’s 2016, and I am now officially a stand up comedian. I’m still not ready for adulthood, though. I am more focused on writing these days, but still too scared to do much with it. I’m still too lazy to learn an instrument, but also busy with other things these days. And not just procrastination, I swear. So why am I here? Well, for one, I’m not alone. I have R. Kevin Garcia Doyle, a fellow music fetishist with me, and we’re here for your sake. The world just tried to eat itself a few days ago, and we feel like it’s time to for us to do something about it. I mean for us, too, but trust me, even if you don’t realize it, you guys need this. We believe that music can save this world, and we will do our part to help, by writing about it. And R. Kevin isn’t too lazy to learn an instrument, so he’s even more of an authority! So why 1994? Well. It was a pretty important year for music. SPIN even called it the best year in alternative music this one time. We’re not exactly sure if we agree with that yet. That’s kind of why we’re here. By the time we’re done, we still might have no idea, but it will be fun figuring it out.

Hi, my name is R. Kevin Garcia Doyle.
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In 1994, I was in a PhD program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I had been a DJ in college at WRBC (Bates College, Lewiston, ME) from 1985-1989 and a DJ at KTUH (UHM) from 1989-1993. I think of 1994 as the beginning of my “musical dark ages.” I still was reasonably in touch with new music and new songs, but the fact that I wasn’t working at a college station (and the fact that, in those pre-Internet days, the ways I was exposed to new music were increasingly limited) meant that, gradually, I lost touch with all music – not just alternative music, but almost all but the most ubiquitous songs of the mid-late 90’s through the early zeds.

Two things really hit me in 1994. Kurt Cobain’s Death and Timothy McVeigh’s terrorist act. Cobain and McVeigh were both born the same year as me. I thought “wow, this is what Generation X is accomplishing.” That was the first year (of several) in my life that I felt like everything was going to blazes.

Fortunately, some really good music came out that year – and in the 22 years since, I’ve managed to, little by little, get a picture of what a remarkable year it was for all genres of music. I mean, this was the year Nas’ Illmatic came out and no other year can claim that.

JS: The death of Cobain hit me very hard. It took me a long time to really come to terms with it. I think I took it personally because I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. Nirvana was my big introduction to this world of music, and almost overnight, they were gone basically forever. I was always intrigued by rock music, but I abandoned it for a huge chunk of what would eventually become my formative years. A few bands got me back into it, right around the time that Nevermind was about to explode, but it was that very album that sealed the deal for me. Nirvana made sure that I was now a lifer, with or without them, but it was still impossible to imagine the musical landscape with a giant hole right smack dab in the middle of it. 1994 might have been important because Nirvana was such a big part of it, but the sad irony is that the demise of Kurt Cobain probably directly spelled the end of punk rock demolishing the Top 40 errwaves, shortly thereafter. It’s hard to sustain the dominance of your dynasty when a perennial MVP performer is no longer playing for your team, and in many ways, popular music never recovered, even though tons of bands that were influenced by Nirvana – and the bands that inspired Nirvana, of course – continued to thrive on a subterranean level.

1994 as a year in general was bananas fucking foster. O.J. Simpson. McVeigh. The ballad of Tonya and Nancy. The MLB strike. And most tragic of all, Pulp Fiction not winning the Oscar for Best Picture. 1994 was the best of times, and the worst of times, in many ways. So much death, and despair, but also my favorite movie was released (Forrest Gump be damned!) and some of my favorite musicians for years to come would be introduced to me. (Hello, Beck Hansen!) But it was a weird fucking year for music, too. Just take a quick glance at what charted, and you’ll see a cornucopia of bands, songs, artists, and albums that have no business hanging out with each other. But this was a different time. A time when I had less means, but somehow still found it way easier to survive. But yeah, some of the albums that came out that year still sound certifiably fresh in 2016, while others appear to be ancient relics, and there are, as always, a few things I’m trying to forget ever happened. I mean didn’t 1994 have enough tragedy?

Oh, Frank Black….you will always be my Teenager of the Year, but (MC) Hammer trying to go gangsta, and Vanilla Ice trying his hand at metal can go straight to hell. Man, I have to admit…right now, I’m not feeling too good about this already. If you had asked me in 1994, I think I would have thought most of the stuff that came out that year was certified gold, but having not dug too deeply yet (stay tuned), I’m expecting a bit of a letdown. But hey, worst case scenario, I’ll always have Pulp Fiction. Regardless, I’m trying real hard to be optimistic, Ringo.

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RK: I turned 27 in December of 1994. Generation X had already started resigning itself to the fact that we were going to be blamed for everything. A radio station in Seattle allegedly was hyping “who would kill himself first: Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder?” Assuming that’s true, I hope that DJ has had a sleepless night or two since then.

But, yeah, Cobain’s suicide seemed to be inevitable. That’s just in retrospect of course – no matter how many possible futures you see laying out before you, the past looks like a straight f-ing line. Nirvana had just released Unplugged and two tracks from that – the definitive version of “All Apologies” and a decent version of “About A Girl” – were number one modern/alternative rock tracks on Billboard that year. This is a pretty good indication of where mainstream punk was traveling that year. Unplugged was the first stop on the road to Nirvana being played in supermarkets or being turned into elevator music. (Here is where I plug Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad, a fantastic book that looks at the antecedents to the big punk explosion of the early 90’s)

There’s a bunch of things I struggle with about my own musical taste. In the 80’s, I saw myself as a punk dude with heavy metal leanings. If I really, really look closely at what I was actually listening to though, it was quirky pop and especially quirky power pop. I rarely met an XTC song I didn’t love. I was a huge fan of Game Theory/The Loud Family. Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush still found homes on my mix-tapes. By 1994, this had turned into a growing passion for hip-hop. A Tribe Called Quest. Arrested Development. De La Soul. Beastie Boys. These were groups creating remarkable songs and albums that were intelligent, filled with crazy hooks and quirky AF. My impression about hip hop in the 90’s…

OK, not before I can share my impression, I think it’s important to note that what we listen to is often dictated by the ways we get exposed to music. When I was a college DJ, discovering new music was ridiculously easy. In the 80’s and into the 90’s, the LP was still king at WRBC and KTUH. CDs were on the rise, but we didn’t have the infrastructure to store them (i.e. our shelves were for albums not CDs) and most record companies just sent us LPs. Most copies of albums at radio stations had a white sticker slapped on them by the station’s Music Director. Since many album covers didn’t include pertinent information like the artist’s name and album title, that was written on that white sticker. The music director, program director and various DJs would often notate recommendations about which tracks were worth a listen and many DJs used those notes as a guide when they wanted to play something new on their show. Many wouldn’t, but that’s another story.

Furthermore, we had access to CMJ – the College Media Journal – which was like Billboard for college stations. You could see what other stations were playing and read recommendations from their editors (that we all assumed were just press releases from the record companies). So, while I was a DJ, I heard new music all the time and I was the one actively discovering it most of the time. Once I stopped being a DJ, my exposure to new music slowed down significantly (until the internet became a thing, but that was way after 1994). I learned about music from the radio (mostly Radio Free Hawaii, which was a thing for a few years in the 90’s), from browsing at record stores, from watching MTV and from word of mouth.

When I was a college DJ, hip-hop was part of my regular diet and fit right in with the other stuff I was playing on my show. After college, I didn’t keep up with hip-hop because I was no longer exposed to it. As a result, my impression was that hip-hop was eventually completely wiped out by mainstream gangsta rap. This was a completely ignorant view and is completely unproved by even a cursory glance at what was popular on the rap charts in 1994. For example, “Player’s Ball,” Outkast’s debut single (released in November of 1993) was the number one rap song for six weeks starting in March – and they’ve remained a major standard-bearer for mind blowing, creative hip-hop to this day.

Furthermore, I missed Nas’ Illmatic when it was released. Indeed, I missed Nas’ entire career until a few months ago when I learned that his music was a major influence on Lin-Manuel Miranda and, thus, on Hamilton. This is how out of touch I am – I’ve spent the last months listening to Illmatic and am kicking myself for missing it. I would have loved that album in 1994 and could have been listening to it for 22 years at this point if I’d only continued to be a DJ. Anyhow, yeah, 1994 man.

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JS: Music nerd prowess is definitely very much, if not all about who you know, and what you’re exposed to (and how you’re exposed to it). The people I needed to meet to find the path to my musical righteousness weren’t around when I was younger. My sister got me into a few essential things, but none of them had to do with rock music, really. I think through her and my step brother, I found out about hip hop and reggae, but I feel like I took my minimal knowledge of rap music and really ran with that first, and my knowledge soon surpassed that of most people I knew. By the time I was 14 or 15, I was pretty well versed in rap, but I still listened to a lot of horrible things in other genres.

My first saving grace was Z-Rock, a pirate hard rock station that got me back into things like Metallica, Queensryche, and Soundgarden, which got me interested in music with guitars again. After that, I borrowed some punk albums from a friend (Minor Threat, Descendents, Dinosaur Jr), which blew my mind all over my face. But the real game changer was the aforementioned Radio Free Hawaii. The impact that revolutionary radio station had on me is impossible to state in such few words, but if I get too far into it, this will literally turn into another piece. My only regret is that I didn’t find it sooner, and it didn’t last longer. But without Radio Free Hawaii, I wouldn’t even be writing this. RFH took everything I was starting to get into, magnified and amplified it infinitely, then injected it straight to my heart, brain, and soul. I was never the same once I served for Sheriff Norm’s army. And the only PTSD I suffer from is post-punk triumphant spirit disorder. Luckily, the only side effect I’ve experienced, is going down a lifelong wormhole of music discovery. Once I was exposed to my missing lifeline, I kept going back, and before too long, I realized that I would be a little bit behind on things for the rest of my life, but that’s only because I started so late, and pay attention too much. It’s a labor of love that I’m sure I’ll never retire from.

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Sheriff Norm of RFH: My own personal Jesus

Being that I was already deeply immersed in rap music, this was an extremely exciting time for me, as I now had a new layer of music to sift through, and fawn over. But upon doing (re-)research over these last few days, 1994 was a bit of a bummer, and not just because of Kurt Cobain’s death. Thanks to the assist by Sir Doyle, I’m brought back to the night of his death. I’m at a friend of a friend’s house, and we’re watching Unplugged. My buddy Darett and I are still somber and in shock, though we’ve now known the news for almost an entire day. Other people at the house are totally oblivious to what’s going on, which bums me out in a big way. Maybe I had an inkling that while this was alternative rock music’s biggest year commercially, the exit of its most important band was going to directly lead to its demise, through no fault of their own. I assure you that there is tons of music being made currently, that is on par with the very best music out at that time, and this has been the case for the last 22 years, but it’s also undeniable that mainstream radio has ignored almost all of it across the board since, oh, I don’t know, the very early 2000s? And it all started slowly declining in 1994. But mostly I was just sad because my hero was gone.

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I know it sounds like I’m challenging 1994 to a duel, but it wasn’t awful. (Not all of it, anyway.) It was still a magical time. A time when I would go to Tower Records once every week or two, and buy a huge handful of CDs, sometimes without even being overly familiar with the artist. If you knew what was good, and who else knew what was up, you kinda knew which bands to trust, and you could pick things out simply on a gamble, and they would often become favorite artists of mine for life. I’ll save my very favorite teleases of that year for the end of this article, but right now, I’ll touch on a few musical moments that were on my radar in a big way that year:

This was the year that Weezer, Oasis and Notorious B.I.G. made huge impacts, with bold, confident beyond their years, larger than life debuts. Weezer, and the brothers Gallagher stuck around much longer, but Biggie Smalls is recognized by many as the greatest rapper of all time, while the other acts had hit or miss moments over the years. Another landmark debut, Nas’ Illmatic, is recognized by a lot of the same people as the greatest rap album of all time. I love that album, but for me, it’s not as extremely essential as other pieces. I can’t even explain to you why. Certain things just don’t hit us the way we want them to sometimes, but it is undeniably a great, great moment in hip hop.

Toadies had a huge hit with “Possum Kingdom”, and then seemed to fall off the face of the earth almost immediately. Craig Mack similarly went Houdini on us after dropping the sure shot single “Flava In Ya Ear”. And Outkast presented us with a delicious first course from their potluck of sounds, but it only gave us a small glimpse of what they were truly capable of. Rodan was an indie darling that I fell pretty hard for out of the box, but seemed to go extinct shortly thereafter, and the Offspring didn’t debut with “Come Out and Play”, but they definitely came out of nowhere with it, and then proceeded to make a decade’s worth of disappointing albums after that, but made a shitload of money doing so. I wish I had that problem. I was also one of the few people that I knew of to buy the debut album of a little group known as the Fugees. I really liked the album, but had no idea they’d be huge stars in a couple years.

Affiliated releases by members of Wu-Tang Clan and Rocket From the Crypt almost shredded mainstream music to pieces, but they were more leftfield hits, ultimately. Drive Like Jehu’s Yank Crime, and Gravediggaz’ 6 Feet Deep both featured moments that I didn’t hear any other artist at that time doing, and I still count those as very important albums. Superchunk’s Foolish, Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand, Mark Lanegan’s Whiskey For the Holy Ghost, Jawbox’s For Your Own Special Sweetheart, and Sebadoh’s Bakesale were all very deserving indie successes, and I love all of those records, as well as Shudder To Think’s Pony Express Record, which I wholeheartedly adored, but had a hard time getting friends to share that love with me.

Beck burst onto the scene with three albums, and Mellow Gold and One Foot In the Grave helped solidify him as a definite MVP candidate of 1994, as well as its Rookie of the Year. Veterans Helmet, Sugar, Pantera, Melvins, NoFx, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Mavericks, MC Eiht, Gang Starr, Redman, Toad the Wet Sprocket (shut up, you know you bought it), and Sonic Youth all put out stellar albums, but none of them was quite good enough to be considered classic, but Sunny Day Real Estate and Scarface came very close to reaching that status with their two, very different Diaries. There are bands that I had long relationships with that put stuff out that year, too, but I don’t remember being nutty about them at the time. Shellac, the Coup, Luna, and two of my very favorite bands-Lagwagon, and Lungfish-didn’t make the hugest of impacts on me then, but I would revisit them in later years, and be infatuated by the results. Bone Thugs N Harmony caught my attention with a mystifyingly unique EP, and Johnny Cash even hooked up with Rick Rubin for the first time, and embarked on what would end up being quite a fruitful series of American Recordings, not to mention a captivating final act, for one of music’s most iconic voices.

Before I even think about getting to my picks for the very elite of 1994, I can’t resist touching on a couple artists that I thought would stay with me forever. Some didn’t even last, and others I kind of just outgrew, but I’d be lying if I denied buying albums from G. Love and Special Sauce, MC 900 Foot Jesus, and 311 that year, and enjoying all of them, as well as hit-or-miss soundtracks that made a lot of money, from the Crow and Reality Bites, to Clerks, and Above the Rim, which basically only has staying power thanks to the eternally essential “Regulate”, by Nate Dogg & Warren G. And I’m also embarrassed that I still haven’t gotten fully into Portishead’s Dummy. I don’t even have a reason for it. I have it queued up, and have gradually dug a few cuts here and there, but really, I should have heavily digested it by now. But nothing could be more embarrassing than having an album called Your Filthy Little Mouth. Man, if I had half the confidence of David Lee Roth, I would have conquered the world by now.

But were any of these albums–all of which had a sizable impact on me–enough to join forces with my top picks, in conquering every other year of music…? Eh, you and your filthy little mouth will find out soon enough.

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(Note: Tom Jones also put out an album that year, and it was called The Lead and How To Swing It, but I don’t think we need to go into any more detail about how Mr. Jones may, or may not swing his “lead.” Ain’t nobody need to hear about that.)

RK: 2016 has just put me in a position where I need to defend a 1994 Tom Jones album. What the hell, 2016?

Let’s talk about Jones’ The Lead and How To Swing It. I think I can swing this back to 1994 in general.

In 1988, Tom Jones was invited to sing lead vocal on the Art of Noise’s cover of Prince’s “Kiss.” Before 1988, that is a sentence that I’d have never imagined I’d have to write. The song was just as bonkers as it sounds but it taught me a very valuable lesson – a great singer can make bonkers stuff work and Tom Jones is a great singer. He may be the greatest cover artist of our lifetime. He knows what songs work well for his voice and style and once he’s locked on to a song he sings the hell out of it.

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Anyhow, The Lead and How To Swing It could have been a big deal in 1994. It was a direct response to his success with “Kiss” but the album was at least five years too late to capitalize on it. Furthermore, he decided to go with a bunch of original tunes instead of covers. Now, Jones sings the hell out of all of them (really, he gives some great performances) but with the exception of the lead track – the delightful and fun “If I Only Knew” – the songs aren’t equal to his voice.

The production, on the other hand, is top notch. Flood, Teddy Riley and Trevor Horn all took turns on different tracks. The album sounds great. So we have an unfortunate situation where a great singer, fantastic producers and a really tight band are doing their best to make diamonds from coal.

Original songs are outside of Jones’ normal comfort zone, so kudos to him for trying that. He followed the same formula and did an album of covers called Reload in 1999 that blew the roof off the joint. Its one of the finest albums of his career and I don’t think he could have gotten there if he didn’t do The Lead and How To Swing It first. He was 54 in 1994 and still trying new things. We should all be like Tom Jones.

I’ve created a bunch of playlists related to 1994 in my own library and on Spotify. I encourage you to listen to the 10 songs that reached #1 in 1994 (a very brief list since Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You” was #1 for most of the year), even if it’s painful for you.

The list is pretty much would you expect from Top 40 music, but I want to point out three oddballs.

First, Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories had a number one hit with “Stay.” How on Earth did that happen? This was a quirky song that doesn’t have a proper chorus. It would not seem completely out of place on a Neutral Milk Hotel album. In a year dominated by slick produced adult contemporary pop by huge names, this song gave hope to everyone in a coffee shop with a guitar.

Second, alleged white supremacist front group Ace of Base (google that and leap down a rabbit hole that will consume your life) had a huge hit with “The Sign.” This is unforgivable. “The Sign” is objectively awful. It is a song that sounds 15 years out of its era and I have no idea who listened to it unironically. If this had been a minor top ten hit in 1978, I could forgive it. But in 1994? Holy cats people.

The most interesting number one track of the year though was Ini Kamoze’s “Here Comes The Hotstepper.” Boyz II Men were enjoying their second number one hit of the year – “On Bended Knee” – and up comes a Jamaican dancehall number to knock it off its pedestal for two weeks. Then “On Bended Knee” became the number one song again. Anyhow, for two weeks, America loved Jamaican dancehall. Not quite pop, not quite reggae, not quite rap. I’m thrilled that such a different sound broke through in 1994. This is unfair, perhaps, to Ace of Base who also sounded different, but they were different in an awful way.

I’m not going to write much of anything about these lists, but here’s the number one songs on the the Billboard Rap and Modern Rock charts for 1994:

Tori Amos is the only woman with a number one on the Modern Rock chart. Da Brat and Salt N Pepa are the female artists that topped the Rap chart. These two charts are also pretty much divided up by skin color. Our Mainstream Rock number 1’s have a better balance of ethnicity and gender than our less-mainstream music forms in 1994. Maybe still. I’d have to look at the contemporary charts to know this. Do my work for me, somebody.

JS: I was kind of hoping I wouldn’t have to come to face to face with the top hits of 1994, but it was inevitable, and some labors of love are more labor-heavy, and filled with far less love. This is an absolutely dreadful list of #1 hits. The first thing that blew my mind, was that Sting and Bryan Adams did a song together. And it was a #1 single. I remember that year pretty vividly, and I don’t remember ever hearing that song. Sting is the only person on this list who is still a highly respected artist by many other highly respected artists in 2016, though. (Before I hear any arguments, remember, I said highly respected.) R. Kelly is close, and actually a pretty phenomenal vocalist, and artist when he wants to be, but I think some unfortunate public events might keep many other artists from mentioning him at all. Boyz II Men were great at what they did, but they were more of a right place, right time type of act, though they had a string of amazing hits, and I definitely dug a few of them at the time, and have even been known to do karaoke versions of a couple to this day.

I always hated that Ini Kamoze song, because I always thought of songs like that as the reason why more songs from that given genre didn’t get more airplay. If people think that’s what great dancehall sounds like, then they need to listen to more dancehall, in my opinion, but it was definitely more refreshing than Celine fucking Dion. In spite of that, I can’t tell you how genuinely ecstatic I was, though, when one day, Kamoze randomly followed me on Twitter. (And how utterly heartbroken I was when he randomly unfollowed me a year or so later.) I agree wholeheartedly with the Loeb sentiment, though her career has surely fizzled to a screeching halt. I know a lot of “cool people” (you know who I mean) who loved that song when it came out, and it deserved it. It was simple, and a little corny, but it was quirky and sincere enough, and she was just adorable enough to make it all work. And after hearing what you said about Mr. Jones, I feel a little bad about poking fun of him earlier, but not bad enough to listen to that album. Sha-la-la-la-la-la-yeah.

The Modern Rock list is still pretty hopeful, though. There’s not a song here that makes me sick, and that’s pretty impressive for a list that old. There are a few I’d be fine never hearing again, but none that would make me want to throw my laptop through the window. I still listen to a lot of these songs in 2016, come to think of it. Even ones you might not expect if you know my taste. I do have to say that while Dolores is the only lady in Cranberries, she was still the driving force of that band, so I’ll have her join Tori in the rally against the boy’s club, but this was still the grunge era, and a lot of chicks weren’t into wearing flannel yet, back then, unless they were wearing their boyfriend’s around their waist as a “skirt.” I also should say here that I probably wouldn’t include any of these in my top songs of the year list, but “Come Out and Play” comes close. (I’m sure people realize this, but it’s also worth noting that some of these songs were from albums that came out in the previous year, or way earlier than that, if you count the Unplugged versions.)

I’m a hip hop snob, and therefore, the list of #1 songs on that chart, in that year, kind of depresses me. It was at this point, that I decided to make my own Spotify playlist of my favorite songs (any genre) of 1994. If you’re wondering why there are only 30 songs, and why it’s not supremely diverse, one reason is probably because I purposely left off songs from any of my favorite albums of the year, because I would hope that you would want to hear those entire albums, or maybe you already have, but regardless, here is that very playlist:

And now that you’ve seen the 30 songs that I chose that weren’t on my favorite albums of 1994 list, welp, I can’t think of a better time to present to you the 15 albums that made the cut for my favorite of said year. The albums at the very top of this list are ones I consider to be landmark releases, but that should be the case for any year, really, if you listen to enough stuff. Even though these are my final favorites, near the end of it, I already see some watering down starting to show up, and that’s a bad sign. And I’m going to go ahead and say right now, that this wasn’t even close to being one of the best years in music, but I do envy all the artists who bought islands based on the sales of lackluster albums that they put out. More power to them. I can’t wait to hear what Professor Doyle has to say about all this, but before I kick it back to him one last time, here is my best albums list, presented without any further commentary. I think I’ve given you enough to read already. Just trust me, if you haven’t heard of the artist, and like my other picks, check out said artists, because it is unlikely that they own islands, though I know at least two of them are from one.

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JOHNNY SPARKLES’ TOP 15 ALBUMS OF 1994
15. Keali`i Reichel – Kawaipunahele
14. Jawbreaker – 24 Hour Revenge Therapy
13. Boogiemonsters – Riders of the Storm: the Underwater Album
12. Café Tacvba – Re
11. Beastie Boys – Ill Communication
10. Skankin’ Pickle – Sing Along With Skankin’ Pickle
9. Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
8. Meat Puppets – Too High To Die
7. O.C. – Word…Life
6. Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York
5. Frank Black – Teenager of the Year
4. Tantra Monsters – Tantra Monsters
3. Built To Spill – There Is Nothing Wrong With Love
2. Jeff Buckley – Grace
1. Ween – Chocolate & Cheese

If there’s one saving grace for 1994, other than that incredible Buckley album–how big do you think his death would be in the internet age? It seemed virtually ignored back then–it’s that my top album, may also be my favorite album of all time.. So it has that going for it, even if the rest was a bit lackluster. But now it’s time for the R to close things out. Thanks for the memories 1994. And for not giving me too many nightmares. Now, show us how to swing that lead, Dr. Doyle!

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January, 2017

RK: Really, that Top 30 playlist The Esteemed Mr. Sparkles shared is as good an encapsulation of 1994 as one could hope to get. Best to skip over everything I have to say and just listen to that for the rest of your life. Best to start listening to it before the inauguration so you have enough time to listen to all the tracks before the inevitable bombs start falling.

In fact, his list is so complete that I figured the way I could best contribute at this point is to share 30 songs for 1994 that you might have missed in 1994.

I’ve also included “Secret” by Madonna on that list. I tried to avoid listing any bands that Mr. Sparkles included on his list, but I figured my Sonic Youth track features Kim Gordon on vocals and even though Group Home was a Gang Starr project, they’re not actually Gang Starr. I also chose a track from the terrific “If I Were A Carpenter” tribute to The Carpenters, but it is Dishwalla’s sublime cover of “It’s Gonna Take Some Time” which may actually be the only song on that album superior to The Carpenter’s original (though it doesn’t hold a candle to Karen Carpenter vocally).

Since Mr. Sparkles and I started working on this, there was this meme that spread around Facebook about sharing the top ten albums that influenced you as a teenager. This is an impossible task for many reasons, but the main one (and I think we addressed this earlier) is that the year a song was released might be different from the year when a song became popular and (in many cases) is entirely different from the year that you first became aware of the song. For example, most of my knowledge of post-1993 hip hop was absorbed post-2010. So how do we define “music of 1994?” Well, here are my “5 Greatest 1994 Tracks.”

Nas “New York State of Mind”

As I mentioned, it’s completely unfair that I only learned about Nas and Illmatic this past year. I would have listened to this album endlessly if I’d heard it back in the day. I’ve listened to it endlessly since I heard it. It’s probably my favorite album of 2016 and at least part of the reason I wanted to discuss 1994. I suspect this is the most cliche song to like from Illmatic but I don’t care – it’s new to me and I’ve been able to experience its genius for the first time in 2016. We live in an age of miracles.

Nirvana “You Know You’re Right”

Fine, fine it wasn’t released until years later, but it was recorded in 1994. Nirvana’s last single – indeed, their last recorded song – was one of the clearest expressions of Cobain’s struggle with depression and success. “Things have never been so swell/I have never failed to fail” is such a perfect couplet that captures what it’s like to have the stuff you want and to still be profoundly unhappy. Depression is a bear. I don’t think I could have handled this song in 1994, but by the time it came out in 2002 with the cushion of a few years between it and Cobain’s suicide, I was able to listen to it with enough perspective to recognize its genius without spiraling into suicidal ideation myself. Depression, as I just said, is a bear.

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Madonna “Secret”

I fell in love with Madonna in the 90’s. I wasn’t a fan through most of the 80’s, but Bedtime Stories and Ray of Light made me a huge fan. “Secret” is maybe her finest song – it’s certainly one of her best vocal performances. Madonna made a deliberate choice to move in a strong R&B direction on Bedtime Stories but also started moving towards her embrace of electronica on Ray of Light. Her use of acoustic instruments supported by an is-it-live-or-is-it-drum-machine rhythm (it was live – drums were played by producer Dallas Austin) makes the song irresistible to my tin ear. Her interpretation of the lyrics is tinged with sorrow and longing – it’s always felt to me like it’s a song about an emotional itch that can never be scratched. I could listen to this song on loop for hours and be pretty ok with that.

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“Sure Shot” by The Beastie Boys

“I want to say a little something that’s long overdue
The disrespect to women has got to be through
To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends
I want to offer my love and respect to the end”

Also, between the distorted vocals (that give the album Ill Communication its title), the beat (officially a mad beat) and the delivery, “Sure Shot” is the Beastie’s finest of finest hours.

“Connection” by Elastica

“Connection” is my perfect pop rock/song of 1994. It’s all of like 30 seconds long, it has that just this side of overproduced feel to it, and it’s composed entirely of hooks. Seriously, everything from that descending vocal line of the chorus to the “BWOING” sound to the moment after the chorus where the music stops then restarts feels like it was designed in a lab for maximum ear-worm value. I remember almost swerving off the road when I first heard this song because these were the days before Soundhound and there was no way I could guarantee that I’d remember the song’s name or who performed it.

Of course, this is my top five today. I’ve left out Ween, Sheryl Crow, Pearl Jam, Weezer, Blur, REM and a whole slew of other artists (Freedy Johnston? Hell yes) who released songs that I absolutely loved in 1994, but there’s only so much time and, hopefully, this will be enough evidence to suggest that even though 1994 wasn’t perfect (what year is?), there’s evidence that it was a pretty damn good year musically.

Oh, 10 albums that I remember listening to a ton during the year of 1994 (as opposed to later):

Monster by REM
Weezer (AKA the Blue Album) by Weezer
Vitalogy by Pearl Jam
Parklife by Blur
Live Through This by Hole
Bedtime Stories by Madonna
Tuesday Night Music Club by Sherryl Crow
Chocolate and Cheese by Ween
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain by Pavement
Ill Communication by The Beastie Boys

Thank you for sticking with us and we’ll be moving on to a different year soon, assuming there’s an internet to share it on in the Trumpiverse.

JS: May God/Tom Jones have mercy on our souls.

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A Year In the Laugh: 2016 Podcast Awards

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Gilbert Gottfried and Frank Santopadre with the wonderful John Amos

Even being a comedian myself, music has always been my number one driving force, artistically, but in recent years, podcasts have threatened this. When I commute, podcasts have become my go-to companion, and I can’t imagine life without them. I always love finding new things (even though that means I need to find non-existent time to digest them) to listen to, and sharing with people what things have moved me, so I decided to compile my favorite podcast-related things of 2016. If I didn’t mention your favorite, there’s a good chance I didn’t hear it. One only has so much time. So tell me what you loved. And if you haven’t heard anything that I’ve picked here, please find time to check these things out. Enjoy!

2016 PODCAST OF THE YEAR: Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast
PODCAST MVP: Andy Kindler – For his essential appearances on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, Fitzdog Radio, Todd Glass Show, Talk Is Jericho, etc.
Honorable mention: Dana Carvey (WTF, About Last Night, The Adam Carolla Show, Nerdist, etc.)

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Andy Kindler: Podcast pro; beach lover

EPISODES OF THE YEAR:

You Made It Weird with Pete HolmesLouie Anderson; Garry Shandling
Pete Holmes used to be an excitable boy. He still can be, but he’s gotten a lot less weird over the years. It’s impressive how a man who was once widely considered silly, has become one of the best interviewers in the business. Part of the reason for this is that he is not actually an interviewer. Pete is very particular about what he’s looking for out of a guest, and he has an effortless knack of getting it out of them, simply by being genuine, engaged, and himself. Louie Anderson’s appearance is one of the most thoughtful and heartfelt things you’ll ever come across on a comedy podcast. Not only does Louie share many deeply personal things, but he also has a good cry in the middle of the podcast. It’s a moment that will stick with you, and just one of the few elements that made this episode so special, and my pick for the best of the year.
Not far behind is Pete’s personal, spiritual, generous, and inspiring conversation with Garry Shandling, shortly before his death, which shook the comedy community to its core. This episode just adds to the sadness, when you consider how healthy, and full of life he sounds.
Other highlights:
Norman Lear and Judd Apatow – Speaks for itself. Generational legends sharing their wisdom with future legends.
Bo Burnham #3 – Burnham’s points of view may not always be what you want to hear, and his cynicism is very heavy-handed at times, but I respect his honesty, and willingness to speak his mind about things that could hurt his career. It’s very refreshing.
Aaron Rodgers – So great hearing an elite athlete speaking so freely, where others would give stock answers, or decline the interview altogether.
Kevin Pollak
Andy Samberg
Alex Bornstein
Reggie Watts

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Judd Apatow & Norman Lear with Pete Holmes

Girl On GuySheryl Underwood parts I & II (212-213)
Aisha Tyler sadly doesn’t do her podcast as regularly as she used to, but on these two episodes with her The Talk co-star, she shows why she’s still one of the best, though it’s Underwood’s honesty, emotion, and willingness to share her biggest joys, and darkest pains, that ultimately made this one a shoo-in for one of my favorite listens of 2016. Sheryl is a black conservative. A veteran/comedian. A joyous widow. And she speaks on all her complexities with a bold delicacy that touched me to the core. It’s always refreshing to hear the depth of someone whose layers you only get rare glimpses of normally, and that’s what makes podcasts so essential to me. It takes a long, one on one, heart to heart, to find any real truth behind your favorite people. I already liked Underwood before hearing this, but now I feel like we’re close friends.
Other highlights:
Dave Navarro

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The Joe Rogan ExperienceEnd of the World (Live From the Comedy Store)
Joe Rogan is still undeniably one of the best podcasters, but I must admit, these days I usually only listen if it’s someone I’m really into, or haven’t heard on the show before. On this episode, it was evident almost instantly that it would be one of the best shows of the year, and probably in podcast history. Rogan gathered a handful of the world’s finest comics (Doug Stanhope, Bill Burr, Bert Kreischer, Greg Fitzsimmons, etc.), headed to a comedy mecca, and sorted out the 2016 Presidential Election as it was happening, and helped me cope with the results once they were imminent. Burr was arguably the star of the show throughout, helping hold down the fort, and updating the results, while Rogan went to do a set, but Stanhope was great as always, and Rogan’s perspective after returning from his set, really helped me feel better about things. Rogan should really consider gathering these folks together anytime anything significant happens in this country.
Other highlights:
Hannibal Buress (836) – The higher Buress got, the better the episode was, and the three hours flew by.

Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal PodcastBob “Super Dave” Einstein (Episode #123) – Episode to episode, this is easily my favorite podcast right now. So much so, that I had a hard time picking my favorite one of his. Gilbert’s infectious laughter, lust for life, and mind for history, make this a must listen event always, and co-host Frank Santopadre is the perfect straight man, and helps keep things from unraveling with his excellent interviewing, and listening skills. On this episode, Einstein busts Santopadre’s balls repeatedly, and Frank shows what a sense of humor he has about it, and we get to hear everyone laugh heartily multiple times, which will lead you to follow suit, and really, what more can you ask for from a comedy podcast?
Other highlights:
George Takei (87) – Takei is such a good sport, playing with Frank and Gilbert, and consistently yes-anding them, even while having a very evident sore throat. There is lots of fun to be had here, but also touching to hear Takei talk about Asian discrimination in Hollywood, and other heavy issues close to his heart.
John Amos (129) – You can hear the strength, humility, and fun spirit that has made John one of our favorite distant relatives for decades here, as he talks about his storied career, which started off behind the scenes writing for and with legends. Glad to hear him still sounding so alert and in touch with his career. This man deserves a lot more recognition than he gets, and is just as impressive as many of his more famous colleagues.
Joe Pantoliano (125) – A refreshingly raw, and slightly emotional journey with a sweet man who often plays brash tough guys onscreen. I’m always blown away by what people will share when they’re in the midst of a really engaging conversation, and this happens often on Gilbert’s show.
Matthew Broderick (116)
Impractical Jokers (119)
Honorable mention:
Mini-Ep #74: One Hit Wonders, 1970; ME 70: One-Hit Wonders, 1966-67 – These mini-episodes are phenomenal. There is nothing that warmed my heart more consistently last year than hearing Gilbert sing along with his favorite tunes from the past.
Weird Al – Great episode, but it aired in 2015, even though I heard it for the first time last year.

The Smartest Man in the WorldBears – When Greg gets on a proper rant, there are few less captivating things in the comedy world. He’s one of the few people I can tolerate talking about politics as long as he wishes to. But add to all his normal magnificence some in depth Bob Dylan talk, and you’ve got me even more entranced. Proops was firing on all cylinders for this episode, and his on point coverage of all things awesome often makes you ponder if the title of his show isn’t just as spot on as everything else the man says.
Other highlights:
Botanicals – Another post election pep talk that I sorely needed.
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WTF with Marc MaronRobert Kelly (737) – Kelly goes in depth about his childhood turmoil, his struggles with addiction, and the worries that keep him motivated to keep moving forward. There’s not many things better in the podcast world than hearing Marc and a close peer bring the best out of each other. It’s very real, and always beautiful.
Other highlights:
Cintra Wilson (674) – Not only did Marc’s awesome interview with her introduce me to one of my new favorite women, writers, and secret crushes, but it led to her following me on Twitter! Marc has a high appreciation for strong, unique women, and I’m ecstatic whenever he shines a light on one, because I have similar taste in people. Cintra Wilson is a true gem.
Chris Gethard (711)
Casey Affleck (767) – I almost felt like I was intruding. As deep, honest, and genuine an interview as you’ll ever hear with a Hollywood star.
Dana Carvey (765) – I always feel like Carvey is holding back a little, but I’ve never heard him share as much as he did on numerous podcasts in 2016, and I think his appearance on WTF was arguably the best, and deepest. I’d still love to learn more, though.
Michael Rapaport (689)
Geoff Tate (743)
Ron Perlman (741)
Ethan Hawke (693)
Eric Andre (730)
Rob Reiner (702)
Chris Garcia (742)
Gad Elmaleh
Louie Anderson (715)
Jeff Goldlum (721)
Honorable mention:
Jerry Lewis (WTF Uncovered #3) – This was destined to become one of the finest episodes of WTF to ever air, than out of the blue, Lewis decided the interview was over. Not shocking, knowing Jerry’s personality, but I felt like things were going so well, and I thought that would be enough for him to overcome himself. I hope they’re able to make this happen again, though I’m not holding my breath.

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About Last NightKyle Kinane – Simply one of the funniest episodes of any podcast in 2016. Kinane is always a treat, and you can always count on him saying a thousand things he’s never said before, especially if he’s riffing with other comedians.
Other highlights:
Wayne Brady – I hope he comes back again, because I felt like they just barely scratched the surface. Brady is a more complex, smart, and creative person than a lot of people realize, and Adam and Brad did an amazing job of showcasing that here.
Godfrey – Yet another Godfrey appearance that will make you go, “Why the fuck isn’t he a household name yet!?”
Dana Carvey

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Wayne Brady, Adam Ray and their son, Brad

Never Not FunnyAll – There wasn’t an episode of NNF that I didn’t like last year, and that’s a testament to the way Jimmy, Matt, Garon, and Eliot work together. The uniformity of the show works flawlessly, even when things go haywire, or tempers flare, from the intros, to the bits, to the games, to the theme songs, to the way everyone interacts with the guests. It’s a weekly delight, and one of the things that helped keep me sane most often in 2016.
Highlights:
Matt Oswalt (1721)
Richard Kind (1802)
Jon Cryer (1812)
Amber Rose (1823)
Paul Reiser (1811)
Lauren Ash (1920)
Diedrich Bader (1817)
Joe Mantegna (1919)
Mike Schmidt (1915)
Maria Bamford (1819)

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Jimmy Pardo with my favorite tweeter, Matt Oswalt (@MattOswaltVA)

Anna Faris is UnqualifiedMike Birbiglia part two (48) – Unqualified was one of the most pleasant surprises that I discovered in 2016. I had no idea Faris had a podcast, and I don’t remember how I found it, nor did I know how important a podcast it would become for me. This episode further surprised me with Birbiglia’s insightful, thoughtful advice to listeners of the show.
Other highlights:
Andy Cohen/Caller Updates (73)
Michael Rapaport (7)
Shaq (22)
Ken Jeong (57/58)

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Birbiglia and Faris: Relationship Gurus

I am RapaportLive From New York City Irving Plaza – A raucous crowd, and lots of inside stuff that will delight any member of the Rapapack, but nothing beats special guest Danny Aiello (who Michael memorably chatted one on one with on episode 99) and Rapaport doing dueling Aiellos while singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, moments after Danny performed a solo serenade featuring tones that would make Tony Bennett proud.
Other highlights:
Live From Minneapolis, MN (189)
Live Showcase with Latrell Sprewell (187)
True Romance (148)
Andy Cohen (186)

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The NerdistNorm Macdonald – Speaks for itself, really.
Other highlights:
John Stamos
Butch Vig
Jake Gyllenhaal

The Best Show with Tom ScharplingThe Blowhard 100 – In which Kurt Vile, Fred from Honolulu, and a bunch of other beautiful knuckleheads help our hero rank the top 100 people who aren’t always the best at not shutting the fuck up.
Other highlights:
Chris Gethard and Sal Vulcano

Kevin Pollak’s Chat ShowAndy Kindler (280) – Guest host Samm Levine brings out the profound wackiness of America’s should-be sweetheart, Andy Kindler. There is so much gold on this episode, it would take me hours to compile, but his jabs about Kevin James’ new sitcom might be the acme.
Other highlights:
Vince Gilligan (253)
7th Anniversary Live with Colin Hay, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Burr
Jay Mohr (285)

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Talk is JerichoBroken Matt Hardy – If you’re a wrestling fan and don’t understand why an entire episode of Chris Jericho interviewing Matt Hardy in character as his “Broken” alter ego, then you’re probably not a wrestling fan.
Other highlights:
Danzig (278) – Uh. It’s fucking Danzig. Need I say more? And Glenn gets pretty open about stuff. More so than I thought he would, honestly.
Impractical Jokers (291)
TalkN Shop (Live in Australia) – Pretty much all the TalkN Shop episodes (Gallows, Anderson, and sometimes AJ Styles) are great fun, and total messes. Love it. Not to mention, one of the most glorious (apologies to Bobby Roode) things I’ve ever heard is Luke Gallows’ impression of Howard Finkel.
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Andy Kindler
Ron Funches

Doug Loves MoviesScott Thompson, Mark Forward, and Sean Cullen (Live from the Royal Theatre in Toronto) – One of the most beautiful trainwrecks I’ve ever heard unfold. They should reunite annually and see how much weirder it can get.
Danny Trejo, Joseph Mazzello, and Josh Wolf (Live from UCB Franklin) – Holy shit, I almost forgot about this one. I couldn’t stop smiling. Nobody including Trejo seemed to know how he got there, but he was predictably amazing, and all other guests were unharmed.
Other highlights:
Geoff Tate, Doogie Horner, Greg Proops, and Emma Arnold (Live from Helium in Portland, OR)
Dustin Ybarra, Chris Cubas and “Mark Wahlberg” (Live from Hyena’s in Dallas)
pretty much anytime “Mark Wahlberg” appears on the show
Amy Miller, Sean Jordan, Sean Sakimae and Geoff Tate (Live from American Comedy Company in San Diego) – Half of these guests follow me on Twitter!
Opie, Sherrod Small, Judy Gold, Mark Normand, and Greg Wyshynski (Live from Gramercy Theatre in NYC)
Bobby Moynihan, Amy Miller, Ron Bennington, and Gary Gulman (Live from Gramercy, NYC)

The Todd Barry PodcastLive from Just For Laughs in Montreal with George Wallace, Mark Forward, and Joe Mande (131) – Barry’s famously medium energy works wonders with Wallace’s natural comedic awesomeness, and hearing Mande crack George up was a special added bonus.
Other highlights:
Wayne Federman (117)
Neko Case (114)

Sklarbro Country/Sklarbro CountyRhys Darby, Spelling Bee champs (306)
Other highlights:
Romany Malco (County 229)
Ian Edwards (County 224)
Charlie Day (327)
Brad Williams (304)

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How To Be Amazing with Michael Ian BlackTim Gunn (38) – I hope Black gets a nightly chat show eventually, but only if he’s allowed to do things his way. Gunn was blown at how Michael was able to tap into his psyche in such a short period of time, and it wasn’t lost on me either. Superb.
Other highlights:
Michael Showalter (36)
Dan Savage (33)

Artie Quitter PodcastGilbert Gottfried
Other highlights:
Comedians Round Table with Dave Attell, Russ Meneve & Dave Juskow

Ari Shaffir’s Skeptic TankLunch Meat with Jeffrey Ross (272)

HarmontownAmazing Blades with Logic (215)

Occasionally AwesomeA Radiohead Shaped Podcast

Tom Rhodes Radio Paul Ogata – This would have been higher, but it originally aired in 2015. Ogata is a great guy, and remains one of stand up comedy’s best kept secrets, as Rhodes will proudly tell you.

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Paul Ogata: The deadliest comedy assassin you’ve never heard of.

TOP 10 COMEDY PODCASTS (episode to episode)
1. Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast
2. WTF with Marc Maron
3. You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes
4. Never Not Funny
5. I am Rapaport Stereo Podcast
6. Doug Loves Movies
7. Anna Faris is Unqualified
8. The Smartest Man in the World
9. Race Wars
10. How Did This Get Made?

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Metzger & Small: They’re your only hope.

Honorable mention (alphabetically): Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast, Comedy Bang Bang, Comedy Film Nerds, Fitzdog Radio, Hang Out With Me, Judge John Hodgman, Mohr Stories, Thanks For the Invite, The Adam Carolla Show, The Comedian’s Comedian with Stuart Goldsmith, The Dana Gould Hour, The Doug Stanhope Podcast, The Todd Glass Show, Trailer Park Boys Podcast

The Final Quest: Reviewing Tribe’s Last Excursion

“This is the last Tribe, and our ego hopes you felt us.” – Q-Tip, on “Ego”
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Last year, rap fans everywhere rejoiced when A Tribe Called Quest performed a tune on The Tonight Show. It was a tiny glimpse into their timeless magic, but left us selfishly hoping for something more. Little did we know that this was just the beginning of a fruitful reunion, though a bittersweet one, considering one of their members would die shortly thereafter.
The good news that arose from the tragically premature loss of Phife, was that the crew had apparently laid enough groundwork to create a new (and final) album, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service. This monumental announcement came just a few weeks ago, and all of us old hip hop kids, who are now middle aged rap historians, held our breaths, while trying not to lose our minds. I personally tried not to get too excited, because I didn’t want to be disappointed, but I couldn’t help contain my giddiness, when I found out that something that they had been working on since last year–but was a secret to most of us–would be released before the end of 2016(!). The time has come, and I’m happy to say that I am far from disappointed. It’s not their best album, but it’s certainly the best one since Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders changed our lives forever, and it’s a fine farewell for the group, as well as a love letter to (and from) Phife. Ultimately, it’s an achievement that they should all be very proud of, and I think Phife would be delighted at the outcome.
There are no true duds on this album. Anything close to filler is saved by exciting asides. There are memorable moments abound here. The recurring surprises are lead by the consistent presence of original core member Jarobi, as well as the unofficial co-fifth Tribe members Consequence, and Busta Rhymes.
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“The Space Program” kicks things off in style, with a bouncy, welcoming beat, and it whets your appetite just enough for Phife’s farewell (Award) tour.
“We the People” features a more hardcore drum, blended with smooth synth sounds, as Tribe takes the album’s first full dip into political commentary, tackling topics such as reality shows, sexism, and racism. A highlight is Phife’s best NFL-themed line since Vinny Testaverde retired: “Boy, I tell you that’s vision. Like Tony Romo when he hit Witten.”
“Whateva Will Be” is the first standout track on an album that has a handful of them. Phife is at his finest here, and Consequence also really shines, and is an unsung hero throughout the album. Something about this crew brings out the best in everybody, when everyone is focused. Q-Tip sounds better on this album that he has in over a decade. He still sounds like he’s in his prime, and it makes one wonder what is next for him, and where he has been (relatively) hiding over the last few years.
“Solid Wall of Sound” is definitely my favorite cut, and it might also be the best. It heavily samples “Benny and the Jets”, and at the end of the song, you even get an exhilarating surprise when Elton shows up to riff on his old classic, along with Q-Tip. The track features Tribe’s signature dancehall reggae-inspired vocals (by everyone, including Busta Rhymes’ most dynamic moment in ages. This is exactly what every Tribe fanatic has been waiting for.
The Musical Youth-sampling “Dis Generation” is another great one, and it’s so inspiring to hear Busta comfortably embrace his spot as Tribe’s new almost-member (he always felt like an honorary member anyway), and it’s just mindblowing to hear Phife, Q-Tip, and Rhymes all on the same track in 2016. This is something a lot of us never thought we’d ever get to hear again.
A rejuvenated-sounding Dre from Outkast sounds like he’s been listening to a lot of Danny Brown on “Kids…”, but the song is a bit disjointed, in spite of his solid appearance. The more Abstract elements of Q-Tip’s personality are always welcome, and part of what makes him so appealing, but it makes certain songs sound a bit direction-less at times. But nothing here sounds too out of place, and everything sounds refreshing, even though this is their most politically charged album ever, which in the wrong hands, might not have worked so well.
“Melatonin” sounds like a mix between Brand Nubian’s “Slow Down” and ATCQ’s own “Award Tour”, and is followed by “Enough!!”, which is Q-Tip’s sexual joint of the record, for lack of a better term.
“Mobius” has the feel of The Roots’ harder jams, and is highlighted by Busta Rhymes, who spits with a pointed fury that I haven’t heard from him since “Scenario”, and “Woo-Ha!” era Bus.
“Black Spasmodic” features a heavily reggae influenced beat, and Phife’s verse brings to mind Slick Rick in his prime. The follower, “The Killing Season” stars Talib Kweli and Kanye West, and somehow seems to fall flatter than most tracks on the album, though like I said earlier, nothing could be described as “weak” or “filler” here.
aphife
“Lost Somebody” is a beautiful tribute to Phife, but the song that really got me misty was “The Donald”, because Phife sounds so fucking good. I couldn’t help but smile through my tears, while the five foot assassin ripped shit. In between those two joints you have “Movin Backwards”, a collaboration with Anderson Paak–who sounds like a mix between Gary Young, Frank Ocean, and Martin Luther here, “Conrad Tokyo”, which guest stars Kendrick Lamar, and has a real 70s funk/soul vibe to it, and “Ego”, which has a beat that sounds almost like a remix of “Excursions”. It’s surreal to hear Tip give shouts to Jack White on the track. It was always fun hearing them give shouts to session guys and producers back in the day, but it’s an altogether different thing when he’s acknowledging the sweet licks of Jack fucking White!
“The Donald” is a fine send off for the Five Foot Freak, and We Got It From Here… is a very good, and altogether satisfying conclusion to the career’s of one of rap music’s elite collectives ever.
We certainly felt you, A Tribe Called Quest. I loved you when you were on the rise, and I mourned your first exit, but this was the perfect bow to tie around an exquisite career. We’ll do our best to keep bouncing without you.
tipsta2

Battle For the Best: “In Utero” Vs. “Nevermind”

A few years ago, a colleague of mine, and I planned to do a track by track breakdown of Nirvana’s final two studio albums, and conclude with which one we thought was superior, respectively. As it goes, life happens, and we ended up being on non-speaking terms, for whatever reason, but I’ve always wanted to undertake this challenge anyway, and I hoped that someday he’d do his breakdown, we’d compare notes, and learn to love again.

Then a few months ago, I got the horrible news that he had passed. And I thought it was only right to finish this project. We had a falling out, and people close to him ended up unfriending me, too, even though it had nothing to do with them, but that doesn’t mean I still didn’t think of him, or wish him the best. He was a good guy, and an awesome writer, with a great passion for music. This one’s for you, Dom.

In the meantime (oh wait, that’s a Helmet album), here is my track by track (and other stuff) synopsis, and at the end, I will tell you which Nirvana album is the one to get, if you had to get only one, though I’m assuming if you’re reading this, you already own both.

Tale of the tape:
Album Title: Nevermind                                      
Year of Release: 1991
Record Label: DGC
Producer: Butch Vig
Singles: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (US #6; UK #7), “Come As You Are” (US #32; UK #9), “Lithium” (US #64, UK #11), “In Bloom” (UK #28)

Album Title: In Utero
Year of Release: 1993
Record Label: DGC
Producer: Steve Albini
Singles: “Heart Shaped Box” (UK #5), “All Apologies”/”Rape Me” (US #45; UK #32)

TRACK ONE

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” vs. “Serve the Servants”

Key moments: Spirit – “Here we are now, entertain us.”; that opening riff that will haunt our souls forever. Servants – “If she floats then she is not a witch like we thought.”

Both tracks are memorable in their own way. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the smash hit that came out of nowhere and changed the face of music for the next few years. It was such a powerful song that people remember hearing it years before it came out and knowing it would be huge. “Serve the Servants” was the anti-Spirit opener that starts with abstract fury and feedback. And it’s hard to ignore the first line of the album, “Teenage angst has paid off well, now I’m bored and old.” It’s a huge statement from the biggest, and best band in the world, but without the first song off Nevermind, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, and the sentiment of “Servants” makes it a bit anticlimactic as a set the tone type of jam. Winner: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (5/5 vs. 4/5)

TRACK TWO

“In Bloom” vs. “Scentless Apprentice”

Key moments: Bloom – the way he screams right before the chorus. Apprentice – “You can’t fire me because I quit!”; the way he screams throughout the whole fucking song.

Two completely different songs here. “Bloom” is a groovy, poppy, angst-filled song destined for mass consumption. Both songs showcase Dave Grohl’s star-making drumming, but that’s where the similarities end. “Apprentice” is a dissonant, guttural, “fuck you”. It’s basically the most beautiful parts of punk, metal, thrash, noise, and emo all wrapped into one beautiful mess. Cobain yells “Go away” throughout the chorus, and all these years later, I still can’t stop listening. Winner: “Scentless Apprentice” (5 vs. 4.5)

TRACK THREE

“Come As You Are” vs. “Heart-Shaped Box”

Both of these songs were as close to sure shot singles as a band like Nirvana could create, and both, of course, became hits. I don’t count either one as an especially profound, or emphatic moment of their career, but they’re both great songs that rely heavier on sound quality, and mass appeal, and less on feedback, and depth. This one’s got to be a push. Tie (4.5 vs. 4.5)

TRACK FOUR

“Breed” vs. “Rape Me”

“Breed” is a punked up ball of fire that immediately catches your attention every time you hear it. “Rape Me” has become more of a novelty song through no fault of the artist, and may even suffer a bit because of similar riffage to “Teen Spirit”. Both are quality songs, as are most songs from the band, but “Breed” has always stuck to my ribs a little more fiercely. Winner: “Breed” (5 vs. 4)

TRACK FIVE

Key moments: Lithium – that thing is just a monster all the way through. Frances – I think it’s unbelievable how clear and focused he sounds in spite of what’s potentially going on in his life at the time; “I miss the comfort in being sad.”

“Lithium” vs. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle”

This one gave me the most struggle. Both have been my favorite Nirvana song at any given time. I think for those that were young adults at the time of its release, “Lithium” just kind of sounded like what it felt like to be alive then. It’s one of those songs that captures the time perfectly, as well as the mindset of its target audience. It’s the song that I think would have broke them if “Teen Spirit” didn’t, and I still think it’s the slightly superior song. “Farmer” is just perfect, and is prophetic in its own way. It’s surprisingly less depressing than “Lithium”, considering that Cobain was presumably in a much worse place at the time of recording. Where “Lithium” sounds like an anthem and cry for help at the same time, “Farmer” sounds a lot more pointed and confident, in spite of its own melancholic moments. Tie (5 vs. 5)

TRACK SIX

“Polly” vs. “Dumb”

At the time of its release, “Polly” seemed quite profound, edgy and ahead of its time, but hasn’t aged as well as other songs from their catalog. “Dumb” still sounds pretty fresh, though both have similar tempos, and Kurt’s voice sounds eerily alike on both songs. You may have thought they were recorded on the same day, if you didn’t know any better. Winner: “Dumb” (4.75 vs. 4)

TRACK SEVEN

“Territorial Pissings” vs. “Very Ape”

Key moments: Pissings – that perfect opening by Krist, followed by Dave’s drumming and Kurt’s growl; “Never met a wise man. If so, it’s a woman.”; the fury; “Just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you.” Ape – “If you ever need anything please don’t hesitate to ask someone else first.”; that awesomely simple, yet completely fucking bonkers chorus; the way the song just ends.

This was another tough one. Both songs are gigantic hits of smelling salts to the senses. “Pissings” was one of the first moments from the band that just blew my mind open and made it dive even deeper into punk, and other underground forms of rock music. At the time, I was pretty new to this world, so it was a real awakening for me. Hearing somebody that raw vocally just made me realize how much I’d been depriving myself of over my younger years. “Very Ape” is one of those songs that I’ll forget about every year or two, then I’ll hear it, and remember how amazing it was, and also why I’ll never tire of worshiping Cobain. It just shows his (and the band’s) genius, and fearlessness. And the recording sounds superior to the vast majority of their catalog. Gonna have to go push on this one, too. Tie (5 vs. 5)

TRACK EIGHT

“Drain You” vs. “Milk It”

Key moments: Drain – Those beastly drums; the psychedelic breakdown in the middle, followed by Kurt screaming at the top of his lungs, and that catchy as fuck driving rhythm at the core of the song. Milk – those hesitations; Kurt’s bonkers hollering; Kurt laughing(?) at the 3:15 mark.

I hadn’t heard much like “Drain You”, when I first owned this album. He was singing about things I didn’t even know you could sing about, and it blew my mind all over my face. Also not lost on me was the abstract lyrics blended with such a catchy riff. I remember hearing this one and going from loving them, to practically dedicating my life to them. “Milk It” is a crazy song in the best sense of the word. Were they just fucking around? Had Kurt lost his mind? Did Steve Albini convince them to troll the universe? Was Kurt yelling out ‘Timmy!”? Was South Park even out yet? It doesn’t matter. The song was crazy good. But “Drain You” wins easily. Winner: “Drain You” (4.75 vs. 4.25)

TRACK NINE

“Lounge Act” vs. “Pennyroyal Tea”

Key moments: Tea – “Give me a Leonard Cohen after world so I can sigh eternally”; “I’m so tired I can’t sleep. I’m a liar and a thief.”; “I’m on warm milk and laxatives. Cherry-flavored antacid.”

By this time on Nevermind, you could excuse a throwaway track, and on the surface, this may even sound like one, but Kurt raising his voice down the stretch tells me otherwise, and whether or not it was meant to be something deep or not, Krist’s bass, the subtle notes of country and western vibes thrown in to the mix, and the overall catchiness, make “Lounge Act” a near masterpiece and one of the most underrated moments of their catalog. The raw emotion on “Pennyroyal Tea” makes it the clear runaway victor here, though I think it may have even been better if Kurt had done it by himself like the band suggested on Unplugged. Winner: “Pennyroyal Tea” (4.75 vs. 4.5)

TRACK TEN

“Stay Away” vs. “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”

This is frankly one of the weakest matchups we have here. “Stay” doesnt age particularly well, though it’s a song most other bands would be lucky to have, and Dave’s drums are among the best of his career. “Shifter” is the far more interesting song, but it isn’t much fun. Some dynamically heartbreaking vocals after the second “chorus” give it the edge. Winner: “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” (4.25 vs. 4)

TRACK ELEVEN

“On A Plain” vs. “Tourettes”

Key moments: Plain – “The finest day I’ve ever had is when I learned to cry on command.”; those harmonies.

“On a Plain” holds up better than you might imagine if you haven’t heard it in a while. The youth and confidence in Kurt’s voice are at their best here, which makes it even harder to listen to when you realize how much potential, and how many years he had left inside of him. I really wish he did love himself better than me, because he might still be here. “Tourettes” is a minute and a half of one of the biggest fuck yous of their catalog. It’s a bit of a throwaway, but it doesn’t suck. You just selfishly hope for a little more from a band with such great chops, but that was probably the point. Winner: “On A Plain” (4.5 vs. 3.75)

TRACK TWELVE (FINALE)

“Something In the Way” vs. “All Apologies”

Kurt Cobain sure knew how to close out an album. He treated the exit track like just that. Before he says goodbye, he’s gonna do some reflecting. On Nevermind was there really something in the way? Did Kurt foresee his future as a success? Was he wondering if he’d ever get there? He was probably trying to find a happy medium, but happiness was something he had a hard time attaining in general, of course… On In Utero, he really upped the ante on saying goodbye. The reasons I hate listening to this song are all the things that make it so beautiful. Frankly, in hindsight, this track sounds like a calculated move from a guy who’s about to say his alohas to not just this album, but to this world. This culminates in a breathtaking dissonance where the imperfect rasp of his voice meets the undeniable beauty within him, and the music itself. The clarity he displays again here, in spite of a very possible internal doom, is incredible, and almost scary. But that speaks to his genius. The guy is too gifted to know how messed up he is, or he’s aware completely, but it can’t stop that talent from being on full display. Regardless, the legend of the tortured artist grows, and all the hyperbole you’ve heard for the last twenty years is deserved. If you don’t hear that destructive, but beautiful collision of pain and bliss here, then I don’t know what you’re listening to, and you probably haven’t read this far anyway, because Nirvana wasn’t for you. And that’s great. I’m just happy that they were for me, as much as it hurts how flawless “All Apologies” was as a swan song. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Winner: “All Apologies” (5 vs. 4.5)

FINAL TALLY: IN UTERO(54.25/60) 5, NEVERMIND(55.25/60) 4, TIE 3 — So Nevermind has more individual points overall, but In Utero wins on individual tracks. Before I give you the final verdict, here are a few thoughts from some friends and acquaintances on which album they prefer:

Makena Dyer, comedian (@MakDPostmodern): “In Utero. Nevermind may get all the critical praise for making alternative rock mainstream, but In Utero shows the real heart of Nirvana.”

Quinn Bruce, singer, 2 Face 4: “I find it hard to choose between Nevermind and In Utero. I guess I’d say Nevermind because I have so many memories connected to it and I played the hell out of it until the cassette tape fell apart.”

Creed Welch, comedian, veteran: “I always felt like Nevermind was probably the better album, but In Utero is more my style. The riff in Heart Shaped Box is epic, I love the Salem’s Lot reference in Serve the Servants, All Apologies is another catchy guitar riff, Frances Farmer is fun to scream to in the car. The album is just a little janglier and almost folksy which I love. But for Nevermind’s case, Lithium, Drain You, Lounge Act, Something in the Way, and Territorial Pissings have amazing lyrics.”

Ron Solomon, comedian (@TheRonSolo): “In Utero was more raw and gritty and edgy. Felt more like the real Nirvana.”

William Ferguson, writer (@ElectricMidnite): “In Utero is actually slightly better because Kurt challenged himself a lot more. The songs are more personal. But my preference is Nevermind for it was how I fell in love with the band, and it for me is just so easy to get into. But both are to die for brilliant.”

Patrick Kelly, writer (@Cthulhu23): “In Utero spoke to my heart and every emotion of the 19 year old poet and lost soul I had become. It had the Shock value of my generation (Rape Me) with the true voice of the searching lost.”

R Kevin Garcia Doyle, actor, comedian, writer, professor, singer, Oil in the Alley: “Nevermind by far. I was a KTUH (University of Hawaii’s radio station) dj at the time and I can’t overstate what a profound, exhilarating change it ushered in. Some albums can be measured in songs but Nevermind must be measured in impact. Even In Utero couldn’t have happened without Nevermind. While the latter album is also excellent, nearly every track on Nevermind received airplay at the time and most can be considered classics.

Melanie Vaverchak, comedian: “I prefer the grittiness and angst of Nevermind to the more polished and dare I say “commercial” In Utero.”

Patrick Ryan, comedian: “In Utero. It’s somehow both polished and Raw. It is perfect from start to finish.”

Joshua Mullins, Uber driver: “In Utero. I will always remember the difference in producing described as: Dave’s drum sound produced by Butch Vig is like you seeing someone getting punched in the gut. Steve Albini made it sound like you were getting punched.

Tom Valcanis, writer (@crushtor): “I still think Nevermind. It’s like the album when the band was just ripe, not rotting from big money and bigger fame”

So there you have it. Nevermind was the album that started it all. We wouldn’t be having this argument without it. Nirvana wouldn’t have been a phenomenon were it not for it. You wouldn’t have mourned Kurt unless it existed. In Utero reached new heights, and fought new battles. It validated their success. It pulled off the rare feat of telling the world to fuck off while being a huge commercial achievement. You could make the argument that one album made the band, and the other one led to its demise, but what most of us can agree on is that it’s a beautiful thing that both albums exist. And thus, it’s really hard to pick the better album.

So which one is it? Well…I could tell you, or I could just show you…

bleach

You can’t fire me because I quit. All apologies.

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.