Okay, so two powerhouse specials dropped from the skies at the same time this week. One of them from Netflix, and the other from Amazon Prime. Sort of interesting too, one of them, Mark Normand, is something of a new guy that’s been around forever who’s just now becoming a nationally known above the thickets player. Someone I’ve been a fan of since I first saw him maybe five years back messing around on the internet. Back then he was doing bits during the pandemic, running around NY, putting his own stuff up on the web, just being his own guy. I wrote a piece on him in my book, Standupworld, and have always kind of sensed him getting to here. He’s always just made me laugh, right from the first time I ever saw him do anything, whether it was stand up or internet pieces.
OLD FASHIONED NEW FASHIONED
His act is an old fashioned one in a way that I like, in fact love. A throwback, where he just tosses the jokes. Slings them one after another, non-stop. Buddy Hackett. Flip Wilson, Shecky Greene. A modern take on the comedy version of a batting practice machine for one liners. He never stops shooting them out and never really seems to care what the audience is thinking. He likes when they laughs, but if they don’t, he moves on.
At the same time his work and his mode is so contemporary. It so pleasantly pops and screams of the current time he’s in. He’s completely of the moment. I think he has eleven or something podcasts going at any one time. He’s Joe Rogan adjacent, yet unlike a lot of that Joe-Ro squad, he would of, and was, making it without the Rogan roadway having opened up for him. He, Sam Morril, Joe List, and a group of shabby chic Manhattan comics had their own highway home, so jumping in with the Austin kids sometimes seems to be just another in a long line of ways Normand has figured out how to get free drinks. He doesn’t seem to need Joe as much as some of the others do which kind of gives him a special little shuffle. Charlie Chaplin as a 2023 stand up with a little bit of a drinking problem.
As far as this special. It’s good. It’s not his best. It is a true success though. Without a doubt. It’s nowhere near his Paper Tiger, or his Sticks and Stones or, Bleak to Dark, or anything like that. He wanted a Netflix special. Wanted to play in the big room, and he did it. Did it very well. He didn’t change his style. He didn’t stretch, didn’t even dig deep, most of the stuff is more or less a re-packaged version of other stuff he’s done on Out to Lunch and his half hour Netflix spot, which is fine, because as I said, he’s been underground in the subway world of the podcast gangs with hundreds and thousands of fans and this is about him now coming up top to play to millions of the surface dwellers. A lot of them haven’t seen him, so it was smart to go with his best moves.
I’M LATE FOR THE SHOW ‘OH NO!’
I personally wish he had dumped the cute opening where he’s running late to the show. I wish someone had told him how many guys did that exact thing in the 80’s and the 90’s and even how his idol Jerry did the billionaire version of it for Netflix just a few years back jumping from a helicopter or a jet or something into the river getting scooped out of the water and whisked in a speedboat to the show. I suspect though, as this was one of the earlier one of the specials where Netflix is paying these guys nothing, truly nothing, and giving them the specials back in two years, they’re probably giving them less notes. I do know if it was the Robbie Praw of a few years back who had spent real money and felt like he had the right to stick his nose in there, he would have given his ‘we don’t like any opening bits’ speeches. The truth is, he was right. I’ve come to understand it. ‘Get the damn thing going’. Luckily the ‘Ohhh, I’m late!’ bit was short, and true to Normand’s style the run was done and over quick.
(Note; If you want to see Classic Mark Normand, watch Mark Doorman. Normand The Doorman.) It’s still my favorite version of the guy and beyond his jokes, the best example of his voice as a comic.)
But watch his Netflix special ‘Soup to Nuts’. If you don’t have Netflix, use your parents account while you still can. You got about a minute. This will be a good one to go out on. He’ll make you laugh. He never fails this little tramp.
The other stand up with a new special out is, Jim Gaffigan. Gaffigan is a guy that’s been around forever, this is his tenth special. I’ve never met him. We have a lot of mutual friends, and I have tons of respect for him, his work ethic and all he’s done. I can’t say I’ve ever been what you would call a ‘big fan.’ Not really. Not until this special. He always came off too much like, yeah, a hard worker, but more like he was doing stuff that I thought maybe would have been better in the Sunday Funnies than stand-up comedy. I was wrong though. What I saw over the years maybe was, for me, back then, too clean, but I also was gone from stand-up and removed from it in a self protective way, and when I was in stand-up I was so messed up that I never appreciated a guy like his work ethic, and the craftsmanship of an act like his, and A) it was why I was never all that good, and B) it was why what he was doing couldn’t appeal to me.
I have been going back these last couple years and watching his stuff. I’ve grown a healthy appreciation for what he does, for how good he is at finding humor in the thin air of life, then blowing it up into silly stand up balloons he uses to amuse, tickle and tease.
THE ‘I WISH’ METER
It’s ironic, for me, when I watch a comic, my only way to seriously judge a routine or the act is ‘Do I wish I wrote it?’ Do I wish that were my bit?’ For me, Mark Normand will regularly toss out at least ten jokes in an hour of stand up that I would go. ‘Damn. I wish I wrote that.’ Maybe more. The rest was great. I was glad the audience was laughing. Respected it. Knew why they were, but it was the ones that send the ‘I wish I wrote that’ meter into the red that told me how otherworldly the work was.
In Soup to Nuts it only was in the red once or twice. Once for sure for an abortion bit I’d heard before, but it is a fine joke. The rest of the special I respected, got, understood why it was made, done, told, yes, it was all good, yet the meter went off just a couple times. All in all it was fine work. A solid showing.
DARK PALE SET THE METER OFF
For Dark Pale, it was the opposite. I can’t think of too much stuff in Jim Gaffigan’s other special’s that I’ve wished I wrote, or coveted in any way, yet there are so many superlative bits in this special that I would die to have written and be doing now, regularly. This special is just the opposite than Mark’s. This is a lane change. A nice one too. It feels organic. Really from his gut. It is darker, Jim Gaffigan and there’s some seriously funny bits here that I can’t help thinking are only as a result of it.
Yeah, I like the joke slinging. I like it from being in the audience though. It’s what makes me laugh hard, but truthfully, what I want to be when I grow up (Ha!) is a great story-teller. A great usurper of my life. That’s what Jim Gaffigan is. What Pryor, or Cosby was, like Dane Cook did in Above it All, his last special with those great stories about making it in comedy. Like Burr did in Red Rocks. Like Theo Von is doing with his nutty take on the world, Gaffigan does it here beautifully.
He does a piece on a plane crash that made me howl. His stuff on his kids is better than it’s ever been, darker of course but realer, told with a wash of veracity that makes you laugh in an offbeat way. The balloon trip bit is a solid story so well told. (I do have to say, I saw him on Rich Eisen talking about taking his kid to hockey in the early mornings, and the gruel and grind that comes with that, and he said ‘I would really rather the kid just go into rehab one day.’ and it made me laugh harder than the stuff about the kids in the act. So true!)
I also want to say, I love the background set in this thing. It’s so evocative. There’s moments when you couple it with his dark, open collared tux, and you feel like you’re watching a long scene in a Thornton Wilder play.
This is a lot of fun for the opposite reason of Mark’s. Mark’s is great to see someone you knew would hit the stride he’s hitting, and to know how much he has ahead of him. It’s a well played ball in that he didn’t try to change lanes too soon. He trusted what he does. Gaffigan’s is different. It’s a sturdy legged veteran, still passionate somehow, still burrowed down, working it out, ten specials in, yet in a new gear, with some new inflections. More George Carlin than Kelly Monteith. He’s somehow found a way to hit the lower notes harder than he’s done before. Showing more teeth, but not snarling. It feels real. It’s nicely done.
Okay, enough on these two bozos! If you’re in LA and you want to see some serious clowns, come to a epic good comedy show at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel this Tues. night. August 1st.
A great group. And me.
And, if you ask nicely, I’ll do the six of seven of Jim Gaffigan’s jokes from Dark Pale that I covet, and maybe even the one or two from Soup to Nuts. Either way, come down! The Roosevelt is really one of the best workout rooms in LA.
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