As a rule, assuming we really have those here at Bollocks!, we don’t review comedy albums. We certainly have nothing against comedy (I’d like to think that we are occasionally funny ourselves) on this blog, but we tend to focus primarily on music. Because we’re music nerds. Then again, if we have any rules at all, then one of them is surely that we can break the other rules in the name of awesomeness. Right?
I just looked it up. We can definitely break Bollocks! rules (which are made up on the fly anyway) in the name of awesomeness.
In this case, I’m breaking a rule or precedent or tradition or whatever to talk about Jen Kirkman’s new album, Hail to the Freaks. I have good reason for doing so – we’re in the middle of a Summer of Badass Women and, while it’s nice to focus on women in music, exceptions should be made to let you know about badass women in other entertainment fields as well. I think I’d be a little derelict in my duty if I gave you the impression that the world’s only badass women were in bands.
And there should be no doubt here: Jen Kirkman is a badass. I mentioned her performance at Ted Leo’s solo/variety show in Eagle Rock earlier this year as one of the evening’s highlights (and, much to my embarrassment, I got her age wrong in the review; it has since been edited, but I still feel kinda shitty about it. Never make anyone out to be older than they are unless they’re 19 or 20 and they want to be 21) and Hail to the Freaks is a hilarious, honest, and goddamn intelligent comedy album. Also, after seeing her perform at the Ted Leo show, a friend of mine reminded me where I’d seen her before: Drunk History. And I only recently learned that I’d heard Kirkman long before I saw her: she was the voice of Brendan’s grandmother on the vastly underrated Adult Swim series Home Movies. In short, Jen Kirkman’s fingerprints are all over a lot of totally awesome things.
Shit. I’m already lost. I don’t really know how to “review” a comedy album. I bought it because I like Jen Kirkman’s comedy so it’s like I liked it when I bought it and repeated listens have confirmed that I think it’s a great album, which I realize is not much of a criticism. Or really any of a criticism.
Here’s the thing: if you listen to Hail to the Freaks, I suspect that you will quickly get a very strange feeling and that feeling is the realization that Kirkman is, above all, a very genuine comic (that realization might be followed by a corollary realization that genuine comics are actually kind of rare right now) . Though the album is a performance, obviously, a lot of the comedy comes from Kirkman’s personality and her honesty, whether it’s about how stupid people were to believe Sarah Palin would just go away after 2008 (“Have you never seen a horror movie?”) or her fear that she might go insane and stab her husband (she cites that fear as the reason she didn’t want to register for knives when she got married). The bit about the knives actually ends with Kirkman admitting that she doesn’t know why, but she’d rather be known as a murderer than a liar.
What I love about Kirkman’s comedy is that she’s self-deprecating without using that as a gimmick (at one point, she admonishes her self to stop explaining and “just do the material”) and she’s substantive without being didactic. Rather than merely stating that women still don’t enjoy the same rights that men do (if you wanna know whether or not there’s any justice for women in this society, consider this: Dane Cook is way more popular than Jen Kirkman. If that’s not a sign that we’ve gone horribly awry as a nation, I don’t know what is), Kirkman suggests that God allowed women to live longer because he forgot to give them equality before going on to suggest that the only thing that men can still do better than women is beat the living shit out of people (“Please learn how to almost murder someone”). Although she also explicitly calls out Barack Obama’s cowardly stance on gay marriage (a stance shared by many a cowardly Democrat), but it’s still funny because she calls him “a big nerd” instead of saying, I dunno, “Barack Obama is a total fucking coward about gay marriage” (this is why Jen Kirkman is a comedian and I’m going to grad school for social work).
There’s a lot of comedy out there right now, much of which sells better than Hail to the Freaks will, that doesn’t come close to balancing style and substance the way Jen Kirkman does. The aforementioned (or, more accurately, the afore-belittled) Mr. Cook is all style and that style is not even his – he stole it from Greg Behrendt. Kirkman’s comic style is more reminiscent of the acting of Gene Wilder; you never get the sense that she’s winking at you as if to silently ask, “You see what I did there?” Of course, the jokes are written to be jokes, but I feel like they’re coming from a place of honesty which I know is hard to define (but admit it, would-be hair splitters: you know honest comedy when you see it. I hope) and I also know it’s probably a bad idea to try to guess at a comedian’s motivations, so let me just sum it all up by saying that the feeling I get from listening to Hail to the Freaks is a very strong feeling that I’m hearing a funny, smart, genuinely good person say funny things. And if you’re inclined to believe me, why not pick the album up? I am suddenly filled with the urge to start some sort of grass roots campaign to have Hail to the Freaks outsell whatever the last Dane Cook album was.
Okay. Back to music tomorrow. I think I’m gonna bitch about a Peter Cetera song.