Various Artists: Invite Them Up [CD + DVD]

[6 March 2006]

By Dan MacIntosh

There's a lot of comedy here, comprised of three CDs and one DVD. But the ratio of good to bad comedy is only about 50/50, at best.

Once upon a time, Comedy Central was nothing more than just another cable channel that primarily scheduled old comedy films. Similarly, ESPN used to be the butt of many media jokes, due to all the unimportant sporting events it endlessly trotted out. But, or course, ESPN is now the crown jewel of sports broadcasting. The This Invite Them Up series from which this three-CD/one-DVD set is drawn, however, evidences how Comedy Central is evolving into a farm system, if you will, for budding comedic talent. Nevertheless, it still has a long way to go before it can be considered the ESPN of comedy.

Every comedian here is introduced by Bobby Tisdale, the program’s host. Although he deserves kudos for giving all this young talent such high profile exposure, he sure has an annoying voice and overall presence. Far too often, he sounds like an excited school girl; one that can’t keep from saying “Fuckin’” with every other word. Furthermore, his introductions are rarely informative, and are sometimes even inaccurate. A seasoned MC certainly would have made this a much smoother listening experience. Tisdale also has a chance to perform on the first CD. During his bit, he recalls a time when he screamed like a banshee at a Santa Monica movie house, just to annoy the other film-goers. This bit of childish acting out succinctly sums up what Tisdale is all about.

Another annoyance is that a few of this set’s DVD performances are exact duplicates of CD routines. If the listener can see a comedian doing his/her thing, exemplified by God’s Pottery’s DVD bit, what’s the point of also having these jokes in an audio-only format? With this said, the DVD’s clear highlight is a routine by David Cross and Jon Benjamin, which takes the edgy subject of abortion and somehow finds humor in it. God’s Pottery also takes on a controversial subject—religion. But this fey and sarcastic duo fails to hit the same uncomfortable-but-still-funny highpoints as those reached by Cross and Benjamin. One particular waste of visual space is The Forgetabuddies, which is a duo that endlessly repeats the catch phrase, “Forget about it” after each and every joke. It would have been far better to just forget this act.

One repeated segment, which is both seen and heard, is something called “30 Seconds of Standup” where Tisdale brings on a comedian and gives him/her a mere 30 seconds to be instantly funny. It’s hard to see the wisdom in this practice, however, because nobody here accomplishes much in just a short half-minute. Having speed is impressive with, say, the lead guitarist in a speed metal band or a runner in a foot race, but comedy, much like fine wine, usually takes time to develop.

Tisdale’s sometime co-host is Eugene Mirman, whom Tisdale introduces as a Russian immigrant. But you’d never guess his origin from listening to him, because he doesn’t have an accent the way, for instance, Yakov Smirnoff does. Mirman’s humor is mainly observational. He also shows a more visual side on the DVD, with some comedic video shorts.

With its whopping three-CD/one-DVD total, it’s inevitable that there is both good and bad comedy contained on this set—sometimes winning and losing bits sit side by side on the same disc. For instance, Aziz Ansari’s youthful, and ultimately likeable, contemporary viewpoints are contrasted with Jessi Klein’s relentlessly harsh sexual humor on CD number two. Whereas Ansari earns your affection with his self-deprecating remarks, as well as his spot-on observations about hip hop music—specifically his comments on Kanye West’s work ethic—Klein comes off as an obnoxious and unfunny Sandra Bernhard rip-off. Klein is followed by David Wain, who sings a song about wanting to put a bagel up a South American woman’s vagina, which is a bit that doesn’t fair much better than Klein’s female takes on sex. Instead, Wain comes off as a naively ignorant schoolchild.

Getting back to the whole ESPN analogy, Invite Them Up is a case where a bunch of talent is thrown at the wall, mainly to see what sticks. When you get this many lively and expressive individuals in one place—especially when the said place is an international entertainment hub like New York City—odds are good that much of it will rise to the top and prove to have staying power. This CD/DVD set is a fun look at the emerging New York comedic gene pool still in its initial growth stages. Think of it as evolution in progress.

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