Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Which Rock Star is Your Favorite Standup Comic?

Comedy can produce some superstars on a similar scale as Rock'n'Roll. Lets take a look at your favorite comedian's rock star counter-part...

Richard Pryor -- Jimi Hendrix


The average guitarist will quote Jimi Hendrix as being the very best. The average comedian or serious comedy fan will quote Pryor as being the very best. Both known for innovating an industry, as well as some outrageous substance abuse--Hendrix's infamy was for soaking a bandanna in LSD so that the drug would enter his pores during his performance; Pryor's for setting himself on fire while free-basing cocaine (one aptly funnier than the other)--and both died prematurely. Although age 65 was not a bad run for Pryor all things considered, the heart problems that caught up with him are probably not entirely unrelated to his drug use. And Hendrix's notorious drug overdose and subsequent asphyxiation on his own vomit is probably still the reigning rock-star-death in the halls of entertainer mortality. They both inspired a generation, and led quintessential rock-star lives.


George Carlin -- John Lennon

Also known for inspiring a generation, these two men are just about the biggest heros existing in their respective fields. Both are known as philosopher poets, and for periods of angry and political creativity. And most importantly, both are about as prolific as it gets. Lennon had 13 albums if you only count his solo-work. Carlin released 19 comedy albums. Virtually everybody who came after them cites them as an inspiration.


Lenny Bruce -- Bob Dylan


They were icons of rebellion who fearlessly took on powers-that-be such as the government and the church. Counter-cultural social critics, these Jewish-Americans were two of the first popular performers who garnered outrage by various groups who sought to burn their albums and ban their appearances. Lenny Bruce was even famously convicted of obscenity for his act. They are credited as trailblazers for folk singers and social satirists.


Bill Cosby -- B.B. King

These larger than life masters are decorated performers, champions of philanthropy and veritable African American folk heroes. While King is the living king of blues, Cosby is a living legend from standup comedy's dawn. Plus, Cosby's unique drawl is not unlike a minor third getting pulled in a nice slow mid-register blues scale. Right?


Woodie Allen -- Paul Simon


The archetypal New York Jewish intellectuals, these auteurs of the 60's, 70's, 80's and henceforth rarely take breaks from producing comedy or touring pop music. They are both known for producing culturally reflective works for the respective decade, and are celebrated most highly for their early work, post-hippie and New York City themes.


Bill Hicks -- Jim Morrison

Celebrated for being more or less the farthest 'out there on the edge' amongst the larger-than-life comedy and rock stars, these party-poets have a reputation for battling with censorship, as well as doing anything necessary to experiment with their 'doors of perception'. They valued integrity and were often criticized by the mainstream for keeping it too real on stage. Vulgarity, drugs, and a somewhat aggressive message for peace and goodwill tie these two legends, and tragic deaths during the primes of their careers unite their destinies as patron saints of self-destructive artists everywhere.


Mike Birbiglia -- Bruce Springsteen

Everyman personalities with endless talent for story-telling, these east-coast heavyweights appeal to crowds with likability, charisma, and good old-fashioned writing chops. Their timeline isn't exactly synchronous, but their occasionally political campfire styles and--going out on a limb slightly on Birbig's behalf--inevitable sharing of A-list fame makes them suitable brethren in the comedy-rock multiverse.


Dane Cook -- James Hetfield


If there is heavy metal in comedy, and it can be characterized by loud speedy riffs, then Dane Cook is undoubtedly the Metallica of stand-up. These former gods who lost a lot of their original fan-bass during the 2000's with unbearable, cheesed-out contrivances still reign supreme in terms of career record sales, household-name-sake, and undeniable hero-worship amongst a new generation of metal bands and comedians. In addition to big arena antics and over-the top personalities, they have a very similar career arch: Harmful If Swallowed is Ride the Lightening, they hold up as seminal and (dare I say?) ground-breaking works... the Comedy Central Presents special is the Black Album, which was the last essentially decent product which due to pop-cultural over-saturation, was clearly the toppling point into commercialized ruination. Vicious Circle was St. Anger... yikes. I haven't listened to either man's latest, I would love to hear that they've turned it around, but I'm not getting my hopes up...


Dave Chappelle -- Prince

For those of you who are rolling your eyes, accusing me of pairing these two largely because of Chapelle's hilarious impersonation and the funny side-by-side opportunity, well I can't say it isn't a large part of the equation. However, these two performers share an important trait: they are not most famous for they're best skill. Prince is best well known as a sex-drenched singer, and Chappelle is best recognized for his funny impersonations on his (Chappelle's) show. However, what is not necessarily commonly known is that these men are standup-comic and technical guitar virtuosos. Chappelle's standup specials are amongst the best of the late 90's / early oughts and Prince's innovative guitar playing has been called by Eric Clapton one of his top five favorites. They paid their dues with one talent and then earned millions on something else.


Doug Stanhope -- Tom Waits

These anti-commercialization troubadours are sub-culture icons with a knack for chain-smoking, uncomfortable stories about all kinds of binges, and sometimes complete disregard for convention of any kind. Perhaps challenging the Hicks/Morrison duo for most 'out-there on the edge-ness', these two are not just known for chemical mood alteration but also for emotional health concerns and disconcerting intellectual priorities. The exciting thing is they're still alive and kicking, and seem to have developed some sort of equilibrium with the world around them. Their work seems to attract the same types of people.


Mitch Hedberg -- Kurt Cobain

These men can be credited with almost single-handedly creating a renewal of popular interest in standup comedy and hard rock. While grunge was a reinvention of mainstream-accessible heavy music, Hedberg's popularity practically began what some are calling the second comedy boom, which we are currently in (the middle of?). Failed drug battles and tragic deaths at the height of their popularity are just the unfortunate icing on otherwise industry-changing cakes.


Maria Bamford -- Bjork

What more needs to be said about these odd, risk-taking ladies other than: Good for them for proving that men aren't the only people who can turn batshit crazy into successful careers. Before they came around, ladies needed to be either sexy vixens or big strong matriarch types. These wonderful freaks are neither and proved that women could achieve and maintain a strong presence on the male-dominated nerd market using weirdness and strong writing alone.


Marc Maron -- Beck Hanson


In addition to being artists first and entertainers second, these performers are unique in that sometimes they bring pain and brutal honesty first--and comedy or music second. One area where the comparison fails is that Maron never had an upbeat party period which can be called similar to Beck's Midnight Vulture era. But putting that aside, you are left with two sad clowns who find catharsis in working out their emotional stressors in their art, and who tend to have smaller but more loyal followings because of the resulting intimacy. They also both share an interesting obsession with the very modern. Maron ironically tweets from on-stage and admits having a social-netowrking addiction, despite being a severe luddite; Beck seems to have an electronica fetish despite his folky song-writing, both in the bells and whistles of his music production, as well as a lyrical pre-occupation with technology.


Jerry Seinfeld -- Chris Cornell

These early 90's icons were at the right place at the right time to enjoy huge mainstream success, but are struggling to re-invent their careers in the 2000s. As standup audiences are getting younger, Seinfeld is losing relevance, and is clinging to his original fans--now married 40 somethings--with projects like, "The Marriage Ref". Cornell, who enjoyed a pretty successful run with the former members of Rage Against the Machine in the super-group Audioslave, would love to forget his latest efforts with producer Timbaland, and has yet to out-do his creative output during the days of Temple of the Dog and Soundgarden. They're once-great masters who are still young enough to make magic happen again; only time will tell.


Patton Oswalt --Thom York

If any man can be called the Radiohead of Comedy, it is Patton Oswalt. Thom York and Patton Oswalt Share similar artistic pathways from Great to Better to Amazing to "What's Trail's Left to Blaze? I guess I'll have fun just being myself for the next decade." They showed that comedy and rock music can sound similar to the classics in delivery but still come from completely unheard-of places emotionally and conceptually. The sheer power of expression for these guys to transmit an idea to the brain is somewhere on the level of literary giants like Orwell, Keroac, Palahniuk, Vonnegut, etc. And they also share that flair for the dystopian to boot.


Chris Rock -- Michael Jackson

Even though Chris Rock wasn't part of the 'original kings of comedy' tour, I think it's self-evident that Chris Rock is just as much the King of Comedy as Michael Jackson was the King of Pop. These superstars managed to be the best there was at what they did during the height of their power, with hardly anyone in the rear-view worth footnoting. They also are infamously questionable role-models--Jackson for obvious reasons--and Rock both for controversial language use as well as publishing in his memoirs about the unfair double-standard that black entertainers are demanded to set a good example. Although, not wanting to set a good example is not quite the same as actually setting a bad example, and in this regard--as well as in monumental career achievements--Jackson wins out.


Sara Silverman -- Joan Jett

These two sassy bad-asses managed to be standout women during respective era's when males dominated their industries (as they still do, generally speaking). But when female singers were usually more famous for pop music than Rock, and female funny-ladies were more famous for acting than stand-up, these two stayed true to their roots, earning glory for the fundamentals. Also, for better or worse, they have undercurrent reputations for benefiting from personal relationships they've had with people in the industry. However, they are both generally regarded as talented and not undeserving of success.


Louis C.K. -- Van Morrison

Prolific, transcendental, easily accessible by mainstream America, worshiped by creative folks... they have huge singles ("Brown Eye'd Girl" and "Moondance"... "Daddy, Why?" and "Best Technology for Worst Generation") as well as genius albums (Astral Weeks, Live in Huston). Van Morisson and Louis C.K. share a yearning for and reflection of the innocence of youth. They seem to use time on-stage as a search for redemption. Louis C.K.'s comedy is a man confronting his struggle with the paradoxes of modern adulthood. His jokes are fluid, contiguous, musically expressing shame, fear, wonder and--as Lester Bangs famously wrote about Morisson's Astral Weeks--"the great search, fueled by the belief that through these musical and mental processes, illumination is attainable, or at least may be glimpsed."


Zach Galifianakis -- Les Claypool

There is a similar experience when these two performers do their thing. For starters, fusion. I don't just mean the fusion of music and comedy, as Zach plays the piano and Les drops one-liners or sings some amusing songs. I mean that their styles are amalgamous and far-reaching within their own medium. Zach's unique delivery combines Stephen Wright nonsense with Michael Ian Black conceptualization. Les' bass-heavy music is part funk-metal, part jazz, part psychedelic polka. Additionally, improvisation is a heavy element of their shows, which further obscures their performances from categorical convention. Most importantly, these two share a strict sense of postmodernism. At no point in the show do we feel we know the performer personally, we are only given a facade of absurdity, which allows us to really sink our teeth into the meat of their craft without any personal context getting in the way. In this way, they are the opposite of Bruce and Birbigs, but still effective because mysteriousness can be just as engaging.


Demetri Martin -- Stephen Malkmus


This one's almost too easy, but fun none the less. Youthful, quirky, simplistic, affable, hip, perhaps more popular in Europe than here at home for certain portions of their careers... The music of Pavement and the comedy of Demetri Martin are like cool magic tricks. They make it look easy, as if you could do it too if you had simply thought of it first.


Dave Attell ~~ Tom Morella

These New York natives boast dirty riffs and filthy solos, yet it always manages to sound tight.


Sam Kinison -- Janice Joplin

They're known for their shrill screams, homely appearances, passionate performances, drug-use, tragic early death, and demigod roles during the points where their industries started turning psychedelic, personal, rebellious and WTF-inspiring.

More coming as I think of them. Leave suggestions in the comments.

12 comments:

Christopher said...

Good stuff. Actually just listened to Dane Cook and Mitch in the car this summer. Dammit Otto, you have lupus...

Greg said...

Nice work, and I can't find much to disagree with.

I would have put Seinfeld with Dave Grohl, though, in part because both parties' insanely technical understanding of the craft has made it tough to be a longstanding frontman. Both are reclusive, awkward, overtalented compared to some of their more celebrated 'mates, and capable of deconstructing their craft with precision. I feel like Chris Cornell was just a product of where he was, rather than technical brilliance and limited charisma.

Norsen said...

These are all pretty spot on, especially the Dane Cook parallel.

Perhaps I'm going too much on looks, but Todd Barry and Michael Stipe seem to share a certain intelligent indie sensibility with a propensity to say exactly what's on their mind.

Stev said...

Given each artist's irreverance, tongue-in-cheek hyper sexuality and penchant for the digital age, would Daniel Tosh be Dick Valentine?

Jeff said...

Great stuff. Most all are spot on. Mitch didn't have the anger of Cobain but it's still a tight comparison, and Rock peaking early like Jacko makes sense, but Rock's not as tortured as Jacko, but love this. Teaching compare and contrast in my class and will use this.

PunditFight said...

Analogies are fun. Comprehensive. Impressive.

Anonymous said...

Sure, it's a cheap comment and a cheaper complaint... but mix in some spellcheck.

Dr. Carey said...

I can't use spell-check.. it's sort of like how you can't get the full affect of Kafka when you translate it from German, because English doesn't have the same double-on-ton-dras as German. I'm not exactly sure how this applies but last night I shared an RC cola with a disgruntled Sbarro shift-manager, so I'm feeling pretty self-satisfied.

Jimbotron said...

And don't forget: Gallagher = Insane Clown Posse. You know it to be true!

Paul Tsikitas said...

That was the best comment retort I've ever seen. Kudos, Dr. Carey.

leo said...

I've been trying to think up a musical equivalent for Eugene Mirman and a comedy equivalent for Trey.

So far, nothing. I'll leave it to the master, Dr. Carey.

Joel said...

Very fun article - I appreciate the efforts to match up the pics as well!