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Rick Moody and One Ring Zero / Neil Hamburger - Rick Moody and One Ring Zero / Great Moments at Di Presa's Pizza House

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Artist: Rick Moody and One Ring Zero / Neil Hamburger

Album: Rick Moody and One Ring Zero / Great Moments at Di Presa's Pizza House

Label: Isota / Drag City

Review date: May. 2, 2005

Essayist Jim Goad writes that, to him, there is nothing less erotic than pornography and nothing less funny than a comedian. Goad wants no part of the bargain audiences strike with comedians – the stakes are too high on both sides. Comedy is an artform aligned against pretension, but what’s more pretentious than a conscious effort to crack up a heterogeneous audience as one? There is nothing so excruciating as a bad comedian. No one squanders an audience’s emotional investment with such abandon. Shitty comedians perform the most contemptible bait-and-switch in entertainment. After promising release, a trap door in the wall of annoying reality, they revert the focus to themselves. Their actions engage in mortal conflict with their intentions. They’re terrified. The audience is ashamed. It takes a special strain of sadism to enjoy this sort of thing.

I’ll leave it to the literary critics Dale Peck and B.R. Myers to discredit Hiram F. “Rick” Moody III as a legitimate prose stylist. Their attacks on his tin ear, willful incomprehensibility and thoughtless repetition have left little more than a bad comedian, a shock jock with a thesaurus and the annotated Freud. “Funny” Moody takes over on “Metal,” the asinine autobiographical sketch that kicks off his collaboration with the woozy bedroom orchestra One Ring Zero. It’s supposedly a tribute to Deep Purple, but boils down to a lamentation on the author’s adolescent homosexual panic, which he illustrates by repeating the word “vomit” dozens of times. His punchlines fall flat from 30 seconds away. (“What is ‘Smoke on the Water’ about?”) He speaks with a condescending sneer. He may as well take a mallet, try to smash a watermelon, and miss, again and again.

Next up, a “serious” selection, “Whosoever,” which begins with talk of wiping a baby’s ass. To put it country-simple, Moody doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. And if the deadpan sketch-comedians behind Neil Hamburger want their quixotic hero to be taken solely as a joke, they don’t deserve that.

Unlike Moody, Neil Hamburger is not a real person struggling to entertain – he’s a bad-comedy pastiche, a creation of smug, overstimulated indie-rock scensters. Somehow, though, he’s more sympathetic. Like Moody, he insults his audience through underestimation. But the fake documentary Great Moments at Di Presa’s Pizza House continually insults him back. On this record, the pulled-from-headlines groaners are fleeting – we mostly get fanciful background material on the greasy spoon where Hamburger, in his formative years, blew jokes and got paid in pizza.

Moody aims for pathos, but can’t restrain his arrogance. By contrast, Hamburger and friends sound sad about their unacknowledged limitations. All the actual humor comes from their frustration, but it lets the characters abscond with actual sympathy.

Hamburger is a creation, and his creators may simply not have the talent to make him look as silly as they want him to. Nevertheless, at day’s end, Hamburger’s flop sweat is less greasy than Moody’s. Were Hamburger real, he’d force the same agonizing emotional split as the would-be cinematogs in American Movie. Unlike Moody (not to mention your average open-mic Denis Leary wannabe), Great Moments at Di Presa’s Pizza House, by chance or design, hits levels no simple sadist could comprehend.

By Emerson Dameron

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