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Nick Flanagan - I’m Here All Weak

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Artist: Nick Flanagan

Album: I’m Here All Weak

Label: Talent Moat

Review date: Jan. 18, 2011

Nick Flanagan’s debut comedy album, I’m Here All Weak, is an absurdist stand-up set in the vein of British comedy. Flanagan is from Toronto, so that’s not surprising, although personally, living in New York, I’ve become very accustomed to personal or observational stand-up that starts out normal and then maybe gets weird in the second or third tag. Flanagan’s style isn’t about grounding his jokes in experience. It’s about startling deliveries, odd non sequiturs, and strange set-ups that lead to even stranger punchlines. What I enjoy most about it is Flanagan’s ability to continually jolt the audience with absurd premises that he announces apropos of nothing. It’s an interesting style and certainly holds up over the course of the album.

The downside of Flanagan’s style though is that there’s an inability to build momentum. One builds a stand-up act in a number of ways -- thematically, narratively, emotionally. All of these methods have arcs to them. There’s something -- an idea or feeling -- the comedian wants the audience to get. That thread is what hooks the audience and pulls them through the set, keeping their attention even when jokes don’t hit right. Sure, the immediate desire of the comedian is to get laughs, but if there isn’t this meta-purpose attached to the set, then audiences go home and forget the stand-up. Louis CK and Patton Oswalt aren’t simply amazing because they’re great joke tellers, they’re amazing because they’re great joke tellers that are compelling as well. With Flanagan’s absurd jokes, there’s certainly a rhythm and a reason for his set to be constructed as it is, but I found the lack of a thread prevented the album to crescendo in any way. Of course, there’s no reason it has to, and perhaps Flanagan isn’t looking for that kind of arc, but it made it all that much more difficult for him to keep the pace going when something didn’t work right.

None of this is a knock on Flanagan. He’s funny and his jokes, for the most part, are as well. This is merely to point out the difficulty in doing absurd material as a stand-up. I’m a huge fan of absurd sketch, and it’s easier in that medium to get away with nonsense because of the fourth wall. Because of the inherent intimacy of stand-up though, absurdity in that medium almost constructs a fourth wall where there shouldn’t be one. It puts up a layer between the comic and the audience and has the ability to make the audience think the material isn’t coming from an honest place. This is, of course, “honest” in a conventional sense, as in the material organically coming out of life experience. There’s a deeper honesty though, one in which we see the personality of the comedian calcified in the material. Flanagan is probably a weird guy; the jokes don’t come off as detached, so that deeper honesty is indeed there; it’s just that because it is absurd, many people might confuse it as distancing.

Absurd stand-up almost hinges on pushing the personality of the comedian to the forefront. As Flanagan is still young (I don’t know how old he is -- I mean in stand-up years), he is still very much developing his stage persona, and so oftentimes, the jokes are left to fend for themselves. There’s a lot of great ones that hit on the album, but also a lot of weird ones that I appreciate and don’t work so well. In one sense, it’s brave to leave them on the album. I wince when I think of mangled lines I’ve done in class shows at the United Citizens Brigade where the stakes are minimal and no one but me remembers a flubbed move. To leave flubbed jokes on a comedy album -- jokes that may not work but are interesting nonetheless -- is a confident move on Flanagan’s part. On the other hand, it reveals the stage Flanagan’s at and the still-forming nature of his stage persona.

What’s interesting about I’m Here All Weak is what is shows about the changes in comedy since the advent of Facebook, Twitter, podcasting and other such immediate delivery systems. Paul F. Tompkins waited something like 20 years to release a comedy album, but now more and more comedians -- Doug Benson, Louis CK to name two -- are trying to come up with a new hour of material every year. WTF and Comedy Death Ray, just two podcasts out of a sea of them, are published once or twice a week. In the past, a comedian like Flanagan -- and don’t let my criticism fool you; he’s a good comic and his album made me laugh out loud at a number of points -- would have waited a bit longer perhaps before releasing a document of his work. However, the velocity by which comedy is currently released creates the pressure for comedians to constantly be creating, commodifying and demolishing their work. Whether that’s good or not as a whole remains to be seen.

By Andrew Beckerman

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