Tuesday, December 30, 2008

THE BEST COMEDY ALBUM OF 2008: Andy Daly's "Nine Sweaters"

By all accounts, 2008 was another great year for comedy. Unlike last year however, we aren't going to count down our Top 5 comedy albums of the year. Rather, we'll talk about a much-overlooked album that made us laugh the most: Andy Daly's Nine Sweaters, release by AST Records.

Born in New Jersey, Daly started doing improv comedy in New York City in the 90s. In a recent interview with Tom Scharpling on The Best Show on WFMU, the scene before the Upright Citizens Brigade came to town was like the Wild West: "except a little nerdier and with shinier shirts." Once the UCB did open up shop in New York, Daly was one of the first people to take a workshop. After some work on Late Night with Conan O' Brien, Daly made the move out to Los Angeles. There, he spent two seasons as a cast member of MadTV, a sketch show that Daly soon enough found was not exactly for him. His sketch ideas were getting shot down and he was relegated most of the time to the part of the straight man in scenes (which isn't necessarily bad in of itself, but it didn't really give him a chance to do anything).

Near the end of his time there, he started doing live comedy shows and basically turned all of his sketch ideas into a character monologue. "It was incredibly liberating to say I don't have to rely on anybody. I'm not even putting together a sketch show with three of my best friends with rehearsal and lighting cues and props and all of that stuff. It's just me and I can write and improvise it as much as I want and it's all on me."

The result of these characters done live is this two-disc set. Recorded over a ten-week residency at the UCB-L.A. show COMEDY DEATH RAY earlier this year, Nine Sweaters finds Daly exploring these different characters. Oh, and about the sweaters, as he explains with a wink in the liner notes: "When creating a character, Laurence Olivier always started by selecting a false nose, Alec Guinness began by figuring out how the character's walk, and Jean-Claude Pépée decides how the character dances. I always start by choosing a sweater."

The characters are unique in that instead of just explaining themselves, something usually happens to them and we learn who they really are, like what would happen in a sketch. Most of the time it is revealed that while the character seemed like a likable person at first, they aren't quite that clean. Like Skip McCabe of Skip McCabe and The Skip-Around Gang, who has traveled around the country for years with his family singing sing along songs for crowds. As he finally makes to the theater, he's without the rest of gang and recounts the tale. Full of acute details and the Skip's reactions to the events, it's too funny to give away.

Elsewhere, Midwesterner Hap Arden talks about moving out to Hollywood to pursue his movie star dream before it all takes an unexpected and ghastly turn, an elderly Ben Alterman takes the stage for the first time to tell perverted jokes about living in a retirement home (his family is in the audience), and "The Greatest Actor In All of France", Jean-Claude Pépée experiences working on a Hollywood set for the first time. It's the art of storytelling told by different people with hopes, dreams and maybe too much self-confidence for their own good.

And it really is an album every should listen to.


John said...

Nice write up. I need to check this out. CvA should get the nod for website of the year. What would all us geeks do without it?

Pruneface said...

I want to hear this.