Record humor

I have pretty high standards when it comes to stand up albums. Bob Newhart, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby (yes, I know, but "Spanish Fly" aside they're still brilliant), Eddie Murphy and, of course, George Carlin. I actually prefer albums to videotaped "specials," but most folks do not write good enough material to warrant an album. I'm much more forgiving when it comes to live shows. Some styles of comedy don't translate well to recording. Lenny Bruce's skit albums are hit-or-miss, and Don Rickles should never have made an album. Don't even talk to me about Dane Cook. Just don't do it.

Johnny Taylor
Tangled Up in Plaid
(Stand Up!)

Observational humor works best on an album, and the greatest routines transcend the subject material. Most comics talk about themselves, but the best create a character that serves as their proxy--and they work that character so well that you believe they're talking about the real person.

Johnny Taylor wants to be old school. His album cover is a spoof on Newhart's Button-Down Mind albums, but he's a storyteller like Pryor. His humor relies a bit too much on the specifics of his set-ups and at times doesn't get to that second level, but the way he delves into the dark sides of personal embarrassment is impressive.

The highlight of the set is "Gay," a rumination on Magic Mike and the not-irrational desire to have rough sex with Channing Tatum. His constant refrain of "I'm not gay, but. . ." is hilarious and illuminating. Sexuality is complicated, but Taylor's character tries to keep it simple. He builds up his straight cred even as he blurts out his desire for Channing Tatum--a desire that manifests itself only when watching Magic Mike. It's fall-over hilarious and true.

Taylor is willing to go where most comics don't. He's unafraid of any subject, and he's able to generate laughs with stories about how awful he is. Or at least how awful his "Johnny Taylor" character is. Taylor is completely convincing as the schlub who blunders his way through a serious of awkward situations and then proceeds to completely fuck up. In order to make his stuff transcendent, he needs to find a way to make his embarrassment more universal. Right now, these are more his stories than our stories. But many of his routines ("Gay" is the standout) show his potential. I'd go to one of his shows any time.

Jon Worley

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