Thursday, April 11, 2013

I'm Giving You an Rx for Titus, an Anti-Depressant You Can Take With Alcohol

I've never figured out why, but for some reason the most popular entries I have written are music reviews or music related entries. For some reason, the entry I made about Amy Winehouse [Link] is one of the most popular, and even prompted an email from a writer at The Rolling Stone – well it used to be a music magazine.  Ahead of that is my 50 Greatest Motorcycle Riding Tunes [Link] missive -- I figure that one is so popular because people are running a search for a song title that happens to be on the list and accidentally come across my list.  But today, I wander into a new realm as I discuss comedy.

I have always had a rather unique sense of humor and I blame Richard Pryor and George Carlin for its development. Richard Pryor has a way of telling a story that is unmatched. I have always been a fan of storytelling because the flavor of the story is so augmented by the teller. Richard was a talented storyteller.

George Carlin taught me two things: There are no bad words, only bad thoughts, and there is something funny in almost anything that happens, if you tilt your head a little bit and look at it second time. I loved the way the George played with words and my admiration of his wordplay style probably shows up in my writing and if so it is definitely homage to him. I did not particularly care for his comedy in the years just before his death because he had a tendency to be a curmudgeon and almost arrogantly cruel; but overall I thought he was a great comedian.

My only problem with Carlin and Pryor was that most of what they talked about was before my time. Both men were significantly older than I was therefore the experiences of life were different.  I can still relate, but it wasn’t firsthand.

My introduction to Christopher Titus was through his TV show Titus. I was flipping through channels looking for something to watch, and came across an episode that was midway through. I have to be honest; I really didn't like what I saw. I found the "neutral room" concept to be interesting.  It is basically where the show character talks directly to the audience and brings them into the story.  I liked it when George Burns did it and in Oz they gave it the structure of a fish tank jail cell to the break the 4th wall.  Because I didn't have the right lead in's to understand some of the inside jokes, I found the show too simple. Then, I happened upon his Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding show. It wasn't something that I sought out, it was in a stack of DVDs that someone here had loaned me. There is a lot of that goes on here – – people will loan their DVDs out in exchange for yours so you only have to buy half as many DVDs in the long run, but you get to see a wide variety of shows.

Great stuff and because he was just five years younger than me I could relate.  Very few comedians cause me to laugh out loud outside of the trappings and alcohol of a comedy club, but I admit that his timing was excellent and due to the sad nature of the history he related I found the shared schadenfreude.  Too many folks think schadenfreude is just a fancy way of saying that you are laughing at the misfortune of others, the deeper German origin of the word is that you have had a similar misfortune in your own past and therefore can laugh when someone else experiences it.  In America we try to sum this up with the statement “You will laugh about this later”.  Titus was spot on in joke after joke – No, my Mom was not psychotic and my Dad not way overbearing, but there were glimmers of my past in everything he said.  That is when comedy goes below the surface and the humor is felt heart deep.

From that DVD, I found and watched Love is Evol.  It quickly became my favorite since it is obvious we had dated some of the same types of women and he introduced a character that lives within each of us – the Inner Retard. This is the voice inside that spends its time telling us that we are not good or smart enough in any given situation.  His Inner Retard had a semi Quasimodo look to it, I always saw mine as little shorter with a Fu Manchu mustache and for some reason mine has a semi New York/Irish accent. My point is that he brought the inner voice out, gave it form and allowed me to laugh at it for the first time.  Again, nothing can ever be funnier than when you realize the joke you are laughing at is firmly based in truth.  The relationship material was also excellent and it is nice to know that some of the psychos I dated apparently moved to California and provided material for his act.

I dug up 5th Annual End-Of-The-World Tour and Neverlution as well.  Those two shows solidified me as a fan of the man’s work.  Titus was funny but for reasons that I had never encountered before with the comedian, I could see so much of my own life in his work.  No, I never fell into a bonfire or had an ex-wife lie about me abusing my children – – but taken back just step or two, I lived through many of the same relationship quagmires that he talks about.  Looking at them from his angle makes them funny as hell rather than reasons to cry into a beer.  

Now that I had the proper background, I watched the entire series of his show Titus. and gained a whole new appreciation for the show.  I was never a big fan of Stacy Keach but in the show he portrayed Ken Titus as everything I imagined him to be.  Keach should have gotten an Emmy for the worst comb-over on TV ever.  Zack Ward, who plays Titus’ brother Dave, is killer in the role and the development of it over three years was awesome. Cynthia Watros, as Titus’ girlfriend Erin, rocks. She is a great comedienne and has wonderful facial expressions plus does the physical comedy well. Watros also looks great in a cashmere sweater and brown corduroys (check out Season 3, The Visit) or maybe it was just my mood on the night I watched it. 

Some research on the web revealed that in 2010 they looked at reviving the show, putting it eight years into the future, but I could find nothing else about this revival. I think it would be a fantastic idea.

Anyway, this post is supposed to be about his latest work The Voice in My Head [Link].

It was by chance that I came across his Podcast, yeah the man stays busy, and he mentioned that The Voice in My Head [Link] was going to be released on April Fools’ Day. Since it was April 3 when I was listening to the Podcast, it was available.  So, I went to his website and paid the $9 (10% of which goes to charity) for the download and then spent the next three days trying to download the file.  Fine, I understand there are 8,000 miles of wires between Kuwait and LA – that is no frigging excuse.  I hate it when appropriate tech is not brought to bear on a problem.  If you are not sure, call me BEFORE you have the problem, I am a professional who does this IT stuff for a living. ‘nuf said.

The show starts with a paraphrase of the opening segment of Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy and ends with Titus relating a conversation he had with Bruce Springsteen, that ended with the Boss asking an epic question (I won’t say about what, I don’t want to spoil it). With those bookends, in the middle is an hour and 40 minutes of some of the best stand-up I have ever seen this man do.

Whenever Titus takes the stage, I pay attention to the scenery and background behind him, somehow some way it always plays into his act. This show is no exception, as on the stage behind him are six large posters: Bruce Lee, Dodge Viper, attack dog, electric guitar, Confederate flag, and Darth Vader.  These serve as a basic outline of what the act will be about. The posters are not funny to look at, but you know that the story he will tell behind each one will be hilarious. 

He binds these six epic fails, has he calls them, together with the thread of referring to this act is a service at the Church of the Epic Fail.  All of this works. There are two things that I think make Titus funny to me: Schadenfreude, which I mentioned before, and his ability to flip from being the tough guy to being the insecure victim. It is what adds heart to his performance and makes it entertaining rather than sad. It also allows almost anyone to identify with at least some portion of what he is talking about.

In between the story about his teenage job playing Darth Vader and talking about doing a show in the South, he spends a few minutes talking about what he means by retard. It simply does not get any better. Not since Carlin have I seen someone actually take time to dissect the language and then put it back together in a different way making totally acceptable to laugh at it without feeling self-conscious. Yes, the Inner Retard has returned -- and with a vengeance.

You come to realize that this performance really isn’t a solo act, it is a duet. Titus has skillfully woven the Inner Retard into every one of his stories…and on more than one occasion, he plays straight man letting the best punch lines go to the Inner Retard. Ever watch a movie or some big Hollywood star is trying to play an accent and then drifts in and out of it for the entire movie? Titus nails the Inner Retard every single time in both voice and actions. After the first few appearances of the Inner Retard, you start to see two people on stage versus one.  The best part?  Every one of these transitions is so smooth that it is artistic and beautiful to watch.

I was lucky enough to be able to watch this all in one setting, but given how tight time is I could’ve easily watched any of the six segments separately and they could’ve stood alone – – except for some of the running gags that kept reappearing.  I can’t think of another comedian working today who has that kind of style -- and before I deployed I spent many a night Saturday night sitting in the front row of Gary Fields Comedy Club watching a wide variety of comedians.

My favorite individual parts of the show were: Titus’ explanation of the term retard and a dinner experience with a fellow comedian with CP; what happened with his Dodge Viper (been there, done that, hated it); how he got beat up by an Air Force guy then learned martial arts; and finally how he killed a baby. I also like the fact that he talked about the demise of the TV show Titus, which I never knew about. A picture may be worth 1000 words but apparently one sentence can cost you $30 million -- must be part of the new economy. 

Lost?  Get the video and watch it! 

The Voice in My Head [Link] costs just $9 to download from his site.  It is undeniably the best comedy bargain I’ve seen in forever.  By producing and distributing it himself the entire overhead is cut out and therefore the savings can be passed directly onto the comedy appreciating public. Hell, I never got into a comedy club for less than 20 bucks, then I usually wound up spending a lot more on drinks and if I wanted to take a video of the act home I had to pay extra for it.  

I was surprised at the production values of the video since it was self produced. I’ve bought a lot of DVDs that were self produced by comedians and this is by far the best self production work I’ve ever seen.  Aside from the problems I mentioned with getting it downloaded, problems Titus says has been fixed by getting bigger gerbils, it was easy – – even from all the way over here in Kuwait.

He did mention during his show that he had done several shows here in the Middle East. I missed those because I wasn’t here yet.   If he ever comes back I am sure he would find an audience just as appreciative as the one he encountered on his first trips over.  Consider this an invitation from the comedy starved masses in the desert.

Unlike real life, you know that you have reached a very funny dead-end when the inner retard looks at you, shrugs his shoulders, and says “I got nothin’”.  Titus has something, he describes himself as being an antidepressant – – and one you can take with alcohol – – I won’t quibble with that assessment.



  1. I DID see the show and loved it- but not as much as I loved his 1st HBO special. Laughed SO hard I couldn't catch my breath. Have been a follower ever since. Not saying I agree with everything he sez, but it is still hilarious! The man can tell a superb story ..... And I feel the need for laughing so hard I can't catch my breath and water rolling down my cheeks.
    PS- heard the story of your dads death not long after my own pasted on. Superbly wonderfully awful ;)

  2. Excellent article. Titus is my ffavorite comic, and although I'm not totally aware why I relate to the material so much, I think you nailed it.


  3. he is even better live. You literally dont stop laughing the entire time he is on stage. I saw him in dayton ohio in March 2013 and after the show he was available for pictures and free autographs for almost 2 hours. Great comedian, artist and all around good guy.

  4. Titus is the BOMB! He is the very best comedian in the business. His body of work is as great as Pryor and Carlin. I am so glad that he did not allow a network to chop up this work. It is an Epic Win.