My Valentine this year is stand-up comedy. I only started doing it last year, but if love is supposed to instill a sense of belonging, joy, and a desire to share those things with others, then I’ve gotten more out of going on stage than I ever had from another human being. This either makes me a comic or a sociopath, I’m not sure which (and why can’t it be both?). Regardless, this Valentine’s Day I urge you to watch/listen to stand-up because, unlike your average V-day rom-com, so much of it is smart, honest, and actually funny.
If you’re a less seasoned stand-up fan you are going to need to start off with something that’ll hook you like the 2005 film, The Comedians of Comedy. Comedians and its spin-offs showcase Maria Bamford, Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis and Brian Posehn alternately performing and killing time cracking each other up (highlight: Galifianakis showing Bamford his favourite piece of fan mail). The film and TV series capture the natural camaraderie that develops among comics, while follow-ups like Live At The Troubadour and Live At The El Rey are wall-to-wall sets of great stand-up with no filler.
Also on DVD is my personal stand-up gateway drug, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. Dr. Katz—along with CBC’s sanitized-but-polished Comics! and Ben Guyatt’s unapologetically crappy Comedy At Club 54—flooded my television with more comics than my adolescent senses could handle. The writhing and squriming “squigglevision” animation that gave Dr. Katz its low-budget charm, was secondary to the comics and the largely improvised subplots for Jonathan Katz and Jon Benjamin (late of Archer, Bob’s Burgers and Jon Benjamin Has A Van). Dr. Katz introduced me to the likes of Louis CK, Marc Maron and Paul F. Tompkins, as well as Dave Chappelle, Sarah Silverman, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Kindler and many others.
If you regularly watch or listen to stand-up, you might want to find something new. As far as recent albums go, Marc Maron’s This Has To Be Funny, Eddie Pepitone’s A Great Stillness, John Mulaney’s The Top Part, Kyle Kinane’s Death of the Party, and Anthony Jeselnik’s Shakespeare are essential. For recent TV/DVD specials, Donald Glover’s Weirdo and Louis CK’s Live At The Beacon Theatre are top notch.
Oh, and every comedian has a podcast these days. For those not averse to darkly-funny honesty, WTF with Marc Maron is the prime example of a podcast done right. Whether it’s Dave Foley retelling the abnormally cruel circumstances of his divorce or Todd Glass coming out of the closet, Maron’s interviews are second-to-none. If you prefer a more joke-driven approach, check out Paul F. Tompkins’ smart and surreal Pod F. Tompkast (best episode: Tompkins as Ice-T trying to sell pyramids), Affirmation Nation (with Seth Morris as sad-sack motivational speaker, Bob Ducca), and the chaotic Comedy Bang-Bang (highlight: Jon Daly as Bill Cosby-Bukowski).
The best comic working today, however, is British stand-up Stewart Lee. On his BBC series (Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle) and specials like 41st Best Stand-Up Ever and If You Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One, Lee’s dry, brilliantly-written material takes aim at the IRA (“They were decent, British terrorists. They didn’t want to be British, but they were”), bad comedy (“It’s easy to stand here and make fun of the American stand-ups simply because they’re of no value”), or offers bizarre sketches (Alan Moore proving Winston Churchill never existed). Lee’s cerebral, quiet absurdity may not be for everyone, but if you don’t like his stand-up, you’re a bipedal failure!
So, if you want to make this Valentine’s Day special, whether you’ll be alone or with someone, I recommend you spend it listening to neurotic men and women venting their emotional damage in front of strangers.