by Chris Estey
Yes, a couple of years ago a whole bunch of people found out they could catch all those great new “alternative” comedians all in one light-rail wreck in the rock and roll bus tunnel of Bumbershoot mayhem… or something (OK, I tried a metaphor, and it really didn’t work out; sue me). Then there were lines going all around Seattle and back up your butt, where you could actually talk yourself out of getting some funnel cakes or tie-dyes to stick around and watch guys like David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Todd Barry, and Eugene Mirman do their noggin-elevated, pop culture-celebrating, socially subversive best. They’re all back this year and it’s worth the ticket price for the festival if you just catch two of these four.
Of course, there’s now tons of chances to catch comedy at Bumbershoot, as more venues inside the Seattle Center (like the Vera Project) have been opened up for local and international groups like Laff Hole, Canadian Comedy That Cares!, Lo-Ball, One Night Only, and something called Blood Squad. I recommend them all.
But I would like to let people know, as a guy who just bought the new Patton Oswalt album/DVD, My Weakness Is Strong, and who has heard the upcoming Sub Pop release of Eugene Mirman’s next CD, God Is A Twelve Year Old Boy With Asperger’s, that this is some of their very strongest work to date. And it will probably have something to do with what happens at Bumbershoot, every single afternoon and night of the three day festival.
That’s right, these comedians are slated to appear at various times — Mirman at 5:30 on Saturday the 5th, 3:45 Sunday the 6th, and 2 PM on Monday the 7th, with “mystery guests” and Wyatt Cenac, all at the Comedy Stage North; while Oswalt holds fort at Comedy Stage South with Knocked Up/Paper Heart actress Charlene Yi all three nights in a row starting at 8 PM — throughout Labor Day Weekend.
The Mirman album has titles that reflect the live stand-up recorded for it, such as “America Is Better Than Abortion,” “I Found An iPod,” “Vancouver, Detroit, and Bears,” and my favorite, a couple of closing “tracks” based on his luggage getting lost by a certain airline which makes me all trembly and goose-pimpled with The Sillies. I really feel like crying when a special guest impersonating Christopher Walken starts telling the comic to “drop it, Mirman. The bag is gone. There is no bag. We shit in it. Then we burned it. Shit and burn. Shit and burn. It’s our policy, shit and burn.” It KILLS me every time I listen to it; and I’m well aware that I’m listening to recorded jokes about airlines using a Christopher Walken accent in 2009 and they’re STILL slaying me. The “title track” is also a killer, and co-stars a Seattle book appearance and one of our autistic children. Mirman is as charismatic as he’s always been; I’m hoping that his subjects do get a little fresher though. Maybe it’s like Sinatra singing standards; he doesn’t really need to be covering Nick Cave to get my attention.
Eugene Mirman at Bumbershoot 2007
The Oswalt release is another level in terms of content; it purposefully seems to take contemporary stand-up beyond knee jerk blasphemy and cliches, as the adorably odd-looking but still charming science fiction geek confesses a desire for maturity Bill Hicks never lived to express. Trying to kick Scotch and weed and keep from being a venomous whiner around his expected daughter and wife, it doesn’t seem like Oswalt is trying to be honest, you can really feel his internal tension about a sense of failure even when he’s starring as an animated rat in a oodles-of-millions movie. If this is all self-deprecation to throw us off careerist hubris, he’s completely deluded me — this material seems risky and challenging, but not at all depressing or elitist. Henry Rollins, stand your narcissistic ranting back, there’s a new and much funnier indie culture prophet of doom on board.
Patton Oswalt on the KFC Famous bowls