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Anthony Jeselnik: Caligula - Comedy Album Review

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating
User Rating 2 Star Rating (1 Review)

By

Anthony Jeselnik Caligula comedy album cover art
© Comedy Central Records

It's not easy being as big a prick as Anthony Jeselnik, and it's a role the comedian doesn't just embrace -- he downright relishes it. His second album, Caligula (the title is his answer to the question "What person, living or dead, would you like to have dinner with?"), is another collection of dark, often cruelly funny one liners that's sure to divide audiences. Jeselnik wouldn't have it any other way. He's happy to have the fans that like him, but determined to win over the ones that don't. Albums as funny as Caligula ought to help him do just that.

Fans of Jeselnik's outstanding first album, Shakespeare, can expect more of the same on Caligula. That's a good thing. As a comic, he doesn't really do routines or construct bits. He traffics in the kind of single-line jokes as Steven Wright and the late Mitch Hedberg, but trades the absurdity of those comics for darkness and shock value (there's even a running commentary on Caligula about just how many rape jokes he tells). For sheer economy of laughs -- the words-to-joke ratio -- there are few comics funnier than Jeselnik. Rather than spraying bursts of jokes in the hopes that one in 10 will hit its target, Jeselnik is a sniper -- he doesn't miss.

Unlike comics who adopt a similar approach, he isn't just out to shock the audience. He wants to make the audience laugh at something that is shocking, and that's a very different skill. Part of Jeselnik's special genius is that refuses to acknowledge that the darkness of his material is a put on; unlike, say, Sarah Silverman, who smiles through her offensive material so that we know she's adorable and just playing at being ignorant, Jeselnik does not compromise his persona. If you've ever heard him interviewed (on, say, Marc Maron's WTF podcast or Chris Hardwick's Nerdist), you know that Jeselnik is a nice, normal guy who made a choice very early on to adopt an insane level of confidence on stage and who wants to take audiences to a place past their comfort level and still get them to laugh. That's gotten a little easier to do now that audiences know what to expect from Jeselnik (he's been the big hit of the last few Comedy Central roasts), but he's hardly the kind of comic to lazily rest on the expectations of his fanbase. Instead, he's determined to push the material into even darker territory. I would reprint the kinds of things Jeselnik jokes about here, but taken out of context it's likely to drive audiences away. The context is everything.

The other aspect of Jeselnik's comedy that makes Caligula such a terrific record is that he knows exactly when to surprise the audience -- to zig when we all expect him to zag. A number of his contemporaries attempt the same kind of "shock" comedy, but it all becomes predictable after a time. It's an ordinary setup that sounds like it will lead to an ordinary punchline, only the comic says "cancer" or "AIDS" instead. The "twist" becomes familiar. But Jeselnik keeps us on our toes by regularly finding a different aspect of the joke to turn into a punchline (I won't provide any examples here, because I don't want to spoil any of the jokes). It's not that he suddenly goes soft. It's that he goes hard at something we're not expecting.

Anthony Jeselnik is a great comic, and Caligula once again demonstrates that he's alone in his class. There are so many comedians who try to do what he does and do it badly that albums like this are a pleasant surprise, even when we already know how funny he is.

  • Album Release Date: 1/15/13
  • Label: Comedy Central Records
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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 2 out of 5
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