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.
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