It's great when Comedy Central takes a chance on a lesser-known comedian and gives him or her a one-hour special. It's a stamp of approval of sorts; while a showcase like Comedy Central Presents suggests a comic is "someone to watch," the hour long special identifies a comic as someone you should already know.
Comedy nerd circles already know Matt Braunger, a very funny comic out of Chicago whose debut album, 2009's Soak Up the Night, was one of the best of that year. By giving him primetime exposure with Shovel Fighter, his first hour-long stand-up special, Comedy Central is ensuring that Braunger becomes known in the mainstream -- and he deserves to be. It's an excellent hour of comedy that does what all first stand-up specials should do: it announces Braunger's voice to the uninitiated.
Most of Shovel Fighter consists of observational comedy, with topics ranging from excessive drinking to strip club etiquette to the history of Bob's Big Boy to his own appearance, which he describes as that of a "giant child." There's no real theme or consistency of material to the hour, but that's ok. That doesn't appear to be Braunger's strong suit. What he does best is fire in as many directions as possible -- loudly -- and hope that it lands. Nearly all of it does.
It isn't always the material that makes Shovel Fighter so enjoyable -- though the depths to which Braunger is willing to explore well-worn subjects like drinking to the point feeling sick is to be commended (he is almost relentless in describing a specific noise that people make just before throwing up, and the more times he does it, the funnier it gets). There's one long story, involving an unwanted visitor in the house, that stands out as a set piece -- again, less because of the story itself (which is funny) than because of the increasingly loud panic with which Braunger sells it. So much of Braunger's humor is in the presentation: he's loud and abrasive, and though he's jokingly hostile about some of the hands he has been dealt by life, he never comes off as an angry guy.
There seems to be a new style or movement in stand-up: the "awkward" approach, embraced by comics like Pete Holmes (even his podcast, You Made it Weird, is named for the concept) and Hannibal Buress (both of whom, incidentally, came up with Braunger in the Chicago stand-up scene; maybe it's a midwestern thing). Matt Braunger is awkward and proud, and it's the way he embraces his awkwardness that elevates his material. Braunger turns self-deprecation into an art form, managing to somehow turn almost every absurd observation he makes about the world in on himself.
Hopefully, Shovel Fighter provides the mainstream breakthrough that Matt Braunger deserves. He's a comedian whose time has come, and the energy and willingness to be a good he displays on Shovel Fighter ought to endear him to a lot of new fans. If only half as many people would embrace him as have embraced Dane Cook -- who has a similar spastic, high-energy delivery but without the material or point of view -- the world would be a better place.
- Original Air Date: 7/14/12