Hello paid subscribers. I have horrifying news for those of you who bought your subscriptions when this newsletter was on Substack. Apparently, due to the intricacies of how Substack works, if you ever decide to cancel your subscription, you will not be able to do it through Letterdrop’s interface. Instead you will have to email me personally and I will have to cancel your subscription myself via the payment processor. If you wish to spare both of us the awkwardness, you can alternately email firstname.lastname@example.org, whom I will give the necessary authorizations to handle it. I pray it will never come to any of this, but now you know.
Also, since a few people have asked about this, that “upgrade to paid” button you’ve seen in the last few newsletters is a generic button everyone’s seeing. You’re still on the paid list and don’t need to change anything! Okay, on to today’s business.
The other day I was walking around [redacted Idaho hideout town] when I stumbled upon a bluegrass concert that reminded me of something I’ve dearly missed: the thrill of watching people who are very, very good at a certain craft have a very, very fun time practicing it. After a year in which my artistic consumption consisted mostly of rewatching every prestige drama and auteur sitcom, I’d forgotten what it feels like to experience that primal pleasure of live performance, the way it conjures joy from thin air.
Naturally I left the experience craving live comedy, of which there is none to be found here. I settled for listening to one of my favorite albums, Tim Gilbert’s Please Help Me I Am Very Sick. If you’re unacquainted, Gilbert is a very funny Toronto-based comedian who wrote for the Canadian sketch show This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Here's an interview Avery Edison did with him in Splitsider a while back. Please Help Me I Am Very Sick is his first album, released in 2014, which you can listen to for free on Bandcamp and/or buy at a price of your choosing.
I don’t write many traditional reviews in this newsletter because I have yet to discover a way of reviewing standup that doesn’t inevitably descend into tedium. I love jokes, I respect jokes, and I tend to agree with comedy criticism’s critics that jokes are rarely served by the sort of long-form deconstruction that can be so enriching for other media. (Sometimes they are! Most times they aren't.) The vast majority of standup ranges from bad to just fine and warrants no second thought. Occasionally it’s so outrageously bad that you can learn quite a bit from asking why it’s so bad, though this comes with certain risks in our era of mandated poptimism and rabid fandoms. Often it’s perfectly good but not particularly novel, and there are only so many ways to write “this [observation about human behavior/story about the comic’s life/absurdist one-liner] was [well constructed/interestingly performed] and [revealed something universal but understated about the human condition/incisively criticized our current moment/was just funny in a very normal way which is also good and worth doing].” On the rare occasions I encounter something truly great, I find myself afraid of blunting a mysterious, intuitive experience by applying too much intellectual rigamarole. (Or by making it about myself, as I am now.) Sometimes it’s more fulfilling just to bask in the light.
BUT! I do want to say a few words real quick about why I love Please Help Me I Am Very Sick. And here they are. The problem with being a more-than-casual fan of any art form is that the more you consume, the more it takes to move you. At a certain point you can tell pretty much from the opening movements where most pieces will end up. The surprise goes away, then the fun, then gradually you just get angry at that endless desert of the just-fine, where things keep happening the same way they’ve always happened. What’s the point? Why bother spending so much time in someone else’s head when yours can do all the same tricks?
Then something comes along that you wouldn’t have thought of in a million years. You never would’ve gone from the same A to the same B; hell, you never would’ve gone to the same A. And how could you have? The thing is wholly of the person who made it. Only they could have come up with it, by living their life exactly as they lived it and seeing the world from the exact angle they saw it. And now you get to see it that way too! I think of comedy as a pursuit of lightness: just a few words can lift you out of your boring old body. What a gift that turns out to be.
That’s enough hype for an album that probably I adore more because of my own brain chemistry than anything existential. But I do adore it! To me the jokes in Please Help Me I Am Very Sick are wonderfully silly and surprising and smart in an effortless sort of way that makes me feel weightless. They’re everything I want in comedy, or at least listening to them makes me forget I want anything else. I hope you like them too.