Spit Take Saturday: Karen Kilgariff

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KK-cover-1600-copyWelcome to Spit Take Saturday, courtesy of Brown Paper Tickets’ Comedy Doer Julie Seabaugh and her professional comedy criticism site The Spit Take. Julie’s goal with the site is to “elevate the public perception of stand-up comedy to that of a legitimate art form, and to enable comedy criticism be taken as seriously as that of theater, film, music, food, even video games. No a**-kissing. No bias. No mercy. Just honest, unfiltered, long-form reviews written by professional, knowledgeable comedy critics.” 

Every week Julie will select an entry from the site to be included on our blog and hand-pick some related events happening that week that So, without further ado, let us introduce you to this week’s Spit Take Saturday!

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There’s an outtake from Season 3 of HBO’s Mr. Show with Bob and David in which Karen Kilgariff, then a performer on the Nineties sketch series, mocks herself by furrowing her brow and shaking her fist at someone off camera after flubbing a line. It’s throwaway by design, but it sticks with the viewer and underscores Kilgariff’s ability to turn random moments of self-awareness into pointed, memorable humor.

** WARNING! This video contains language that my be offensive to some viewers. Discretion is advised. **


Kilgariff’s Live at the Bootleg, recorded in September at L.A.’s Bootleg Theater, gives her even more chances to bring out the knives in song form—an accomplishment in a genre not always known for its poignant gifts to the comedy canon. On album opener “I Want to Win,” we learn more about her in two and a half minutes than we do from entire sets of other stand-ups.

She’s jealous of Tina Fey (her job, her money, her glory) and ready to kill the next person who tells her to watch Modern Family. But she’s also doubtful about the possibility for true love and wistfully resigned to its fleeting nature. Communicating these clashing ideas in the same short, sprightly song is an impressive magic trick, and it’s one she pulls off throughout the album.

Kilgariff’s a fine singer, with a wavering, vulnerable voice that falls somewhere between coffee shop balladeer and demented children’s entertainer. Her saccharine delivery complements the murky timbre of her acoustic guitar and sells the jokes against the often bleak, angry lyrics. It’s not Garfunkel and Oates, where the twists are dull and predictable, and the music is painfully cutesy. Nor is it a female Tenacious D, where the joke is in the band’s ego. It’s multi-layered observational comedy with recurring (but not overbearing) feminist themes set against metaphor-laden love songs. Again, not an easy task.

Five of these tracks appeared on Kilgariff’s 2011 EP Behind You, but given their quality and the life a few of them have taken on through podcast appearances, it’s perfectly justifiable to include them on Bootleg. They don’t feel tacked on or dated, especially since the subject matter and styles jump around so much. The connective tissue is Kilgariff’s alternately gracious and catty between-song banter, which proves her ability to play the crowd at least as well as her instrument. “I’m treating this like a Behind the Music,” she says after “Solid 9,” “so if you don’t want to hear it, get the F**K out right now.”

The banter is so charming and loose that it’s hard to imagine Kilgariff doing either a straight stand-up set or a music-only set. The stories are equally as important as the songs. And the songs are pitched perfectly: not complicated or showy, but also meatier than the basic, incidental backing tracks of Zach Galifianakis’s ivory tickling or Demetri Martin‘s meandering acoustic work. Kilgariff discounts her guitar skills a few times, but songs like “Drink Your Way Through Christmas” prove she’s at least confident enough to tackle propulsive, upbeat chord progressions while hitting the vocal high notes.

A press release for the album notes that musical comedy is “rarely done right,” which is a sentiment (and sales tactic) that could have easily backfired had Bootleg not been so great. But given that the titans of the genre, from the Smothers Brothers to Flight of the Conchords, have proven there’s no single way to work humor into melodies, it’s encouraging that Kilgariff’s own take on the genre sounds so fresh and vital.

By John Wenzel

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For more great comedy from other New York staples, check 0ut:

Saturday, March 8 I Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction Somerville, Massachusetts  Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction is a comedy show (and popular podcast on the Nerdist Network) held every month at the Nerdmelt Theater in Los Angeles, created & hosted by Bryan Cook. Each show features 10 comics, writing and performing Erotic Fan Fiction pieces, based upon their whims or audience suggestions. This show features Boston favorites Emily Ruskowski, Nick Ortolani, Shawn Armistead, Gary Peterson, Andrew Mayer, Rob Crean, Langston Kerman and more!

Wednesday, March 19 I Comics for a CauseHermosa Beach, California  What do you get when you bring the funniest names in comedy together for a night of nonstop laughter; you get “Comics for a Cause “Come join Ray Romano * Bobby Collins, Kathleen Madigan, Paul Reiser and a few special guests as they take the stage for the benefit of Zeno Mountain Farm.

Thursday, April 3 I Chelsea PerettiColumbus, Ohio  Chelsea Peretti is a stand-up comedian, actress and writer who currently appears in FOX’s hit series, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. In other television credits, Peretti has appeared on Louie, Kroll Show and Tosh.0 and plays multiple characters on Adult Swim’s China, IL. Her half hour special Comedy Central Presents aired in 2011. Peretti has been praised as one of Variety‘s “Top 10 Comics to Watch,” Comedy Central’s “Hotlist” comedians, and in Vanity Fair‘s 2013 “Comedy” issue. She was also recognized by TIME magazine as having one of the “140 Best Twitter Feeds” of 2013. Peretti is also an accomplished writer, having written for Parks and Recreation, Saturday Night Live, The Sarah Silverman Program, Portlandia and Kroll Show.