Spit Take Saturday: Tom Shillue

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51XAsonDjrL._SL500_AA280_Welcome 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 she feels all you comedy lovers out there will appreciate.

So, without further ado, let us introduce you to this week’s Spit Take Saturday!

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For the past ten months, Tom Shillue has been on a comedy marathon, releasing one new album every month, each with its own theme. With Heyday, he is nearly to the finish line of what has so far been a successful experiment. He has done a remarkable job putting out consistently funny work, producing this series of Moth-like personal stories.


The arc of the three stories on Heyday follows Shillue’s progress in love and work, from his early days driving an Orangina truck and demonstrating cookware with Aasif Mandvi in malls (while making awkward advances on co-workers) to the present day. Show business can be particularly ridiculous for a comedian, and Shillue opens his treasure trove of terrible gigs here. He was lured from Boston to Florida to play Jimmy Stewart, complete with his own Harvey the rabbit. His would-be big break in TV sketch comedy was a multi-ethnic pilot helmed by sociologists called What’s Up?, which painfully tried to be hip. That was followed by an audition for an insurance campaign, which unfortunately puts him in competition with a certain talking duck.

None of it works out, but then, success isn’t nearly as funny as a good, hopeful failure. The hope is the funniest part—no matter how bad the job, it’s a chance to be in show business, and in Shillue’s eyes is one more rung on his ladder to stardom.

Shillue fares no better in romance. Dating in New York is not all fireworks and musical numbers like you see in movies, he notes. It’s riding in a cab alone wondering what the hell just happened. “Paulinka,” the subject of the first track, was a model on the Orangina truck. In the annals of his love life, she was one of “the ones that didn’t happen,” mostly because she didn’t succumb to his signature move, trying to get an invite to her apartment for coffee. Shillue gets the dreaded “good friend” label while she recounts her troubled relationship with a boyfriend who coldly kicks her out of his apartment each morning. Comedy even plays a part in his bad luck, as he loses a woman he’s courting to one of his all-time stand-up idols, Steve Martin, a guy whose albums he listened to as a kid.

Shillue weaves all of these stories together with a novelist’s eye for detail and expert pacing. Each track has its own sub-plots and punchlines that work perfectly together. Similarly, each track builds to a unified point, a satisfying ending. The stories would work almost as well as a memoir, but that would lack’s Shillue’s extraordinary delivery. He’s got a musician’s sense of dynamics and rhythm, pulling the audience in with a near whisper, or pausing to emphasize a word, spitting out others in a staccato shout. There is some genuine heartbreak here amongst the jokes, and an earnestness that could be deadly if handled poorly. But Shillue can and does handle it, and it’s a shame there’s only one album left to go.

By Nick A. Zaino III

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For more comedy shows emphasizing quality character work, check out:

Sunday, November 3 I Lit Up Writers Los Angeles, California  Lit Up writers is held the first Sunday of the month. Comedy writers and one featured author read true stories in a live theater setting.

Monday, November 4 I Perfect Liars ClubWashington, DC  Four storytellers tell you a story. Three are true. One is a pack of lies. Listen. Interrogate. Vote. And then brace yourself for the shocking truth. Can you spot the liar?

Thursday, November 21 I Risk! New York, New York  RISK! is the show where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public stories they’d normally tell close friends. In New York and Los Angeles, the brightest stars of TV, film and literature have dropped their usual act and shown a side of themselves we’d never seen at RISK! Hosted by Kevin Allison of The State, RISK! is also a free audio podcast getting hundreds of thousands of hits each month.