Spit Take Saturday: Tom Shillue

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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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Recorded at the Buell Theatre in Denver, “Big Room is the second of 12 consecutive monthly releases by Tom Shillue. It was recorded by Shillue himself over two shows with a combined audience, according to his estimate, of 3,600 people. He was opening for Jim Gaffigan.

As The Spit Take’s review of Shillue’s first album of the series, “Bigger, Stronger, Faster,” appropriately puts it: “This is a project worth following. Shillue is off to a strong start. Now he just needs eleven more 35-minute chunks as good as this one, and he’ll be set.”

Big Room is a 31.5-minute album, but there are only about 25 minutes of on-stage comedy, each of the two tracks being bookended by Shillue speaking directly into the recorder. Moreover, while each of the three tracks on his first album is built around its own self-contained story, “Big Room”’s two tracks are each opening sets for Gaffigan. By virtue of this premise, neither set allows Shillue room to fully explore his stories and tease out the details. Instead, each finds Shillue appropriately hitting on a few key areas, weaving them together the way any good opener should and would.

This is not to say that “Big Room” is worse than its predecessor, or by any means a bad album. Far from it. It is, however, a different album, and in this way it makes Shillue’s project even more intriguing. His first two releases are decidedly built around two distinct premises, which poses the question: What will his third album bring?

One issue that cannot be ignored, however, arises during Shillue’s note to the listener at the top of the second set. “If you hear me repeat a joke, let it go,” he says before taking the stage. “I’ve gotta stay alive out there.” From a performance standpoint, this is unquestionably valid. But the album is not for the audience; it’s for the consumer, the listener at home. This creates a tricky dynamic, as the purpose behind “Big Room” seems to be that Shillue is trying to capture the authenticity of an opening set, yet few people want to hear jokes repeated on an album. (To Shillue’s credit, he does not end up reusing material during his second set.)

To this end, “Big Room” is a singular conception. Shillue taped the album with a handheld recorder tucked into his back pocket, and his intros and outros were seemingly captured with no edited time lapses between taking and exiting the stage. Moreover, his material is certainly strong enough to merit inclusion on a release. What is puzzling, though, is why this 12-albums-in-12-months feat is being attempted. At $1.99 per, it’s hard to fault Shillue for only putting a half-hour of material on each, but perhaps a better approach would have been to create six full-lengths. As there doesn’t seem to be much of a purpose other than being able to say it was done, ultimately the final verdict must not be determined by the realization of this goal, but the overall quality of that realization.

By Daniel Berkowitz

Tom Shillue or Purchase on Amazon.com

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Shillue’s reputation is that of a master of the personal narrative; check out some other great storytelling events coming up in DC, New York and Chicago.

Wednesday, December 19 I Story League TournamentWashington, DC  Winners of Judges’ Favorite and Audience Favorite from Story Contests will compete for a $250 cash prize and the title of Story League Champion. The audience will also select its favorite!

Thursday, December 20 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 audiences had 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. Slate.com called “RISK!” “jaw-dropping, hysterically funny, and just plain touching.” Come to The PIT to see why!

Tuesday, January 15 I Storytelling For Everyone: A Four-Week Course in Personal NarrativeChicago, Illinois  Personal narrative has exploded over the last several years, with new shows, slams, and podcasts surfacing daily.  People from all walks of life are taking the stage to share their own stories in front of packed houses across Chicago and the U.S. If you haven’t participated yet, it’s time to get in on the fun. This course is open to all experience levels, and everyone from the beginner to the seasoned storyteller will benefit from this work-on-your-feet approach to discovering and developing your own unique voice.