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Spit Take Saturday: Tom Shillue

Comedy >

shillueWelcome 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!


“Edgy” isn’t the word that jumps to mind when describing the likeable, profanity-free storyteller Tom Shillue. Thus his decision to devote one album in his “12 in 12” project to racier material seems like more of a challenge to himself than a sampling of his material. It’s a brave choice to venture outside of his comfort zone as part of this grand experiment, and his immense talent means that even though taboo-busting isn’t the best use of his storytelling skills, the album is still very funny.

“Racism,” the first of two tracks on the 29-minute “Edgy,” begins with the strongest material. His musings on white panic and whether he’s inadvertently contributing to a culture of racism are both clever and mixed with an appropriate amount of liberal guilt. But the second half of the track, about whether women should rule the world, is more a story about telling a joke than a joke in itself. Comparing the Manhattan crowd at the taping with a past, über-liberal Brooklyn audience who had rejected his pro-male defense, one assumes he hoped to re-capture a great, confrontational set but instead gets a slightly put-off but mostly just unconvinced crowd.

When he closes out the track discussing his single days, it’s clear why racy material doesn’t come naturally to Shillue. Back then, he says, he wanted to live a Maxim lifestyle, admitting that while 60 percent of his stand up was about making people laugh, the other 40 was about finding “some chick to make out with after the show.” Even when describing his attempts at a raunchy bachelor life, he ends up with a sweet, PG-13 story culminating in a sad, lonely cab ride home.

Later, after defending war and big tobacco, he admits that he wanted to “take on the audience’s sacred cows,” launching into a sizable chunk mocking the Dalai Lama. The flippant way in which he describes the traditional Tibetan process of determining the next Dalai Lama, and his affected disgust at the phrase “high-ranking monks,” serves as a meta-statement on anti-religious comedy. Why pick on these well-meaning, distant people who believe that visions of the future can be seen in a lake? His reasoning – “There’s probably a lot of Buddhists here, right? A lot of Buddhists, which means a bunch of Catholics who got bored” – is in itself the most satirically sharp point in the set.

His attempts to defend the invasion of oil-rich countries, and a convoluted analogy about male-pattern baldness and ovulation, don’t feel real enough to sink one’s teeth into. Truly “edgy” comics are often aggressive and confrontational to force the audience into believing they might really mean the terrible things they’re saying; the shock is what makes it funny. But it’s nearly impossible to buy that this soft-spoken father of two is anything other than a nice, well-meaning guy. He, like everyone, has his darker thoughts and counter-culture inclinations, but at the end of the day, edginess just doesn’t fit him. 

By Elise Czajkowski

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Prefer your comedy truly edgy? Check out these upcoming down-and-dirty stand-up shows:

Friday, March 8 I “Comedy Double Feature – Kristine Levine & Lonnie Bruhn” Portland, Oregon Northwest comedy veterans Kristine Levine and Lonnie Bruhn bring their raunchy humor to the stage in this month’s Comedy Double Feature at Undefeated Sports Bar and Grill.

Saturday, March 9-Saturday, March 23 I  “How to Swear Like a Minnesotan” Minneapolis, Minnesota  Comedian Joseph Scrimshaw explores the edgy side of the mild, mild Midwest with jokes and stories about his youth in Brainerd and North Minneapolis.

Saturday, October 5 I “Off the Wall Comedy Night- Featuring Dana Goldberg”Columbus, Ohio  Raised by a wild pack of Jews, otherwise known as her mother and siblings, she sets the standard for smart comedy, and her timing and tongue-in-cheek edginess is why she continues to collect loyal fans in cities all over the world.