Zee’s Special Notes: ‘Physical Whisper’ by Josh Gondelman
Josh is one of the few Now and Then stories I have in my arsenal, so it’s always nice to see him with a new release. It was great seeing him go from being a good comedian (in college) to a great comedian (now, in life). He gets a LOT of press for being a nice guy, and I have no choice but to join the chorus.
But let us also rejoice in how funny he is.
I remember when Josh told me I couldn’t be on his college comedy show because I was getting my wisdom teeth out. He said, “oh yeah, that’s a no-go.” He’s a Jewish camp counselor in his demeanor. He’ll only reject you if he thinks you’re making unhealthy decisions, and even so he won’t say “no” without a rhyming word to follow. Full of folksy jokes and warm spirit. That’s his persona, resting nice-guy face. Listen for that.
His alter ego is his deep voice, not smiling. Listen for that too.
One more thing about Josh: He’s also a magician. A kid on the subway turns from a kid wearing a Bert hat into a 40 year old man. His girlfriend turns into a wincing shark. He transports us from his living room into a horse-drawn carriage in a single moment, and we follow him because we trust him, like a Jewish camp counsellor canoeing us over a waterfall.
Here are my Special Notes.
1. Happy to Be Here
It’s amazing he mentions the Star Wars premiere, that dates the album. Also, the word “demographic” is the kind of marketing jargon you wouldn’t hear in a mainstream comedy album from as recently as ten years ago.
“Venn diagram” is a whole new comedy genre, heavily based in nerd core comedy. But stick around, Josh isn’t all about the nerdisms.
“Orthodox Jews” is a nice twist. I always like it when comedians give a glimpse of the audience in an audio album — obviously, doesn’t work as well for video. I actually imagine Orthos in the audience. If this were a Chelsea Peretti Netflix special, we’d cut to a group of Orthodox Jews sitting stony faced in the front row. But I prefer Josh who keeps it straight.
Also, Josh presents himself with that “happy to be here” gratitude, which is important for a comedian at the beginning of a set. Similar to a dancer who never stops smiling during the opening number of a musical.
2. Good Son, Great Brother
The premise of explaining the way texting works is a punchline in itself, and he gets a rewarding big laugh on “Why don’t you give you grandmother a call, dad!” This is Josh’s impression of the set, and it kicks ass. “Your mother and I got tickets to see Bonnie Rait, dad!” Good repetition.
I’ve heard him do the “suspenders with sweatpants” joke before without the setup he gives it here, and it’s good both as a separate joke and as a build upon the previous idea. His dad isn’t just a geek, he’s a retired geek. That’s good specificity.
“The suspenders say,” is a fun way to put that notion, making me imagine suspenders talking, and then sweatpants talking, like a horrible DreamWorks animated feature.
3. An Amazing Place
Massachusetts is an amazing place. “I should have expected that,” is a good ad lib. And placed well.
“The ballot was like the track listing to Black Sabbath’s Greatest Hits,” although the term is “track list” it makes a lot of sense poetically to say “track listing.” If you rewrite this punch in anapestic tetrameter (think Dr. Seuss or “A Visit from St. Nicholas”) you see how you need “listing” instead of “list” if you don’t want to force a nonsensical emphasis on SAB-bath:
the BAL-lot was LIKE the track LIST-ing to BLACK
sabbath’s GREAT-est hits
And although the actual album is Black Sabbath (Greatest Hits), it makes a lot of sense to fuck it up here, as to make an alternative view of what the album could be, rather that what it is. That’s what makes us “get it”.
“Shittiest snack food” — here’s Josh’s first swear of the set.
What is his accent? “Bags” is pronounced like he’s from the Midwest.
“Laffatadog” and “enjoythedoors” makes sense because we know he’s into Biggie and Black Sabbath already, he guesses we’re not into the Doors. Opening up his personality.
Why doesn’t he use a Midwest accent when he’s talking like someone from the Midwest? Not a criticism, just a question.
“Parades” have always been funny, right from the whole chapter about them in Catch-22 to Hannibal Burress’s amazing story about New Orleans parades in My Name is Hannibal. “Adam and Steve, you throw one hell of a party,” is such a good line because it takes a hate filled comment from the mouths of a character and redirects the flow, aikido-like.
“Like they’re all made of avocado” is the best tag I’ve heard on this album. We know the truth about avocados and it’s time someone spoke it aloud.
“We’re in public and the future,” is just an OK punch with GREAT delivery.
“The Roman numeral for her age is a complete sentence,” is a classic-style one-liner straight from the Borsht belt. Did you know Josh is Jewish?
It’s important to have one-liners. They’re like a hook in rap music or a Shakespeare reference in Chekhov.
I heard Josh’s “bloggers” joke told in conversation the other day, which shows how relatable his material is. That’s a very young joke. We’re all bloggers now.
5. The Entire Spectrum of Human Potential
His voice goes back to smiling. His face lands in a smile. He’s such a cheery guy. And it goes back into living in New York City. And when he tries to do the serious voice on the line “55 were killed,” he laughs a little on “killed” to show that he’s not actually that guy.
Gondelman isn’t a great impressionist, and thank God he doesn’t try too hard. He’s always smiling through his tough attitude jokes.
“I know how to seal the deal” is a great voice, delivery is the kind of impression that could last longer, but again he’s not a great impressionist.
The kind of impression he could do is the African-descended homeless guy who still sounds like him. “Like Abraham Lincoln at Disney’s Hall of Presidents” leads us to believe that Josh Gondelman is the kind of guy who has been to Disney more than once or cares enough about Disney to research the actual name.
Then the great turn it takes is that he was right. Good storyteller. This is the longest track of the album.
6. Weird Dick, Loser
I’m not crazy about the “married to the sea” joke, but it’s necessary to bring us into the cartoon world of the next joke. That’s Josh’s Simpsons influence showing.
“Ghosts love drama.” Why is that so funny? It wouldn’t work without the cartoonyness of the previous setup. Setups within setups within setups. That’s where you have to go with a show of this length.
Josh gets into risky territory with the interracial relationship joke. But he brings it back around with “black women laugh at me.” We know that to be true. Like the Orthos that were just in the audience, there’s also possibly black women in the audience and they’re laughing knowingly at this joke.
There’s a moment in here when I wish I could see what happened. After he mentions the red pants, people laugh at something physical. Buy and large, Josh is not a physical comedian, but he may have flourishes.
I wish he’d say more about his girlfriend. I think it’s unfair she isn’t that much a of a character yet. But maybe he’s saving that for later. (He is.)
“I’m being very vulnerable” doesn’t work great only because he doesn’t go into it long enough.
With “If my girlfriend proposed tonight” we know his morality. He’s centered, we like him.
He chooses “oral sex” instead of most comedians’ “blowjob,” which is classy in its own way. He couldn’t use blowjob. The only swear he’s used so far is “shittiest” and even that’s a smart conversion of “shit” to “shitty” to “shittiest.”
7. Kiss My Neck
“Tom Brady jersey” cremation is a Mass. joke.
Here’s where we get what we want from his girlfriend’s character.
“My family — that’s who was there” was a better joke than the audience gave it credit for. Maybe an ad lib?
“Caress Me Down” by Sublime is another sense of his taste, and we like him because we agree. Black Sabbath, Biggie — good, The Doors, Sublime — bad.
His sensitivity to “horny” as a bad song lyric is good, that’s how we know he can use words like “shittiest” and get away with it.
He knows the lyrics to the Sublime song, which is important. He doesn’t make that part up. Unlike Black Sabbath album name.
“Seven days to live” reference appeals to his “Star Wars” movie nerd demographic.
“Sadness and lost” is important because it was sad, and he sticks it into a place where it’s funny. Childhood bed.
“Standing, dirty prom picture” is a hint into his potential as a physical comic.
It’s confusing here, after she asks him to kiss her neck, what actually she’s asking him to do or whose perspective it is.
“Physical Whisper” is also poetic and delicious.
“Like a shark” is a genius line because it leads us up to the punch. It’s funny, it’s scary, it’s not toooo funny.
I actually thought this was the end of the album here. It lasts too long after this. I think the rest could be a good encore if he wanted.
8. Lisa, You Are a Goddess
Sketch comedy roots. Monologue jokes, references. Kiss with tongue, he says with the same vigor of the girl, which works.
Chooses the Boston accent.
Josh’s voice is thin, when he gets rid of the smile he speaks louder. He’s afraid of going deep because it’s not camp counsellor cheery.
9. “I Belong in a Museum”
Personal digs in “flawless participants’ physique” which remind us he’s human. We know what he looks like. But he’s rushing. Again, he needs to take his time more with this stuff. Why is he rushing?
“Less of an accomplishment, more of an alibi” real good line.
“Kid accent,” is lost because he’s rushing. How big is this room?
“Nefarious” is the kind of word Woody Allen would use. “You saw through to my core”
“Narcissism” is a real struggle for us millennials. Is Josh a narcissist? It’s possible he is. But he knows we are too. We know he speaks for us.
1 or 2 list, builds up as a handy skilled setup punch with tags. “I belong in a museum” returns to deep alter ego.
“Hashtag no filter” is a cheap gag. I don’t like it.
“I love surprises, hurray!” You’d be like “That’s cool, Brittani with an i” fast delivery works very well here because he needs to get across a lot of information very quickly.
Russian accent is OK, thin delivery. But the reality of it saves the joke. “Surprise!” punchline isn’t good. Too broad for it. If he took it seriously, we’d be laughing harder. He needs to work on his intonation here. He’s not committing to it fully.
“Oh my god, you’re the guy from my joke” very interesting about the times we live in which we can reference a joke within a joke. People know what jokes are now. Dmitri Martin? \
Breaks in “Someone put little glove in [break] big glove box.” and then “Surprise!” he doesn’t commit his full voice to.
11. Touché, Nemesis
I hate the way he says “Before I scoot” a total put-on. But it’s maybe necessary to show us he’s not the kind of person we expect to have a nemesis.
But then why does he need to have a nemesis.
Maybe there’s a missed joke opp with writing for Women’s Magazines? You can tell he practices his jokes a lot. The timing is flawless “Then I had to send a second email apologizing for how brief my first email had been.”
The way he says “Et cetera” is amazing. He needs to use that more.
“Very reasonably, ‘I’m not into that idea AT all.’” Something very modern, Valley girl about emphasizing “At all.”
Again, Guiness Record gets a little laugh, it should be “Guiness Book of World REcords”
“My penis goes to 11” is a confusing joke, it’s like his penis needs the enhancing drug more to be numbed? Not sure what that means.
“This is ridiculous” I could tell from the body this wasn’t a pug pushing another pug in a stroller” great joke, great delivery. Again, fast and rehearsed.
“The game is afoot” repetition of “say on TV” joke, gets a medium laugh.
No big applause breaks during this special.
He can’t get away with a third “say on TV” joke a third time, not just because it’s tired but because it doesn’t come from his perspective. It comes from the perspective of his lawyer.
“I believe our business to be concluded” he knows how to be professional when he needs to. “Penis numbing endeavors.” This is a brand of comedy I don’t like a lot: reading from emails and texts. But I’m glad at least that he memorizes the content of the email without reading from his phone.
“I SAID GOOD DAY SIR” is weird because that’s something we all joked with in college. It’s a street joke?
Set ends with “Nemesis vanquished!” which is pretty good way to end, though not the strongest joke in the whole wide world?
Originally published at samzee.net on April 10, 2016.