Review: James Fritz’ “Deflated”

15 02 2011

Cross-posted from Gapers Block A/C.


I can’t tell my jokes if I’m in a good mood.

Stand up comedy proves the notion that revealing your vulnerabilities instead of hiding them is what strength really means. Stand up is probably the easiest type of performance to do in fact, and one of the hardest to do right (to be fair, ballet is probably harder, their feet are gross). Chicago comic James Fritz’ newish* record Deflated, recorded at Chicago Underground Comedy at the Beat Kitchen, is sweetly and aggressively vulnerable and really, really funny. Fritz is palpably intolerant of pretense and stupidity, furious at willful ignorance, and kind of in love with the misery of the human condition.

One of the best things about the growing community of what used to be called alternative comics is that no matter the comic’s subject matter or technique, the common theme is to challenge the audience to figure out the conceit or the comment on the subject on their own; this is why “comedy nerds” have such an in-group mentality; they (yeah, yeah, “we”) really value every joke for having put a little work into it. Also contributing of course are lots of pop culture references and somewhat justified fart and dick jokes made to an audience of people at the maturity edge of having to stop making fart and dick jokes in public.

I think I have ten more of that joke in me before I die on stage.

Fritz’ “Deflated” works through his self-perceived personal and professional failures, symbolized by his sleeping arrangement–an inflatable mattress “I don’t even own.” He never gives the sense of being bitter or courting pity–something less talented comics can tend toward when they risk more personal material–but instead just wants to laugh about it because, ultimately, life is funny even when it’s not working out. Coming to Chicago from Kentucky, Fritz’ material is a sort of comedy equivalent to the great, hard-drinking, hard-bitten days of country music–the Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones era–reveling in self-aware debauchery and furious at injustice.

Rascal Flatts? Are you a country band or a homosexual timeshare?

In this regard, Fritz’ material is similar to that of Louis C.K., who pinpoints humor in the taboo, selfish, sometimes straight-up horrible thoughts and deeds we pretend we don’t have and tut-tut in others. C.K.’s material confounds political correctness because while the words may be “offensive” the sentiments and thought processes behind them are concerned with fairness and reason. Similarly, when Fritz talks about his disenchantment with Democrats and Obama on race and gay issues, he plays with the humor to be found in stereotypes while forcefully making a case for simple fairness.

Fritz doesn’t move episodically from topic to topic, but weaves his political complaints in with his personal frustrations, and the record creates a general sense of despair–or deflation, get it?–while never slowing down into monologue or repose. Each bit is filled with quick little darts that help build to bigger and bigger laughs.

Where are you that gay dudes are fucking in your face all the time?

Chicago’s stand-up comedy scene is blessed with talents like Fritz. The community is roiling with talent that we eventually lose to either New York or Los Angeles, which gives us an amazing opportunity to see the future of American comedy while it’s being sharpened right here in our town in the backs of bars for $5. Acclaimed comics like Hannibal Buress, Kyle Kinane, Deon Cole, Matt Braunger, and Kumail Nanjiani all worked their way through Chicago clubs and bars on their way, refining and honing their skills on the mic to audiences who couldn’t believe that there weren’t more people in the crowd.

Fritz says he released this record as he undertakes developing an entirely new set of material, so this is literally your last opportunity to hear some locally beloved bits, including material on Mayor Daley and his “magic bean.” (“Rub it and Oprah will give me the Olympics!”). It’s a brutally funny hour of comedy that cheers you up even while refusing to stray into whimsy or avoid uncomfortable realities; which, when you think about it, hews to the very Chicago-y, Algren aesthetic–that “lady with the broken nose” stuff–and is already a local classic.

You can download “Deflated” on iTunes. Do it, laugh, and, why not, help the guy get his own inflatable mattress.

*This review was delayed three times due to my own hectic schedule, but that doesn’t make the record less hilarious.



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