There’s something very familiar and controlled about Nick Griffin. In his more than 20 years in stand-up comedy, he’s appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman eight times, spaced out by almost exactly a year starting in 2005. And every time he shows up, he’s wearing a sport coat over a tie-less, inoffensive button-down, his hair slicked back and parted so methodically you’d think it was Lego hair. On Shot in the Face, only his second album after 2010’s Bring Out the Monkey, his wry observationalism and matter-of-fact delivery hearken back to great club comics like Jerry Seinfeld—or pretty much any club comic in the Nineties. There’s material about sex, kidless-ness and the newfangled “fake breast” trend. Shot In The Face might as well have arrived in a hermetically sealed download chamber.
As much as Shot In The Face feels overtly Seinfeld-inspired, there are subtle differences that crop up at the ends of punchlines. On the first track, Griffin marvels at the world’s idiosyncratic views. Our rich people are skinny, he says, while our poor people are fat. We all want big houses, big cars, big tits and big dicks, but tiny phones. Sound familiar? Yes, it might as well be a Seinfeld Mad Libs page, but Griffin’s kicker counters Seinfeld’s innocent bewilderment with bile. We want tiny phones, he says, because “a big one would look stupid.” Priests are having sex, he points out later, but he’s not: “The guy who took a vow of celibacy’s getting more tail than me.”
Griffin’s not just frustrated at “people,” he’s frustrated at himself, and he makes sure we all know. Right at the top he explains that when people make fun of others, they’re really making fun of themselves; Griffin owns up by admitting, “I have millions of problems.” His willingness to acknowledge his faults shoots Shot In The Face out of the bygone club-comedy era and into today’s stand-up world, where pulling back the curtain is not just a virtue but a given.
Unfortunately it takes a little while for Griffin to get there. Later tracks cover his divorce and mixed feelings about love. Before that, it’s musings on odd people or behavior he’s noticed, which comes across as 50 percent inventive, 50 percent rote. In his first bit, he claims that most people are so dumb they should be wearing helmets most of the time, a claim so hacky it might as well have been made by all our collective grandpas. He’d be forgiven for this one, though, if he didn’t use “helmet” numerous other times throughout the album as a symbol of stupidity bordering on mental retardation. He also devotes material to dissecting hipsters wearing thrift store pants and writing sad poetry. It’s a broad generalization that reads as out of touch, undercutting everything that comes after.
Meanwhile, he’s capable of laying ridiculousness on thick. Griffin mentions that women get fake breasts because “that’s what guys like,” and his response comes without hesitation: “They like beer, too. Why don’t you have a tap put in?” A run-in with a socks-and-sandals, fanny pack-wearing combover guy involves a hot woman walking by, with the stranger noting to Griffin, “Man, if I wasn’t married…” Griffin promises if that were the case, he’d make it his full-time job to permanently cockblock him forever. The casual nature of his delivery only serves to heighten the imaginative qualities of the jokes.
Griffin appropriately dials himself back when getting to more personal fare, though he doesn’t need to try very hard, given that the material cuts right to his vulnerability. He addresses his divorce with the ominous thought, “If you can’t get along with someone who loves you, then who the hell are you going to date?” The laughs come because it’s obvious he’s putting himself out there, looking to the audience for some catharsis. It happens again when he recounts telling friends about the split, all of whom seem surprised. “But you seemed so happy at the wedding!” they say, which Griffin likens to telling a shark-attack victim they seemed okay on the beach. Later, he muses on love: what it means to him now, and what it meant to him before marriage. His single life, he says, was full of dirty laundry, frozen pizza and porno. “I felt like a private eye with no cases,” he adds. In the context of the heartfelt bit—which goes on to discuss his apprehensions with saying, “I love you”—the joke is an aside that only serves to further invest the audience.
Shot In The Face has the rhythmic control of a Seinfeld set, but its emotional core varies wildly, keeping the audience on its toes. Griffin starts the album as an old-school stand-up commodity, but his winning material, even about being a total loser, is a solid entry into the new-school canon.