Plenty of comedians do frothing anger and righteous indignation, but Ben Roy’s brand is particularly feral. The Denver comedian, who comprises one-third of The Grawlix alternative comedy show and FunnyorDie.com series, has clearly studied The Modern Angry Greats, from Bill Hicks and Sam Kinison to Lewis Black and Doug Stanhope. Each is heard in varying degrees throughout his debut album, I Got Demons.
Fury is one of Roy’s greatest assets, but it’s not just a pose. It both frames his material and courses through it, his spittle-flecked rants sounding surprisingly candid over even the rowdiest audience members. As such, Roy sets an appropriate tone in the first seconds of Demons, hitting the stage with a disclaimer about the offensiveness of his act and the free-speech glories of the club (in this case, Denver’s Comedy Works, a popular spot for recordings).
“You’re not laughing because you condone the shit I say,” he explains. “You are just clapping because it’s funny… and the fact that I live with this shit in my head every fucking day of my life!” It leads to some brief but vicious crowd work, and any weak souls are either sufficiently warned or sent streaming toward the exits.
Roy is young-ish, has tattoos, has played in punk bands and wouldn’t go over so well at your average Republican fundraiser. But stripped of profanity and volume, his jokes are essentially about public annoyances and private neuroses, neither overtly radical nor inherently misanthropic. He just happens to stretch and twist his demons into cartoonish shapes, at times splitting the difference between Patton Oswalt’s verbal acrobatics and Lewis Black’s barely hinged, stroke-inducing intensity. He relishes the texture of certain phrases, as when he recounts hearing a ringback tone for “Like a G6” while calling his insurance agent after a car accident. “You can’t answer the phone all professional after you just audibly tween-finger-fucked my face for 45 seconds…I just picture him counting out all my premiums in cash at the end of a pastel pink bed while a black girl cornrows his hair for him.” Exclamation points, by the way, are implied on all quotes.
On “I Miss Drinking,” he lays bare his addictions with candid (if screamed) self-awareness, lamenting the boredom of sobriety. That’s probably for the best when the results including shitting in a bird bath and waking up in jail with a boner-sporting cell mate. “It’s like Christmas time and your drunk self got your sober self a present for the morning!” he exclaims with a mixture of pain and joy.
Roy’s verbosity spices up potentially stale subjects: He has panic attacks. He gorges himself on junk TV. He hates Snooki and tramp-stamp tattoos (“kind of like a totem outside of a cave” warning him against having sex). And he spends almost a third of the CD on just a handful of bits, opening with contrarian notions and harnessing the friction. He loses the crowd a little at the beginning of the 10-minute “Marriage Doesn’t Suck, You Do!” by bucking the “my wife” tropes. His simplistic justifications (if we all just fucked who we wanted to, we’d be happier) don’t exactly move the conversation forward, but they’re involving.
He goes for groans with “My Sexual Gift,” which addresses his prodigious semen output, and follows with “Just One Child,” one of the disc’s most subversive bits with its clever, anti-overpopulation politics. It’s another spot where a few in the crowd seem to take it as conversation, not performance, but Roy escapes having to interrupt the bit. It’s all part of the terrain, not just for gross-out and shock values, but the anti-consumerist, anti-stupidity treatises. Roy has thought about all this in great detail, we learn. And he happens to hate it.
Edited by Stand Up! Records founder Dan Schlissel, Demons sounds slick, and with 11 tracks at just over an hour, it feels self-contained, which is an odd thing to say about mostly rant-based material. There’s certainly the sense that Roy could spiral out of control at several moments, maybe taking a few folks with him. But instead of feeling like it’s an awkward, barely-restrained mental breakdown—see Zach Galifianakis’s brilliant Live at the Purple Onion—Roy hangs onto his demons like bulls, daring them to buck him off and crush his skull. Airing his darkness on stage sounds genuinely therapeutic, as it’s impossible to imagine anyone talking about this stuff on autopilot.
If you listen to a lot of stand up, it’s a version of something you’ve heard before. But it does a great deal with the basics, thanks to Roy’s juggernaut energy and sincere mania. If you like confrontational and aggressive with a strong undercurrent of common sense, I Got Demons is it.