In an effort to game search results, comedians will list their webpage’s keywords as something like, “Comedian [name], funny hilarious New York Comedy Central Viagra.” That way they show up when any of those keywords are Googled. And often the order and decision to include specific words says a lot about where that comic’s priorities lie.
Nicholas Anthony’s site has the subtitle “Clever, very clever!” This is literally the first thing learned about the comic after searching for his name: He’s clever, dammit, and he wants you to know about it. Very clever.
There’s plenty of clever all over his new album Professional Child, the first full-length cut from Anthony, who placed first one year at the Las Vegas Comedy Festival and has qualified twice for Last Comic Standing (well, the prelims). Professional Child alternates between a barrage of one-liners and two-minute-long stories with jittery rhythm, as if he can’t stop himself from racing to the punchline. Even his speaking rate is insanely fast.
Each moment on the album might as well be accompanied by the audience collectively saying, “I see whatcha did there.” He jokes about a guy who spells his name Penis Face but pronounces it Facé, acting out the snooty nature of this fictional person, who requests that he not be called the formal Mr. Face. “Mr. Face is my father,” he says in character. Then he pats himself on the back, saying, “That’s my favorite joke.” He sees what he did there.
In small doses, Anthony proves himself adept at crafting whimsy in the tiniest of spaces. When he’s alone, he says, he looks in the mirror, opens his mouth in the shape of a butthole, and pretends to poop out his tongue. That’s literally all he says on the topic, and his willingness to let the joke just sit there, context-free, adds to its appeal. He does it again after an extended mullet bit. The lead-up is a full-on assault of mullet-centric jokes about El Caminos and how people in the Midwest grow the back part of their hair out to protect themselves from cold. It ends with Anthony encouraging everyone to point out great mullets they see. “Mullet spelled backwards is ‘Tell um,’ ” he says. It’s very clever.
The problem is that flurry preceding the burst of clarity and cleverness. The vibe of Anthony’s set is that of a funny friend who just doesn’t know how to turn it off. He discusses growing up in a household of sisters and wearing a towel up to his armpits until he was 15, but the joke quickly gets away from him as he heads off on some rapid-fire tangents. He tries to make the point that booze and marijuana should switch their legal/illegal statuses, but it’s hard to follow as he saturates each line with jokes until the original argument’s all but abandoned. Sure, it’s funny to have him point out that weed’s not a violent drug—that it only leads to “Strawberry Quik milk”—but not when every other line is meant to be just as funny. At a later point he tries to eviscerate the stupidity of a girl who once tried to drink out of a candle, but distracts even himself in his attempt to wring every ounce of humor from the situation.
Anthony’s not really obnoxious; he’s just eager to please. In fact, Professional Child includes not only seven minutes of bonus material, but a 20-minute podcast where he and a bunch of friends head to a diner and joke around with each other. (If the album wasn’t enough, there’s more!) The extra jokes are from the same show and mostly consist of crowd work that didn’t make the cut because it talks about physical attributes of people listeners can’t see. There’s one moment where Anthony talks about a cruise he went on, as well as a local he met that he nicknames “eyebrows and smiles,” who walked up with a handful of drugs to sell. It’s a very clever take on a situation not many people would find themselves in, and it’s a strong selling point for sticking around after the album’s over.
The podcast, though, is terrible quality audio-wise, and it’s impossible to understand who’s talking, since everyone at the table seems just as enthusiastic as Anthony to offer their jokes as fast as humanly possible, like an improv group hanging at the bar after a show. After riffing on Star Wars and such, the waitress comes over to take their order. One guy asks, “Do you have Crystal Pepsi?” as the rest of the table snickers in delight. Very clever. Perhaps if Anthony wasn’t so aware of his own cleverness, the podcast—and most of the album as a whole—wouldn’t feel so quite so strained.