If limited-edition vinyl is experiencing a revival within the stand-up comedy community like it’s been experiencing in underground music circles in recent years, we could be in for some fun releases in the near future, not to mention some prohibitively pricey eBay wars, depending on who decides to join the trend. After all, pressing 500 copies of an album on colored vinyl (in this case, 10″ white vinyl) turns said album into a collector’s item, an event—something to be cherished in a way a run-of-the-mill CD or, even less so, folder of digital-audio files, simply can’t be fawned over.
In this scenario, Kyle Kinane’s recent reissue is like an old classic—albeit, one that was released two years ago—being excavated on wax so the vinyl nerds have something for their turntables. And Jonah Ray is something like an upstart punk band putting out one of his early, promising-but-flawed singles. His Hello, Mr. Magic Plane Person, Hello is essentially a long EP, its eight tracks barely breaking the half-hour mark, and while it’s not consistently hilarious, there are enough good moments that, if he really was a scrappy batch of youngsters dropping a 7″ every few months (he put out This Is Crazy Mixed Up Plumbing on AST in 2006), based on the potential hinted at here, fans would definitely check out the follow-up.
Ray, who co-hosts the Nerdist podcast and writes for The Soup, has found previous work on The Andy Milonakis Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live and Human Giant, amongst many other things. He’s a 29-year-old, white, straight, male, Los Angeles comedian, which means he’s like approximately eleventy billion other dudes hoping to make it in the City of Angels. But both his writerly status and his sometimes-sloppy penchant for the absurd will take him far if he sticks to it. For instance, during “In Life, There Are Choices” (essentially an extended meditation on various alcohols and their oft-terrible personalities), he offhandedly mentions Alien Nation, sparking some plot-point clarifications from the audience. For many performers, this would be an annoying disturbance, a heckler to be silenced. But Ray runs with it, interacting with the one guy who clapped, then discussing the reference he apparently got wrong, jokingly turning the whole thing into “a town hall meeting about Alien Nation” for a few moments. He even gives it a callback later on. Welcoming the weird, as it were.
At times, Ray’s delivery is a pitch-perfect impression of Paul F. Tompkins, his voice rising and falling in that specific, hilarious and difficult-to-describe way his fellow Angeleno’s does. But unlike Tompkins, his delivery is unhinged. He stutters, he flubs a lot of words, and it all feels very fresh and off-the-cuff. The resulting effect comes off more like a casual, one-off appearance fans weren’t expecting to see as opposed to a proper set they made time and paid money for. But this isn’t always a bad thing. Listing the themes of the tracks would go something like this…
2. more drinking
3. thinking about suicide, and eventually executing a surprise/fake suicide
4. pets and how awesome pets are except when they’re not
5. violent sex
6. tattoos and intolerant penguins
7. more tattoos, with a side of body shame and technological dependence
8. T.J. Maxx isn’t a real person, but what if he was?
There’s some semblance of transitions there. Ray connects things not obviously connectable, which lends to a certain listenability akin to following a story and not wanting to miss how it ends. (Spoiler alert: The ending is pretty random.) He gets some hard-won laughs from suicide, dog lovers will adore his bit about how “three dogs is way the fuck more dog than two dogs,” and his thoughts on violent sex (he doesn’t get it, frankly) and penguins (he totally loves them) establish him as a relatable Everyman. And really, drinking, pets, tattoos and sex are things that a 29-year-old male pursuing comedy often spends a ridiculous amount of his waking thoughts on. Write what you know, as they say.
To that end, the good news is that Ray is a young guy who’s surrounded himself with funny people and wiggled his way into certain opportunities. These people and opportunities have given him a chance to wield his decidedly silly points of view all over the place, from television to popular podcasts to niche-audience releases like this one. But it’s not any stranger than the path of a guy named Zach Galifianakis, who used to do oddball gigs like emceeing university battle of the bands and taking roles in terrible TV shows. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine Ray’s trajectory continuing in a similar fashion, picking up weird little things here and there, until one of them hits big and he’s suddenly overwhelmed with work. Then watch the eBay wars begin.