It used to be that only a select few comedians could put out an album. In the 1970s, we had George Carlin, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby, to name some of the most noted. They were the elite guys. Only these A-level-type of comedians were given the opportunity to press their jokes on vinyl. Now, however, with the rise of independent record labels, online stores and more comedians than one can count, the opportunity to put out an album, though admittedly still difficult to achieve, is certainly much easier.
The armchair history above is sketched to provide some greater context for this particular appraisal of Adam Norwest and his first album, One of a Kind. Norwest is only 25 years old, and regardless of how many years (nine, to be precise) he has worked to hone his craft, it’s safe to say his debut is a tad premature.
Yes, 25 years old is not outrageously young for a comedian. John Mulaney put out the brilliant The Top Part at 26, and Hannibal Buress jump-started his legacy with My Name is Hannibal at 27. Hell, Bill Hicks was killing in Houston clubs at just 16. The difference between these three comedians and Norwest, however, is that irrespective of what their birth certificates said when they put out their first albums or achieved any semblance of mainstream recognition, they were unquestionably bold, focused, polished and unique.
Norwest, in contrast, does not seem to possess any of these traits. He’s a genuinely funny guy, and One of a Kind isn’t necessarily bad. It simply does not have that “It” Factor—that ineffable undertone that makes the listener perk up and think to him- or herself, “I need to listen to this guy.”
Norwest’s problems stem from his lack of temerity. He’s too tame; not bold enough. He doesn’t push any boundaries.No comedian needs to evoke Andrew Dice Clay, but every once in a while it’s good to make the audience feel uneasy. Take a risk. Try to win them over with balls, not unbridled caution. On “8 Mile,” Norwest recites a lyric from an Outkast song, explicitly stating that he will replace “nigger” with “potato.” This is a lame move, designed to create a lame joke. What’s worse, though, is that Norwest won’t even dare mutter “nigger,” opting instead for “the N-word.”
A comedian must be confident. He or she has to know what they’re doing and why the audience is laughing; he or she must control the room. By refusing to say “nigger,” Norwest cedes much of his control to the audience, as the sole reason he’s not saying it is because he does not want to be misconstrued as a racist. But if he knows he’s not filled with hate, then it shouldn’t matter. Again, he must control the room, not the other way around. Bill Burr wouldn’t settle for such. Louis C.K. sure as hell wouldn’t. That’s why they’re rewarded with celebrity, money and the opportunity—not the right—to put out albums.
The truth is, One of a Kind is funny. But not only is it not daring or bold enough, in contrast to Mulaney and Buress’s albums (or any objective barometer of a good album), it’s not focused enough.
Norwest doesn’t really have bits. His 45-minute album is divided into 15 tracks, which reason would suggest are each devoted to singular subjects. Yet Norwest will routinely discuss multiple—three, four, five, six—subjects within the same track. These aren’t 25-minute verbal opuses; they average three minutes a pop. Norwest would do better to ditch the stuff that doesn’t land and focus on fleshing out the stuff that does. He has some real gems. Unfortunately, to be blunt, they’re buried under a bunch of garbage.
Boldness and focus aside, Norwest is rough, and he is not unique enough to merit an album just yet. He almost sounds like every millennial’s favorite middle-school comedian, Kyle Cease. Norwest’s a little too zany; too enthusiastic. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but this persona only works when it isn’t a transparent shtick. Norwest, though, seems to be subconsciously masking his shortcomings by overcompensating with his personality. In this way, the lack of confidence is disheartening, as a real comedian is surely in there somewhere.
Norwest is funny. One of a Kind is funny. Unfortunately it’s not a good album, and Norwest has not scratched the surface of his potential. If he can dig within himself, find and cultivate something strong and unique, and broadcast it with sincerity, then he can be a very special comedian. Here’s to hoping a funny guy can discover precisely what it is that makes him so.