Musical comedy is not a universally esteemed medium for standups. In some eyes, it’s for hacks; it’s for amateurs who need a crutch, a shtick. To others, though, the presence of an instrument is no more a vocational sin than is the use of a character or even the amplification of a personality. By virtue of this divide, every musical comedy album, it seems, is instantly put under the microscope: Is the audience laughing simply because they’re witnesses? Does the comedy translate to the listener at home? To what degree is the comedy dependent on the music?
These questions, while necessary for evaluating such an album, must take a backseat to the overarching question for any piece of comedy: Is it funny?
Please Be Seated is the second album for both Myq Kaplan and Micah Sherman. Kaplan released the solid Vegan Mind Meld in 2010, and Sherman previously worked with fellow comedian Dan Hirshon for 2008’s Lampshades & Ottomans. Please Be Seated, though, is the musical debut for both Kaplan and Sherman.
Spanning 61 minutes and 22 tracks, the album follows the structure of the standard musical comedy album pretty closely: Have your prepared songs and some banter in between, but also leave room for improvisation and crowd work. Kaplan and Sherman leave plenty of room, and, regrettably, it works to their detriment.
On “Encore,” the album’s opening track (This should give a sense of the duo’s brand of humor.), Kaplan and Sherman launch into a bizarre, off-the-cuff exchange about whether the audience should stand or remain seated before the duo begins playing. After Sherman mistakenly says that the audience “stood back down,” he and Kaplan reel off 45 seconds of spontaneous riffing that doesn’t go anywhere. It becomes a tired act 10 seconds in, yet the duo keeps going, beating the riff to death and starting the album off on a lackluster note.
Unfortunately for Kaplan and Sherman, the rest of the album follows this lead. On “Naming Show Bro,” for example, the duo goes off on a tangent that is utterly irrelevant, eventually leading to Sherman saying to Kaplan, “I’m glad you’re not my dad, by the way.” Kaplan replies by laughingly agreeing, “I’m glad I’m not your dad for many reasons.” The audience starts to laugh, whereupon Sherman exclaims, “Why are you laughing? You don’t know what those reasons are. Just because we had sex maybe one time. It’s not a big deal.”
This is just a weak joke. No, it’s not prepared and therefore does not reflect the overall quality of Kaplan and Sherman’s comedic abilities. But the fact is, much of the album’s comedy falls along these lines. Frivolous. Sophomoric. Contrived.
On the duo’s first song, “Comedian’s National Anthem,” Kaplan and Sherman establish a workable premise of dishing comedic platitudes and go-to jokes: “What’s the deal with airplane food?” and “You know you’re a redneck…” are the first lines. The song, though, like the banter that preceded it, doesn’t go anywhere. There’s no momentum behind it and there’s no reward for the audience.
The problem with Please Be Seated is that nothing seems to have purpose; there’s no ostensible reason as to why we’re listening. No comedian has to be Bill Maher and analyze America’s current political state. No comedian has to be Louis C.K. and outline the pitfalls of being a father. And no comedian has to be Chris Rock and speak to society’s racial divides. But a comedian has to have a defined voice. (Think Steven Wright, Steve Martin and Neil Hamburger: no apparent purposes to their acts, but truly defined and nuanced voices.) Too often on Please Be Seated, it feels like Kaplan and Sherman each sacrifice a sizable portion of their individual comedic sensibilities for the greater good of creating a collective persona. This tactic doesn’t work, though, simply because it’s just not consistently funny.
Comedy teams take years to develop a rapport. Abbot and Costello, for example, worked together for five years before they put out a movie. Hell, the Marx Brothers were freaking brothers. Granted, neither team was necessarily standup-oriented, but comedy’s comedy. It’s an art, and fluidity and cohesion are not achievable overnight.
In this way, Kaplan and Sherman seem to have fallen victim to the lure of today’s oversaturated comedy market. Thanks to a surplus of distribution options, it’s just too damn easy to put out an album. Far too many are being released in which the comedy isn’t polished. Kaplan and Sherman would have been better suited to wait longer to release a collaboration. They’re two undeniably cunning, witty and funny comedic minds. They’re just not on the same page. If they were, Please Be Seated would be a hell of a lot funnier.