Toward the end of his debut album, Standard Operating Procedure, Sean Patton starts a joke that doesn’t fully land about old people with Alzheimer’s disease. “I could tell you don’t like that,” Patton says, “so I’m just gonna move seamlessly right into my next joke.” The audience laughs at the honesty. “However, I have to warn you,” he cautions, “my next joke has Alzheimer’s disease.”
What follows is two minutes of comedic brilliance in which Patton imbues his present joke with the idea that his previous joke had attempted to explicitly address. The audience had not cared for it, so Patton found a work-around. Whether it was clandestinely planned beforehand or spontaneously seized upon during the moment, it doesn’t matter. Patton crafted a medium for telling a joke, the likes of which has rarely—if ever—been seen. It shows Patton at his most adept, and it highlights what his cunning mind is capable of.
Unfortunately the rest of Standard Operating Procedure suffers from oversaturation. Clocking in at almost 63 minutes, the 13-track album feels noticeably long. There are too many lulls and too few periods of sustained momentum. Patton has a proclivity for drawing out his jokes too much. Some comedians don’t flesh their stuff out enough; others beat premises to death. Patton finds himself between these two extremes, leaning, for sure, toward the latter.
Patton’s obviously an emotive guy. Although this is not necessarily a bad thing, in this case it works to the album’s detriment, as there is a stark disconnect between the abundance of Patton’s enthusiasm and the dearth of the audience’s. Could this have not been an ideal crowd for Patton’s brand of comedy? Of course. But even so, Patton has to adapt on the fly. Too often he refuses to adjust to the audience’s ambivalence.
A comedian must control the room, for sure. He or she cannot be forced to fundamentally change or limit him- or herself because of the disposition of a particular audience and the fear of offending them. As evidenced by the audio, Patton clearly controls the room, but there is a difference between adaptation (which Patton does not do) and lack of courage (which Patton could never be accused of). When recording a comedy album and the jokes aren’t landing, something’s gotta give.
Although the album is flawed, it is surely the product of a defined voice. The most admirable part of Patton’s comedy is the personal lens he uses to craft it. Patton’s often in that Marc Maron camp: he puts his problems and anxieties on the table and essentially says, “Here we go. Let’s work through some shit.” The premise is woven throughout his set, and when he finds that sweet spot for how much time to devote to each bit, he proves himself as one of the truly unique and special comedians working today. The unfortunate aspect of Standard Operating Procedure, however, is that these moments are too few and far between.