The pinnacle of Derek Sheen’s impressive yet uneven debut album, Holy Drivel, comes during the fourth track, “Biscuits and Gravy,” when Sheen spends 45 seconds meticulously detailing how one goes about making Southern-style buttermilk biscuits, after which he declares, “Now let’s make some gravy.”
“Take those exact same ingredients, in that order.” Sheen explains. “Put them in a 20-gallon, plastic garbage can, warm that from underneath with a cigarette lighter until it’s the consistency of baby diarrhea, and just slowly pour it over the top of your biscuit.”
The devil is in the details.
“It’s an unconstituted biscuit on top of a constituted biscuit. It’s two fucking biscuits in one biscuit,” Sheen says, emphasizing each syllable to rhetorical perfection.
What is so striking about Sheen’s comedy, at times, is the level of command he seems to possess over each utterance. His style is ostensibly roundabout and messy—all over the place, even. Yet it’s wholly apparent that certain wordings and cadences are delivered with specific purpose. Sheen’s not onstage with a general idea of what he wants do, just feeling out the crowd to get a sense of what direction to go in. Rather, it seems he knows precisely what he’s doing, intimately aware of all the latent moves.
When he’s finished outlining the horror show that is the Southern-style buttermilk biscuit, Sheen spends the last minute of the bit extrapolating its central theme—the South is weird—to bizarre and untouched pockets that defy all logic and rational accounts of “How the hell did we get here?”
“Then you go to the doctor,” Sheen detours mid-thought, “and he runs the sonogram and what comes back looks like a concrete Mickey Mouse head inside of you, and he says, ‘I hope the radar breaks it into smaller pieces, otherwise it’s gonna tear your asshole to shreds when it comes out.’”
Sheen then waits five seconds before ending the bit with a simple yet eloquent “The South.”
When Sheen’s at his best, as showcased above, he’s firing everything off with nuanced diction and rhythmical precision. He develops a Carlin-esque pace to his speech that only serves to amplify the already-high level of laughs. Sheen’s comedy is quite dependent on his delivery, so when that falls apart, so does the act.
A good example is the eleventh track, “How to Make Better People,” wherein Sheen inexplicably dissolves all momentum and built-up good will, veers incomprehensibly off course and pushes the audience away by admonishing parents to kill their shitty kids. He’s able to bring them back at the end somewhat with a smart one-liner, but the minute and a half before is a far cry from the oratory prowess he undoubtedly possesses. It’s a confusing bit, and its inclusion on the album is equally so.
That said, Sheen is clearly a hilarious and gifted performer. He has a unique voice that he’s able to expertly harness, and aside from a few missteps scattered throughout its 45 minutes, Holy Drivel is a debut that is as rewarding as it is remarkable.