“I’m kind of a more intelligent comedian, so I advise you to put on your thinking caps,” Robert Buscemi says toward the beginning of his new album, One Pretty Peacock. Paying close attention to this eclectic hour of comedy is absolutely necessary, because it’s hard to easily pin down Buscemi’s style.
Most jokes on the album, recorded in a single take at LA hipster stand-up show Holy Fuck, could be described as absurdist one-liners, many adapted from tweets. He has a particular weakness for meta-spins on old classics (“I feel like beer is God’s way of apologizing for probably not existing.”) and enjoys odd references, playfully chiding the audience for not knowing what an “oenophile” or an “onanist” is. And his final story, a three-track pseudo-narrative about his past life as an executioner, is a winding, 10-minute tale that requires concentration.
The album is full of silly, amusing ideas that obviously tickle him. “I don’t like club soda. I can’t see drinking a club soda that would have me as one of its drinkers,” he chuckles Woody Allen-esquely to himself. Fortunately amidst the surrealism are really solid jokes. “I do care about my body a lot. So I treat it like I would a lover I’m interested in. I ignore it and hope it’ll do something to impress me.” One of the strongest is what could lovingly be called a dad joke – when ordering breakfast at a diner, he’s fond of telling waitresses he’d “like to propose some toast.”
A contributor to The Onion News Network, Buscemi walks the fine line of clever and silly carefully. It’s easy to see how his ideas would spawn funny chyrons and brilliant crawling headlines. But surreal humor is difficult to capture in audio form. Traditional jokes, if strong enough, can win pretty much anyone over, but absurdity requires the audience to be in a certain mindset to follow along.
Talented comedians, Buscemi included, can cultivate a willing and game crowd for their silly ideas in live performances; prominent examples like Rory Scovel’s Zizzle Zazzles or the anarchic fun of great improv shows like UCB’s ASSSSCAT 3000 demonstrate the fantastic side of the surreal. But when that material is taken outside of that enthusiastic room, it’s impossible to ensure that a listener will be tuned into the right wavelength.
As with most short-joke comics, Buscemi jumps around a lot between subjects, but sometimes lacks the decisive rhythm of strict one-liners like Demetri Martin or even the mellow but steady pace of a Mitch Hedberg. Each new subject seems to come from nowhere, for no apparent reason. He audibly loses some of the audience on the more surreal riffs, the types that end with sentences like, “If I can’t sleep, I’ll go down to the beach and listen to the water for fish hymens popping.” Devoted fans of the ridiculous will love Buscemi’s musings, but for anyone not quite in step, it might take some work to follow. Put on your thinking caps.