There’s a fair amount of predictability to Steve Gillespie’s debut album, Stever Fever. He opens addressing his looks with a celebrity comparison – he calls himself “an older-lookin’ Justin Bieber with AIDS” – straight out of the average adult ed stand-up course. He is self-deprecating and sarcastic, doesn’t understand dating or modern medicine, feels like he belongs to a lazy generation and works a little blue. That’s a recognizable prototype for any number of comedians crowding showcases at the local clubs.
What Gillespie does have going for him is great timing and a good sense of rhythm. In “Guns and Sports,” he talks about how if he ever went hunting, he would shoot everything in the face and hang the trophy on his wall. When people asked what they were looking at, he’d say, “It’s a moose…neck.” He has a nice turnaround in that bit, saying, “When I was in high school, all the football players said I was gay because I ran cross country… Fair enough.” His pause gets the biggest laugh; it takes the audience a second to realize he’s agreeing with his tormentors.
He’s also efficient with his phrasing, which gives even some of the less-inspired material some punch. His Ritalin bit, “Drugs Doctors Give You,” in which a child’s inability to sit still for eight hours is diagnosed, is well-written and perfectly set up. Later on the track, he talks about how it’s too easy to call a doctor and get drugs phoned into his local pharmacy. “Yeah,” he says, “and there’s candy there.” He’s a good editor: nice, clean comparison, in and out of the joke, no need to expand. In another well-designed bit, he mentions that he has no health insurance, only car insurance, so he’ll have to get in a car accident if he ever gets sick. And there is one absolute jewel of a line in “My Dad,” when his father flips out and gets stuttering mad (which we won’t spoil by printing here).
Gillespie is also quick with his audience. He’s conversational and effortless in his crowd work. A lot of comics will have a few choice jokes to pull out of the memory banks that seem spontaneous in certain situations, Gillespie among them. When he addresses an apparently muscle-headed patron, a couple of lines sound a little stock, but he still gets good laughs. He’s also able to adapt when he’s setting up a line and it turns on him, as when he asks a woman if she’s seen her boyfriend play a punching-machine game. “You fucked me,” he says, feigning anger. “Wrong answer! Stick to the script!”
There are comedians like Brian Regan and Jim Gaffigan who take mundane concepts and spin them into something extraordinary. Gillespie isn’t at that level yet. There’s still a lot that’s easy to see coming. But he’s got obvious talent and finesse. If he can evolve a little conceptually, it will make a world of difference.