Spread over three tracks and 32 minutes, Bullying is rooted in Shillue’s childhood suburban experiences, continuing the trend of each of Shillue’s albums maintaining distinct subject matter. Considering Bullying nears the midpoint of the series, it’s pretty damn impressive that he’s been able to maintain quality over such a wide swath of material.
Shillue has an affable demeanor and warm tone and delivery, rendering the title of his album curious, as the proclamation seems at odds with his personality. But Shillue is able to discuss bullying in a way that is disarming and even inviting. Having been bullied as a child, as well as having been a “bystander” to his friends’ bullying, Shillue speaks from personal experience. It’s not the best comedy he’s produced thus far in the series, but it’s some of the most genuinely interesting and wholly engrossing.
A third of the way through the second track, “The Ruggy Buggy,” Shillue talks about how two of his friends bullied another kid, asking if he thought he could be in the “crap club.” The kid said he could, but Shillue’s friends disagreed. They went on and on, berating the kid, until “15 minutes later, Billy Fitzgerald is eating crap.” Shillue compares his friends to the Wright brothers, saying they were capable of inventing new ways to bully kids. That said, they were relatively harmless—mere “junior leaguers”—compared to kids like Danny Bandanza: “His name was Bandanza, they called him Bana, and he wore a bandana. For a suburban thug, he had a very strong sense of branding.” Kids like Bandanza would bully Shillue, making him feel like he deserved the treatment. Yet speaking about it as an adult, Shillue doesn’t let pain creep into his tone. He treats the experiences as if they were simply part of growing up, which, in his day, they were.
About halfway through first track “The Children,” Shillue mentions, in a somewhat questioning way, “I think I might be pro-bullying.” He’s quick to caution, though: “I’m not gonna go buy drinks for bullies, but I think I’m pro-having-been-bullied. I think it works.” He brings the crowd on his side, asking, “We were all bullied, right? Yes, we were. And we’re fine.” Shillue makes the discussion inclusive and even intimate. Instead of touting the merits of heinous and senseless acts, Shillue becomes just one of the guys, talking about experiences that might’ve sucked in the moment. But looking back on them, they were formative and admittedly funny.
Bullying’s not an outright funny subject. Yet a good comedian can make light of anything. And Shillue is able to talk about the subject from such an interesting perspective, and bring such raw experiences into the fold, that the listener cannot help but both empathize and, more important, laugh.