Craig Gass begins The Worst Comedy Show Ever with a studio-recorded bit that attempts to differentiate his album from the average club- or theater-recorded set, laying out a list of reasons that are wholly unnecessary for enjoyment, but nonetheless funny. And as soon as his feature act identifies him as a bit player from shows like Sex and the City and voice acting roles on Family Guy, you get an idea of his career as an impressionist and actor.
Recorded at tiny Seattle-area stand-up incubator Dave’s of Milton—which fits fewer people than the members of Earth, Wind & Fire (as Gass is quick to remind)—Worst establishes an immediate sense of place that helps reinforce Gass’s garrulous and self-deprecating brand of humor. The location is no coincidence; it’s a homecoming for Gass as he enlists musicians (Pearl Jams’s Mike McCready and Alice in Chains’s Jerry Cantrell) to contribute mildly entertaining cameos that complement his history as an opener for various hard-rock bands.
The record is also sequenced with an ear toward rhythm. Of the 11 tracks, four are easily 10-plus minutes, while four are under 30 seconds. That’s a mountainous fever chart, and since Gass practically invites musical comparisons with his choice of guests, the sequencing is both significant and deft.
The most traditional bit on Worst concerns baboons replacing drug-sniffing dogs in Florida’s Dade County, from which Gass admirably wrings five minutes of mock-outrage and character work. The tone falls somewhere between a less-ravaged Doug Stanhope and a smoother Todd Glass, a sort of inward conversation turned toward the world. That’s contrasted with the album’s first and longest track, a chunk of lengthy crowd work that makes the listener complicit in the proceedings. The next few meditations on celebrity shoulder-brushes are cut with pre-recorded (and often stilted) “fake news” bits.
Gass finds his stride talking about the oft-mythologized place where comedy is born, making the excellent point that it’s not on Comedy Central specials in front of 3,000, but rather in back rooms where comics find their voices and hone new material. It’s a moment potentially more appealing to comedy nerds and other comics, but still insightful and, above all, funny.
He treads thin water with his repeated (and, by now, cliché) Al Pacino impressions, but his extended story about Kiss leader Gene Simmons is equally proportionate to anyone’s love of or hatred for that legendary assclown. Though it’s a mid-album lull, it comes from an honest place.
Even as Gass roots his act in celebrity impressions, he asserts himself as a pro with a specific point of view. His soundbite-ready radio experience certainly plays into it, but the balancing beam he walks between effortless Tracy Morgan and Christopher Walken send-ups and his effusive love of Seattle-area TV news anchors feels more familial than crude. It’s a fun trick, and one that’s necessarily dependent on the moment more than the persistence of ideas, making his album a warm and welcoming embrace of exasperation.