Denver-based trio The Grawlix is one of those unexpected pleasures in the comedy world: a fully-formed act with the chemistry of an improv troupe, but whose individual members are also solo headliners.
Orvedahl and Cayton-Holland’s new albums certainly come on the heels of all those things, and furthermore, they beg to be reviewed side by side: Hit the Dick Lights and I Don’t Know If I Happy share cover art (push them together to make a single picture, like a MAD magazine fold-in) and a release date (May 14th), and were recorded at the same venue on the same nights (Denver’s Bug Theatre, where The Grawlix runs its monthly show). Hell, the two guys even sport complementary beards.
Despite that, their styles remain unique. Orvedahl’s Hit the Dick Lights wastes no time launching into a joke about an irritating co-worker, flexing a rubbery, occasionally cartoonish voice that adds a sugary sting to the conversational tongue-lashings. It’s not so much jaded remove as the sound of our collective inner voice in a hyperactive bitch session with itself (see his brilliant joke about songs that fade out at the end, and how ridiculous that seems when applied to literature or dialogue).
Overdahl is the pseudo-manchild who derives endless pleasure from following mundane situations to their illogical conclusions, the kind of person you might notice glancing at you repeatedly on airplanes. Is he judging you based on your appearance, or what you’re reading? Yes and yes. Throw a dart at a random phrase (“sullen, corpulent bodies,” “juvenile vices,” etc.) and you’re also likely to hit some satisfyingly snappy wordplay. When it’s at its best, it’s reminiscent of Patton Oswalt or Bill Hicks, and the way they toe(d) the line between disappointed misanthropy and sarcastic smarm.
If Orvedahl is a smart guy living in a stupid person’s world, Cayton-Holland is the sensitive, learned dude surrounded by malfunctioning automatons and resigned to our eventual oblivion. His bits are more self-consciously honed than Orvedahl’s and often more soundbite-ready, sporting the dynamic inflection and grumbling disbelief of Kyle Kinane minus the sad-sack resignation. The perpetual agitation is more measured but no less sharp, as when he describes the failings of Montessori education or the implications of a message scrawled in wet concrete (hint: we’re doomed as a society).
He likes references but never leans on them too heavily. He’s harsh, but with flashes of silliness and the occasional self-aware groaner. And like Orvedahl, he’s so economical with his delivery that even his more-than-a-mouthful bits come off as lean and muscular. It’s the get-in, get-out professionalism of comics who have built their own scene instead of latching onto whatever preexisting one most fit their ideal personas.
These albums work free of context, but they’re especially strong when considered together. They aren’t so much two sides of the same coin as different denominations of the same currency, complementing each other by design but boasting inherent value and character of their own.