As with Woody Allen, Frank Zappa or the team behind the US version of The Office, producing a large body of work does not necessarily mean you’re creating monumental art. Tom Shillue‘s decision to release 12 albums in 12 months proves he is a prolific comedian with confidence in his ability churn out stories (a craft he’s honed for years with his NYC show, Funny Story). But spending a little more time in the laboratory would have benefited seventh entry Trust Your Heart.
Like fellow storytellers David Sedaris and Mike Birbiglia, Shillue possesses a wealth of anecdotes to dust off the shelf and present to an audience. His enthusiasm and energy hold attention, but he changes course far too often before reaching any sort of climax.
Trust Your Heart weaves together true-life stories—creating a pizza delivery service in his dorm room, singing in a barbershop quartet, a love interest turning tragic and a magician who performs his own unique disappearing act—and is divided into two tracks, “Don’t Trust Your Eyes” and “Don’t Trust Your Ears.” The first opens with Shillue referencing a Boston street that (without explanation) reminds him of Muammar Gaddafi, then entering Emerson College as a reluctantly celibate student (Gaddafi returns, very briefly in track two, 28 minutes later), then he’s upselling pizzas, then joining a comedy troupe, then a barbershop quartet, then recalling what “gay” meant in high school…
It’s not that Shillue introduces these story fragments and never returns to them. But by the time he does your aural plate is full of so many excess appetizers you’ve forgotten the details, and the effort required to juggle all these variables doesn’t pay off when he finally rejoins the splintering trails.
About seven minutes into the album, Shillue makes reference to witnessing “the gayest thing ever,” but then becomes sidetracked by anecdotes of closeted students. Twenty minutes later, after we’ve learned about several other unrelated adventures and characters, what gem of a plot-twist have we been waiting for? Opening the door on a fellow entertainer in a storm, asking “Who’s there?” and hearing “A faggot in the rain. What’s it to you?”
Another storyline involves a girl named Nicole, who toward the end of the second track serves as the hinge of a truly huge plot twist. Problem is, it’s buried under other occurrences and people and commentary. Instead of running with this engaging storyline, Shillue pivots yet again, closing the album with a very detailed account of a magician’s big hoax. (The magician isn’t even introduced until twenty-two minutes into this thirty-six minute album.)
Many of these fragments could have made decent stories if they’d been told separately. The album isn’t without its clever moments, like “There are gays in high school now. In the Seventies there were no gay students, just four or five profoundly sad students.” But overall, listening to Trust Your Heart is the comedic equivalent of watching a mouse navigate a maze. Eventually you just want to help him find his way out.