Brian Posehn’s awkward, screen-filling presence and strangled histrionics are as much a part of his persona as his love of marijuana, comic books and death metal, but they’re increasingly becoming secondary to his reliance on gross-out jokes. This is one of the first things we learn on The Fartist, which debuted on Netflix Instant earlier this year. The Mr. Show and Sarah Silverman Program veteran has (gasp!) quit smoking pot for his family and stopped going to “stripping clubs” (“Turns out the wife doesn’t like it when I come home from Vegas and my glasses smell like fake tits”).
He still devotes the first half of the album, recorded at Seattle’s Neptune Theatre, to boobs, weed, farts and masturbation, even if it’s by way of lamenting their absence. It’s more of the same groan-inducing, giggly stuff we heard on Live in: Nerd Rage or Fart and Wiener Jokes, minus the charm of a young man behaving badly. The ragged, nervous enthusiasm of those last couple albums is overall lacking from The Fartist, and his new-found polish, if it can be called that, is only occasionally satisfying (as with the cover art, a disturbing and brilliant takeoff of the poster for The Artist).
Posehn is still self-conscious, mocking the quality of his punchlines on “Tale of a Stripper” and unafraid to recycle greatest hits from past albums—see “Star Wars, Pt. 3 (Yes I’m Still Mad About Star Wars).” But the chuckle-worthy moments outnumber the laugh-out-loud ones by a wide margin. It’s hard not to see this as a transitional album for Posehn, one in which he’s not entirely successful in giving his material a fresh tone or new direction.
“My Fart Meets Someone Famous,” about brown-hazing Christian Slater in an audition office, is the funniest bit not just because it deals with Posehn’s treasured subject matter, but because he paints an especially striking picture (“It was like one of those invisible spider web farts… he gets in his car and goes like, ‘I smell like character actor! Fuck!’”). His concern for his three-year-old son is poignantly real on “Acopapypse,” and his alarm/disgust at the “penis tears staining my underwear” on “Getting Old” is too specific to be contrived. But they never marshal the momentum or sublime ridiculousness of classic tracks like “Puppy Time” or “Nerd Rage/The Mattress Story.”
Posehn’s still playing off his persona, this time by contrasting the stereotypically slovenly video-games-and-weed nerd he used to be with the (semi-)respectable adult he has become. “So now pot and my weiner are like Buzz and Woody from Toy Story 3,” Posehn says. “They’re like, ‘What happened? You used to play with us all the time!’”
He’s still playing with them, just in a less direct way and with frustratingly uneven results. We don’t look to Posehn for maturity or nuanced treatises on the human condition, but some hint of growth would have been complementary to the life-changing events upon which he’s now basing his material. As it is, The Fartist just feels like a high-five to Posehn’s devil sign-throwing fanboys from the old dude at the comic book shop.