If you’re going to step to Brian Posehn‘s “heavy metal comedian” title, you’d better come correct. And while John Tole never calls out Posehn on Reign in Laughs, it’s easy to interpret his bushy beard, tattoos and eye-rolling nickname (“The Slayer of Comedy,” again reinforced with Reign in Laughs’s play on Slayer’s Reign in Blood) as overt challenges.
Tole out-metals Posehn in the acerbity of his material, at least. Posehn is just a dude who happens to love metal and has incorporated that into his persona, whereas Tole’s meathead aggression drives his jokes. Posehn talks about smoking too much pot (or not smoking at all anymore, as is the case these days) while Tole quips about “banging huge rails” of coke. Posehn is a kitten by comparison, but also funnier and less hysterically eager to let you know that he can say whatever he wants, man, because fuck all you uptight PC pussies!
Tole fares best when focusing on life’s intimate, cringe-worthy moments–most of which involve sexual embarrassment and end with a breathless, reference-heavy rant. But even then it feels diluted by his reliance on profanity. Take his thoughts on roller derby: “bunch of unfuckable lesbians on skates… fuck you and your sewn-in dreadlocks and your fuckin’ octopus tattoo that fuckin’ you put on your arm because you hate your dad.” There’s so little economy to it that it sounds like a pissed-off office drone ranting during a cigarette break. It’s tolerable in five-minute increments but numbing over the course of an hour, especially since the persona itself isn’t the joke (à la The Onion columnist Jim Anchower).
As a part Howard Stern’s crew, Tole’s material is predictably “naughty,” lauding his wife’s “hot chick porn voice,” obsessing over camel toes and aiming his set squarely at the dudes in the audience. But with Jim Jeffries already doing the crude-philosopher thing, Jim Norton doing the gross-out sex thing, and Doug Stanhope doing the “don’t eat what you’re fed!” thing, it’s not clear what Tole has to offer like-minded comedy fans, other than a consistently high volume and the occasionally clever one-liner, which mercifully grow more common as the album progresses.
If there were any political or philosophical insights in the set, they were cut from the album, as Tole only barely justifies track titles like “Brainwashed” and “Real Eyes Realize Real Lies.” Then again, if he’s mocking self-important pseudo-intellectuals with the generic punk-rock titles, it’s also hard to tell. He invokes conspiracy theorists with a medley of the most popular ones and thanks marijuana for the inspiration, but it feels beneath him. Smart acting dumb is less appealing that smart being dumb, as fellow proud-stoner Doug Benson knows.
Reign in Laughs is trapped in angry teenage-dude mode–where cursing, ogling chicks and celebrating harshness are unspoken virtues–but lacks the heart or nuance to make Tole’s persona feel like anything more than a reactionary costume. Metalhead Posehn often trades in the same stuff, but the biggest distinction between him and Tole isn’t who’s more hardcore. It’s that Posehn is a comedian who happens to be a metalhead, whereas Tole is a metalhead who happens to tell jokes.