At the top of his new album, Keep My Enemies Closer, New York comic J-L Cauvin comes out swinging, launching into a five-minute diatribe about Girls creator Lena Dunham, or, as Cauvin calls her, “the patron saint of overrated shit.” In Cauvin’s view, we’ve elevated Dunham to the role of hero because, despite her unattractive physique, she’s nonetheless willing to get naked onscreen. “She’s a hero just for showing off her flaws,” Cauvin says.
Dunham’s icon status is an easy target for those who like to attack mainstream figureheads, so for a comic to tackle such a visible subject, he or she needs to put a unique spin on it—to look at it from an angle few others can find. To that end, Cauvin uses his weight—315 pounds—to justify his beef, saying, unlike Dunham, he’s “disgusted” with himself. The difference between Cauvin and Dunham, according to the former: “I’m ashamed.”
A loud personality onstage, Cauvin comes off keenly aware of the stature his presence carries. To balance the inherent power of his persona, he smartly qualifies and personalizes many of his grievances, in effect bringing the audience onto his side. When he talks about racism, he notes his own black heritage. When he claims that gay men get away with things straight men could never dream of, he makes sure to say how strongly he believes in equal rights. And when he rails against certain groups of women, he’s careful to drop in his relatively conservative views on sex.
Keep My Enemies Closer is a well-constructed set, unified in its perspective, and cohering together nicely over its 75 minutes. Cauvin is skilled at finding unique ways into tired subjects, as well as eliciting sympathy, or at the very least, compassion. What’s distinct about his persona is that it’s equally angry and intimate. Cauvin’s frustration—directed alternately at himself and others—never feels forced or artificial, as every rant, bit and joke that’s drenched in negativity comes off more or less justified. That is, the feelings at the core of his arguments are not only well-conveyed, but also well-reasoned.
One of the highest compliments one can pay a comedian is that he or she has a defined perspective. The act isn’t contrived or frivolous, but instead meaningful and resonant. Despite his lack of notoriety, Cauvin possesses a sharp sense of self—an assuredness in who he is and what he is about. He’s out of that Patrice O’Neal/Bill Burr school of no-holds-barred alpha-maleness, but he doesn’t try to be purely for the sake of it. The attitude comes off natural, authentic, real.
The best moments of Keep My Enemies Closer come when Cauvin makes reasonably-argued points through the lens of that maleness, like that the existence of the category “interracial porn” is proof that racism is not dead, or that lesbians, compared to gay men, don’t seem to be “pulling their weight.” At more than an hour, the album runs long, sure. But for those on board with Cauvin’s brand of comedy, it’s easily worth the ride.