For the past ten months, Tom Shillue has been on a comedy marathon, releasing one new album every month, each with its own theme. With Heyday, he is nearly to the finish line of what has so far been a successful experiment. He has done a remarkable job putting out consistently funny work, producing this series of Moth-like personal stories.
The arc of the three stories on Heyday follows Shillue’s progress in love and work, from his early days driving an Orangina truck and demonstrating cookware with Aasif Mandvi in malls (while making awkward advances on co-workers) to the present day. Show business can be particularly ridiculous for a comedian, and Shillue opens his treasure trove of terrible gigs here. He was lured from Boston to Florida to play Jimmy Stewart, complete with his own Harvey the rabbit. His would-be big break in TV sketch comedy was a multi-ethnic pilot helmed by sociologists called What’s Up?, which painfully tried to be hip. That was followed by an audition for an insurance campaign, which unfortunately puts him in competition with a certain talking duck.
None of it works out, but then, success isn’t nearly as funny as a good, hopeful failure. The hope is the funniest part—no matter how bad the job, it’s a chance to be in show business, and in Shillue’s eyes is one more rung on his ladder to stardom.
Shillue fares no better in romance. Dating in New York is not all fireworks and musical numbers like you see in movies, he notes. It’s riding in a cab alone wondering what the hell just happened. “Paulinka,” the subject of the first track, was a model on the Orangina truck. In the annals of his love life, she was one of “the ones that didn’t happen,” mostly because she didn’t succumb to his signature move, trying to get an invite to her apartment for coffee. Shillue gets the dreaded “good friend” label while she recounts her troubled relationship with a boyfriend who coldly kicks her out of his apartment each morning. Comedy even plays a part in his bad luck, as he loses a woman he’s courting to one of his all-time stand-up idols, Steve Martin, a guy whose albums he listened to as a kid.
Shillue weaves all of these stories together with a novelist’s eye for detail and expert pacing. Each track has its own subplots and punchlines that work perfectly together. Similarly, each track builds to a unified point, a satisfying ending. The stories would work almost as well as a memoir, but that would lack’s Shillue’s extraordinary delivery. He’s got a musician’s sense of dynamics and rhythm, pulling the audience in with a near whisper, or pausing to emphasize a word, spitting out others in a staccato shout. There is some genuine heartbreak here amongst the jokes, and an earnestness that could be deadly if handled poorly. But Shillue can and does handle it, and it’s a shame there’s only one album left to go.