Host of the semi-monthly and always well-booked Tell Your Friends! stand-up show (as well as podcast of the same name), Liam McEneaney’s been a staple of the New York comedy scene for more than a decade. And on his debut album, Comedian, the 34-year-old culls together his greatest hits for an hour of comedy that skillfully integrates both profundity and frivolity, with nary a dull moment throughout.
After opening with some positive affirmations spoken over a cello—“Today was another day”; “Love is beautiful, but porn is easy”—McEneaney speaks candidly about his dating life, asserting that he’s happy, or at the very least, content, with being single. The problem, though, is that his friends view his lack of a partner not as a choice, but rather “a symptom of something.” Now in his 30s, McEneaney considers himself having skipped his first marriage (we all knew it wouldn’t work out, after all) and now having moved on to his second, which is really just a relationship of convenience.
McEneaney never dives into a full-fledged unleashing of the soul, but he clearly hints at the anxieties and occasional struggles simmering below the surface. This makes sense, as any sort of unbridled confession wouldn’t remain in tone with the rest of the performance. McEneaney thrives on that careful balancing act between revealing too much and not opening up enough, like when speaking about his parents’ three cats (in his parents’ words, “four cats would be crazy”) and how he’s “fighting for space in the will” with them.
This isn’t to say all of Comedian is an exercise in self-examination. McEneaney also talks about people he’s met throughout his life, like his teenage friend “God Damn Eddie,” who sold drugs out of ice cream trucks and tried to rob a bank with a water gun. Then there are the embarrassing moments that have stuck with McEneaney, like his unintentionally racist altercation with a 10-year-old or his drunken gaffe at a company Christmas party.
There’s also the (through little fault of his own) extensive crowd work McEneaney must perform, eventually forcing him to beg, in faux-exasperation, “Can I finish my album!?” Two of the 17 tracks—about eight minutes—are dedicated to McEneaney being interrupted (a couple times by friends) and having to course-correct. At one point after mocking an audience member, he says, with no change in tone, “I’m just kidding. Thank you for coming to my album taping and talking,” to big applause. He then follows it up with, “Sorry to hurt your feelings while I was doing my job on an incredibly important night.”
Crowd work can be a crutch, and it rarely deserves to make it onto an album. But in this case it does, as McEneaney blends the incidents as seamlessly as he can into the performance as a whole, making Comedian feel less like an after-the-fact collection of MP3s, and more like the actual comedy show it is—vibrant, alive and waiting to be experienced.