One-Liners and Straight Faces
Dan Mintz & Steven Wright
You probably know Dan Mintz best for his voice acting. Mintz plays the voice of Tina in Bob’s Burgers, but that isn’t all he does. He’s also a writer and a pretty darn funny stand up comedian who tours all around the country.
If you’ve ever watched the show, you know that Mintz has a pretty unique voice. Extremely monotone and low, but also a little squeaky and high-pitched at times. It’s weird. And that unique voice plays into his one-liner delivery.
There are a lot of famous comedians who have done what Mintz does in his stand up: Emo Philips, Mitch Hedberg, Demetri Martin, me right when I started (less famous). But, Steven Wright is probably the most classic example of the true one-liner comedian (we’ll get to Emo Phillips later, so hold your horses). At least, that’s how I think of him; Wright was the originator of the one-liner and Hedberg perfected it.
You could really compare Mintz to any of those comedians, but he’s definitely the most Wright-like, in my head. If you were to pick one of those other comedians to point to and go “that’s Steven Wright reincarnated,” I think Dan Mintz would be the closest. And yes, I know, Steven Wright is still alive. None of them are the perfect fit, but I could easily cast Mintz as Wright’s shy, socially awkward grandson with Wright as the kooky, crazy old grandpa. Now that would be a very monotone show.
“I think it would be really confusing if you’re performing an abortion and someone runs in saying, ‘Abort! Abort!'” – Dan Mintz
“I was Caesarean born. Can’t really tell, although whenever I leave a house I go through the window.” – Steven Wright
No they aren’t exactly the same. Mintz is definitely more modern. He uses more references to technology and fancy stuff like that, but just listen to some examples and you’ll see what I’m saying. That slow, monotone delivery is the same. They’re operating on slightly different tones and frequencies, but they’re doing the same things. Here is Mintz on The Late Show in 2014.
…and Wright on The Late Show in 2009.
Distantly related? Who knows.
Smart Comedy Music
Bo Burnham & Tom Lehrer
Yes, it is a little bit of a stretch to compare someone like Bo Burnham, who gets a lot of shit for being young and not being a “real stand up comedian,” to a proven great like Tom Lehrer. But, guess what? Tom Lehrer isn’t a stand up either!
And yes, it might be a stretch to compare a kid who didn’t go to college to a Harvard professor. But cut the kid some slack!
Both of these comedians are similar in that they are musical, they have some smart songs, and they aren’t “traditional” comedians. And do note, I said “some” smart songs. Burnham has a lot of silly rap songs, but I think he also has some clever ones too. Let’s not forget that Lehrer’s “periodic table song,” perhaps his most famous, is literally just a list of all the elements on the periodic table sung with his accompaniment. Not exactly brilliant all the time, either.
Am I assuming too many people know who Lehrer is? Check out my personal favorite song of his, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park:
In the same way that Lehrer toys with our emotions, playing a happy tune while singing about something sad like killing animals, Burnham sings a sad song about something that should be happy: being a famous artist. Listen to his song, Art is Dead.
Mike Birbiglia & Bill Cosby
I’m not sure anyone wants to be compared to Cosby nowadays. But, rape allegations aside, I think this is actually a very interesting comparison. When seeing Mike Birbiglia perform today, I don’t think a ton of people would go, “That’s Bill Cosby 2.0!” But, I do.
Mike Birbiglia is a storytelling master, just like Bill Cosby is. They have extremely different styles. For one, Bill prefers bright-colored sweaters whereas Mike prefers hoodies. They also sound really different on stage. Cosby has that syncopated rhythm and that tone of voice that is so distinctly his. And Birbiglia is the common man, the guy that everyone can sympathize with, and who, when it comes down to it, is really just “a nice guy.” He’s found a way to tell stories in a different way, but just as effectively.
They might be different, but they’re both storytelling masters. Listen to Cosby talk about his family and hear the audience hang on his every word.
Most of the Cosby I know is family material, but Birbiglia can talk about dating and falling in love in just as relatable a way.
Mark Normand & Rodney Dangerfield
Mark Normand is an up and coming name in the NYC comedy scene. Well, actually on the national scene, too. He’s been on Last Comic Standing, he’s performed on several late night shows, and he just recently filmed his Comedy Central half hour special. He’s all over New York and I’ve seen him several times live. He’s fantastic and everyone keeps talking about him for good reason.
If you watch the two back to back, you might see why I’ve paired him with Rodney Dangerfield. No one is quite like Dangerfield, of course. However, both of these comics have an unmistakable delivery style very much their own. Normand is one part common-sense nerd, one part infomercial, and one part 1920’s businessman. And Dangerfield actually did come out of the twenties.
If you listen carefully, I think there’s something about their rhythm that is very similar. They whisk their way through the joke and hit the punchline hard. They know exactly where the punchline is coming and they let the joke sit with confidence. And, they’re both pretty memorable.
Maria Bamford & Emo Philips
We’ve finally gotten to Emo Philips. Although he’s really a one-liner comedian too, it isn’t any one-liner comedian that reminds me of him the most: it’s Maria Bamford. To me, the common strand between the two comedians is more their eccentric personalities than it is their style of humor. They both have strange voices that can overtake their audiences. Often, the way they say a joke is just as funny as the content of the joke itself.
Philips might not be a genuine character like Bamford is, but the two provide pretty similar aesthetics. Philips’ voice is often described as confused and falsetto and has been compared to the voice of a child.
You get the same sense that Bamford’s material is childlike too. Although a lot of her characters are extremely realistic imitations of adults, her normal talking voice is very tiny and dainty, like a voice she never grew out of. Bamford also does the sort of crazy things, like performing one of her comedy specials in her home with only her parents there to watch, that I could totally see Philips doing. If you can put aside the writing, they’re really both just weird people making other people laugh.
Anthony Jeselnik & Lenny Bruce
Yes, Lenny Bruce might be one of the biggest figures in the history of comedy, but that doesn’t stop me from seeing him in Anthony Jeselnik. Does that mean I think Jeselnik will alter the future of comedy? Hardly. But it does mean that I think Jeselnik is challenging many of the more P.C.-driven people that are becoming all the rage today. In a world where people are hanging on every word, almost anticipating a slip-up, Jeselnik is doing things like making jokes about the Boston bombing…on the day of the bombing.
Not quite the same as Lenny Bruce being imprisoned for saying his jokes and fighting through obscenity charges in court, but I think it’s still important. Enjoy the dark humor while you can still do it without feeling guilty.
The featured Image for this post is a poster illustrated by Joseph Karg for the Whiplash comedy show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in NYC.
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