ALEX NUSSBAUM Absolutely Free (Nussbaum). www.alexnussbaum.com. Rating: NNN
Nussbaum, one of the country's worthiest about-to-break stand-ups, communicates more vividly in person (or at least on video), where his tall, gangly, slightly bug-eyed look gooses his best jokes. This becomes evident early on; one of his signature bits about eye-contact and confidence just doesn't work as well without seeing his demented stare. Still, that voice -- quavering, just about to break under pressure -- captures a lot of his nervous energy. And Nussbaum's clever writing, mostly observational stuff as seen from his particular oblique angle, holds up here. Worth it for the Parkdale, Barber and Unspirations jokes alone.
THE WET SPOTS Hello Kinky (Drake). www.wetspotsmusic.com. Rating: NN
Cute, but hardly subversive -- and not, in the end, very funny. That's what I've felt whenever I've seen the Wet Spots, the retro-looking novelty act who attempt to send up societal fears and assumptions about sex. Unlike Nussbaum, however, their act works better in audio, mostly because of their catchy musical arrangements. Their best material contrasts their raunchy double-entendre lyrics with sweet, smooth, old-fashioned harmonies. What seems cloying and obvious onstage -- ditties about foot fetishes, dildos and orgasms -- becomes cute and almost tame when simply listened to. Wait a few months and I'm sure they'll show up on Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe.
NORM MACDONALD Ridiculous (Comedy Central). www.normmacdonald.com. Rating: NNN
If you only know MacDonald from his smart-alecky SNL Weekend Update reports, you'll be surprised at the range of characters he draws on in this disc, which is more sketch than stand-up. Jokes about superheroes and sports dominate; clearly, this is aimed at the straight male baby boomer crowd. The weaker tracks have a whiff of misogyny and homophobia, although an extended sequence about a country singer who's turned gay wins you over by exploiting MacDonald's own squeamishness. Unfortunately, a repeated bit with MacDonald and former SNL bud Will Ferrell playing the 'first two gay guys' gets painful by the end. The production values (no surprise) are excellent. Besides Ferrell, a couple of other SNL alumni lend a hand. And at least one track -- narrated by a guy on the receiving end of the 12 Days Of Christmas presents -- is destined for classic status.