Jessica Holmes - 25 Laughs To The Gallon (Lady Lola) www.maplemusic.com. Rating: NNNN
Even before joining forces with Royal Canadian Air Farce, Jessica Holmes was one of the country's best impersonators and cleverest satirists. She's sharpened her skills a lot, and this CD proves a terrific format for her character comedy.
Her most consistent target is Celine Dion. Holmes has the accent, the brashness and self-aggrandizing attitude down pat. Jessica/Celine is totally full of herself, whether singing a 'celebrity loolaby' to her new child or -- in one of the disc's highlights -- belting out a 'larve song' to herself, in English et en français.
But there's affection in there, too, as in her caricature of Liza Minnelli. Jessica/Liza is all outrageous outbursts and twisted come-ons delivered in a unique singsong that sounds half geriatric, half rehab clinic. (A choice line, said to a male interviewer in high showbiz fashion: 'You're fabulous. Do you come in pill form?')
Holmes isn't so kind to some of her other targets, especially in her wickedly dark bit about the Association for Performers Who Get By on Cleavage Alone. In an efficient two minutes, she does straight impersonations of Jessica Simpson, Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears, complete with musical selections. Holmes's point is clear. These synthetic concoctions are so ridiculous, jokes are almost unnecessary.
Although impeccably recorded and produced, with strong contributions by Scott Yaphe, not all the material's strong. A ditty about the Scottish goes nowhere, and a bit about Kreminem -- a Russian Idol winner who sings rap -- hits the same note repeatedly, even though the tongue-twisting material is performed with skill.
Too bad there aren't more political tracks. Holmes used to have a deluded, judgmental, ultra-conservative character named Candy Anderson Henderson in her repertoire. With an election looming, Candy's fire-and-brimstone pronouncements would have gone over well.
Steve Patterson - I Should Have Been Famous By Now! (Patterson) www.stevepatterson.ca. Rating: NN
It takes cojones to call your CD I Should Have Been Famous By Now! In person, Steve Patterson's a likeable stand-up comedian with decent audience rapport. He's a good host. But judging from what I've seen of his live act and this woefully uneven disc, he's just not that funny. Maybe there's a reason why the fame hasn't come, Steve.
Patterson draws on a wholesome, boy-next-door persona to gain the audience's trust and sympathy. Many of his routines are presented as open letters: to minivan drivers, for instance, who think they're driving racecars, or striking NHL hockey players who are (surprise, surprise) making too much money.
One of his lamest routines concerns soccer. He just doesn't understand people's interest in the sport, claiming the nets are 'ridiculously huge, like Paris Hilton's vagina.' ('Anyone who wants to can score on this thing.')
Elsewhere, Patterson makes fun of the Winter Olympics luge event. Gee, that's original.
His best routine is a parody of a romantic duet like Endless Love. Patterson serenades his woman friend with the request that she lose some weight, while the woman (Louise St. Cyr) gets back at him by cooing that she'd like him to grow some more hair.
What starts off as offensive and sexist ends up as a darkly funny statement about couples who stay together out of fear and boredom. More truthful material like that and Patterson's comedy could reach another level.
Um, Lett's not
Richard Lett - At Least There's Drinking (Azimuth Phoenix) www.azimuthphoenix.com. Rating: N
I hope the audience for the live taping of Richard Lett's CD was taking the title seriously and drinking up. Otherwise, I'm not sure why they'd be laughing.
Lett's an old-school stand-up who -- judging from the unflattering photo on the back of the CD cover-- looks like he's spent a few too many nights closing down bars. He's got a gruff, basso-voiced delivery that oozes ballsy confidence. I wouldn't be surprised if he did voice-over work to pay the bills.
In his stand-up routine, you can sense a lot of anger in his attempts to send up Americans, Brits, drugs, gay marriage and the mentally ill. But he hasn't found his voice, and the anger goes nowhere. Most of his shtick has been done before, and better. I'm not averse to dick jokes, but haven't we all heard how tough it is to be named Dick?
Near the end, you can sense Lett trying to get raunchy when he brings up the issue of swallowing bodily fluids. It's hard not to compare him to Mike Wilmot, but Wilmot pushes this kind of material further, his writing is more vivid and his delivery sharper.
Dave's not dumb
Dave Healey - Dave Healey & Friends (Healey), www.davehealey.info. Rating: NNN
Dave Healey's one of the clever improvisers over at Bad Dog Theatre, and many of the sketches on this disc display the same intelligence that defines his best work there.
Some of the sharpest routines satirize the cultural scene. In one gem, Healey plays the philistine minister of culture to Kerry Griffin's knowledgeable grant applicant. It's a classic situation, where the characters' wants and needs are laid out clearly, and the old-fashioned jokes get deserved laughs.
A mock arts interview program features an actor who specializes in performing Shakespeare's silences, and it's delivered with razor-sharp timing. A parody of a literary adaptation called A Minute In The Life Of Ivan Denisovitch pays off with a list of arts funding agencies that takes longer to read than the work itself.
The most cutting piece concerns two bourgeois women (Jane Luk and Jan Caruana) who try to impress each other by pointing out all the cultural exploitation that went into the cost of their clothing. It's satire at its finest.
Unfortunately, the disc is padded with less worthy material, such as a musical reading of the ingredients in a fast-food hamburger, or a time-wasting bit about a detective who's already deceased. The most head-scratching track is a song about wanting to be German.
Still, it's good to see a comedy disc that doesn't dumb itself down.
The Williamson Playboys - The Official Bootleg (Clayton) www.williamsonplayboys.com. Rating: NNN
Paul Bates and Doug Morency created the Williamson Playboys when they were part of the Second City Mainstage cast, and they sometimes perform the duo at one-off cabarets or special revues. Now they're immortalized on CD.
Which is fitting, because the Playboys -- father and tuba player Rufus (Bates) and main vocalist and ukulele player (Morency) -- call themselves the oldest living father-and-son Cajun music duo. They claim to have invented jazz, blues and Cajun music and to have penned songs like Candle In The Wind long before other artists ripped them off.
The material is always amusing. Bates and Morency are strong improvisers, and in the live audience segments you can feel them enjoying their off-the-cuff quips, always in character. The songs are interspersed with mock interviews by Sandy Jobin-Bevans that are played straight and are funny because of that.
Because of their advanced ages, the Playboys' music reflects different eras. So there are songs about Gandhi, the Hindenberg and (one of the funniest) Mussolini. The instrument-playing, particularly by Bates, is excellent.
The best song remains Hobo Christmas. Here, the Playboys contrast their folksy playing with dark truths about poverty and selfishness, and the result is first-rate comedy.
To fully appreciate their act, however, you've got to see them live, complete with their cardigans, arthritic walking and audience interaction.