The comedy group The State recorded two very funny albums once, but never got around to releasing them – At least it seems that way. In reality, it was only one album in Comedy For Gracious Living, finally released by our good friends at Rhino Handmade, but in listening to it you might find yourself scratching your head in wonderment at why they would add so many sketches of a similar bent. The end result becomes almost a canceling out of one track from another.
It starts out strong, albeit obviously, with “Barbershop Tourettes” and all the potential that title might coax. However, it isn’t long before that creeping sense of comedic deja-vu begins to undermine the disc. “The Koo-Koo Koach in Half-Time Hilarity” and “Houston” both present bland, innocuous situations that steadily become disturbingly sexual. “Illegal Rubbing” and “Laurie Anderson Song” work the parody angle, the former of a Eurotrash dance track and the latter of (wait for it…) a Laurie Anderson song. “International Farting Mice” and “Kerri’s One Second Noise” tread the same line, and so forth.
I think I would have been more impressed had there been a wider variety of comedic ideas, rather than wondering what all the repetition was about, and much more impressed if those mirrored ideas were drawn into a larger meta-joke somewhere later on, but it doesn’t happen. It winds up more a fixation on a couple joke ideas and not a more fleshed-out recording. Indeed, I’ve read in a couple places that after some of the tracks were recorded, even the group themselves second-guessed whether it should come out.
Yet it is hard to outright dismiss the disc. The ridiculous “Animal Sounds” made me laugh out loud, even when the track’s direction was apparent and insistent. As a frequent listener of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, I got the joke behind “The News From Central Minnesota” and, even though it is juvenile to the Nth degree, “Zucchini Bread” with the main character of the skit having a favorite prank, that of baking his member into zucchini bread and then tricking his friend into taking a bite, still was funny. Is it funny enough to compete with David Wain and Michael Showalter’s movie projects, specifically Wet Hot American Summer? Maybe not, and that ambivalence renders Comedy For Gracious Living a tempting, but ultimately missed, opportunity.
Comedy For Gracious Living is available from Rhino Handmade.