Somewhere, deep in the brain, there’s a little gate that everything we say passes through before we actually speak it; its purpose is to protect the outside world from our own inner monologues–that way, we don’t end up blurting things out like “My lord, Aunt Bertha’s growth looks like a second head now” or “Your girlfriend smells like a rotting skunk covered in burnt hair.” These, and similar, comments remain–fortunately–internalized. Although there are always exceptions, most of the time it works like it’s supposed to, and we’re spared the embarrassment of blurting out something inappropriate, say, at the family Thanksgiving dinner or in front of a new client.
In some cases, though, that little “gate of appropriateness” doesn’t work, either by default or by choice–patients who suffer from Tourette’s Syndrome, for instance, can’t keep the gate closed. People like Stephen Lynch, however, realize full well how horrible the thing is that they’re saying, but that gate stays wide open anyway. Make no mistake about it–Lynch is absolutely a talented guitarist and quite clever when it comes to lyrics, but the subject matter he covers is not exactly intended for the older or more conservative set. So consider yourself warned–if sacriledge and vulgarity (albeit amusing vulgarity) offend your sensibilities, then this guy is not for you. But if you think a song about a pedophilic priest would be funny or the Richard Gere “gerbil sex” incident makes you giggle, then by all means read on.
Some of you may be scratching your heads as to who exactly Stephen Lynch is, though chances are that you’ve heard one of his songs at some point without realizing it. He was the star of an episode of “Comedy Central Presents” in 2000 (it’s still replayed regularly) that racked up great ratings and remains one of the series’ most popular episodes. His style of comedy? Simple, innocent-sounding guitar songs with… well… not-so-innocent lyrics tacked on. His most popular and well-known songs include “Special Olympics” (which is an ode to the titular games), “Herm-Aphrodite” (about a crush on a transsexual), and so on. (Some of his songs can be listened to on his website.)
Lynch’s new DVD, entitled “Live at the El Rey,” includes a ton of great new material in addition to a few of his old favorites. (My favorites? “She Gotta Smile” and “Priest.”) The video was shot in front of a live audience–the show itself contains sixteen different songs–and features a number of hilarious special features which make the disc a must-have for a true Lynch fan.
Lynch regularly tours and is currently co-headlining a tour with Conan O’Brien-regular Mitch Hedberg. While Mitch is funny (he seems to be essentially a long-haired stoner who ponders deep subjects such as how sesame seeds are held on the bun), he’s a very different kind of funny from Lynch, and when you’re a drunk frat boy who really wants to hear “that song about that retarded kid,” Hedberg can be a little much to sit through. He and Lynch each got an hour at the show I recently attended–30 minutes into Hedberg’s set, people were already screaming at him from the audience and my friend and I were trying to decide whether or not it was safe to run out to the bathroom.
The wait, however, was well worth it. Lynch has a great stage presence–he genuinely seems to love the audience (at one point, he got a kid out of the audience to come on stage and pour beer into his mouth, referring to the guy as his “little beer angel”), and enjoys poking fun at himself. (There’s nothing worse, of course, than a comedian who takes himself too seriously.) On stage he also shows his strong improvisational chops as well, bursting into an operatic rendition of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” at one point, and channeling what seemed to be a gay pre-school teacher at another point. Lynch thrives on the feedback that the audience gives him, and so if you’re enjoying the show, chances are that he is too. It was a great show all around, and while not all of his songs flew as well as others (“Craig,” for instance, I think horrified most everybody in the audience, even atheists), Lynch throws himself into them all with such fervor that you can’t help but laugh even if you’re shocked.
While I would recommend any of Lynch’s CDs to even a “minor” fan, there’s something to be said for seeing the man perform his songs–either in person or on his DVD. Sure, “Priest” is still funny even if you’re listening to it on your iPod in the car, but you miss out on the spectacle that is Stephen Lynch pantomiming a… er… “touching” moment between priest and altar boy. And listening to a recording never affords you with the opportunity to see Lynch perform oral sex on his microphone (which he did in concert, by the way, at least 4 times). So, yes, his CDs are funny–but seeing him play his guitar a la Art Garfunkel (it’s funnier than it sounds) is downright hilarious.
So, when you boil it down: Is Stephen Lynch subtle? Not at all. Crude and crass? Absolutely. But he’s also freakin’ hilarious.