Review: Duncan Carson – Pointless

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Review by Valerie Lopez

Our first ever Comedy Wham Presents interview was with Brendan K. O’Grady and Duncan Carson, the founders and co-hosts of Sure Thing, a weekly showcase and institution of the Austin comedy scene.  For each anniversary of Comedy Wham Present’s existence, we have marked the occasion with a nod to Sure Thing.

For our 1st anniversary, we talked to Brendan to discuss the exciting things happening with the launch of Sure Thing Records (a label that currently touts 10 album releases).

The 2nd anniversary, we went dark, but that was in a melancholy tribute to the fact that the live weekly showcase that had been held on Saturday nights for so many years went dark for many, many months (lucky for us, it has returned to its usual “packed room” status at The Fallout Theater, but now on Friday nights).

For the 3rd anniversary, we get to mark the occasion by reviewing Pointless, the debut comedy album by Duncan.  Not only to honor the great work that Duncan did in both being the artist and co-producer (along with O’Grady) for the album, but to celebrate a new arena for Comedy Wham Presents – the album review.  With just a handful under our belts, we look forward to celebrating and highlighting the recorded efforts of comics far and wide but still with a connection to the Austin comedy scene.

Because this is a special album review / anniversary celebration, we also took the opportunity to ask Carson about his experience working on the album. We think you’ll enjoy the insights that Carson provided almost as much as you’ll enjoy his album.  

Pointless

Pointless, the album by Duncan Carson is a wonderful capture of some of Carson’s finest jokes, many of which I have heard while attending the Sure Thing showcase.  

Frequenting comedy shows, it’s not unusual to hear a joke many, many times over. On an album, however, there’s something magical in hearing the “recorded” version. You realize, “aaah, this is the finest form of the joke”, with its subtle changes of one word or two, or a slightly longer pause inserted or removed. 

This is the feeling I had when listening to Pointless.  It’s still Carson, but it’s also the perfected version of Carson.  And if you’ve watched Carson live, you know that there is much that is conveyed with one of his signature eyebrow waggles and smirks.  I realized, listening to his album, that those signature moves are not what makes his comedy great, it’s the jokes and the delivery. Duh – you’d think I had figured that out by now!  That’s the joy of reviewing comedy albums, it allows you the chance to really focus on the message – and if the message (ok, the joke) is really, really good, you don’t even need to see the performer on a stage. (You should, of course).  This album made me appreciate Carson’s understated and heavily self-deprecating style all the more.

What are some key elements you need to know to convince you to buy this album? I’d like to trademark this expression as how I describe the album – Carson manages to capture our worst anxieties about ourselves with comedic gentleness.  He points out his own anxieties in a way that we accept them as our own, but without ever making us feel like we’re bad people for having them. I also noticed that if you listen closely, there are a lot of potential catchphrases that Carson provides throughout the album.  

 With Pointless, I noticed something I’d never noticed before when listening to an album – none of the track titles reveal the joke. I have listened to albums where you see the track title and (if you’ve seen the performer enough times that you know their jokes) instantly know what the track will be. One of my favorites was “dying with peanut butter face”; it’s a gem, and I leave the surprise of discovering it up to the listener, not the track list. 

But not Carson’s. I like that element of mystery. It keeps people on their toes, and I think in a genius move, it forces a new audience to relisten because they won’t know what the track’s joke is based on the title unless they listen to it repeatedly. The album is not one hit after the other. The album starts off strong, has a patient and steady beat in the middle and it’s not til the very end that you get hit with a power-packed punch. And it is power-packed. While I can’t in good conscience spoil the closing track, I can spoil the fact that I was so thrilled with what Carson did that I screamed and clapped with excitement.  If you know anything about Carson, you will too.

Pointless is a wonderful addition to your comedy album collection, and definitely not pointless.

Duncan Carson on Pointless

As a special feature to this album review, I asked Duncan to tell me about some of his experiences with recording the album. I asked thinking it might be nice to get a quote or two to supplement the album review, but his insights were so interesting, we thought we’d share them in full with you.

Valerie Lopez: How did it feel recording the album?

Duncan Carson: I was nervous! The best weapon against nerves, over the years for me, has been understanding that it’s just a moment in time with some people, at an open mic or my show, or Cap City or on a festival. The stakes feel high, because it’s you and your jokes and your hopes and dreams, but if you get out of your head and remember to just be in the moment and in the room with people, it’s way more fun (and you’re funnier, too). So for the first time in over ten years of performing, off and on, I was pretty caught up in the thought that I would be recording this to actually put it OUT there, for it to exist in the world.  It was hard to keep my head in the present, especially the day of the recording.

“If you get out of your head and remember to just be in the moment and in the room with people, it’s way more fun.”
Duncan Carson

My favorite moment is in the first track when I address the recording happening and I say “for the listening (audience), this is happening during a hailstorm that I’m relatively sure my anxiety caused”. When that gets a big response from the crowd, I remember a lot of tension and anxiety melting away, this wave of relief as I remembered: I’m here with these people. They fought through the weather to get here also (it WAS hailing that day), this is really happening, and if I stop worrying about whether it’ll be a good album or not, this is going to be a whole lot of fun.

VL: How did it feel after you were done recording? Especially since you’re both the artist AND the audio editor.

DC: A few of my friends that have recorded albums, for Sure Thing Records or otherwise, warned me there would be a period of time that I couldn’t even stand to listen to it- and I was pretty sure that wouldn’t happen to me… until I tried to listen to it.  It was painful! All of the instincts you have in your brain to constantly be improving jokes, to be a better performer, those instincts aren’t easy to quiet down when you’re working on a “final” version of the jokes, during a performance frozen in time.

A few months went by–I recorded in May 2017–and then Austin Java closed at the end of August, and without a weekly show to worry about I’m even less organized, so I kept dragging my heels, until the following summer, when we were coming back at Fallout (Theater) and in the regular swing of things. All of a sudden, after enough time avoiding the thought, I got really excited to have an album to put out there!

Once I finally did it, it was a big advantage to have helped edit several other albums- it made it a lot easier to made certain choices to make the whole album flow well, instead of being dead set on including certain jokes that were near to my heart.

It also helps, in general, that the prevailing theme of the album, and the joke that the title comes from, is not to let anxiety keep you from enjoying yourself. The material that I chose for the album, and that I have gravitated toward the longer I do comedy, is usually advice that I find it important to repeat to myself. And it’s flattering and humbling that people laughed along with me, that day last May and all the other days I’m lucky enough to perform.

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We’re very thankful that you recorded the album, Duncan!

 

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