It was a late weeknight, deadline long gone, review past due... I messaged Tony Sam through Facebook asking him if he had a second photo to be published with the piece. We started chatting about comedy and life and a striking realization set in at some point in our casual chat. The chemicals in my brain started percolating, and a theory about art started taking shape. Upon returning to the writing, I feared for what was going to happen. My tired gaze shifted to the clock, which read "1:11 A.M." It was time to start over, from the beginning. What started off as a simple, silly album review was turning into one of those nights where you trade eight hours of potential sleep for long-lasting revelation and reflection. Freshly galvanized, I put pandora on shuffle, poured another glass of sweet tea, opened a brand new blank word doc, cracked my knuckles, clicked chair into its upright-most position and started clicking away at keys. It was going to be a long, late night/rushed, early morning.
Art is all we have. As human beings - who are consistently incapable of clear communication, incompetent at controlling our emotions, and absolutely useless at loving each other - art is all we have. As human beings inching our way into our inevitable ends, art is all we have and all we leave behind. The reason comedians are often depressed is because they accept this truth. They are honest. To see the world so honestly is depressing. So, as a form of self-medication, they immerse themselves in comedy. Which came first, the comedian or the depression? The rubber chicken or the egg on the face? It doesn't matter. All that matters is that comedy wins out. And in the case of Tony Sam's recent release, comedy definitely wins.
Refreshingly silly, Scaredy Cat stares into the ominous darkness of death and laughs in its stupid fuckin' face. The first thing that really struck my interest in my Facebook chat with Sam (and the moment I knew it wouldn't be getting any sleep), was when he said, "[in reference to making the album] I'm glad I waited as long as I did." I pressed him on this point and he continued. "I wanted it to be done right. I think some people put one out before they are ready, and it's a detriment. I wanted mine to be the best product I knew I could put out. Not just something to sell at shows." We kept the conversation casual without moving into a formal interview (which is what every formal interview strives to be). And Tony opened up more and more.
"I fell out of love with comedy for a hot second because it's a tough business, and the process of making this album brought it all back for me. It all sprouted from me being told to think if I could live my life happy without ever doing stand up again, and the answer is no. I love being in front of an audience and telling jokes. It's in me. If you can walk away from something then you weren't meant to do it."
The conversation crumbled into us trading Bukowski poems for Willy Wonka quotes. The poem the chat conjured was So You Want To Be a Writer? It brings to light the point that being an artist is not a choice. It's a curse. It is much easier to work a normal, quiet job. In fact, it is often desired by many artists to live a simple, quiet life. Fame is not desired by the sane. Fame is merely an unwanted side effect. What's important is the work. Of course, with this curse, as with all curses, comes great wisdom. Sam directed my attention inside the album cover where a Roald Dahl quote read:
"A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men."
Art should be a ridiculous celebration, in which you can feel the artist's heart thumping through your stereo or silver screen or gallery walls. It's actually amazing when you consider that the word heart is derived from the Latin root word, cor (as in the Earth's core), yet incredibly, somehow, contains the word art. It could only be because that's where art belongs, at the core of our being. There is also a scientific significance to feeling the heartbeat come through in art. That is that our bodies create electricity, and that electricity produces our heartbeats. When excitement strikes, our heart rate rises and races, and that electric excitement is contagious. It is no leap of faith to say that the electricity from the rhythm of a performer's heartbeat is received and reciprocated by the audience, just like your foot starts to tap to the rhythm of the beat of an upbeat dance song. This is not hippie-dippie hooey, it is hardcore, factual, medical science.
This is the significant success of Tony Sam. He's just having fun. In a world of pontificating politicians convincing us to use first-rate technology to drop bombs on third world countries, this album is a recorded testament of a person having way too much fucking fun. That fun comes through the speakers, through your ears and into your internal wiring. It sends electrical currents though your body. If nothing else, take this away from me, LISTEN TO COMEDY ALBUMS. While, admittedly, comedy may seem to lack some of the flare of pop music, may seem to fail as an immediate amenity like your favorite movie, it gives you something much more rare. You are given an honest, intimate, and comprehensive portrait of a flawed, interesting human being. You are given the mystery and magic of magnificent laughter. Tony Sam gives the gift of levity in a heavy world. He gives his heartbeat.
Tony Sam: Scaredy Cat is available on iTunes. Buy it!