Note: I’m knowingly leaving out the joke responsible for the album’s namesake, because going into it with little to no knowledge makes it all the funnier. I know it’s a great bit, just prefacing the review to say it was a conscious choice.
For those of you who aren’t aware, the gravelly road to success in stand-up comedy is a far cry from the well-paved track to music stardom. While slightly generalizing, bands write a couple songs, record a demo, shop it, get noticed, get signed, make a full-length, tour, and then (hopefully) continue their career on a semi-steady back and forth between those last two for the foreseeable future. Comedians, however, have to trudge through the terrifying hellhole that is the open-mic circuit for years. Performing wherever possible 3-5 times a week to people who don’t care where your career heads is an inescapable reality, and even if you persevere past that (managing to elevate to the level of emcee or support comic for touring headliners), your next inevitable ceiling is that if you do not live in Los Angeles or New York, you will not get any bigger.
Once you move, though, you essentially have to start the whole process over (because who in California gives a shit if you’re quasi-famous in Akron?), and it can seem like decades before you get some indelible proof that what you’re doing has even been worth it. That unforgiving trajectory is the exact reason why, after 10 years as a stand-up comic, we’re just now receiving Kurt Braunohler’s fantastic debut album. Luckily for us, however, the flip side of this coin is that all that combined experience is responsible for a first release with nearly no filler; How Do I Land? is hands-down the best comedy record I’ve heard this year.
Kurt Braunohler is a man on a mission (which he states explicitly towards the beginning of the record): to insert stupidity and/or absurdity into strangers’ lives in the hopes of making the world a better place if only for a split second. In addition to chronicling his alterations to novels and greeting cards, he also gives three hilarious, albeit risky, suggestions how the audience and general public can do the same. That mantra and those suggestions are a breath of fresh air for the comedy world. The Louis CKs and the Marc Marons of the world are incredibly talented comics, but they have such a downtrodden worldview; it’s nice to see a comic like Braunohler remind everybody that not only should comedy be fun, it should involve everyone.
And involve everyone, he does. Whether he’s texting random numbers his ‘street name,’ jerking people around on Craigslist Missed Connections, or truly scaring women he convinces to sleep with him, Braunohler succeeds best at taking ‘you had to be there’ moments and conveying them equally hilariously to the crowd. When he's not doing these comedic anonymity experiments, however, he has no issue turning the mirror on himself. Between taking a snack break on stage and listing off a few facts about his upbringing, one could argue that he's inserting just as much absurdity into these people's live without explicitly involving anyone else. Honestly, though, any of these bits could be a giant swing and a miss, and his delivery would still win an audience over in a heartbeat, because cadence is responsible for a surprisingly large portion of the laughs found on this album. Some punchlines are spoken with such panache, that Braunohler sounds just as surprised at what he’s saying as the people hearing these jokes for the first time.
Starting off with a few quick jabs at the Pacific Northwest & top 40 radio and tackling the controversial topic of airports, How Do I Land? never veers too far into surreal or absurd territory. For the most part, Braunohler is a conventional comedian, he just has an offbeat diction and an interest in taking comedic tropes a few steps past where audiences expect. Regardless of if he’s talking about seemingly tried topics such as exercising or personal hygiene, he still finds a way to fit in some talk about comedically large dildos and the phrase ‘lesbian Hitler Youth.’ It doesn’t take long to realize that Kurt Braunohler isn’t the next game-changing comedian, but that shouldn’t be an insult at all to his skill level. He wants to talk about what he thinks is funny, and he’s naturally great at getting audiences to agree with him. Humor doesn’t always need to reinvent the wheel; sometimes people just need to laugh, and by simply excelling at prompting that, this record will go down as one of the best in 2013.