“A Little Bit About Myself” captures the formative chaos of early comedy careers.
Starting out in comedy is such a beautifully awful thing. Ask any professional comedian who’s been in the game a while, and just about every one of them will tell you that they didn’t really discover their unique “voice” until maybe a decade or so into their careers. Stand-up comedy is an art form that really and truly does take that long to really harness and hone for most people. Growth happens in almost imperceptible increments. The first handful of years are spent throwing anything and everything against the wall just and seeing what sticks until you find your focus, and once you have that then everything that came before becomes sort of vestigial.
Madison-based comedian Dan Bacula captures the excitement and messiness of those transitional moments with the unconventional stand-up album A Little Bit About Myself, released through Bandcamp this week. Bacula assembled it from bits recorded at open mics every week over the course of 2015, and describes it as “Part mixtape, part chronicle, part scrappy comedy debut album.” It goes a long way to document the dogged work ethic of a comic who’s really just starting to grind it out in basements and half-empty bars, testing out new material on small rooms of markedly less-than-rapt audiences.
The tracks are handily broken down into the months from which the material was culled, and even though the sound quality is pretty rough (recorded direct to his phone, I assume) you can easily sense the trench-warfare camaraderie among the comics that assuredly make up the bulk of the audience. Over the course of the album, certain laughs and heckles become distinguishable from the smattering of dedicated true comedy believers, and having spent a few years worth of Monday nights down in the Argus basement myself, I can’t help but guess at who the individuals are. As well as a document of his various works in progress, A Little Bit About Myself doubles as a pretty decent advertisement for the chummy non-Comedy Club On State open mics where comics work through new material in front of, well, mostly other comics (though obviously the more the merrier!).
Bacula puts on lots of different hats, and they vary in their effectiveness. His longer-form stories tend to sag a little bit, but the occasional bone-dry one-liners he peppers in between buoy things up enough to keep it interesting. You can definitely pick up on his growth and self-assuredness, as his premises get strong enough to warrant big laughs all on their own. The material is pretty blue at times but in a rough-and-ready punk-rock sort of way given the long-lost-demo sound-quality. The “February“ track starts with jokes about porn and ends with a lengthy bit about Elliott Smith, with the observation “people say you should be careful what you wish for but I think you should be careful what you work really really hard for” wedged in between. At 40-plus minutes, the whole thing is incredibly long and about as inconsistent as you’d expect it to be, but the time-lapse premise of it loosens some of the pressure for Bacula to deliver a real “comedy album.” And in all honesty, coming up with even half this amount of decent material over the course of a year is pretty damn admirable.
Bacula is hosting for Tommy Johnagin this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Comedy Club on State, if you wanna hear the best of this batch and likely some new bits he’s kicked up since the beginning of this year.