CD Review: “Levels of Difficulty” by Paul Strickland

I love comic storyteller Paul Strickland’s new CD, “Levels of Difficulty.” It was released earlier this week.

Paul Strickland is from Tennessee but you may remember him from the 2010 and 2011 Indy Fringe Festivals here in Indianapolis, Indiana. I enjoyed his 2010 storytelling show, “A Brighter Shade of Blue,” but his 2011 storytelling show, “Any Title That Works,” bowled me over.  I saw it twice.

His “Levels of Difficulty” CD has a more stand-up feel than either of his Fringe shows, which makes sense.  According to Chad Riden on NashvilleStandup.com, Paul’s CD was recorded live at the Comedy Caravan in Louisville, Kentucky.  However, just as Paul’s stand-up skills informed his storytelling shows, his story crafting skills inform his stand-up.  Both are treats.

Each track on the CD stands alone, but there are references to the title throughout.  All of his work (that I know of) is autobiographical, but Paul observes at the beginning of this CD that he needs to entertain a wide variety of people in his audience and therefore he needs jokes at various “Levels of Difficulty” to make everyone laugh at something, like a gymnast needs a variety of stunts in her routine to impress all of the judges in some way.

He sets it up in a much funnier way than I have here, however.

I like to think that I got even the Level 9 jokes on the CD but that was probably more Paul’s skill than mine.  On the surface he is such a regular, goofy guy but there is an underlying consciousness that is very appealing.  I love the juxtaposition of “unpretentious” and “smart” in his work.

Other reasons I’m glad I bought this CD:

  • It is “clean” in terms of language – I think Paul says “hell” once or twice, but that is the extent of the curse words.  I am not categorically opposed to cursing, but I know how hard it is not to curse in everyday life, so I admire artists that can make crowds of adults howl with laughter without cursing.
  • That Tennessee accent!  Yup, I confess: I just find it pleasurable to listen to Paul Strickland’s voice.
  • That audience! The laughter of the audience on this recording is a pleasure all by itself.  They are obviously having a good time at Paul’s show: he has them in the palm of his hand and they love being there.  That joyfulnes is contagious, so this CD makes me feel good every time I hear it.  I’ve taken to listening to at least a part of this CD at the end of every day as a way of decompressing.
  • I have listened to the whole CD at least six times now, and I still laugh out loud at many of the jokes and Paul’s impeccable delivery of them.  They are funny beyond their surprise, if that makes sense.

I’ll warn you that he does put down Nashville, Indiana in one segment, which is disconcerting if you’re like me and adore our Nashville quite a bit for its charm and history, thank you very much.

But I get that if you have pulled off the highway expecting another Nashville, Tennessee…well, no, that is not what you’re going to find in Nashville, Indiana.

Mostly, though, I forgive Paul for that segment because the joke is not ultimately about how bad Nashville, Indiana is or isn’t but about something else entirely.  I’ll let you hear it for yourself if you decide to buy the CD.

Actually, I don’t know if a physical CD is available anywhere.  I bought the whole collection of segments via iTunes – the first whole iTunes album I’ve ever bought!  It is also available for sale as an MP3 album on Amazon.com. Both places call the segments “songs” but except for one hilarious sung line there is no music on this album.

Okay, I’m going to go listen to the whole CD again.  But maybe later this weekend I’ll see you at the theatres…

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and @IndyTheatre on Twitter.

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