Invite Them Up, a massive three-cd/one-dvd compendium from the long-running East Village comedy show of the same name, is alienating and self-indulgent. It has a “For Us By Us” mentality that is sure to turn off all but the most similarly minded listeners. It is an object lesson in how artists from New York City get venerated as hip and cutting-edge simply because they are from New York City. Above all, it is boring. Very, very boring.
A cardinal rule of comedy is “Leave ’em wanting more”, and any practitioner of the art form would do well to follow that rule. But Invite Them Up, a weekly show curated by comics Bobby Tisdale and Eugene Mirman, is “alt-comedy”. They don’t follow rules. They’re rock ‘n roll and rebellion, the antidote to the hacks working two-drink minimum joints in Midtown, free spirits who push boundaries in a supportive environment. That’s all very admirable. But when push comes to shove, comedy, like anything else, is a product. And Invite Them Up is a product destined to gather dust on the shelves, unless said shelves are located in downtown Manhattan. Instead of being left wanting more, listeners are left on the floor, comatose from trying to absorb five hours of smug, irony-laden anecdotes from acerbic middle-class white folks in their twenties and thirties.
It didn’t have to be that way. There is some genuinely funny stuff on here, needles of laughter in a haystack of deadening mediocrity. Demetri Martin’s deadpan explorations of the quirks of the English language are hilarious (“I want to buy a bunch of hermit crabs and make them live together”), Jon Glaser’s monologue about his dead father’s ZZ Top connections strike the right note of discombobulated weirdness, and Aziz Ansari plows through a passionate routine on topics that range from sex with box turtles to having a crush on M.I.A. The musical acts (Shudder to Think’s Craig Wedren, Marcellus Hall, and Langhorne Slim) that round off each disc sound inspired, benefiting from the intimate surroundings and supportive audience.
Getting to highlights such as these, however, is like playing a game of Pitfall. One has to swing over so much soul-sucking, alligator-inhabited quicksand that it’s really not worth the risk (memo to the alt-comedy world: just because David Cross opens his mouth doesn’t mean something funny is gonna come out of it). This isn’t so much a knock on the comics themselves than it is the decision to immortalize their tossed-off semi-improvisations to disc. Invite Them Up has made a name for itself precisely because the performers are trying something new every week. Live and in person, their routines can be inspiring and exhilarating. But releasing over 300 minutes of this style of comedy is a colossal misstep, resulting in an unwieldy and ultimately unfunny box set when a greatest hits package would have done just fine.