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The Contender


Matt Braunger's stand-up talent comes of age on his second album and special, "Shovel Fighter."


By Michael Shashoua / Jester Editor-In-Chief


A few years back, stand-up comic Matt Braunger appeared in the early days of Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast and spoke of discovering George Carlin’s 1970s albums as a kid, and playing them for friends. Even though he’d heard the albums countless times, Braunger said he got even more joy from seeing a friend’s reaction to them.


Now Braunger is getting that reaction himself with material crafted very much in the spirit of Carlin’s sillier, simpler 1970s era material, and of a nature that makes you want to do the same by playing Braunger’s own material for friends. Braunger’s mastered this effect on his second album being released by Comedy Central, “Shovel Fighter” on July 17. [This review is based on the audio album, recorded at a different performance than the TV special airing July 14 and being released on DVD].


To that Carlin spirit, Braunger adds a dash of Will Ferrell in some of his more hysterical and yelling performances. But Ferrell doesn’t really do stand-up, and Braunger incorporates that style of performance into the stand-up format. This seasoning is particularly effective on the title piece of “Shovel Fighter,” a dark piece of imagination about the worst job imaginable (think of a more sadistic twist on ultimate fighting practiced somewhere in the Ukraine). Braunger also deploys it particularly well on “A Ghost at the Two-Man Party,” a re-telling of one of those bizarre youthful misadventures that turn up a few different times on this album and in his material.


As on his first album, “Soak Up The Night” (see review, 8/23/09), Braunger displays a penchant for surrealism in his material at times, but always starting with a basic premise that keeps it accessible. “Strip Club For Ladies” starts with a more typical premise, imagining what its title suggests, but Braunger gets creative, imagining something like a theatrical scene with a mechanic in overalls who can fix your vehicle, as being more desirable than the typical male stripper. “It’s autumn in Vermont,” Braunger begins, setting a scene, and taking it from there.


It gets even more delightfully weird later in the special, in the piece “Panda Butler,” again imagining exactly what the title suggests. Braunger starts again with a standard stand-up riff, making fun of the self-motivational book “The Secret,” but takes it to a different place when he suddenly blurts out what he wants the universe to bring to him – of course, a “panda butler” – and goes on to describe what that would be like.


With “Shovel Fighter,” Braunger has really established himself as a comic talent and a force to be reckoned with. Today’s more fractured media landscape may actually be a benefit to him because it will allow him to develop his artistry, and there’s probably a lot more to look forward to from Braunger since he’s only two albums in to an inventive run.
















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