Devin R Bruce is a friend to Variant Edition and to all good-hearted creatures who roam the Earth. In each installment of This Column Has Seven Days, Devin discusses his favourite pop culture experiences of the past week in an effort to share the joy of an overlooked gem, an old favourite that’s bubbled up to the surface, or a classic work that he’s finally gotten around to. Comic books, movies, television, novels, podcasts, music, Old Time Radio: there’s something for everyone. Here’s what he’s been up to this week.
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I’ve watched Patton Oswalt’s recent special, Annihilation, three times now. Each time, it connects with a tender spot deep inside, resonating until my whole body is faintly tingling. It’s not the opening, where he not unexpectedly deals with the most recent U.S. election and compares the new president to an egomaniacal, vindictive David Lee Roth. It’s not the story of the greatest fight he’s ever seen, a beautifully crafted piece of Patton Oswalt storytelling that would fit perfectly into any of his other specials or albums. And it’s not the unexpected but strangely compelling crowdwork in the middle of the show, something I’ve never seen Oswalt do before. It’s a way to highlight another one of the skills that Oswalt has honed over two decades in standup comedy, but the first time I watched his good-humoured dive into the lives of three people in the front row, I wondered if there was more going on.
Of course, there was. Immediately following the interview with the last audience member, Oswalt cracks a joke that’s so amazingly silly that he “gives up,” lying down on the stage. Then, he gets up and returns to his microphone stand, and that’s when he starts looking nervous. He takes a breath. Swallows. And dives right into the tragedy.
Specifically, the death of his wife, crime writer Michelle Eileen McNamara. The last section of Annihilation is a tour-de-force of comedy fueled by rage, grief, and hopelessness. It’s some of the most personal and brilliant standup comedy I’ve ever seen. Oswalt’s signature tics of delivery and clever wordplay, his incise intelligence, are just as sharp when focused on tragedy. Walking a fine line, where one missed step could push him into too much pathos or too much light, Oswalt never stumbles. It’s heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time. Annihilation is some of the funniest, most compelling comedy of Oswalt’s career. It’s a reminder that trauma can rip you apart, but if you can find the humour you can’t ever be destroyed by it.
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It’s not a new album to me by any means, but lately I’ve been immersing myself in Jacksoul’s 2006 release MySoul. Other than the album’s first track, the upbeat and swinging “One Song,” it’s an album of covers highlighting the spirit of soul and R&B. The band covers a number of classics in the genre, including a shifted-down version of Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” and a moody version of Sam Cooke’s “Change Is Gonna Come” that highlights Haydain Neale’s incredible voice. But it’s the unexpected covers that I keep coming back to. There’s a heartbreaking version of Blue Rodeo’s “Try” that, frankly, outdoes the original. The Guess Who’s “These Eyes” gets a standup R&B makeover that reveals the soul that’s been hiding there all along. And the album’s highlight, a funky version of Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing,” comes with a horn section and bass groove that just won’t quit. Plus, there are versions of songs from Radiohead, Bowie, Teddy Pendergrass, and even Miley Cyrus. Get yourself some MySoul and settle in. It’s a musical treat that you won’t regret.
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I’ve talked about John Moe’s The Hilarious World of Depression before but wanted to highlight a particular episode that I caught up on last week. The episode featuring Aimee Mann is, quite frankly, the standout of the podcast’s current season. Mann is a great interview, candid and thoughtful, and also really funny. She’s dry without being overly ironic or snarky, a rare thing in this day and age. If you like Aimee Mann’s music it’s a must-listen, and then you should probably listen to the rest of the episodes too.
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I think I’ll wrap it up there for this week, friends. Until next time, kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight. I’ll see you in seven days.