Touch Me, I’m Funny

Sub Pop’s foray into comedy raised some eyebrows, but it really shouldn’t be all that surprising.

Eyebrows were raised, somewhat understandably, when Sub Pop signed David Cross to the label in 2002. Just what as this funnyman from TV doing shacking up at theGrunge Resort & Spa, anyway?"I think we were at a point as a company where doing something outside of our comfort zone was an attractive prospect," says Tony Kiewel, head of A&R for Sub Pop.Cross' first release was Shut Up, You Fucking Baby!, the first official recording of his salty stand-up comedy. Considering our nation was caught up in its big "You're Either With Us Or Against Us" marketing campaign, Cross' brand of humor was perfectly timed. Sure, George Carlin was still out there speaking the truth, but the indie-rock crowd was in need of a new voice of reason, and Cross was it. Shut Up included his excellent riff on living in NYC during 9/11 (quoth Cross: "Or, as I like to call it, 'The Week Football Stopped'") and his venomous memory of his hometown's ill-fated street fair, Light Up Atlanta.Cross—with his tortoise-shell glasses, baggy T-shirts, and baseball caps—maintained a stolid anti-conservative viewpoint, which, like Pryor, Carlin, etc., allowed him to drop non-PC expletives into his act without offending his fans. The record, which harkened back to the '70s LPs by those aforementioned giants, was nominated for a Grammy, but lost to Weird Al.Not only did Cross follow that up with 2004's It's Not Funny, but Sub Pop continued to bring in stand-up comedians. In addition to Cross, the label is now home to Eugene Mirman, Patton Oswalt, and Flight of the Conchords.Anyone surprised by these signings hasn't been paying attention. Megan Jasper's "grunge lexicon" prank on the New York Times is just the most famous example, but Sub Pop has always been possessed of a wicked sense of humor. As early as the Sub Pop 200 compilation, co-founders Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman were presenting music with a smirk; on the back cover, the two are shown dressed up in business suits and accompanied by an ominous photo of the Terminal Sales Building.Later, when a distributor was late with payment, Pavitt and Poneman printed up T-shirts boldly saying "You Owe Us Money" and wore them to the distributor's office, saying nothing until they got the hint. Their earliest business cards also boasted funnies such as "Jonathan 'Scenekiller' Poneman" and "Bruce 'Lunchbreak' Pavitt." Even today, when business is taken a little more seriously, a sense of irony permeates almost every aspect of the label. When Mudhoney's Under a Billion Suns was released, they promoted online orders with the promise "Mark Arm will ship it to you personally! We Are Serious." (The Mudhoney front man works in the label's warehouse.)Though Kiewel says the particular comics they've signed are mostly the result of timing, something about each one makes them fit right in with Sub Pop's overall sense of humor. Patton Oswalt, the most recent one to release a record on Sub Pop (Werewolves & Lollipops), is probably the most fully formed of them all. Not only does he have an impeccable sense of tone and timing on a par with the heavyweights, he knows how to mock Republicans, fast-food consumers, and the uneducated without dipping into Cross' venomous territory. And his jokes never tail off into flights of fancy as Eugene Mirman's sometimes do.Of course, Oswalt can chalk this up to the 20-plus years he's spent on the stand-up circuit, which has honed his craft in a way only years of practice can. Because of his experience, he almost ties together and emphasizes the strengths of the other "alternative comedians."It's ironic, it's tongue-in-cheek, and it's sarcastic as hell. Like Sub Pop's attempts at being funny, some people get it, some don't. Those that get it laugh their asses off.bbarr@seattleweekly.com SP 20 Comedy Show With Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Eugene Mirman, Todd Barry, and Kristen Schaal. The Moore. 1932 Second Ave., 467-5510, www.themoore.com. $20. 8 p.m. Fri., July 11.

 
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