Time Out NY Best Comedy Specials 2013:
"Tom Shillue's 12 Comedy Albums in 12 Months"
As part of his ambitious 12-in -2 project Tom Shillue produced one album of new material a month from November 2012 to October 2013.
“Not a sane feat…especially when interspersed with a weekly podcast (Funny Story), two 20-city tours with Jim Gaffigan over the past year, and regular NYC shows at both mainstream clubs and alternative outliers like Brooklyn Brewery. Between the time crunch and the sheer breadth of material required, no comic has ever attempted anything like this. “Time is my enemy, but I have to admit it is also my friend,” he acknowledges. “Without the deadlines, I wouldn’t produce.”
Combining an early love of Bill Cosby and Bob Newhart, Shillue began performing spoken word in junior high, expanding his college repertoire to include theater and singing. Though the 20-year NYC vet spent the mid-’90s slugging it out in the city’s traditional rooms, he later began frequenting more experimental venues like Luna Lounge and Moonwork before “dragging stories kicking and screaming back into the comedy clubs in the 2000s.” Since then, of course, there’s been a narrative uptick, evidenced by the popularity of the Moth, as well as shows like Mortified and RISK!—all of which Shillue has been a part.
Shillue keeps his sets long and loose, “like Phish,” he says, recording each of them. When he feels he has nailed a particular monologue, he moves on to the next. If one doesn’t work out, the production deadlines of “12 in 12” force him to figure out something that does. Shillue groups separate stories to make a larger point and edits them on his Mac into the wee hours before sending them to his distributor. “The beauty is, whether it’s ready or not, it’s gotta go,” he shrugs. “Perfection is overrated.”
Fortunately for fans of confessional storytelling—of which he is widely considered a local progenitor—Shillue thrives under the gun.
Louis CK’s annual releases aside, the majority of performers take years to shape material into albumworthy sets, then spend another few painstaking months on editing, art and promotion. The “12 in 12” gambit puts listeners squarely in the moment. Shillue captures not only the raw show experience, but the very essence of being a New York comedian: the distractions, the determination, the mad dashes between shows, the fidgety uncertainty that anything’s ever good enough.
Before the Moth and This American Life had really popularized comedic, first-person storytelling, Tom Shillue was a pioneer, magically succeeding at doing just what young stand-ups are told to avoid: delivering soliloquies that make one popular at parties. As he conjures details of cinematic proportions, he does so with enough exuberance to convince the audience he’s reliving, not just retelling, each situation. "