You’re going to see “Let Freedom Hum” in a week on a TBS, but let’s talk about what couldn’t or wouldn’t or probably shouldn’t be seen.
I’ve not been the biggest fan of Martin Short, but the man is definitely a solid professional, working the pause-riddled production with unrelenting energy. All his characters are going to be pulled out of the hat for this one - Ed Grimley (who appears pants-less in the opener), Jiminy Glick, and a surprising return of Lawrence Orbach, the failed synchronized swimmer from one of the most beloved SNL skits of all time. That one’s a little ballsy - something that loved, why risk it? We didn’t get to see the taped piece, so I’ll be tuning in with you for that. Some new bits from Short were also brilliant, including a physical bit where he impersonates a bagpipe.
As I mentioned, there was a lot of pauses in the shooting and a couple of redos of some segments. Some of it was a little odd - a piano being returned to the stage at various points before a comedian’s set for what seemed to be no particular reason. None of them were playing it and nor was short necessarily when he returned for intros. Certainly seemed like they could have had all the comedians who were going to be perform with a piano nearby first then remove the damn thing. As Short remarked at one point during an early reset, “This is what we call momentum.”
Such resets for TV productions are not unusual but probably more striking to me because I had just seen Greg Giraldo perform for his Comedy Central hour special the night before. Giraldo was pretty much all self-editing on stage for that, often commenting a particular bit was destined for a DVD extra. Giraldo also performed for “Let Freedom Hum”, using none of the same material. Which is probably a good thing since his hour special isn’t coming til August I believe.
Giraldo was kind of a different comic from the others appearing on “Let Freedom Hum” - a dark rant from Giraldo about an argument with his ex-wife about the life of a road comic is good funny stuff, but seemed a mite bit darker than the comedy I think of on TBS. I couldn’t really say there was a particular thematic reason for any of the comics to be part of a special together. Where exactly do Tom Papa, Kathleen Madigan, Jeremy Hotz, John Pinette and Giraldo all meet?
There’s some big differences between the other comics on the bill. John Pinette and Jeremy Hotz are more solidly shtick driven. Hotz is a nervous one liner with a signature tic of constant finger biting. Pinette is a fat guy comic. But that’s not a pejorative, as Pinette brings a level of anger that makes his bits often surprising. And Madigan and Papa both play as smart, observational comics with Papa’s fatherhood bits standing out. (Papa told us that much of his drinking now that he has kids is “standing in front of the sink drinking.”)
Nor, as Ryan Hubbard, my compatriot at the Chicago Reader points out, was “Let America Hum” particularly America-themed - despite the title. It seems just to fit around the initial date - Friday, June 26th - which is right around the corner from July 4th. It’s probably a good move - any sort of thematic unity would be kind of an illusion.
But the question kind of remains, why? Why are these particular stand-ups together? It’s a question that’s easily answered when you do something like “Down & Dirty with Jim Norton” (the comics are going to be filthier and lean to the Cringe style) or “Comedy Central’s Last Laugh” (where the comics are kicking the last of the topical stuff out the door). I’m not sure people tuning in will think after one or two comics that they’ll be sure they’ll like the next one and not flip the channel. That might make TBS answer this question for future specials.