Viewing two stand-up acts back to back is a tricky business. Comparisons are inevitable. After watching (and loving) Kristen Schaal's recent special, I decided to check out Craig Shoemaker's Daditude. Of course, the two comedians could not be more different in their style or choice of material. Schaal's set included simulated sex between kitchen utensils while Shoemaker'sâ€¦didn't. Schaal eschewed traditional setups and punchlines for the most part while Shoemaker's act is built around them. I don't mean to belabor the comparison. I simply want to make sure you understand that while I ultimately enjoyed both comedians, it was for entirely different reasons.
Shoemaker has been plying his craft since the 80s and been a fixture on the stand-up circuit for just as long (earning him Funniest Male Stand-Up Comic at the American Comedy Awards in 1997). With all that time spent touring, Shoemaker has polished his act to a fine sheen and it shows in the controlled release of laughs over the course of this ~90 minute special. Keeping a live audience engaged for an hour and a half may sound challenging but you wouldn't know it from watching Shoemaker at work. He keeps the adoring crowd eating out of his hands with the oldest trick in the book: material one can easily identify with told in an entertaining and animated fashion.
Over the course of his special, Shoemaker pulls faces, does impressions and gets physical on stage but there's no denying that his core strength is as a storyteller. His ability to weave a tale is most evident in the early segments where he describes his childhood and later in the show when he delves into the challenges of raising his own kids. Elsewhere he allows himself short, punchy bits that provide setups and punchlines in quick succession. Even in those sections of the show, Shoemaker intelligently places himself at the center of the material in such a way that he's still telling a storyâ€¦his story. While other comedians may comment on society and its foibles from a distance, Shoemaker gets into the thick of it even if his stories make him look like a buffoon (which they usually do). This elevates even the more generic material as you get sucked into Shoemaker's take on a subject and stop thinking about how familiar some of it feels.
I should also mention that while Shoemaker isn't really an edgy comedian (compared to some alternative comics out there), he has a lot of fun with subverting expectations. For starters, he's willing to work blue. He's joyfully vulgar without being outright obscene. He pokes at racial taboos without crossing the line into outright bigotry. This is demonstrated to hilarious effect when he does a racially charged bit to a mixed response from the crowd. He then immediately follows that up with the same material performed in his best Chris Rock voice. In a way Shoemaker just made things more offensive and yet the crowd lets loose as they recognize their own politically correct double-standard.
I can't discuss Shoemaker's special without mentioning his one bit of fanservice. I'm talking about his Lovemaster character. Frankly, calling the Lovemaster a character is even overselling the bit since it's so one-noteâ€¦but what a note it is. Shoemaker just drops his voice low into a 70s male pornstar drawl and delivers awful pickup line after awful pickup line to an unseen victim. Sometimes there isn't even room for a double entendre when the Lovemaster would rather go for a pair of singles. As I said, it's a silly one-note gag but it's Shoemaker's signature bit so he can't help but bust it out for an extended run during the show's finale. If you're a fan, you'll be happy to see it. If you're not, you'll be puzzled at first but will likely give in to the strange mix of sleaze and goofiness.
The image is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. As long as the camera is trained on Shoemaker, the image is sharp and detailed (especially the close-ups). Long shots are a touch softer and some of the crowd shots exhibit a fair amount of grain due to the low lighting. The stage backdrop features a mix of red and slate grey which come through with clarity and sufficient pop. Altogether this is a perfectly acceptable presentation for the material at hand.
The audio mix is presented in English 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo with optional English SDH subtitles. Given that this is a stand-up act, the dialogue is all that really matters. The audio mix presents it with clarity as audience noise never threatens to overshadow Shoemaker. There are no obvious defects to speak of.
This release offers a pretty skimpy selection of extras. Photo Shoot (0:39) and Runaway (0:23) are throwaway bits that show Shoemaker cracking wise against a green screen during a promotional photo session. "Towel" Outtake (0:36) is exactly what it sounds like. Craig takes a break during the special so he can wipe his face with a towelâ€¦riveting stuff. "We-hab" Outtake (1:08) is along the same lines but a tiny bit longer. In this one, Shoemaker goes for a sip of water and a towel while getting sassy with his audience.
In an age where comedians cultivate increasingly quirky stage personas to keep audiences guessing, Shoemaker is a bit of a throwback. I'm certainly not knocking the former (Schaal and Galifianakis are two personal favorites who sort of fit the bill) but a change of pace is always nice. Shoemaker may talk about pretty typical stuff like childhood shenanigans, excessive airport security, polite British porn, relationship woes and bridging generational gaps (okay, the polite British porn is an outlier) but he does so with such a personal touch that you likely won't care. I was swept up by his skewed take on the commonplace and I suspect a number of you will be as well. Highly Recommended.