Published Oct 07, 2014In Alex Nussbaum's A Number of Bits, of which there are exactly 40, he is tight and polished. It may even be a lesson in the science of writing stand-up, because it's a classic case of making it look easy. You might watch Nussbaum in a club, and think to yourself, "I can do that." But the thing is, you can't. Not without loads of practice. And Alex Nussbaum, who has been at this for a number of years, makes A Number of Bits a joy.
Recorded over two nights at Richmond Street's Yuk Yuk's in Toronto, Nussbaum wastes no time in getting the raucous crowd on his side. You don't dare interrupt him, and not because you're worried about being pinned down by anti-heckle fire, but because you want to listen. There's not a great deal of storytelling depth to his delivery, so paying attention to his beats is key. Again, he makes it easy, all part of that "science of stand-up" thing. Nussbaum has a clear handle on timing and breaks. These are not bits that were hastily put together.
Often, you can gauge the strength of a comedian by how they manage with potentially cliched subject matter, like break-ups or awkward sex (he prefers missionary to doggie-style; "I want your hands facing front, and your eyes where I can see 'em."). When a stand-up can make stuff like that seem fresh, they're at the top of their game. To that point, his observational humour succeeds in this way also. Although there are basically occasions that could begin with "You ever notice how…," he again succeeds in keeping it fresh. Notably, his observation that tough guys "sniff" when they talk: "Listen, I don't know if you know, *sniff*, but I have, uh, *sniff*, seasonal allergies. If you can spare a claritan, or a kleenex… anything *sniff*."
If that doesn't look so awesome in print, it's surprising how well it comes off in audio. This is because Nussbaum is, in the best possible way, cartoonish in much of his delivery. Remarkably, this is even a quality that is evident in his recorded material. Seeing him live is recommended, if A Number of Bits is any indication. A suggested sample might be this one, which offers a glimpse of his childhood and a pretty darn good Ukrainian accent.
Cleverly presented, often hilarious, listen to this one where you can laugh like nobody's watching.