Christopher Titus

Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding

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The inspiration for his network television series, Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding is standup comedian/sitcom star Christopher Titus' epic monologue on his dysfunctional family, one that he premiered in 2000 at the Montreal Just for Laughs festival. In 2004 it was aired as a television special on the Showtime cable network, so this 2008 Comedy Central double CD arrives late in the game, almost as an afterthought. Since Titus tends to oversell his disgust at his family with excessive grimaces, this is arguably the best incarnation of the piece, but in any format Rockwell is a riveting and sometimes overwhelming ride that somehow pulls belly laughs and hope out of brutality and despair. Dad is an alcoholic while mom is literally schizophrenic. Childhood experiences include spousal abuse and parent/teacher conferences where pops brings a beer. Through it all, Titus remains a good kid, hoping for the best but "pulling a lot of pranks that happened to be felonies." An unbelievably solid foundation, superior smarts, and an intense lust for life guide the teen Titus through even tougher times, and when the third act rolls around with its devastating news of what happened next, the charismatic narrator comforts his audience with news of his recent wedding anniversary with 13 healthy years in the books. As he masterfully exits on what we can learn from drunks and junkies, it's "that which does not kill us makes us stronger" in living color, delivered by a man who's been to hell and back and won't let it happen again. If this doesn't sound like it could be funny, think of the way Woody Allen could meditate on the cruel world early in his career, but up the ante with much more vulgar injustices and replace the nebbish character with one who embraces hot rods and the Beastie Boys. The comforting moments outweigh the uncomfortable, and while the heavy subject matter should be noted, this fine example of standup as a poignant art form shouldn't be missed. Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding is essential listening for comedy fans and anyone on the wrong end of "you can't pick your family."

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