Stephen Lynch has described himself as a musician trapped in a comedian’s body. He’s also accidentally described himself as the Beyoncé of Scandinavia. Whatever he is, he’ll be at the Tobin Center on May 5 in the Carlos Alvarez Studio. He did not plan the show to coincide with Cinco de Mayo celebrations, he said, it just worked out that way.
The Tony Award-nominated performer will be showcasing a new set of songs he’s been working on in the years since his fifth album, Lion, dropped. For tickets, click here.
“This is stuff I’ve been working on for the last couple of years,” Lynch said. “Meaning I didn’t do anything for the last couple of years, and then I did a lot of shit really quickly.”
For the longest time nothing was clicking, Lynch said. “With the Lion record I had really made a step forward in terms of my writing, and I didn’t want to go backward.”
Backward, for Lynch, would be a return to a more direct style, wherein the comedy was mostly derived from the blatantly controversial subject matter. The music was written to deliver the jokes, not too complex or varied from song to song. Now, Lynch is older. Life has provided more material.
“This stuff that I thought was funny when I was 17, I don’t find funny anymore,” Lynch said.
His new subject matter is more grownup, more subtle. The music is infinitely better, and the comedy is smarter (though still laugh-out-loud funny, and not safe for work). It’s proved wildly popular as well, especially in, yes, Scandinavia.
When Lion dropped, critics expressed surprise at the quality of the music. The Americana, bluegrass-tinged tunes are appealing, moving, even. They will be stuck in your head in the morning, and you won’t mind.
“I’m trying to write so that if you changed the lyrics it would make you feel something,” Lynch said. Indeed, doleful tunes like “Tennessee,” begin to stir wistful emotions … and then Lynch sings a line about cups full of Mountain Dew and cheeks filled with chew.
That cognitive dissonance, the contrasting emotional movement, and intellectual engagement sets Lynch apart from the musical comedy routines – from vaudeville to musical theater to Adam Sandler – that influenced him. Lynch grew up in musical theater and in 2006 was nominated for a Tony for his role in The Wedding Singer, but his current work is more nuanced.
It’s also landed him in a bit of a pickle as a performer.
“I’m in a weird sort of no man’s land when it comes to shows,” Lynch said.
On the one hand, his act is comic, and audiences expect new laughs. Comedy relies on irony and unexpected punch lines. Live music, however, largely relies on greatest hits – crowds chanting for perennial favorites, or that one drunk guy calling out for his favorite jam.
While Lynch does occasionally encounter “that guy,” thanks to his popular Comedy Central specials and popularity on YouTube, for the most part his audience gets what he’s about. He doesn’t get a lot of hecklers at the new, subtler shows.
“It’s a different style of show, a different style of music,” Lynch said. “It’s great for my sense of peace, and for the show.”
Lynch describes the music in “The My Old Heart Tour” as the “logical continuation” of Lion. He hadn’t noticed a theme, but his music partner, Rod Cone, noticed the topics of death and aging kept coming up. This is perhaps, he admits, because aging is on his (aging) mind. Turns out our deteriorating bodies are hilarious, if looked at in the right way.
Musically, he wanted to continue playing music that he and others like to listen to. With both Lion and the “My Old Heart” set, he worked to write beautiful, earnest music. However, as is the lament for many successful comedians, they cannot help but be funny. For example, Jerry Seinfeld and John Oliver lament their compulsion to add (untrue) punchlines to stories about their wives at parties, and then pay for it at home. They can’t pass up the laugh, even if it undercuts their other goals.
“I was on my way to something I thought would just be a good song,” Lynch said. “And then I was that guy who couldn’t help but go for the joke.”
Fortunately, audiences can’t help but laugh.