This Dude Is Either the Funniest Folk Singer or the Most Serious Humorist I’ve Ever Seen

If Albert Einstein was in the Beatles, forget ever creating a time machine
This Dude Is Either the Funniest Folk Singer or the Most Serious Humorist I’ve Ever Seen

I don’t care much for stand-up comedy these days.

Without belaboring this issue, I’ll say that’s not an indictment of the form but more of an outgrowth of me doing this job and just seeing so much of it that not much differentiates itself anymore. 

But that doesn’t mean I don’t like to laugh far from it. Now, though, what really makes me laugh usually comes out of left field. I don’t see it coming.

And I sure didn’t see Abe Partridge coming.

When I first saw him, he was opening for 1990s alt-rock treasure Matthew Sweet. He waltzed out there and ripped off the most frenetic and hilarious series of words I’ve heard since the Dean Scream, except Partridge’s humor was intentional. And then he played songs like this:

But it wasn’t all laughs. This intrepid Southerner has been to some dark places like a war zone in his young life, and he’s not afraid to go back there and take you with him.

After the show, I stood and tried to decide what I’d just seen: Was it comedy or music or both? But I just wound up with more questions, so I decided to ask them to the man himself. Below is our conversation, edited for clarity, and I’ll borrow Partridge’s tagline he uses to introduce each song: I hope you like it.

What I observed during your live show is that you thread a very interesting needle: You seem to use humor as a kind of patter to segue into what can be serious subjects in your songs. Is that about right?

Yeah, I’d say you got it.

How did you arrive at that? Is it a byproduct of your personality or a conscious artistic choice?

I’d say both. I guess I’d say I was a guy that people liked to hang around with in high school because I liked to laugh and have fun. I’ve always been the one in the family that tried to make people laugh. I’ve found that when you’re talking about serious stuff (humor) can put people at ease. It’s a good feeling when you can make somebody laugh.

Is there anybody in the comedy/humor realm that you’d consider an influence?

I’ve never thought of myself as a comedian or anything like that. But Norm Macdonald — I watched him as a kid on SNL do the news. I thought he was very funny. I loved Chris Farley when I was a teenager.

Sam Kinison was famously a preacher before he got into comedy and referenced his time on the pulpit. Did humor figure into your previous profession as a preacher?

Well, you know, I’ve always been me. And all the different situations I’ve been in, I’ve always been me. However, when I was preaching, you know, it wasn’t funny. I wasn’t there to make you laugh. I was there to scare the shit out of you. 

And how did that go?

Well (laughs), I’m not doing it anymore.

Let me ask you, has there been a time when the jokes or your humor didn’t land on stage?

Not really because I’ve done this enough to know what will work and when. It depends on the audience and what kind of audience I’m playing to, you know. The other night in Madison, I’m playing to people that were into alternative rock in the 1980s and 1990s. So you’ve got a bunch of folks that are probably in their late 40s or early 50s and are pretty educated. When I went out there, I knew I had to assert myself so that’s why I did that opening, which has worked with crowds like that before. If not, then people would have quickly turned me off and just waited for Matthew Sweet to get on stage. 

You’ve been overseas a bit. How do those audiences receive your material compared to the U.S.?

Well, I mean, I do really good over there in that part of the world. I feel at home, and there’s a close-knit community of people that like the stuff I do. I can draw more people in the Netherlands than I can in my hometown.

On “Abe Partridge’s 403d Freakout,” your delivery is very rapid fire, and it’s a very packed song that keenly describes what a lot of people are feeling these days. It’s also very funny. How did you write it?

I was in a situation while I was in the United States Air Force that put me under a lot of stress, and when I get that way, sometimes the only kind of thing that can help me is to write. So I just kind of wrote it in my little book. I didn’t intend for it to be a piece of art. It was just me trying to get through a time.

A couple of weeks later, I went back to that book. I went back to those words, and I saw that it was interesting. I was like, wait a minute. I might have something here, so I whittled it down, and I put it in meter. Then I started trying to sing over the noise that I was making on the guitar. It took me about six months before I was comfortable playing it in front of an audience because it’s so damn many words to remember. But now it’s probably my song that people like the most.

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