Top Ten Essential Stand-Up Comedy Albums
t’s nearly impossible to review a stand-up comedy album from a buyer’s perspective. In fact, I can hardly understand why you’d ever want to buy one. Unlike music, it’s not like going back to them at a later date is going to reveal a host of nuances that you might’ve missed the first time around. Unless you’re stupid. That’s why I was stupefied to learn a few weeks ago that I own no less than twenty-five stand-up comedy albums in my CD collection that I feel the need to go back to at a… Right.
Lenny Bruce - The Lenny Bruce Originals, Vol. 2
I’ve heard countless more than twenty-five, of course. But I remember buying The Lenny Bruce Originals, Vol. 2 vividly—because it was my first Bruce purchase and it only happened only a few weeks ago. The reasoning? Bruce’s stand-up has always been a bore to me, too often centered around the fact of his censorship and the ensuing hijinks. The Originals, Vol. 2, however, collects two albums of material before the legal wrangling and proves why he was the worth the fuss in the first place, namely bits like “How to Relax Your Colored Friends at Parties.”
Best Punchline: The 20(!)-minute "Palladium" ends: "Now, you're young. You might still have time to consider another line of work. And don't worry, we'll get you safely out of town somehow. I believe Julian Eltinge left a wig in the closet many years ago."
George Carlin – Class Clown
You can see clearly on Class Clown that Carlin is in love with Bruce, from the classic (and eerily relevant) “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” to the potshots he takes at the Vietnam War. But what’s fascinating (and absent in recent years) is a sort of fresh-faced goofiness about it all. Class Clown is the perfect title for someone who makes fart noises a featured element in the opening bit.
Worst Track: The self-titled opener. Who makes fart noises a featured element in their opening bit?
Eddie Murphy - Comedian
Murphy’s second stand-up album is titled Comedian for a reason and he lays it down immediately, telling the audience that if they came to see him in his Buckwheat wig they can go home and wait for Saturday Night. Despite the frightening amount of weirdness (Mr. T imagined as a child molester, a tour de force bit about a BBQ) and a weak second-half, you’ll find plenty here that you get no place else in Murphy's oeuvre.
Choice Moment: Faggots Revisited / Sexual Prime: "Also: faggots aren't allowed to look at my ass while on stage. That's why I'm moving up here. You don't know where the faggot section is, so you gotta keep moving."
Bob Newhart – Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart
Steven Wright – I Have a Pony
Mitch Hedberg – Strategic Grill Locations
Wright owes much of his career to Bob Newhart, Hedberg owes much of his career to Wright. But all three have a totally distinctive style. Newhart released what is arguably the first stand-up comedy album to garner mass appeal, relying heavily on the trick of one-sided phone conversations. Wright’s monotone delivery is, of course, famous but it’s rarely pointed out that he seemed to be the only comic that was doing anything of an alternative nature in the mid-80s comedy explosion. Hedberg? His bit about forming a club sandwich club is probably the only thing recorded on a comedy album in the 00s that has made laugh out loud.
Bill Hicks – Rant in E-Minor
God Bless Rykodisc for their reissue campaign of Bill Hicks comedy albums. How else would I get to hear his American Prayer-esque instrumental wanderings on Arizona Bay? Rant in E-Minor is far more consistent than Bay, it also wins points for most likely being recorded while he was undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. Enough words on this site have been spilled about his genius already, so we’ll just leave it with: if you don’t know, get familiar.
Jesus! Moment: Some people soften up in the face of death, Hicks takes nearly two-minutes to painstakingly detail how Rush Limbaugh “munches scat.”
Jerry Seinfeld - I'm Telling You for the Last Time
Coming off the finest sitcom ever made, Seinfeld goes on tour, hones his act, and falls in love with the art of stand-up again. It’s an inspiring story, really. And, in some ways, this is an inspiring album. Seinfeld’s from the old-school of comics, assiduously avoiding curse words, utilizing time-tested tricks of cadence and rhythm, and starting every single joke with the immortal, “So…what’s the deal with…”
Quintessential Moment: Bathroom: "I don't like staying at people's placing on the road....There's always that hair stuck on the wall of someone else's shower....And you want to get rid of it, but you don't want to touch it.... So you gotta aim the shower head at the hair. That never works. You gotta get a pool of water from under the shower and over to the hair."
Andrew Dice Clay - The Day the Laughter Died, Pt. 2
Best concept album ever. Taking off from the audience abuse that he took to a new level in the original The Day the Laughter Died, Pt.2 goes even further. Clay is in front of a small crowd, slowing dying inside, lashing out at any audience member that comes near him. Pity the guy that asks for a nursery rhyme, pity the magician who challenges Clay at the end of disc (resulting in a fistfight (!)), but most of all pity Dice—who relates a harrowing story on “My First Concert” that allows him to lower the mask for a moment and reveal that—in the end—he just wants to be loved… before moving quickly into a semi-racist fantasy of The Andy Griffith Show in which all the characters would be black.
Richard Pryor - The Anthology: 1968-1992
I don’t like these sorts of things anymore than you do, BUT if you own one (double-disc) collection of stand-up comedy this is it. Buy it now.
What Are You Waiting For?: Seriously.