Sunday, April 11, 2004

50 Most Influential Comedy Albums

At Mark Evanier's blog, I found a link to this, a discussion of the 50 most influential comedy albums.

I want to point a couple of things out.

I'm not going to dispute placement or inclusion. I haven't heard 15-20 albums on the list at all. Dick Gregory's the big name from the list I've never gotten a hold of. And some of them, the Cosby albums for example, I haven't listened to in a long time.

I do want to say that George Carlin's a personal favorite, and both FM & AM and Class Clown are very nice choices, especially considering the latter ushered in the Seven Dirty Words concept still used in the loose (but tightening) sense by the FCC.

Bill Cosby's To Russell, My Brother Whom I Slept With is hilarious. Anybody who can paint a picture with words I envy. There aren't many comedians who could do it better than Bill. When I saw this, I instantly thought of the long bit about sleeping in the same bed with his brother, and how it made me laugh probably a hundred times a the same things, all the while making me feel like I was a part of the story, rather than just listening to it.

Pryor? Hilarious. I just wish more comics had picked up on more aspects of his comedy than rehashing the "white people walk around with hangers in their shirts" jokes.

Or maybe I'm just a nervous white guy who can't get the stick out my behind.

Bob Newhart doesn't get his due, especially in an age where everybody seems to be influenced by Richard Pryor, George Carlin and (before them) Lenny Bruce. I think he ended up working too clean to be remembered in a lot of people's minds. To too many comedians on down the line, working blue was the only innovation they hooked upon.

Newhart does a lot of clever, surreal stuff, but often does it in the guise of an everyman reacting to a crazy world. I got a copy of a The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart when I was working at Goodwill. I listened to it once, lent it to a co-worker who quit later that day.

There is a note at the bottom of the discussion that HBO and cable very much changed what stand up comedy was as a recording concept--comedy became a visual medium much more than it was an aural one.

As such, you don't find many albums beyond the late seventies on the list. There a couple of Bill Hicks' albums, an Andrew Dice Clay, a Sam Kinison and Chris Rock's Bigger and Blacker. But for the most part, you won't find much that was recorded after 1987. I don't know if that's fair or not, but I honestly can't think of many from that period on that would qualify as influential....

But there has been good stuff. I'm not going to try to argue for or against the influence of any album. I mean, I can't measure so I can't argue for the influence of something that's been released in the past five years.

But I would like to point you in the direction of a couple of pieces that I've really enjoyed from the last five years or so...not that I think these will necessarily be all that influential, but I think they're among the best....five years just for brevity's sake....

David Cross's Shut Up, You Fucking Baby is a great anecdotal trip. Cross, from Mr. Show, among others, molded the album from a number of performances. But it's a strong selection of simple stories and opinion that Cross gets up to tell, often a little lit, on stage. There's a great bit on banning art because it's too sexy and how David can barely control himself at the art museum, and also on what exactly John Ashcroft does with the half-clothed Justice statue when nobody else is around--cold, stone titty.

Henry Philips' Number 2 is about three-quarters' music--mostly Philips and his guitar. But it's twisted and it turns you down a couple of paths you don't see coming. My favorite Philips song is Talking the background of the version on this album, if you listen closely to the girlfriend talking in the background, she speaks about falling off a horse, and getting an anal hematoma.

George Carlin's You Are All Diseased I bring up because it's probably his angriest work in a while. I'm not sure if he recorded it just prior to or just after his wife's death (I could look it up, but, whaddaya gonna do?). But there's a lot of free-floating hostility in that one. I enjoy that.

I'd also like to say Carlin's A Place For My Stuff, which is significantly older, but is a bit more bit and skit oriented than his other albums. It was probably a step backward stylistically from his Seven Dirty Words days, but it's funny....(Inflection makes all the difference. The adventures of Ranger Dan and his Big Dog, Dick...or The Adventures of Ranger Dan and his big dog dick.....)

Lastly, I'd like to point out Comedy Central, who've made a pretty good attempt recently to get comedy albums back into the medium. Dave Attel has an album out on their label, and Mitch Hedburg's and Bobcat Goldthwait's newest were also Comedy Central released albums. (Bobcat's really a funny standup. Give him a look).

Wow. Wrote more than I thought. I apparently like standup comedy, and standup comedy albums.


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