We’re solidly in a second stand-up comedy boom. Back in the ’80s thousands of comics rolled up the sleeves of their blazers and ushered in a wave of observational humor–almost exclusively told in front of bare, brick walls. Now, in the second decade of this new millennium, the new boom doesn’t acknowledge fashion or facades as much as it’s reliant on the ever so “democratic” internet, specifically the wide world of podcasting–and let’s not forget about Twitter, y’all.
Observational anecdotes are still the bread and butter of the industry, but the alternative wave in the ’90s, the confessional and/or ever-evolving nature of podcasts, and the bite-sized nuggets on Twitter leave us with something a bit more complex than well-written airline cracks. My top ten, alone, is wildly diverse while still adhering, primarily, to observational formats.
Without any weight in “the biz,” and without exerting a whole heck of a lot of energy, I heard something in the neighborhood of 50 comedy records this year. Almost every album had at least a good chunk, but about 20 albums really shined as not only hilarious sets, but as valuable cultural artifacts. Seriously, this year was so good I had to slide “Weird Al” Yankovic’s solid Alpocalypse down to the honorable mention section (spoiler alert!).
10 (tie). Dylan Brody – A Twist of Wit (Stand Up! Records)
Dylan Brody, maybe more than anyone on this list, oddly enough, is an acquired taste. The first of several entries on my top ten who is definitely in the more vague performance art territory than specifically a stand up (though his third album was released by Stand Up! Records). Brody’s A Twist of Wit is in all actuality, a reading. The whole thing may need a humidifier, but there are plenty of laughs and a wonderful perspective to be found.
10 (tie). Melinda Hill – The Accidental Bi-Sexual (Stand Up! Records)
Melinda Hill’s second album, The Accidental Bi-Sexual, is a wonderful collection of essays about Hill’s journey through sexual awkwardness and misadventure. Like Brody above, it’s not stand-up in the classic sense, though Hill’s essays are still full of great beats and hilarious moments. I wasn’t able to find much of Hill’s material online and rather than misrepresent her with her older, still formative, stand-up, I’m posting this really silly video of Hill with Kristin Wiig performing at The Groundlings Theater in LA.
9. Pete Holmes – Impregnated With Wonder (Comedy Central Records)
Pete Holmes is kind of an odd man out here. Holmes seems least angry about the absurdities and injustices he sees around him. Most of the things are too ingrained in society to fix, so Holmes just leads you in laughing. Holmes really shines when he digs deep into laughing alone, Youtube comments, magicians, and how Google has destroyed our sense of wonder.
8. Jamie Kilstein – Libel, Slander & Sedition (Stand Up! Records)
Jamie Kilstein is not for everyone. Many comics like to make these claims, but few actually walk audience members during the taping of their albums. Kilstein is the radical kind of liberal who annoys many–including moderate Democrats–to almost no end, however, his grating rage is chased with a solid shot of self-loathing and biting humor. Between counting the departing audience members and questioning the liberal credentials of Obama, Kilstein also crams a really wonderful story about his relationship with his father
In some ways the Skar Brother’s third album is the most conventional on the list, but even within the elongated observational pieces, the twins delve deeper into Google, the Kardashians, and Hoarders in four or five minutes per bit than most comics could get in a whole hour. Beyond that, their takes on kids’ jokes and fairy tales find the right balance between irreverent and warm.
6. Wyatt Cenac – Comedy Person (Comedy Central Records)
On the surface, Wyatt Cenac’s debut album looks like it’s about to be one long referential slog. Thankfully that is so far from the case. Cenac could coast on his Daily Show accolades, but he brings his A-game. Cenac’s 8 minutes on a cat video on Youtube is almost perfectly paced and manages to encompass so much of life; it’s an examination of the comic himself, society, technology, race, the president. Finding the world in a cat video is either the heart of comedy or academia, this is mostly the former but there’s a nice dose of the latter.
Good One is about the best foot forward a veteran comic could put forward on her debut album. Notaro’s epic Taylor Dane bit (posted below) is worth the price of the album alone. It’s comedy story telling 101. There are beats and jokes plugged in, but the bulk of the story’s success relies on Notaro’s impeccable timing, which is a constant throughout the aptly titled Good One.
4. Patton Oswalt – Finest Hour (Comedy Central Records)
Patton Oswalts’ fourth (or fifth album, depending on who you ask) album, Finest Hour, is the first that doesn’t find the comic on a significantly different level. That being said, Oswalt is still one of the best American comics who could churn out quality observations on sweat pants, stereotypical portraits of gays in Hollywood, Weight Watchers, New York City, and a very special screening of Jerry Maguire. Very few comics are as dependably great as Oswalt right now.
3. Marc Maron – This Has To Be Funny (Comedy Central Records)
Marc Maron’s fourth album could have been so many different kinds of catastrophe. With his newfound success in podcasting and an elevated profile he’s not had in years, Maron’s characteristic narcissism and self-destructive tendancies could have ruined This Has To Be Funny. However, Maron made them the anchors that grounded the whole affair–making his weaknesses his strengths and putting up the best hour of his career. With all his newly acquired cultural currency, Maron made a significant investment and reminded us that he’s not only a self-centered and brilliant interviewer, but a wonderful comic in rare form.
2. Eddie Pepitone – A Great Stillness (self-released)
Eddie Pepitone might be the definition of a comic’s comic: thoughtful, acerbic, confrontational, and experimental. A Great Stillness, Pepitone’s sophomore album, is all the best parts of Pepitone. He showcases his rafter rattling anger, his search for a spiritual center, his conflicted relationship with new media (the stack of papers in his hand at right are his tweets), and his own personal demons (the end of the show is just north of 10 minutes of the comic heckling himself).
1. Mike Birbiglia – Sleepwalk With Me, Live (Comedy Central Records)
I already said that finding another comedy recording that I’d love more than Mike Birbiglia’s live recording of his off-Broadway show Sleepwalk With Me would be difficult, and low and behold, it still sits atop my favorite funny albums list. Sleepwalk With Me is more akin to Spalding Gray‘s shows than Richard Pryor on the Sunset Strip; it’s deeply emotional and confessional but while revealing so much about himself and his sleepwalking disorder, Birbiglia finds loads of laughs.
If you’re wondering about the absence of Louis C.K.’s Hilarious, I covered the special in my films list from 2010 and I didn’t actually listen to the album.
Honorable Mentions (listed alphabetically): David Huntsberger – Humanitis (Stand Up! Records), Norm MacDonald – Me Doing Stand Up (Comedy Central Records), T.J. Miller – The Extended Play EP (Comedy Central Records), Patrice O’Neal – Elephant in the Room (Comedy Central Records) Tommy Ryman – Bath Time With Tommy Ryman (Stand Up! Records), Amy Schumer – Cutting (Comedy Central Records), Rory Scovel – Dilation (Stand Up! Records), Doug Stanhope – Oslo: Burning the Bridge to Nowhere (The All Blacks B.V.), “Weird Al” Yankovic – Alpocalypse (Volcano Records), Comedians You Should Know (The Red Bar Comedy Record Label)
*Every album on the top 10, except Pepitone’s, can be found streaming on Spotify.