Each sense of humor is a little different, but who doesn’t love to laugh? With that in mind, we’ve got comedy both naughty and nice, memoirs and one-person shows, the classics, British comedy, alternative and musical. That should cover just about everyone, and some people two or three times.
Some of the newer releases reviewed on The Spit Take are here, and we tried to keep it fairly current while still choosing the best stuff in each category. Some choices would fit multiple categories, but we didn’t repeat artists or selections. Everything here is also fairly easy to find, at least online (that kept Belle Barth and Pearl Williams, whose work is mainly available on vinyl, out of the “Blue Christmas” section). Lists are in no particular order; feel free to leave your own suggestions for releases we neglected to cover below.”
Blue Christmas (Adult Material)
- Lenny Bruce – To Is a Preposition; Come Is a Verb There are better Bruce albums, but this collection ought to please fans of his more scatological side.
- Robert Schimmel – Unprotected Schimmel spoke frankly and explicitly about sex and his health, and could make you laugh describing a sigmoidoscopy.
- Andrew Dice Clay – The Day the Laughter Died Clay can be hard to take, but several contemporaries who work blue still cite him as an influence, and this is his best work.
- Patrice O’Neal – Mr. P Released after his untimely demise, this is just a sample of O’Neal’s brutal brilliance.
- Redd Foxx – Very Best of Redd Foxx: Fugg It! Foxx was a pioneer of the party album, “adult” comedy records that shops kept under the counter.
Santa’s Good List (Clean Comedy)
- Jim Gaffigan – Beyond the Pale Sing it with me, Pale Force Nation: “Hooot pockets!” Gaffigan has fun with a very accessible, food-obsessed “dumb guy” philosophy, but he’s a smart writer.
- Mike Birbiglia – Sleepwalk With Me Live Birbiglia is very easy to root for, and though he is not always the good guy in this story (which eventually became a book and a movie), he sees that. Remember, he’s in the future also.
- Jerry Seinfeld – I’m Telling You For the Last Time The premise of this album was that Seinfeld was retiring his best bits. No politics, no profanity stronger than “hell” or “damn,” just Seinfeld’s reliable observational humor.
- Ray Romano – Live at Carnegie Hall Romano drops the f-bomb early on, but it’s bleeped, and it’s clean—and funny—from then on.
- Brian Regan – The Epitome of Hyperbole It’s hard to resist Regan’s affable Everyman. He has a very specific cadence, one that can easily get stuck in your head, and a wonderful physicality. This special can be played for just about anyone.
Inside Rudolph (Memoirs and One-Person Shows)
- Sara Benincasa – Agorafabulous! Dispatches From My Bedroom A beautiful, honest and funny book about a woman conquering fears both big and small.
- Dave Hill – Tasteful Nudes…and Other Misguided Attempts at Personal Growth and Validation Hill’s collection of personal essays details a litany of failed careers, but his main job is to be funny, and he does that very well.
- Tig Notaro – Live This isn’t technically a one-person show, but it is one of the most intimate 30 minutes of comedy ever committed to tape.
- Rick Shapiro – Unfiltered Like Shapiro himself, Unfiltered doesn’t fit easily into a particular format. The written collection isn’t a laugh riot, but if you’re buying for someone interested in a more reflective and peculiar side of comedians, take a look.
- Colin Quinn – Long Story Short Quinn is at his best here, weaving together politics, philosophy and personal stories.
For Auld Lang Sine (Classic Comedy)
- Bob Newhart – The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back! Yes, the first album is the one that made Newhart a stand-up star, but his follow-up joined it on the charts and has some of his most incisive work, including “Ledge Psychology” and “Retirement Party.”
- Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow Right!Hard to choose just one Cosby album. You can’t go wrong with any number of them, but three words give this 1964 release an edge: “What’s a cubit?!”
- Lily Tomlin – And That’s the Truth Again, there’s no way to go wrong with Tomlin, and if you’re lucky enough to be in a city on her tour schedule, consider tucking some show tickets in with this one. A wonderful extended dose of precocious Edith Ann.
- Steve Martin – Comedy Is Not Pretty! While Wild and Crazy Guy has “King Tut” and was probably the biggest release, Pretty contains “Hostages” and “Cruel Shoes.” Plus it’s the origin of Gern Blandsten.
- George Carlin – Class Clown A landmark album. Carlin was the complete comedian, capable of being silly or deep, intellectual or scatological. And you get one of Carlin’s most famous routines, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.”
Tea and Cookies (British Comedy)
- Billy Connolly – Billy and Albert: Billy Connolly at the Royal Albert Hall Without Connolly’s freewheeling, sometimes profane comedy there would be no Eddie Izzard as we know him.
- Monty Python – The Final Rip Off This is admittedly a safe choice, since it wasn’t released while the group was together. It’s less “of a piece” than some of the other albums, but it is a two-disc set with lots of classics, including “The Spanish Inquisition,” “Spam,” “Sit On My Face” and of course “The Lumberjack Song.”
- Beyond the Fringe A seminal, satirical group from the Sixties starring Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller. This may open some eyes as to Moore’s brilliance as a live performer.
- Eddie Izzard – Dress to Kill A good introduction to Izzard’s rambling, wonderful mix of history and pop culture.
- A Bit of Fry and Laurie: Season Two Before Stephen Fry was Oscar Wilde and Hugh Laurie was Dr. House, they were Fry and Laurie, a comedy team in the tradition of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. The DVDs for their BBC series A Bit of Fry and Laurie are all good, but this one contains special feature “The Cambridge Footlights Revue,” featuring a young Emma Thompson doing sketch comedy.
Herbie and the Misfit Toys (Alternative Comedy)
- Patton Oswalt – Werewolves and Lollipops This is Oswalt at his cranky, brilliant best. “America Has Spoke,” about KFC’s Special Bowls, is the hit, but every track is a winner, especially “Physics for Poets” and “Beautiful People and a Bridge Troll.”
- Maria Bamford – the special special special! Filmed in her living room with just her parents and a small crew as her audience, this is unlike any other one-hour special.
- Janeane Garofalo – If You Will Garofalo’s loose and personal storytelling influenced quite a few alternative comedians (including Patton Oswalt). She hasn’t released much stand-up on CD or DVD, so this is a rare treat for fans.
- Albert Brooks – Comedy Minus One The term “alternative comedy” didn’t exist when this album was originally released in 1973, but what else would you call this? It features a script and a mirror so you can partner with Brooks as a comedy team. He leaves pauses on the tracks for you to fill in your lines.
- Eddie Pepitone – A Great Stillness Anyone who only knows the Bitter Buddha from Last Comic Standing needs to hear this collection of desperate, hilarious rants.
Silver Bells (Musical Comedy)
- Reggie Watts – A Live at Central Park Watts is true original, building rolling hip-hop beats, songs and stories in real time using loops. Lyrically laid back and soulful, sometimes he’s cerebral, sometimes profane. Literal to the point of absurdity, as in the track “Having Sex,” which is about exactly that.
- Tom Lehrer – That Was the Year That Was Lehrer’s An Evening With… has “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” which makes it almost as good, but Year has the biting satire of “The Vatican Rag,” “National Brotherhood Week,” “Pollution” and “The Folk Song Army,” plus the brilliant “New Math.”
- Spike Jones – Spiked! The Music of Spike Jones Jones may have worked quickly to produce his classic radio show, but there is some fine musicianship and writing. Novices should start here.
- Flight of the Conchords – Flight of the Conchords A near-perfect album of comedy for music fans. As they parody whole genres, they create something completely original.
- Bo Burnham – Bo Burnham Burnham came out of nowhere to achieve huge success with his catchy, off-color YouTube ditties. This has all of those original songs, including his own “New Math” and “Love Is…” which is still one of his best.