There is a debate amongst comedic scholars regarding the state of comedy in this country. There are some who believe we are on the cusp of a second comedic golden age. There are others who feel we’ve got a long way to go if we plan to compare ourselves with some of our predecessors from the “Great Comedy Boom” of the ‘80s. (or 50’s. Or 30’s) I’m not sure how I feel on the issue myself, but I will say, in looking at all the comedy albums released this year it’s hard not to think we’re on the road to another comedic renaissance, if not there already. Join me in examining this years list of the “10 BEST albums of 2011”, and consider for yourself the idea that we might be on the verge of something great. I’d say the top 5 alone are proof of that.
As CraveOnline.com releases its yearly Top 10 lists somewhat later than other outlets, I’ve had the advantage of reading their lists before composing my own. I think it will become clear that all the reviewers seem to agree on some factors and disagree wildly on others, naturally, however, I’ve tried to consider my list both on the raw humor of the album, and also its contribution to the art-form of comedy as a whole. At the end of the day, “funny” is subjective and if this list is not the one you would have written, I encourage your feedback both as comments on this page, but also on twitter (@SaxCarr) and via email (CraveOnlineComedy@gmail.com).
If you feel very strongly that an album was overlooked here, I’ll go one step futher: in addition to taking me to task on my error in omitting it, please share you opinion on it with YOUR friends. Comedy, like philosophy is best shared.
Oh I should mention here that I’ve considered DVD specials and CD’s in the same category. Its not enough of a medium change to warrant anything being disqualified from this list. I often listen to live comedy TV specials when I write, and they hold up even if you aren’t watching the screen.
One last note before we tuck into the list: Last year I wrote a “10 Albums You Need to Own” list as opposed to a more “annual” one. This is because I believe the best comedy is timeless, and some albums are still the best possible listening in this or any year. Still, this year I forced myself to stay within the confines of 2011, and I think the year’s steaming fresh batch of comedy warrants a sequestered look. Nevertheless, you’ll not be terribly upset if I sneak in one little timeless review here at #11…
Click on the "Next" button to review…
#11 : George Carlin and Richard Pryor – Everything they ever recorded, ever.
In the event that your local record shop is sold out of all the rest of the albums on this list, have no fear. Every record store (or online retailer) worth its salt is brimming over with albums from George Carlin and Richard Pryor, who are both arguably the fathers of modern comedy. Any performer working today can find in his comedic “lineage” somehow connected to these two men. They were, by no means, the first stand-up comedians. There have been great shining stars before and after them, but they were the ones that “perfected the medium”. Metaphorically, there were better hitters before and after Babe Ruth, but none who so exemplified baseball for a generation.
Of course, Pryor and Carlin both had very different styles, and it’s easy to assume this difference is somehow racial in nature. I think that’s a simplistic observation. In reality, their comedy only differed by matter of perspective. Pryor dealt with humanity (especially his own) and Carlin with society. Each genius took the same problems and considered them on different scales. To put it another way: Pryor examined introspectively, looking inside his own mind, whereas Carlin put his scalpel to how humans interact en masse,and how we are the same, yet challenged us to be different.
It may be hard to wrap your head around the idea that Pryor’s expansive routine about his own heart attack and Carlin’s explosive exploration of the words you can’t say on TV are really two magnifying glasses on the same subject, but they are. (These two magnifying glasses, by the way, need to be in your own personal collection. So go out and grab one of their albums, preferably on CD or vinyl [or any physical form] and keep it handy.)
In the interest of specificity, here are the best albums from each man, in the highly trained professional opinion of my podcast <link to Fandom Planet here> partner, and CraveOnline.com contributor Tim Powers:
“Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip” is Pryor’s finest hour as a stand-up. A failed suicide attempt (disguised as Richard “accidentally lighting himself on fire”) and a series of personal tragedies brings Richard to his most accessible and real. Everyone who has any desire to perform stand-up comedy needs to study Richard’s performance on this LP.
George Carlin’s career had a few twists and turns but I find his “Class Clown” LP one of his finest. He talks about being in school and being a cut up (which I can certainly relate to) and how quickly being funny can get you into or out of a beat-down (ditto). It also includes the legendary “Seven Words” piece. This is not only an essential COMEDY album to own, it is an essential ALBUM of any format to own.
Click past the break to start with #10…
#10 – Christopher Titus – “Neverlution”
I think at the end of his career Titus will be judged more on his whole body of work than any one album. That’s not saying much, as so will most comedians, but I feel like somehow, in his own way, Titus makes it abundantly clear that each new album is just the latest chapter in the continuing story of his own life-long, miserable experiment in a perpetual stand-up autobiography.
That all said, “Neverlution” is a fantastic stand-alone piece. It deals almost exclusively with the heaviest subjects and always with the lightest touches. It’s real, and it’s in your face (typical for Titus), but somehow you still want to bring it home. The album is defined by its style with his microphone-less and poetic delivery, and his persistant willingness to present challenges to convention. Moreover, the album is funny the whole way through. It is funny in ways that are much less open to challenge than the rest. Few comedians can rival a style with this distinction, and that alone would have been enough to land it here. Titus is in a class by himself.
The fact that his call to revolution and playful condemnation of how a modern generation would probably handle it are very close to being Occupy Wall Street hasn’t escaped many either. (He opined that we would be well intentioned but mess it up because we have to be all-inclusive and therefore we’d never get anything done. Titus explains it much better than I.)
Here is our review of the album at the time it dropped: Neverlution Review
We had an exclusive clip for a time, too: EXCLUSIVE Neverlution Clip
Interestingly, Titus has just released a boxed set of all his previous albums (as a promotion for his upcoming comedic run for president on 2012) and has it for sale, signed, on his website here:
Do yourself a favor and pick it up — tell him Sax Carr sent you.
Clip the next button to travel on to #9 →
#9. Patton Oswalt – “Finest Hour”
I think we can all remember the amazing explosion that was the Comedians of Comedy tour. For many it was, justifiably, the birth of what was then called “Alt. Comedy” and is now just basically allcomedy. It had a great lineup too, and every one of them has gone on to bigger and better things. For me however, with all respect to the amazing talents of Posehn, Bamford, and Galifianakis, that show was about one man: Patton Oswalt. Oswalt is at a level of talent I hadn’t imagined could be contained in one comedian. I’m still amazed at the diversity and breadth of Oswalt’s comedy and “Finest Hour” is no exception.
One of the things that really struck me about this album, from track one all the way down, was the skill at which Oswalt could push for real social change, and still hide it all in comedy so thick you can’t tell where one begins and ends. One track, “Dumb Gay Friend,” so definitively lampoons the stereotypes perpetuated in mindless Rom-Com movies that I feel like if everyone heard it, the problem would simply GO away. As soon as Oswalt addresses one issue he’s on to the next, and all the while his trademark style and perfect irreverence keeps you at a steady roll of laughter.
Here’s a clip that was released to promote the album:
Care to buy the thing? Check out THIS link:
Press the next button to see #8…
#8. Tig Notaro – “Good One”
Three cheers for comedians with unique styles. Comedians that can make me laugh on their own terms are always my favorite. Tig not only innovates in terms of delivery but also in pacing, creating a strangely hypnotic building tone that leads to the deepest of belly laughs and when least expected. On stage she’s tweaked that delivery to a level of perfection most comedians can’t muster. What I’m trying to say is “Tig Notaro OWNS timing!” She has probably the best timing since Johnny Carson and Jack Benny.
This album captures that magic well, with an actually daunting sonic quality that allows Tig to play in and out of the silence. The pacing from joke to joke is paced to speed up and shoot off the cuff (or reacts the audience) so surprisingly you almost laugh at that; no joke is necessary. Then she turns around and pauses for 10 seconds and you laugh at that. At silence. it’s a RARE comedian who can make you laugh at silence (See: Jack Benny) Finally, when she has you on the ropes, she drops in a punchline that exploits all that set-up material causing you to laugh beyond belief. It’s a pretty amazing experience.
Of course, the content is great too and jokes like the now infamous “No Moleste” and “Can You Believe it” are some of the best jokes ever written. Even by me.
You can download the latter FREE TRACK here:
We did a full review of the album right here: The BEST in TIG Reviews!
You can BUY that album on Amazon here: You can BUY "Good One" at AMAZING!
You can keep reading more in our exciting top ten by clicking NEXT:
#7. Natasha Leggero – “Coke Money”
CraveOnline.com has been shouting the credits of Natasha Leggero for the past few years now and it’s not looking to stop anytime soon. The mutli-talented comedian who shifts comfortably from her well-developed, spoiled, wealthy characters to her sardonic ripping apart of modern society. Plus, she can sing. Her over-arching statement that our society is in decline is so well defined I’m amazed she hasn’t somehow fixed society by accident yet.
This album is now, and always will be (I suspect), THE Natasha Leggero album. It contains the bits that clearly pull from the core of her comedy and show off her exceptional range. Its subjects, which range from Toilet Babies to modern music, are all at once topical and timeless. All the while, somehow, Leggero manages to condemn most of the audience and yet always remain likeable. She encourages everyone to come along on the ride down her “ID” and then examine their own.
Speaking of Toilet Babies.. check out this mildly related clip:
And of course you can buy the album at the Amazon: Downloadable COKE MONEY
BUY IT (unless you're poor…)
Press next for the exciting #6 →
#6. Louie C.K. – “Hilarious”
Let’s look past the recent groundswell of hype around Louie that may or may not be based on any understand of how good he actually is. Well… he’s actually that good. Yes, Louie C.K. is one of the best comedians who ever lived, and as long as he can produce an album a year (which he intends to) he’ll probably be in every year’s top 10 list on this and every other website. That’s how good he is.
Louie has managed to do something I find pretty incredible. He’s gone from being a comedian’s comedian to a national success story. This was, of course, in part from his two award winning TV serieses, but it just takes a few seconds listening to this or any of his albums to understand that it is so much more.
This album has Louie’s normal combination of harsh social commentary (his auditory impressions of people, all mostly guttural, is SO condemning!) and material that either is deeply personal or somehow betrays something deeply personal about him. He’s so honest about his personal life that I think I might know as much about his children as I do my closest friends. His routine about his 3 year old child is one of my favorites on this album.
Another gift Louie has, that’s well represented here, is his gift of comparing his current world to that of just years ago. A series of jokes about cellphones on this album are not only hilarious (reference intended) but totally blew my mind about the cosmic truths. Maybe I should get out more.
Actually that whole track is amazing… Oh, we have a clip…
|Louis C.K. – Give It a Second|
You can buy the whole album here: Buy and Consume Hilarious
Click the link to see the TOP 5 →
#5. Patrice O’Neal – “Elephant in the Room”
Let me just cover my bases here and make it clear that I am by no means a sentimentalist when it comes to art. I would never have put anyone on this list simply because they’ve recently passed. Patrice deserves to be on the best of 2011 list because his album is downright hilarious. This album… not just Patrice O’Neal, but this ALBUM was easily one of the best ever made. The fact that it’s really Patrice’s last major work is a side-note. This is one of the better albums I’ve ever heard.
The real gift Patrice had was some sort of amazing ability to roll his jokes into a very regular, everyday, human conversation. It’s all comedy, and it’s all so very planned . It just seems so perfectly “now.” Even Patrice’s ability to go out into the audience and get random people to give him the answer he needs to keep the bit going is so skillful. This album, and again, O’Neal as a as an artist, is staggeringly eclectic. Men, Women, Race, Animals, and everything in between goes in and out of the set with no hard breaks or rough transitions. Comedians who don’t think that’s tantamount to magic can go TRY to get close to that. Trust me, it’s not easy.
Another thing I’ve always loved about Patrice, and this sells better if you can watch video of the routine and not on the audio album, is his gift with different mechanisms of comedy. Sometimes he’s smart, sometimes he’s raw and he can seamlessly be sarcastic and back again without warning you. Some of his best jokes are the ones where you don’t think it’s a joke at first, and then all of a sudden you see where Patrice hid the joke and then, bam, it’s 5 times the laughter.
It is my understanding that O’Neal’s family was hit very hard financially by his passing (as is everyone nowadays) and by way of his memory I suggest you all go buy a copy of this album here: ELEPHANT as that’s the least we can do both for such a great man, and to help a family in need. Patrice was a friend of mine and Tim’s and he will be missed.
Click the NEXT button to see the SPECIAL SUPRISE #4 –>
#4. Louie CK – “Live at the Beacon Theater”
Yes that’s right. Louie CK is the comedian so nice we listed him twice. Why? Because he revolutionized comedy album distribution this year. What have you done?
Seriously though, I did really think about the ramification of putting Louie on here twice, but as far as I’m concerned both albums deserve the praise. “Hilarious” is a real masterstroke that contains some of the best jokes we’ll probably see from Louie on any timeline. “Beacon Theater” is probably just under that comically, but its distribution, and the statement made about it from artist to fans is pretty monumental. Here’s a quote from Lou’s recent blog post on the issue:
The show went on sale at noon on Saturday, December 10th. 12 hours later, we had over 50,000 purchases and had earned $250,000, breaking even on the cost of production and website. As of Today, we've sold over 110,000 copies for a total of over $500,000. Minus some money for PayPal charges etc, I have a profit around $200,000 (after taxes $75.58). This is less than I would have been paid by a large company to simply perform the show and let them sell it to you, but they would have charged you about $20 for the video. They would have given you an encrypted and regionally restricted video of limited value, and they would have owned your private information for their own use. They would have withheld international availability indefinitely. This way, you only paid $5, you can use the video any way you want, and you can watch it in Dublin, whatever the city is in Belgium, or Dubai. I got paid nice, and I still own the video (as do you). You never have to join anything, and you never have to hear from us again.
That’s only a small part from his thoughts on the issue (the rest of it can be heard here: A Statement from Louie CK) but the point I take away from it is that artists that care about their content, and control of that content, can now create a bridge between themselves and real human fans without fear of either side getting screwed. Its a pretty big deal. (Example: Harry Nilsson’s mismanagement)
I should mention here (we’re going to cover the story of the special in a full post now that the big bad Top 10 list is out) that this model won’t work for everyone. Louie is able to do this with his content because he still arguably the most famous comedian working today. He has millions of fans and that leads to hundreds of thousands of people willing to download. By and large the average comics won’t be able to handle the economics of this on their own. Louie’s statement (linked again) explains the bulk of the math. So, it’s not for everybody. BUT! It will be for somebody, and other comedians on this list can self-release their own album in a way that will be powerful and meaningful.
In terms of content: Do I have to tell you AGAIN how brilliant this man is? A major win is Louie himself coming out to do his own “house rules” (turn off your cellphone etc…) in exactly the style every comedian really wants to have done his whole career. Then he jumps into my favorite rent-a-car story I have ever heard. His constant condemnation of people’s self indulgent false entitlement is here as well, and WONDERFUL.
Here are some outtakes from his YouTube page of the special:
EDITORS NOTE: Louie just released a 2nd statement that makes it clear he just made over 1 MILLION dollars on this thing. He's giving almost a quarter of it all to charity too… which is amazing. His new statement is here: LOUIE TALKS
Click the NEXT button to check out #3 →
#3. Richard Jeni – “The Beach Crowd”
While most of the albums on this list are perfect examples of a comedian’s normal and well established style, this posthumous release from master funny man Richard Jeni is anything but. This is Jeni raw and wonderful. Assembled from what basically amount to home-recorded practice sets, this is a man who is still zeroing in on the finner points of the jokes and it turns out he’s even better at that. It is an interesting juxtaposition from the late Jeni’s usual, polished style.
From audience interaction to his clear experimenting process with his new jokes, this is just an amazing video to watch. It’s also like a study-at-home class for comedians looking to learn exactly how good jokes are made. So if you are (or want to be) a comedian, see this. But I don’t need to do any more reviewing of this here as we here at CraveOnline.com reviewed it twice:
Oh and there happens to be a little trailer for the album online… oh convieniant!
I don't want to belager the point here… but Jeni was a genius. He was. This album is really a doorway int othe mind of someone who made comedy what it is today. It is a MUST own.
You can buy the full album here: Richard Jeni Store
Click the next button to head off to #2 →
2. T.J. Miller – “No Real Reason”
I was conflicted as to the last few choices for this list, which I think speaks highly to the level of talent we have in the top 5. (Louis CK STILL deserves two spots!) In the end, I had to go with a final two that really contributed not only to the public funny, but deeply, deeply to the art form we all love. For that reason more then anything T.J. Miller is easily making claim to a top spot on the list.
“No Real Reason” is such a masterpiece, it really amazes me each time I re-watch it, which I do frequently. Each turn of the joke, each set up and punch, everything is expertly done. Miller proves you don’t need to have any sort of linear style to hold an audience. He’s also a veritable polymath of stage skills, selling jokes with “act outs”, facial expressions, clever writing, misdirection, farce, and combinations of all the rest. Each turn with T.J. is different than the ones before, and you never know what you are going to get. This album is a non-stop roller coaster, and that’s something few comedians can claim despite what their agents will tell you.
Naturally, we reviewed the album here at CraveOnline.com TJ Miller Crave Review
We also managed to land an interview with the man himself, T.J. Miller INTERVIEW!
And of course we (and the fine folks at Comedy Central Records) can furnish you with some clips!!!
|T.J. Miller – The Face|
|T.J. Miller – Tennis Outfit|
Of course you can buy the album here on Amazon: No REAL Reason NOT to buy.
And on to #1 →
#1. Doug Stanhope – “Oslo: Burning the Bridge to Nowhere”
I really can’t put too fine a point on how amazing Doug Stanhope is. He’s just one of the few comedians that somehow, someway, manages to do comedy his own way, make it amazing, and continue to challenge his audience at every turn. It’s a fine line to cross and Doug, who on and off stage is pretty damn salty of a human being, has rubbed some folks the wrong way in his day, but that’s kind of why he’s so good. He’s really a comedian for comedy’s sake and despite his occasional dismissals of any real claim to it, he does care about the art of comedy.
Doug Stanhope is the grizzled Army Sargent of comedy, with broad opinions about how you should fight the war (for laughter) but a repeated mantra that he’s just a guy who’s been around, and you don’t have to take his word for it. I like that.
I digress… this is about the album not the man.
“Oslo” is a solid album with no real breaks between laughter. It’s perfect Stanhope with heaps of political and social messages all hidden under a sand-paper like exterior of gruff ,in your face jokes and scalpel-like observations. Doug holds nothing back, and that leads to a shock and recovery style of audience here where you just get over the bravado with which he enters into a subject (like “Stomping Kittens” or “Free Market Pu**y”) when he starts tossing punchlines and then it’s laugh city, population YOU.
Of course in a “Top 10” like this, we probably have to do a little work justifying this choice over the rest. I’ll say this about my “math” when it comes to the choices here. I think all the comedians in the top 5 are pretty on par with each other in terms of skill. They also all have accolades to back them. All 5 albums are pretty consistent from top to bottom. In the end I ranked them as I did in terms of consistence. The albums that made me feel like I was being challenged, educated, and made the laugh the most often per minute of performance got the top slot. Will “Oslo” be everyone’s first choice? Probably not. But it is that good. You have to give it that unquenchable fire of raw goodness, and for me it was the one that edged out.
Also 90% of the comedians on this list represent the comedians with a message in their comedy. Doug was the only one who also called the rest of the comedy world out on failing to even try and have one. Go, Doug, go.
We have this exclusive clip of the album (provided nobody’s leaked it in the past few months) PS: This is NSFW…
Also Amazon.com has put the album on $5 HOLIDAY SPECIAL! Yes. The best album of the year for just $5 is right here at this link: Doug Stanhope's Oslo on AMAZON
While scanning Amazon for all these links I've noticed they also offer a lot of our Top 10 list bundled together at a group discount. Shop smart, save money, laugh harder!
Keep it tuned to CraveOnline.com as before the end of the year we'll have "10 More Comedians to See Live before you Die" and lists in the TV section by yours truely about the ten actresses and actors to watch next year! Oh and all the comedy you can shove down your gob!