Before he actually became an old Jewish man, Mel Brooks perfected the stereotype with his ageless, affable everyman. Anyone doing an old Jew today is basically knoshing Brooks’s style. This running character, appearing on four albums between 1961 and 1973, was super old but the bit never got tired, as Brooks riffed against master straightman Reiner on countless historical, religious, social, and political topics. Fifty years on, you can still hear how much fun these guys had milking the premise and writing jokes on the fly — required listening for anyone taking an improv class or visiting their pop in Boca. S.C.
14. Steven Wright – I Have a Pony (1985)
One drawback to the comedy album as a medium is the sense you’re only getting half the story — missing a sight gag here or a deadpan eyebrow cock there, only telegraphed by phantom fits of audience laughter divorced from evident punchlines. Pony endures for that very reason: Take out the running joke that is Wright’s hangdog appearance, and what’s left is a barrage of vivid, sloganeering one-liners (“It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it”), delivered in a trademark barbiturate monotone that makes for easy, if weird, listening. Hail the DJ Screw of stand-up. S.K.
13. Rodney Dangerfield – No Respect (1980)
In 1981, former aluminum-siding salesman Jacob Cohen, d/b/a Rodney Dangerfield, was 60 years old and at the very peak of his popularity — astounding when you consider the age of practically everyone else on this list. No Respect is two 20-minute sets of machined gunned one-liners, a punk feat that’s devilishly harder to write and perform than any long-winded story. It’s all delivered in an effortless churn that amplifies and hides his famous self-loathing streak, so pure that it scared other comics. J.G.
12. David Cross – Shut Up, You Fucking Baby (2002)
As a stand-up, Cross is a sharp social and cultural commentator and a sharp-enough political satirist, even if some of the Bush/Ashcroft material here makes it clear where Fred Armisen got his exasperated political-comedian character Nicholas Fehn. But as a raconteur, Cross is amazing, and the double-disc format of Shut Up gives his stories room to breathe, especially in a classic, 16-minute account of a boozy night with the terrible reality-show rock band Harlow and the nightmarish morning after. It’s like shooting the shit with your funniest friend. Except he’s actually funny and he’s not your friend. A.P.
11. Bill Hicks – Rant In E-Minor (1997)
Released a few years after his death in 1994, Rant in E-Minor is truth in advertising defined: hate, unfettered, unrelenting. On Rant, Hicks had the world and its countless hypocrisies between his crosshairs. Abortion. Drugs. Politics. The whole shebang comes crumbling down around his elaborately constructed jokes, a mix of literary attention to detail and white-hot misanthropy. Hicks’s cynical, anti-commercial approach was subsequently utilized to great, uh, commercial success by an entire generation of 1990s and 2000s alt-comedians. H.O.