10. Woody Allen – Standup Comic (1968)
Even earlier, even funnier stuff from the Nebbish God before he made his earlier, funnier movies. Allen is far looser on stage than he became on screen; his rambles have more in common with his hilarious, absurdist essay collections than any later work. There are hints of his mid-1970s persona, but he’s much more twentysomething hipster than angsty 40-year-old Annie Hall anxiety case. A shaggy dog story that ends with Jews stuffed and mounted at a restricted athletic club is the stone-classic, but his phrasing alone is enough for marveling: Anyone who can make “the death scene from Camille‘” into a sharp punch line is headed for the canon. J.G.
9. Albert Brooks – Comedy Minus One (1973)
Filmmaker, actor, author, and father of the SNL short, Albert Brooks is a polyglot comic master. No comedy LP uses the “album” format any better than this: Even the packaging is part of the joke. The original vinyl included a script with built-in pauses and laughs for you to star in the cheesy, tongue-in-cheek sketch on side two. The back cover even had a mirror — look at you, you’re in show business! Mixing in studio bits with his live act (the Richie Havens story is golden) Brooks turns comic irony to 11 as he jump-cuts classic old school with the ’70s comic new wave he helped create. S.C.
8. Lenny Bruce – The Carnegie Hall Concert (1961)
Bruce’s rep as a pioneer of comedic cussing overshadows his legacy as a groundbreaking meta-comic. This two-disc recording of a performance in 1961, before bluenosed prosecutors drove him to embittered oblivion, showcases a compulsive fascination with what audiences find funny, rendered in an engagingly hip, Beat-inspired, Yiddish-flavored rhythmic patter. Though satiric bits like “Christ & Moses” (whose appearance at St. Patrick’s freaks out Cardinal Spellman) retain their bite, Bruce’s modest relativism and genuine faith that candor and laughter could overwhelm hypocrisy prevent him from indulging in the self-important anger that can hobble his would-be inheritors. K.H.
7. Steve Martin – Let’s Get Small (1977)
Sure Cheech and Chong were stoner standard-bearers of the 1970s, but was anyone really more “far out” than banjo-pickin’, arrow-through-head, goofball Steve Martin? The Disneyland and Smothers Brothers alum created a one-man variety act that was escapist, absurdist, and just as big as Star Wars the summer it came out. Somehow, he managed to convey his spastic visual frenzy onto audio-only vinyl and had a post-Nixon, post-Vietnam generation bellowing the catchphrase “Well, excuuuuuuse me!” You didn’t need to be high (or “get small”) to get it, but it probably helped when you’re asked to sing along to “be oblong and have your knees removed.” S.C.
One of the best-selling comedy albums of all time, Button-Down Mind scored the most “Bob” man who ever lived the only Best New Artist Grammy ever given to a comic. A former commercial copywriter, Newhart captures his slick-talking, ad-age moment (not for nothing, the guys in Mad Men sit around listening to it), playing tracks like “Merchandising the Wright Brothers” perfectly straight-faced. Newhart’s one-way phone calls have aged shockingly well because of perfectly proofread punch lines, oddball concepts, and timing as tight as his haircut on the album’s sleeve. J.G.