Symkus column: A few free comedy albums to borrow that’ll help you forget the world for a while
In this third of three pieces on recordings available at no cost through your local library and Hoopla - the digital service that put them all together - it’s time to go in a different direction from the musical suggestions in the earlier pieces.
We all need a good laugh right now. So, our path today leads to comedy albums. Hoopla has an abundant supply of them. Taking into consideration the fact that what makes one person laugh might not have the same effect on another, I’ll be going out on a subjective limb here. I’m going to offer recommendations of 10 comedy albums that, long ago, back in the days when I would get together with friends, sit on the floor, pass around a joint (or two, or three) and listen to them, made me laugh ... out loud.
Some of these artists have gone on to projects beyond stand-up and sketch comedy. A couple of them have had their names tied up in controversies. But I’ve chosen to skirt around alternate careers and personal issues that came long after these works were created. The words and ideas and performances on these albums were funny (to me) then and are funny (to me) now.
Woody Allen - “The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968” - From long before his jump into filmdom with “Take the Money and Run.” Allen, alone at the microphone, spinning absurd, personal, self-deprecating tales about life’s oddities. Taken from nightclub stints in Chicago (1964), Washington D.C. (1965), and San Francisco (1968). My favorite tracks: “The Moose” and “Mechanical Objects”
Lord Buckley - “A Most Immaculately Hip Aristocrat” - A genius at the art of spoken wordplay, and a hipster of the highest magnitude, who fused a rhythmic, freeform jazz stylings with his orations, each of them meticulously crafted, yet coming across as if they were on-the-spot stream-of-consciousness creations. Favorites: “Bad Rapping of the Marquis de Sade” and “The Train.”
Bill Cosby - “Why Is There Air?” and “Wonderfulness” - Hard to pick just one of Cosby’s brilliant stand-up flights of imagination from the mid-1960s. Clean comedy, fine for family listening, capturing offbeat, childlike insights that make kids giggle and make adults fondly think of their own pasts or blurt out a bunch of laughs or both. Favorites: “Driving in San Francisco” and “Tonsils”
Steve Martin - “Comedy Is not Pretty” - A great comedy writer with an innate sense of timing which, along with some darn good banjo-playing chops, has always endeared him to audiences. Or maybe it’s due to his inclination to venture into areas of the absurd or mess up (on purpose) a bit or two, or just throw caution to the wind and go all silly. Favorite: “McDonald’s/Men’s Underwear”
Mrs. Miller - “Mrs. Miller’s Greatest Hits” - Elva Miller: Chanteuse, lover of pop music and religious hymns, whistler extraordinaire, suburban housewife. Gutsy enough to title her warbling, sometimes offkey, sometimes out-of-time debut album “Greatest Hits.” Mostly excellent musical arrangements of rock tunes featuring session players, often enormously funny (but is it supposed to be?), something one must develop a taste for, but should definitely try. Favorite: “Downtown”
Monty Python - “Another Monty Python Record” - No sight gags, no animations, no men in dresses. Just an onslaught of outrageous and very British verbal humor (along with a bit of music), released well before initial broadcasts of the Pythons on PBS or any of their feature films. Proof that the magnificently eccentric quintet shone in any medium. Favorites: “Contradiction” and “Spam”
Bob Newhart - “Something Like This” - A “Best of” album, with equal shares of witty, intelligent, and very dry humor, and Newhart, later gaining big fame in a trio of sitcoms (“The Bob Newhart Show,” “Newhart,” and “Bob”) at the time regularly doing telephone prop-standup on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Favorite: “King Kong”
Mike Nichols & Elaine May - “Nichols & May Examine Doctors” - Some of the best, sharpest, most unorthodox, fastest-moving improvisational comedy around, done in a period after both had started acting but before they both became film directors. A rare outing for them as it stayed with just one topic - the medical profession. Favorite: “A Little More Gauze”
Jean Shepherd - “And Other Foibles” - Random ramblings by the smooth-voiced writer-raconteur-radio show host. Some of them mildly political, many of them taking on social issues, some of them utterly surreal, many of them sweetly funny. Favorite: “Human Comedy”
Allan Sherman - “For Swingin’ Livers Only” - A pile of parodies of popular songs, and undoubtedly a favorite of Weird Al Yankovic during his formative years, all of it quite clever even if Sherman didn’t have one of the better singing voices around. Favorites: “Grow, Mrs. Goldfarb” and “Pop Hates the Beatles”
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Ed Symkus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.