A lot has been written about the resurgence of vinyl in recent years. It seems everyone from hipsters to parents who actually purchased vinyl non-ironically as children are getting hip to big discs once thought too large to remain relevant. Still, even with all the attention being given to wax in recent months, very few people have talked about the renewed interest in stand-up on vinyl.
People will tell you music sounds best on wax, and I like to think the same goes for stand-up comedy. Live albums in particular, which makes up the vast majority of comedic albums being released today, pop and crackle with an energy on vinyl that simply does not translate to CD or digital file. The act of sitting down and engaging in a comedy show that took place months or even decades before you decided to listen to it is unlike any other experience you can have with a turntable, and in the paragraphs below I am going to highlight five releases that are guaranteed to leave you and those you share your records with in stitches.
Before we dive in I feel it is worth repeating that all comedy is subjective. What is funny to some is not funny to everyone, and there are no doubt going to be names or records on this list some people can not stand. I built this list based on my own vinyl collection and the diverse array of comedic releases that inhabit it. If you know of an album worth spinning that did not make the cut, please comment at the very end of this post and add it yourself. I am always interested in discovering new bits I may have otherwise never heard.
Sam Kinison: Louder Than Hell (1986)
If you only own one comedy album on vinyl it should be Sam Kinison’s Louder Than Hell. It was considered the most controversial comedic release of all time when it hit stores in 1986, and it caused so much trouble in the years following its release that Warner Bros. never pressed the album to CD or cassette. Even now, almost three decades after its initial release, it’s an album only found on vinyl (and shitty YouTube rips). More importantly, it’s still as offensive and side-splitting as ever. Kinison made taboo topics likes homosexuality commonplace in the stand-up space, and then mocked them to such extremes it took years for other big name comics to approach similar themes. His career shined brightest on this album, and to this day I don’t think anyone has a better joke about going blind during intercourse than Kinison does less than five minutes into this record.
Bill Cosby: For Adults Only (1971)
Cosby made stand-up records an art-form long before anyone considered him the biggest name in comedy, and over the past five decades he has released numerous albums on wax that are worthy of praise. We could make another list of comedy vinyl dedicated solely to his albums, but for the purposes of this feature I have decided to select only one release (my favorite), and it is unquestionably one of his best hours of all time. For Adults Only was recorded over the course of several nights on the Las Vegas strip, which meant Cosby was hitting the stage in front of a slightly different audience than he was used to. There are no mentions of Fat Albert or Noah here, but instead Cosby talks about his own experiences in life and marriage, as well as his two daughters. This special was never released on CD, so thrift shops and used record stores may be the only place copies still exist.
George Carlin: What Am I Doing In Jersey? (1988)
There are about half a dozen George Carlin releases on vinyl, but only one captures the honest and direct sense of humor that he is remembered for today. What Am I Doing In Jersey? was Carlin’s sixth HBO special and twelfth album, but more importantly it’s regarded by most comedy historians as the special that introduced the unique style of in-your-face storytelling that became Carlin’s signature later in life. The material on Reagan may feel a bit dated today, but everything else on this four-track release is just as sharp today as it was when it first shocked audiences at the Park Performing Arts Center nearly three decades ago.
Richard Pryor: That N*gger’s Crazy (1974)
Forty years after its initial release, That N*gger’s Crazy still packs a comedic punch like no other. Every album Pryor released featured controversial cover art, titles, and subject matter, but this album is extra special because every time Pryor made an appearance on television some uptight person in a suit and tie (or dress) had to read the title aloud. Parents were instantly outraged, kids quickly fell in love, media professionals were flustered, and Pryor was laughing all the way to the bank. The album spent four weeks at number one when it was first released, and later went on to win a Grammy for best comedy album. Collector’s will want to look for the copies of this album from its original label, Stax, but there is no difference between that pressing and far more likely to be found Warner Bros. version that is waiting for you right now at your local record store.
Ari Shaffir: Revenge For The Holocaust (2012)
Before the vinyl resurgence reached the mainstream, the team at Standup Records was already hard at work on a number of modern comedy vinyl releases that have until now been horribly underrepresented in the press. They have worked with everyone from Patton Oswalt, to Doug Stanhope and Hannibal Burress, but those looking for records that will make them cry tears of joy on every listen need dig no further than Ari Shaffir’s breakout release, Revenge For The Holocaust. Ari is one of those rare comedic gems that manages to be, at times, as sweet as he is offensive. He can tell a joke so clean your grandmother would approve one minute, then turn around and make you uncomfortable in your own skin with something so offensive a sailor would blush the next. Revenge is definitely not an album for the faint of heart, but those who love a little bit of raunch in their filthy comedy will find plenty to love on this release.
Marc Maron: Thinky Pain (2013)
The most recent release on this list, Thinky Pain is something of a modern classic in the world of stand-up comedy. Marc Maron takes the stage without a set list, and over the course of more than an hour of material touches on everything from cats, to vinyl, aging, podcasting, and the weird way celebrity has impacted his life. Maron’s friendly tone and relaxed-yet-anxious presence leaps from the grooves with each spin, welcoming you into his often hilarious life while keeping you firmly at arm’s length. The video version of this special is now on Netflix, but having experienced both I dare say the vinyl experience is far more enjoyable. Maron is not a visual stand-up–he is a storyteller, and nothing sounds better in the spoken word genre of vinyl releases than people with funny stories to tell. Sit back, put this on, pour some wine, and spend the evening unwinding and laughing without the constant glare of a giant screen filled with an awkward grown man professing his problems and various neuroses to the world.
This feature was originally posted on Under The Gun Reviews. Re-posted with their consent because they’re awesome!