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Comedy albums are a bit of an anomaly. Almost every other way of experiencing comedy includes a visual aspect, even if it’s just one person, a mic and a stool on a bare stage. But when you remove the visuals completely, the focus shifts to one aspect only: sound. For comedy diehards, these nine albums can allow a greater appreciation of how the greats construct a joke, how their pacing and delivery alters at just the right moment. For those who just want to laugh, there’s no shortage of that either.
Some comedy albums make you chuckle as you walk down the street. Others cause people to cross the street to get away from you. This is very much the latter. The further Bamford gets into a joke, the more she seems to unravel and the funnier it all gets. Bamford skilfully weaponises her well-documented history of mental health troubles into the most uncomfortably hilarious material ever recorded. The highlight of this 2013 set is her concern for celebrity chef Paula Deen, whose high-calorie dishes Bamford interprets as more cries for help than recipes.
Hicks was primarily known for his profane rants and freewheeling approach to smoking and drinking, but what is often overlooked is the strangely naïve stoner optimism that occasionally crept in. For all his vitriol, Hicks held a belief that we held the ability to change the world for the better – even though he described humanity as “a virus with shoes”. That’s Hicks in a nutshell, tempering any moments of profundity with some of the most wonderfully offensive material in comedy history, not least his inspired bit about Jay Leno advertising Doritos.
It can be difficult to marry up Hedberg’s childlike absurdism and off-hand non-sequiturs with the man whose spiralling drug abuse led to a tragically premature death in 2005. It was a tremendous loss to comedy; Hedberg’s ability to turn the most nonsensical twist of logic into a stunningly simple joke made superstardom seem inevitable. He left a scattering of comedy specials and three hysterically funny albums behind him, all of which are worth investigating. Of those, Strategic Grill Locations is probably his finest moment. It ends with one of his best routines about a missing group of diners.
It’s impossible to mention Leary without someone pointing out that he ripped off most of his material from Bill Hicks. While there are undoubted similarities, the crucial difference is that Leary shares absolutely none of Hicks’s occasional optimism. We’re doomed, it’s all our fault and all Leary wants is a ringside seat and a cold beer so he can yell out, “I told you so” as society crumbles around him. No Cure For Cancer is the motormouth at his raging best, delirious with fury at any target that occurs to him.
Some of us love puns. The rest of the world wants nothing more than to kill the people who love puns. Steven Wright is the pope of punning, a deadpan deity with a gift for twisting language into its most illogical shapes. Listening to I Have A Pony is opening yourself up to a barrage of inspired one-liners, all delivered with zero emotion and punctuated by awkward silences.
If your sense of humour stopped evolving at age 13, then this is the album for you. Incredibad is a riot fest of hilariously juvenile lyrics set to incredibly catchy tunes enlivened by an eclectic roster of guest stars. I’m On A Boat is the one everyone knows and loves and has sung anytime they’ve been on any kind of amphibious vehicle, but the highlight here is Boombox, a Julian Casablancas-starring ode to spontaneous partying and fingerless gloves.
Martin is the smartest fool in comedy history. This trait is wonderfully evident throughout his early films, but it’s most effective on his debut album, a brilliant collection of anecdotes (and banjo interludes) that start off straightforwardly and quickly take weird detours into something akin to a combination of a fever dream and a bad trip. This should be handed out to aspiring comics as a rite of passage.
Notaro is nothing short of a comedy genius. Listening to Good One allows the spotlight to shine on her bone-dry and artfully constructed delivery, particularly her pacing, which accelerates or slows to a crawl at exactly the right place. It’s wondrous to behold, although you’ll probably be too busy laughing the first time around to notice. If you love this (and you should) delve further into her extensive catalogue, especially her exceptional TV series One Mississippi.
If Brett McKenzie, Jemaine Clement and their FOTC cohorts (Rhys Darby and Taika Watiti, to name but two) are anything to go by, New Zealand must be the funniest country in the world. FOTC’s debut album is relentless hilarity glued onto incredibly detailed musical pastiches. It’s possible to mistake Inner City Pressure for an actual Pet Shop Boys song (McKenzie’s Neil Tennant impression is flawless), until Clement pops up singing about muesli and second-hand underpants. And then there’s the affectionately bonkers Bowie, quite possibly the funniest song ever written.
Find more information about your favourite comedians in our Comedy Guide.