Hear 30 of the Greatest Standup Comedy Albums: A Playlist Chosen by Open Culture Readers

I knew such things as com­e­dy albums exist­ed. I’d spied a cou­ple of them in my par­en­t’s record col­lec­tion. But they seemed like such quaint and dat­ed things. After all, I’d grown up on Eddie Mur­phy’s scan­dalous HBO spe­cials, had seen George Car­lin and Richard Pry­or pace the stage deliv­er­ing epic com­ic com­men­tary. I had imbibed a steady stream of standup and sketch­es on Com­e­dy Cen­tral. What need had I of a com­e­dy album?! The facial expres­sions, rare props, ridicu­lous out­fits… weren’t these visu­al cues nec­es­sary to car­ry the jokes?

Then I heard Lenny Bruce’s live dou­ble album from his 1961 con­cert at Carnegie Hall and flipped out (hear an excerpt above). I did­n’t know very much about Bruce at the time—not much more than the name. But after lis­ten­ing to that record enough times to mem­o­rize every line and inflec­tion, I became very inter­est­ed in how come­di­ans brought lis­ten­ers to tears of laugh­ter with only their voic­es. Bruce was a mas­ter. “Onstage,” writes Richard Brody, “he was a one-man car­toon, doing all the voic­es and pos­es of movie par­o­dies that he infused with his own strin­gent and para­dox­i­cal moral­i­ty.” So car­toon­ish was his act at times that one joke became an actu­al car­toon—“Thank You Mask Man,” a NSFW clas­sic.

Bruce’s act swung like a jazz per­for­mance, some­times hit­ting a blue note, and pulling his audi­ence down with a seri­ous scene, then ramp­ing right up into wild, nasal runs of high-pitched com­ic vir­tu­os­i­ty. Oth­er comics, like the dead­pan Bob Newhart, hard­ly ever var­ied their vol­ume, tem­po, and tone, and there­in lay the under­stat­ed appeal of Newhart’s “But­ton-Down Mind.” Then there are the char­ac­ters and impres­sions of Lily Tom­lin, the unhinged rants of Richard Pry­or, the scream­ing of Sam Kin­i­son, the nar­colep­tic drone of Steven Wright, the child­like war­ble of Emo Philips… Every com­ic uses his or her voice as an instru­ment, tap­ping into the audi­ence’s musi­cal sense of rhythm and tim­ing as much as their intel­lec­tu­al sense of irony and absur­di­ty.

Today, we bring you a playlist of 30+ standup com­e­dy albums, rang­ing from cur­rent com­ic mas­ters like Amy Schumer, Tig Notaro, and Louis C.K. to beloved comics from decades past like Gil­da Rad­ner and Bill Hicks. (You can pur­chase copies of these clas­sic albums here.) We’ve got the famous duo of Mel Brooks and Carl Rein­er (yes, they do “2000 Year Old Man”), we’ve got Richard Pry­or, George Car­lin, Steve Mar­tin, Robin Williams, and even… hell, why not? Andrew Dice Clay. And Lenny Bruce’s Carnegie Hall Con­cert made the cut as well, an absolute must-hear. Most of these picks were cho­sen by Open Cul­ture read­ers on Twit­ter, with a few tak­en from this Spin list of the “40 Great­est Com­e­dy Albums of All Time.” If there’s an album you think we absolute­ly have to add to the playlist above, let us know in the com­ments. If you don’t have Spo­ti­fy, down­load it free here. And if you object to using the ser­vice, why not pre­view some of these, then go buy the ones that crack you up the hard­est? All of the albums on the playlist can be found on Ama­zon here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lenny Bruce: Hear the Per­for­mances That Got Him Arrest­ed (NSFW)

Richard Pry­or Does Ear­ly Stand-Up Com­e­dy Rou­tine in New York, 1964

Sein­feld, Louis C.K., Chris Rock, and Ricky Ger­vais Dis­sect the Craft of Com­e­dy (NSFW)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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