This past year was an incredibly strong time for stand-up comedy albums. It wasn’t easy for us to whittle down the list to just 10, but then what’s the fun in including everyone in a list? Like our list last year, the below selections have nothing to do with how popular each comedian is or how many copies of each album was sold. These are simply the albums we think are the strongest, most important, best stand-up comedy albums of 2009. Enjoy! (note: Keep your eyes peeled before the end of the year for Punchline Magazine‘s list of 10 best stand-up comedy DVDs of 2009).
#10 – DAN CUMMINS – REVENGE IS NEAR
As of this writing, Washington-by-way-of-Idaho comedian Dan Cummins has not made a major dent in the collective minds of the mainstream comedy consuming public. But if this country has any sense left, comedy fans will soon embrace this great talent. A tireless road comic, Cummins has also just made his Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien debut and filmed an hour-long special for Comedy Central, which will air early in 2010. His debut album – released by Warner Bros – is a meticulous testament to intelligent, smart-ass, well-written comedy. Cummins proves vicious, without being loud; snarky but still relatable. We like that. It also doesn’t hurt that he has a “doctorate in unicorns.” Buy Revenge Is Near
#9 – PAUL F. TOMPKINS – FREAK WHARF
Although the first 15 minutes of Paul F. Tompkins’ second CD Freak Wharf is labeled “riffs,” – largely unplanned material – none of the initial third of the album lacks control, precision or fun— qualities the dapper veteran comedian’s loyal fanbase has come to expect from him. In fact, the start of the wholly hilarious collection of bits, plays the perfect primer for the rest of its spin. More than ever, Tompkins is the master of minimalist comedy, routinely taking the most basic of topics – what’s better: cake or pie?; those machines at carnivals that smash pennies; one line in a famous book – and proving that comedy needs not be earth shattering or complicated to be artful and worthy of deep respect. Buy Freak Wharf
#8 – MATT KIRSHEN – I GUESS WE’LL NEVER KNOW
British comedian Matt Kirshen impressed us in 2007 when he was one of the very few Last Coming Standing contestants we didn’t dislike. We admit, however, we forgot about him— that is, until Stand Up! Records released I Guess We’ll Never Know, a start-to-finish, smart-as-hell collection of perfectly delivered, well-constructed jokes. Inquisitive to the end, the young comedian thrives on light-heartedly questioning society’s more mindless citizens. With his energetic and naturally friendly stage presence, he’s one of the easiest comedians to like on our list. If given the proper exposure, we see thousands more of American comedy fans liking him just as much as we do. Buy I Guess We’ll Never Know
#7 – LAURIE KILMARTIN – FIVE MINUTES TO MYSELF
Laurie Kilmartin has the superpower that separates comedians from civilians: the mystic vision necessary to see the humor in the mundane and the insane. Without designer eyewear or special lenses, she discerns the absurdity in abortion, racial stereotypes and, yes, even rape. Using a sharp tongue instead of a steak knife, the mom in Kilmartin cuts what she observes while strolling through life into sound-bite-size wisecracks easy for connoisseurs of sarcasm to devour. She works from the approved comics’ checklist: riffing and ripping on her boyfriend, religion, the sexes and the races. But she does so deftly, stinging her prey without lacerating the audience. Buy Five Minutes to Myself
#6 – DOUG STANHOPE – FROM ACROSS THE STREET
It may sound odd to describe a comedian as “important.” After all, a comedian’s job is to make his audience laugh, yes? Well, it all depends on what type of person you are and what flavor of emotional release you’re looking for when you decide to pony up 12 bucks for a live comedy album. But Doug Stanhope is one of the most important stand-up comedians of our time, and his fourth proper album, From Across the Street, further proves that. Street embodies what stand-up should be: unfiltered, raw, and honest; angry at times and incredibly vulnerable at others. This album and Stanhope himself, is not for comedy beginners but should be required listening for pro fans of quality stand-up. Buy From Across the Street
#5 – DOUG BENSON – UNBALANCED LOAD
If laughter is the best medicine, then this CD is the vaccine for gloom, though, ironically, mainly because it’s infectious. Depressed? Stash the pills and pop in this disc from the prankish “pro-weed professional humoredian.” You won’t be able to resist guffawing at a guy who’s having as much fun as Benson is onstage. Bonus: no side effects, unless you count stomach cramps from laughing so hard at this alternately seditious and silly 55-minute set, which includes TWO knock-knock jokes (part of a premise about a tour guide who attempts to flavor his blander-than-white-rice talks with juvenile jokes) and meta-clever tracks about segues and hecklers that gently prick Benson’s profession. Buy Unbalanced Load
#4 – MARIA BAMFORD – UNWANTED THOUGHTS SYNDROME
For her third album, her first for Comedy Central, one of the country’s best absurdist comedians, Maria Bamford gets more personal than she has before, telling her audience about her 26-year struggle with an OCD condition that made her “try not to make eye contact [with anyone], and then later, no human contact at all” for fear that she’d cause those people bodily harm. Sounds the opposite of funny, we know, but once the Bammer sets the pain up throughout the album, she quickly squashes it in that hilariously demented – vocal contortions, and all – Midwestern way we love so much. Buy Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome
#3 – MARC MARON – FINAL ENGAGEMENT
It was a big year for Marc Maron. He performed a run of his one-man show Scorching the Earth in New York City, took it to Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival, co-hosted Air America’s live Internet chat show Break Room Live and launched his popular podcast WTF. But his greatest accomplishment this year was the release of the double-disc Final Engagement, his third and most diverse, as we see this professional narcissist dive into his two failed marriages, his hatred for Scotland, his station as a multiple cat owner and the idea that maybe he’s ready to quit the comedy business to open up a bakery that serves “hate cakes.” This is comedy naked, ugly and funny– the way it should be. Buy Final Engagement
#2 – PATTON OSWALT – MY WEAKNESS IS STRONG
If there were such things as stand-up comedy 45′s, we’d like to nominate Patton Oswalt’s “Sky Cake” (below) as a side A and “The Sad Boy” as its B-side, two of the strongest and funniest comedy tracks released in 2009, wherein Oswalt succinctly dissects the origin of religion and the effects of clinical depression with hilarious results. He does it with a myriad of topics over and again throughout Weakness; but he often breaks from “serious” situations to boast his story telling prowess, especially in the harrowing tale of his wife and the giant rat (it looked like Danny DeVito in a costume) and the time he walked into a house the morning after an orgy and was forced to smell “fuck fumes.” Buy My Weakness Is Strong
#1 – GREG GIRALDO – MIDLIFE VICES
As the title implies, Greg Giraldo’s latest album finds the veteran comic exploring some of the demons – drugs, alcohol, two marriages – that have shaped the father of three’s outlook on his life and the world around him. And he does so with a committed aggression throughout that is oftentimes artfully laced with his hyper sensitive reflections on his own moral shortcomings.
A great stand-up comedian will, after 45 minutes or so on stage, leave his audience spent— spent from laughing, spent from thinking, feeling. Midlife Vices does this masterfully. Few comedians offer the thematic breadth Giraldo does onstage. Intense in tone, like a kettle repeatedly boiling and then spilling over, Giraldo incises life and from its pieces, molds a string of truths that are equally enlightening and hilarious. If a stand-up newbie was looking for the best example of quality contemporary comedy, this would be it. That’s why we have no reservations calling Greg Giraldo’s Midlife Vices the best comedy album of 2009. Buy Midlife Vices…seriously, buy it now.