Story telling is an integral part of stand-up comedy. Most comedians, in some form, tell stories. Maybe a story comes as a quick aside to further explain the premise of a joke; sometimes it takes the form of an extended tag at the end of a minute-long bit. At times, a comedian will tell a story about his or her day to break up the more scripted part of their set. For most comics, the story is just one of many tools they employ to urge laughs from their audiences. But for other stand-up comedians, telling stories defines who they are as a performer; it’s not a means to an end. The stories are the end. And when a comedian does it right — see Bill Cosby: Himself — this kind of live comedy could be the most satisfying type of art you can take in.
With that in mind, I wanted to list some of my favorite contemporary stories told by comedians and share them with you. Some of you will be familiar with most of these while, for others, these will mostly be new experiences. Either way, I truly believe there’s something here for every taste of comedy. So, sit back and enjoy 75 minutes worth of well-crafted, hilarious stories.
JOSH SNEED: Let’s start off with a good fart story, shall we? Don’t sneeze (or fart) at the concept. Even George Carlin was a huge fan of flatulence humor. So, yes, we shall begin with poop jokes. In this one, from the 2008 album Unacceptable, Josh Sneed regales us with a story about his encounter with pop superstar Jessica Simpson. It’s a metaphor for the concept of dominance and the battle between economic classes. Or, it’s just a fart story.
LOUIS C.K.: As a parent of a nearly three-year-old and a newborn, I take great comfort in Louis C.K.’s parenting material. And this track is no exception. From his newest album Hilarious, released in January, Louis C.K. thankfully tells us way too much about a cookie-related fight he had with his younger daughter as well as a story about some messy bathroom business.
JOHN MULANEY: In your youth, did you ever fuck around with people in a public place– because, you were simply bored and were a bit of a wise ass? Sure, we all did. Or at least, we all tried. My friend Joe once took a dump on the street outside my friend Mike’s house and led Mike to believe it was dog shit. Hilarious, right? Subtle? No. But John Mulaney and a friend were more subtle than a street shit when they decided to use music to terrorize diner patrons.
TIG NOTARO: I was lucky enough to catch Tig tell this story at Bar Lubitsch in West Hollywood nearly a year ago. So I was super excited to see it pop up on her newly released album Good One. A master of pacing and timing, Notaro turns some chance encounters with 1980s pop star Taylor Dane (“Tell It To My Heart) into a surrealist piece of art.
DANE COOK: Dane Cook’s 2009 album Isolated Incident found the hugely popular comedian in a much more personal and, at times, darker space than in years past. Both his mother and father had died somewhat recently before the recording and while most of the album maintained the levity Cook’s known for, he surely didn’t shy away from getting in touch with his anger. This story about how he handled a single piece of hate mail makes me smile every time I listen to it. Sometimes redemption can be funny.
MIKE BIRBIGLIA: Arguably the best comedic storyteller today, Mike Birbiglia delivers a perfectly-balanced recalling of the time he was invited to perform at the MVP Awards for Major League Baseball. If you know even a little about Birbigs, you know he doesn’t exactly feel at home around a bunch of millionaire jocks. And so classic, hilarious awkwardness ensues. This track is the last story he tells on his 2007 album My Secret Public Journal Live.
RON WHITE: Like Birbiglia above, Ron White has come to be known as a guy who almost only tells long-form story jokes. And he’s amazing at it. The story below is no doubt his most popular, as it explains the origin of his nickname “Tater Salad” as well as references the title of the 2003 album on which it was first released, Drunk in Public.
JIM NORTON: Hey, remember that time you had a threesome with a famous porn star during at the porn awards? Right, exactly. This type of shit never happens to people like us. That’s why this Jim Norton story — from his album Despicable, released in March — is so great to listen to. Picture it: Jim Norton, Ron Jeremy, Ron Jeremy’s infamous member and an unnamed female companion– all getting along wonderfully on a hotel bed.
SHANE MAUSS: There’s a handful of great stories on Shane Mauss’ 2010 album, Jokes To Make My Parents Proud, which is heavy on good old-fashioned fun-for-fun’s-sake humor. But this is my favorite example. It’s about Mauss and his girlfriend and the trials of anal sex. Enjoy.
DOUG STANHOPE: We all know Doug Stanhope has lived a full life. Euphemistically we can call him a “life adventurer!” Pragmatically, we can say the dude lives life like maybe he wouldn’t mind dying, so long as he does so creatively. This story, about his experience with a tranny hooker (from is 2000 album, Sicko), was probably just part of another slightly-odd day for Stanhope.
BERT KREISCHER: I wanted to save the newest recorded story on this list for last. And here it is: “Bert Kreischer Is The Machine.” Comedian Kreischer recently visited Joe Rogan on his podcast and told this incredibly detailed story about a college trip to Russia. It’s become somewhat of a comedy nerd’s Internet hit, wracking up nearly 125,000 views on YouTube as of this writing. Kreischer is now even planning to sell Machine-themed T-shirts. Animator Corri Loschuk created a South Park-style mini episode out of the audio, which helped propel this piece to star status. But even without the visual component, the story is amazing.