The end of the year is approaching fast, comedy fans. And so it’s time to count down the 10 best comedy albums of the year. As in years past, this list represents the albums we feel were the strongest. Let it be known: there were more than 150 comedy albums released this year. Let it also be known, that since we launched in 2005 (when we were Punchline Magazine), there has never been a stronger year for quality stand-up albums. It was incredibly difficult to get this list down to 10.
And while the following list represents the very best of the year (in our opinion) there are probably another 10 albums we’d strongly recommend. We also want to note that any album released on or after Nov. 14 will be considered for next year’s list. Ok, that’s enough exposition. Check out the list, listen to the audio samples and let us know what you think in the comments section. Oh, one last note: a list of our favorite comedy DVDs of the year is forthcoming.
10 – AMY SCHUMER — Cutting
Even before she caused a ruckus on the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen this year when she made what some considered a tasteless joke about Jackass star Steve-O, Amy Schumer had rightfully earned a great deal of attention based on the strength of her jokes and live performances. And the result of her years rising through the New York City comedy scene and headlining clubs across the country is captured on her debut album Cutting, 45 minutes of mostly cringe-inducing observations. Her playful delivery juxtaposed with traditionally dark discussions about venereal diseases and teen pregnancy as well as the well-tread comedy topics of religion and race makes for a startling and hilarious journey through Schumer’s delightfully warped brain. Buy Cutting from iTunes.
9 – JAMIE KILSTEIN – Libel, Slander & Sedition
Not even halfway through his newest album, Jamie Kilstein announces to the audience, “We lost a couple there, cadets. It was just a wave of hatred that got up…This room just got a little happier,” referring to the people walking out of his show after his rant on homophobia. Walking the crowd is something Kilstein does— seeing as anyone who shows up settled in for a night of light-hearted punch lines, will be immediately disappointed in what Kilstein has to offer—which is an hour of mostly breathless politically and socially charged criticisms against society, peppered with hard truths from an ultra-liberal perspective. And although many may think Kilstein is just an “artist douche bag who needs attention” (his description), the comic represents a younger generation of comedians – see also, Lee Camp’s Chaos For the Weary – who are dedicated to using comedy to affect change. Buy Libel from iTunes.
8 – JIM NORTON – Despicable
For more than a decade now, Jim Norton has been at the top of a pile of great cringe comics. Don’t like labels? Fine. How about this: Norton represents everything stand-up comedy should be— a guy or gal at a mic. No rules. No topic off limits; completely uncensored and unrelentingly brutal— mostly to himself. And his third album, Despicable continues this tradition. From opining on gay dudes to a five-minute rant about how much he hates penguins to telling the story about how he once had a threesome with Ron Jeremy, Norton drags a delighted audience through the darkness— and in the process, makes other degenerates feel like they’re not alone. Buy Despicable from iTunes.
7 – DOUG STANHOPE – Olso: Burning The Bridge To Nowhere
One of the most prolific comedians working today, Doug Stanhope unleashed yet another outstanding album this year, brimming with stark realizations (“I don’t fuck anymore, really, because I’m old and gross”) a collection of decidedly unfunny ideas – suicide, massacres, abortion (the more babies you have, the more the value of human life drops) – and that ragged, seemingly hung-over, disjointed delivery we’ve come to expect from the workhorse comedian. As is always the case with Stanhope, Olso, recorded in a former Nazi hangout in Norway, this album is for comedy fans that can appreciate nuances and find pleasure in taking chances and comfort in the perverse. Buy Olso from iTunes.
6 – NORM MACDONALD – Me Doing Standup
Saturday Night Live alum and veteran comedian Norm Macdonald experienced a bittersweet career resurgence this year. He landed his own show on Comedy Central, Sports Show with Norm Macdonald, only to have it canned after one season. Criminal. What’s more criminal, however, is that Me Doing Standup, his genius comedy album, seems like it was largely overlooked. This 10-track disc contains everything you love about Norm— his goofy delivery, his absurd observations and under it all, his scathing commentary on stupid people. Maybe most importantly, Me Doing Standup proves that Norm is more relevant to the comedy world than he ever was– despite his lack of television credits. Buy Me Doing Standup from iTunes.
5 – PATTON OSWALT – Finest Hour
There’s no denying that Patton Oswalt – a philosopher of sorts, professional observer and lover of comic books – is one of the best and most innovative comedians working today. He deserves every piece of press and praise he gets. So, it was not at all surprising he followed up his stellar 2009 album My Weakness Is Strong with another brilliant collection, Finest Hour. We find Oswalt challenging the concept of God (one our favorite things about him), concerned with his young daughter’s future (he doesn’t want her to become too smart), celebrating the awesome power of Ambien and so much more. While we haven’t listened to the album under the influence of said drug, we can’t imagine it could make Finest Hour any better than it already is. Buy Finest Hour from iTunes.
4 – MIKE BIRBIGLIA – Sleepwalk With Me, Live
For the better part of a decade, Mike Birbiglia has transitioned from competent, funny observational comedian to one of the most gifted comedic storytellers of our time. If there was any doubt of this, his off-Broadway show Sleepwalk With Me solidified it. And although the show is years old (it opened in late 2008) and a book with the same title was released in early 2010, it wasn’t until this year we got a tidy, live recording of the stories featured in his show. And it doesn’t disappoint. Throughout the album’s 12 tracks, Birbigs opens up about the sleep disorder that finally found him bloodied, covered in glass and driving himself to the hospital, his profound fear of commitment, how bombing onstage made him want to do stand-up comedy and more. The album, like all of Mike’s comedy, defies genres and labels. This is a must have for your comedy collection. Buy Sleepwalk from iTunes.
3 – BRIAN REGAN – All By Myself
Near the start of 2011, Brian Regan quietly self released All By Myself as a digital download through his official site— and in the process, proved that a huge publicity push or clever marketing ploys have nothing to do with a superior product. Or constantly selling out huge theaters across the country. And like on his first album, 1997’s Brian Regan Live (he’s released three DVDs between then and now), he also proves that the simplest of topics (kids, traveling, hearing tests), which die in the hands of lesser comics, can be effective catalysts to meaningful and wholly hilarious jokes. Now more than ever, Regan is responsible for longer and more powerful gut-based laughs than any other working comedian. It’s a fact. Buy All By Myself from brianregan.com.
2 – LOUIS C.K. – Hilarious
Honestly. What’s there left to say about Louis C.K.? The guy is a comedy monster who delivers cathartic, gut-wrenching laughs throughout each new hour he writes, which – lucky for us – he captures on tape every few years. Louie’s gift to the comedy world in 2011 was Hilarious, the follow-up to his late-2008 release Chewed Up. In the end, Hilarious will be remembered as one of the strongest stand-up comedy performances in the history of the art. But, so will Chewed Up. There’s nothing new on Hilarious; his own boundaries aren’t being pushed. Hilarious isn’t more “personal” than his last; he hasn’t expanded his worldview. And, he doesn’t need to. C.K., in short, has just continued to be a fearless comedian who’s able to find humor in honesty. Buy Hilarious from iTunes.
1 – MARC MARON – This Has To Be Funny
Long before his podcast WTF helped expose his talents to an audience that wasn’t exclusively comprised of hardcore comedy nerds, Marc Maron was one of the best comedians in the country— constantly challenging his small, but dedicated following to find laughs in every one of his very-personal foibles. And his three albums (released between 2005 and 2009 on Stand Up! Records) were a testament to that. So, it only follows that his fourth This Has to be Funny (released by Comedy Central Records), lands at number one on our list.
Funny finds Maron sharper on the stand-up stage than ever, as he deftly – and with an audible joy – bounds from seemingly mundane observations (backyard problems, sex, texting) to existential ruminations about his parents to a nearly 18-minute epic monologue about religion, inspired by his visit to the Creation Museum. At over an hour, we get the most well-rounded version of the man to date — there’s happiness, anger, depression, regret, frustration, satisfaction in there — and the best Maron album since 2006’s Tickets Still Available. Buy This Has to be Funny from iTunes.