In some form or another, I say this every year. But that doesn’t make it untrue. So here goes: In 2013, so many amazing comedians released so many amazing albums and specials that I struggled greatly to cram just 10 in this list of the very best. Sure, we can make the list longer to include more, but, then, the value of the list declines. Right? Right.
Before we get to it, let me explain the list a bit. This is a list of the 10 best comedy albums released in 2013. However, because of the ever-changing ways in which comedy is distributed, the list takes into consideration not just albums but also commercially available DVDs and or specials that will soon be available as an album. Luckily, most comedy these days is released in multiple formats.
A few more notes, if you care to read on before you get to the list. Before you leave an angry comment about how your favorite album or special isn’t on the list, first make sure it was released in 2013. There were at least 150 proper comedy albums released this year; re-releases don’t count. There are many more albums and specials I loved in 2013 — albums and specials that deserve your attention — albums and specials from the likes of Moshe Kasher, Pete Holmes, Patrice O’Neal, Sarah Silverman, Anthony Jeselnik, Bill Cosby, Tammy Pescatelli, Al Madrigal, Geoff Tate, Kathleen Madigan and Jamie Kilstein.
Oh, and before I get nasty comments about how there’s only one woman on the list and that I’m sexist, please take a beat and try to think logically and maybe go back and read our comedy coverage throughout the year. We treat everyone equally. Also, there are way fewer female comedians than there are male comedians. So, feel free to make your own list in the comments section or mention comedians you felt should’ve been on the list— without being a total jerk about it. Cool?
10. Tom Papa – Freaked Out
Tom Papa has the unique talent of writing jokes about being married, parenting children and getting old without getting hokey and while simultaneously maintaining an ever-so-subtle darkness throughout. And Freaked Out is a perfect example of this. On top of his material being fresh – despite common themes – Papa’s point of view is laser sharp and his presentation and delivery is perfect. Buy it here.
9. Jimmy Pardo – Sprezzatura
The perfect amalgam of old-school joke slinging, story telling and crowd work, Jimmy Pardo is a fucking delight onstage. And it’s about time he released a proper album; it has been six years since his first, Pompous Clown. His newest, Sprezzatura is a fast-paced, crowd pleaser you never want to end. It’s the type of album you want to give to a friend who’s clueless about stand-up, telling him or her, “This is what stand-up comedy is.” Buy it here.
8. Jim Norton – Please Be Offended
For more than a decade, Jim Norton has been the best representation of cringe humor— that is, if you’re into labels. Really, he’s just proof that comedy can be absolutely profane and simultaneously intelligent and sensitive. And on Please Be Offended, this is especially true as we see the veteran comedian and co-host of the Opie and Anthony Show on SiriusXM not just sacrifice himself for the sake of a laugh (that Norton is self-effacing is a sever understatement) but also making some valuable insights into the way we live our lives. Buy it here.
7. Lewis Black – Old Yeller: Live at the Borgata
Lewis Black has the reputation for being a lovable curmudgeon onstage— and for good reason. The truth is he does a lot of yelling about issues, people and groups of people that deserve a spirited verbal lashing. And there’s plenty of that on Old Yeller, this year’s offering from the prolific, iconic comedian. He’s still screaming for our government to do something (anything!) and pining for something to finally be done about immigration reform and gun control and health care. But there’s also a sort of Zen quality peppered throughout; it comes from a sense of Black admitting he doesn’t have all the solutions and that he’s ok with that. But that won’t stop him from addressing the problems— loudly and with a breed of humor that could never be duplicated by any mortal being. Buy it here.
6. Louis C.K. – Oh My God
Only two years after he single-handedly altered the way in which stand-up comedy was distributed with the self-released, five-dollar Live at the Beacon Theater, Louis C.K. returned in 2013 with Oh My God. (Word: Live at Carnegie Hall was released last year, but it was actually recorded before Beacon). Anyway, Oh My God premiered on HBO and is now available for $5 in video and digital album form through his site— and it’s an outstanding hour from start to finish. Whether he’s likening the sensation of touching a woman’s breast to seeing a four-leaf clover or philosophizing on what would happen if murder was legal – even nice people would kill a few times – or celebrating the greatness of being divorced, he does so with the trademark Louis C.K. self-awareness the masses have come to love. Buy it here.
5. Doug Stanhope – Beer Hall Putsch
Come for the true story about how Doug Stanhope assisted his mother’s suicide, stay for the brutally honest insights into our society, why alcohol is unfairly given a bad reputation and why we should, perhaps, look to Scientology for tips on how to properly start a movement. Arguably his tightest and most energetic release to date, Beer Hall Putsch – named after Adolf Hitler’s failed attempt to usurp power from the German government – is an impossibly rich album, stacked with laughs and mind-altering commentary. Buy it here.
4. Marc Maron – Thinky Pain
Though his groundbreaking podcast WTF continues to be one of the most popular in all genres – it recently celebrated 100 million downloads – and his IFC show Maron is a hit – season two will premiere in 2014 – Thinky Pain, Marc Maron’s fifth stand-up comedy release proves that where he excels most is on stage. Recorded in an intimate, basement venue in New York, the hour-and-a-half block of comedy finds Maron more at peace and, dare I say, happy, with his station in life. That said, you can’t take the deep-seated anxiety and terminal dark spots out of a person. And thankfully Maron is still all-too-eager to cut himself open for the sake of his audience (and himself). Currently it’s only available on Netflix (hence the video below), but Thinky Pain will be released as an album in May. Watch it here.
3. Maria Bamford – Ask Me About My New God!
Four years ago, Maria Bamford released Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome, which was a turning point in her already stellar stand-up career. Though it was her most revealing and soul-baring album, it was only until this year’s release of Ask Me About My New God! that it was clear it lacked the laughs-per-minute Bamford usually delivers (not that it still wasn’t one of the best albums of 2009). This new album, however, is on a different level. This is Bamford at her absolute best; it’s packed with the Midwesterner’s absurd take on dating, religion, suicide and family — all presented through Bamford’s act-outs and quick character voices. It’s an amazingly satisfying mix of incisive commentary and light-hearted observations. Though her profile rises each year ever-so-slightly — a turn on Arrested Development helped this year — Bamford is still one of the country’s most underrated comedic talents. Let’s hope more comedy lovers grab Ask Me About My New God! in the new year. Buy it here.
2. Bo Burnham – what.
The curse of YouTube stardom for Bo Burnham was lifted three years ago when he released his impressive Words, Words, Words. But if comedy purists were still left unconvinced that, despite his online pedigree and youth – he’s only 23 – allow me to submit what., Burnham’s latest album and comedy special. Available for free on YouTube, streaming on Netflix and as an album through Comedy Central Records, what. is a brilliant hour of hilarious social commentary filtered through Burnham’s theatrical flair and the cornerstone of his career— music. Not satisfied with just songs, however, Burnham combines poetry, recorded audio backdrops and stand-up. While I’m one to always suggest listening to a comedy album over watching the special, I’d highly recommend you check out the video representation of what. first but then grab the album – it has five studio tracks as well – for repeated listens. Buy it here.
1. Mike Birbiglia – My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
After more than three years in the making – from off-Broadway, national and international touring and a finale at Carnegie Hall – Mike Birbiglia’s show My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend was finally released commercially in 2013. Six years ago, we compared Birbiglia to Bill Cosby because of the storytelling prowess on display on his album My Secret Public Journal Live. We’re happy to report we’re not eating our words but rather savoring them. My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend is meticulously written and brilliantly performed. Boasting a strong throughline, the show is about personal evolution, as seen through Birbiglia’s philosophy on love and marriage. The balance between laughs and poignancy is simply beautiful. And his stories within a larger story are relatable and yet are devoid of the mawkishness usually found in such universal fare. And it’s for those reasons and more that My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend is the best comedy release of 2013. Buy it here.