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Best Comedy DVDs of 2010: #2, #1

We conclude the countdown of the ten best comedy DVDs of 2010…

#2) Jim Jefferies: Alcoholocaust

Foul-mouthed, inebriated and a master storyteller, Jefferies will no doubt read enough reviews comparing him to Billy Connolly, at least the early era version. While that’s a worthy compliment, it does him a disservice, for Jefferies has evolved into a ribald storyteller whose annual assaults on Edinburgh draw earned comparisons to George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Richard Pryor. I don’t know what type of Hell he has visited, but he came back with a bag of demons that need to be excised, and the more pints that he consumes, the more he rattles that bag. Clearly a skilled and disciplined writer, he hits the stage with absolutely no inhibitions and a fuck you attitude. He’s going to tell the truth as he sees it, and if afterwards you are left like chum in the water, so be it.

Whether he’s cursing out a heckler, cracking a vulgar joke or spinning a yarn that will have you gasping for breath, Jefferies is consistently gut-busting funny. He’s often crass, sexist and graphic, but he’s relentless. His closing story is about trying to set up his childhood friend with a hooker…a friend who is disabled and terminally ill, by the way. Somehow he blends this hilarious over-the-top yarn with the men’s code of honor so that when you piss yourself laughing, you feel noble while doing it. (Comedy Central UK)

***

#1) Stewart Lee: If You Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One

For sheer cerebral comedy entertainment, I don’t think there’s a better comedian on the planet right now than Stewart Lee. Erudite and culturally aware, his shows tend to evolve around a half-dozen thoughts at most, yet he mines them with the efficiency of a master surgeon and gets every scrap of meat off the bone. He’s not going to dumb down for you, and if you’re not paying attention, you’ll still laugh at the surface but totally miss the deeper, better levels. He’s had an amazingly prolific career, and although not as well-known in the States he is (rightfully) a legend in the UK. And as great as his recorded legacy is, this latest show might be his masterwork.

What I love about this show is the way you get the full monty – the brilliant opening with its impeccable timing and sight gags, the deep-seated rants against some celebretards clogging the television, an involved story that keeps going further than you dared think it would and then a burst of actual physical comedy with exasperated fourth-wall pleas and overt call backs. And then as a close, the three worst words in the English language – comedian with guitar – juggles both a transcendent emotional moment and a priceless tangent. Lee gives it to you straight, like a pear cider made from 100 percent pears. Absolutely brilliant. (Comedy Central UK)

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Best Comedy DVDs of 2010: #10, #9

Today starts the countdown of the ten best comedy DVDs of 2010…

#10) Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments For A Sensual Evening

Aziz Ansari’s high-energy performance largely centers around him being famous, and you…well, not so much. But we like his self-centered Tom Haverford character on Parks and Recreation because under all that obnoxious pretense, he truly does have a big heart. In the same way, Ansari’s stage persona just comes off like the friend of yours who lucked into something good, but is still cool enough to hang with you anyway.

The best comedy comes from reality, and while Aziz might embellish a few bits about Kanye West or R. Kelly, they’re that much funnier because they’re totally believable coming from a guy whose career has just blown up. Ditto the best parts of his set when he’s riffing about his nephew Darwish and cousin Harris; while the anecdotes are pretty hilarious, this is probably a normal day in the real life of a young comic who is famous. Ansari sounds pretty grounded, unlike Raaaaaaaandy (his shock comic character from Funny People) who hopefully will not become the more famous of the two. (Comedy Central Records)

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#9) Orny Adams: Takes The Third

Like the bastard love child of Jerry Seinfeld (physical appearance and joke structure) and Denis Leary (intolerant raging at incompetence), Orny Adams is just plain fed up. Technology, fat kids, bad drivers, marriage, customer service…it’s all a conspiracy to drive us crazy. Like Path Of Most Resistance, his prior DVD, his topics are ordinary but his take on them is very funny. He’s outraged, but self-deprecating, like a slightly saner Lewis Black; and despite the title, it is social outrage, not political.

Impressively, the entire program is cut from one performance. Besides the hour-long set, the DVD includes a few minutes of additional onstage and backstage footage, largely a mutual love letter to and from his fans. Adams might not be a huge name but he’s got a solid routine and charm to burn. And if this flames out and, as he fears, he’s selling cars this time next year, at least those who saw him as his own worst enemy in the film Comedian will know that he finally figured it out. (Image Entertainment)

***

The countdown continues tomorrow with #8 and #7

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T.G.I.F. – Ten More 2010 Comedy Albums

Yeah, I know it’s the end of January.

I’ve been compiling Top 10 album lists (and beyond) for music for over twenty-five years. It started as a conversation piece among a few friends (and as frightening as that sounds, that group continues to swap lists annually) and eventually worked its way into magazines I write for. I’m proud to have been part of the Village Voice Pazz’n’Jop poll for the last decade, even as my nominees seem to distance themselves from the vox populi a little more every year (tomorrow’s entry will delve a bit deeper into that).

But I have always been a comedy fan and a fan of comedy albums. Many friends wonder how I can listen to a routine more than once and find it funny. I’m not sure I can explain why except to say that (1) not every comedy album is worth multiple listenings and (2) I don’t even want to analyze and define the formula that will make me gasp for air in fits of laughter. I just know that funny is funny.

So this week after much hand-wringing and ear-wrangling, I laid out the Ten Best Comedy Albums of 2010. And trust me, 2010 was a great year for comedy albums – there are many more beyond this. And 2011 is already off to a great start with Brian Regan, Louis CK, Jim Norton and Nick Griffin having new releases on the shelf, with a ton more on the schedule.

So for now, allow me to bring your attention to Ten More 2010 Comedy Albums to should check out. Alphabetically arranged, but jump in anywhere…

01) Will Durst, Raging Moderate (Stand Up! Records) – One of the best political comics of our generation; I wish he had a bigger pulpit to preach from.

02) Chris Fairbanks, Fairbanks! (Rooftop Comedy) – You know that friend who will say anything to make you laugh? The sillier it gets, the further he’ll go?

03) Janeane Garofalo, If You Will (Image Entertainment) – Few people are as adept at stripping themselves bare, warts and all, no apologies.

04) Tommy Johnagin, Stand Up Comedy (Rooftop Comedy) – Just missed my Top Ten, a little short and crashes at the end. But the first 30 minutes is gold.

05) Jackie Kashian, It’s Never Going To Be Bread (Stand Up! Records) – Next time someone says there are no good female comics, slap them and give them this album.

06) Simon King, Unfamous Comedian (Uproar Entertainment) – Almost an hour-long of non-stop tangents, and when you open with “llama fisting”…

07) Shane Mauss, Jokes To Make My Parents Proud (Comedy Central Records) – Imagine Kenneth from 30 Rock…only he’s high, sarcastic and condescending.

08) Tom Simmons, Keep Up (Rooftop Comedy) – Another Top Ten near-miss, mixes puns and one-liners with strong political and social commentary.

09) Dan Telfer, Fossil Record (A Special Thing Records) – I know, when someone said “dinosaur jokes”, I rolled my eyes too. Trust me.

10) Reggie Watts, Why Shit So Crazy? (Comedy Central Records) – By comparison, I’m not a big fan of comedy musicians, but this guy is a genius.

Starting Sunday, the countdown of the Ten Best Comedy DVDs of 2010.

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Best Comedy Albums of 2010: #3-2-1

Year End List caveat: I’m splitting comedy albums apart from comedy DVD projects, so if someone had a DVD that was basically the same as the album I’m rating it as an album. If someone winds up in the DVD category that doesn’t mean their album wasn’t top ten material…just trying to find some way of being fair. That said, there’s not an item on either of these lists that I don’t think is worth your immediate attention…click to hear clips and judge for yourself!

Maybe the most amazing thing about my list – and I didn’t realize what was happening until after I locked everything down – is that nine of the top ten were debut albums. That is partially due to the likelihood that an established seller will more likely get the financial backing for a DVD project. But it also signals the fact that a group of brilliant writers and performers (many of whom have been staff writers for successful and established shows and performers) are getting an opportunity to get their unique voices out there. 

It’s heartbreaking to realize how many great comic minds we’ve lost in recent years, but it’s reassuring to know that so many have picked up the torch.

Finalizing a top ten was tough, determining the top three was exasperating.

But here we go…

***

#03: Kyle Kinane, DEATH OF THE PARTY

Great imagery and material; immediately captivating with an incredibly original style. Sure, he looks and sounds disheveled, but this album straddles the line between stream of consciousness riffing and nuggets of cosmic gold. I will always marvel at the way Mitch Hedberg’s brain worked for puns and one-liners; and I think Kinane’s storytelling presentation is on that same level of greatness.  (A Special Thing Records)

***

#02: Anthony Jeselnik, SHAKESPEARE

He might be the smartest writer out there; if you don’t believe it just ask him! Deliberate slow pacing, where he clearly enunciates every word to squeeze every nuance, silence and twist for maximum effect. You have to be very skillful to present yourself as an arrogant know-it-all constantly baiting the audience, but when your CD is one perfectly constructed joke after another, you are acquitted. (Comedy Central Records)

***

#01: Auggie Smith, SMELL THE THUNDER

A great combination of social exasperation, political/religious commentary and brilliant writing. Smith’s album is a blend of Patton Oswalt, Dave Attell, Lewis Black, Bill Hicks and Doug Stanhope – basically everything I like about standup comedy. Great pacing, exceptional delivery and inflection, and even his throw-away lines are hilarious. In a year when many strong comedy albums were released, this was the cream of the crop. (Rooftop Comedy)

***

Next week: The Best Comedy DVDs of 2010.

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Best Comedy Albums of 2010: #7-6-5-4

Year End List caveat: I’m splitting comedy albums apart from comedy DVD projects, so if someone had a DVD that was basically the same as the album I’m rating it as an album. If someone winds up in the DVD category that doesn’t mean their album wasn’t top ten material…just trying to find some way of being fair. That said, there’s not an item on either of these lists that I don’t think is worth your immediate attention…click to hear clips and judge for yourself!

***

#07: Bill Burr, LET IT GO

Ok, probably cheating a wee bit here, because Burr does have a DVD of this show and there were a couple of extra jokes on it, but the two are very close in content. (I’m an equal opportunity cheater, as you’ll see when the DVD list is posted.) But no matter where this is listed, it’s great. Burr just keeps getting better every year, baring his soul in his shows and flushing out his brain, unfiltered, on his weekly podcasts. He’s the guy like you and I who is just too fucking tired of putting up with the lack of common courtesy, the ineptitude of customer service and the complete banality of what passes for modern society. The odd thing is that a lesser comic would go down in flames trying to work these topics, but Burr is so passionate and magnetic that he sells every moment. (Image Entertainment)

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#06: Joe DeRosa, THE DEPRESSION AUCTION

A comedian – and an album – that deserves to be far better known. Both self-deprecating and intolerant of others, Joe’s aptly named collection of rants places him as the man who just doesn’t fit, whether it’s ineptitude at sports, being taken seriously as a person or just trying to justify his own anger at boorish people and bad cable before realizing that it would probably mean more if he wasn’t observing this from the fetal position. He tees off on hecklers, reality stars and himself and caps it all off with the tale of performing for fans of The Insane Clown Posse. I don’t know what’s stranger – that the Juggalos invited him to perform and he accepted…or that afterwards they invited him back again . (Comedy Central Records)

***

#05: Myq Kaplan, VEGAN MIND MELD

A master of language, one of the best comic wordsmiths that I have heard in a long time. With his intellect, he could leave most of the audience in the dust and be the ultimate nerd comic playing to tiny Mensa gatherings. But fortunately he has a good dose of silly in his DNA and he loves puns. There are so many jokes layered within jokes that it will take multiple listens to shake every one of them loose. Incredible with call backs – if you saw him on Last Comic Standing you watched him weave them into every set. And for the icing on the cake, he’s a razor-sharp moralist taking society to task on politics and religion, which means he’s leaving you laughing and thinking.  (Live at Comix)

***

#04: Hannibal Buress, MY NAME IS HANNIBAL

Buress redefines casual; unlike comics who start their set with a bang, he’s so laid back that you might wonder if he’s talking in his sleep. But he’s s sneaky bastard. Little jokes start piling up one after another and before you know it, that snowball is hurtling down the hill like an avalanche. And when he does eventually explode with an expletive or a loud voice, it only makes the punch line that much funnier. He has a great knack for making the mundane sound insane, and his absurdist takes are stellar. It’s as if Louis C.K. and Bill Cosby had a love child – he’s got the Cosby pacing and the lunacy of Louie. How could SNL suck so bad if he is writing for them? (Stand Up! Records)

***

The countdown concludes tomorrow with #3, #2 and #1.

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Best Comedy Albums of 2010: #10-9-8

Year End List caveat: I’m splitting comedy albums apart  from comedy DVD projects, so if someone had a DVD that was basically the same as the album, I’m rating it as an album. If someone winds up in the DVD category that doesn’t mean their album wasn’t top ten material…just trying to find some way of being fair. That said, there’s not an item on either of these lists that I don’t think is worth your immediate attention…click to hear clips and judge for yourself!

***

#10: Mike DeStefano, OK KARMA:

What a breakout year for Mike, who lit it up on Last Comic Standing and brought cringe humor to the forefront. Hysterically funny, he also has a personal back story so cathartic and outrageous that it will stop you dead in your tracks. Many comedians have a persona, but I believe this is the melting pot of the real guy bursting through. Irreverent and fearless, I love that he’ll swing for the fences, miss, and then dig in and swing harder because he knows he will get you eventually. (Stand Up! Records)

***

#09: Matt McCarthy, COME CLEAN

Total nutjob, and that’s fine by me. Prone to explosive rants of ridiculous logic as frequently as deceptively subtle comic gold, McCarthy’s debut album still has me laughing months later, especially the closing piece where he answers an Internet survey in reverse. Probably the most unusual opening and closing bits on any comedy album, ever, but both kill …as does most of what’s in between them. (Live at Comix)

***

#08: Sean Kent,  WAITING FOR THE RAPTURE

Kent’s “take no prisoners” attitude is relentless but funny, even bringing a unique take to common targets like Wal-Mart, Glenn Beck, Facebook and religious fanatics. Sure, there are dick jokes and local references and social outrage and little girlie voices, but Kent is willing to go all the way out there to take the mundane and the topical and wring something fresh out of both.  (Uproar Entertainment)

***

The countdown continues Wednesday with #7, #6, #5 and #4.

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Stand Up Wit…Matt Braunger

Owls well that ends well

I guess I should learn to pay closer attention when I see funny skits on MAD TV and SNL and jot down the names of the new cast members and bit players. For once again I find myself laughing out loud while listening to a comedy CD and then realizing later why the name sounded a wee bit familiar (in this case, the “Officer Laughs” sketch). So if the name Matt Braunger doesn’t immediately ring a bell for you either, do not let that stop you from grabbing a copy of Soak Up The Night as soon as possible.

Braunger studied improv in Chicago under Del Close and is a regular at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles; this is his first CD. Deep-voiced and six-foot four, what could be an imposing physical presence is offset by his approachable guy next door persona. Ironically, the weakest part of the set opens the CD, as a routine about convincing his family that he’s a professional comedian morphs into a character study of an unhinged uncle. But he rebounds quickly with bits about classic bathroom graffiti, gangstas who dig The Smiths, religious zealots, and why you need to be literate when interviewed. Lots of well structured stories with great throw-away lines that flow really well despite few overt segues.

The killer bits, as they should, appear later in the routine – why there should never be eye contact in porn, why Jim Morrison was mistakenly anointed as a poet and especially the routine about pet owls – hilarious on the CD but even better with his physical gestures (see clip below). And that’s what I really like about Braunger; his animated delivery enhances the material but his writing is so strong that the jokes stand up well without the visuals.

It’s always great to discover a CD from a comedian who has gimmick-free, self-deprecating humor, and I hope that Comedy Central Records signed him up for more down the line. Highly recommended.

Matt nails his TV debut on David Letterman.

Matt’s website and MySpace site

Listen to some clips on Amazon.

Video: “Driving Mr. Morrison

Video: “Drink and Drive-Thru

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