The best comedy albums and specials of 2014

The best comedy albums and specials of 2014

Chris Gethard
Chris Gethard

Rather than subject ourselves to the usual painstaking process of attaching points to comedy albums and specials this year (as we’ve done in years past), we’ve decided to simply provide you with a handy list of our favorites from 2014 and let you do the heavy lifting. It was a bigger year for up-and-comers than 2013, which was stacked with theater-fillers like Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari—though Ansari is still probably the biggest comic working, with two shows at Madison Square Garden this year. Below, in no particular order, are our favorite comedy albums and specials of 2014.

Chris Gethard, My Comedy Album

Chris Gethard has been around the comedy world for ages, as a writer, improviser, and host of the wildly beloved The Chris Gethard Show, which airs on public-access TV. (But is far better than that implies.) But he didn’t release a stand-up record until this year’s simply titled, highly personal, absolutely brilliant My Comedy Album. In a tight 40 minutes, he covers tragicomic stories from his own life, including a sad blowjob outside Alan Rickman’s apartment and the time he fell off the wagon—hard—at Bonnaroo and into a giant bag of molly. It’s painfully funny, though not nearly as harrowing as it sounds, since Gethard is telling his stories from the other side. He’s better now, mostly, and seems to find it all very funny. [Josh Modell]

Bob Odenkirk, Amateur Hour

Bob Odenkirk rarely does stand-up, and though his comedy career stretches back 30 years, Amateur Hour is his first record. (He’s been busy co-creating Mr. Show, ushering the likes of Tim And Eric onto your TV set, and inhabiting the character of Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad, so it’s understandable.) But on Amateur Hour, he’s so at ease onstage delivering his ridiculous one-liners that it’s a shame he doesn’t get out more. After an opening set by Brandon Wardell that’s, strangely, included on the record, Odenkirk grabs jokes that he has written down, delivers them, then crumples them up. He throws away jokes that other comics would kill for, though presumably he’ll pick them back up at some point. [Josh Modell]

Longmont Potion Castle, 11

The insane prank artist known as Longmont Potion Castle (or, maybe, “Mike from Golden”) has been releasing his calls for 25 years, popping out of obscurity every couple of years with a new collection of Dadaist harassment. Most of his calls rely on confusing or angering the recipient with verbal nonsense: He has a knack for almost-believable language, like when he calls a restaurant and repeatedly asks for a profiterole frittata. He also ropes in Alex Trebek—unwittingly—for a series of celeb-on-celeb calls. They all need to be heard to be believed. [Josh Modell]

Max Silvestri, King Piglet

Max Silvestri has a tendency to laugh at his own jokes, but never in an obnoxious way—onstage, he just seems full of nervous energy that results in nervous laughter. He’s brilliant at digressions, or at least carefully plotted jokes made to seem like digressions: In a bit about considering a tattoo, he takes off for 30 seconds to explain why he doesn’t need to explain what a subway is to the audience. He covers pop culture a lot, too, in bits like “P.S. Glen Rice Has A Penis Like A Red Bull Can,” an idea that—as it should—both tickles and repulses him. [Josh Modell]

Jim Gaffigan, Obsessed

One of the hardest-working (and palest) people in stand-up today, Jim Gaffigan landed another solid, clean hit with his latest special and album, Obsessed. Released this spring and full of bits about all sorts of foodstuffs from “Fruits & Vegetables” to “Chinese Desserts,” Obsessed is inherently satisfactory and full of rapid-fire observational humor that, if not all that groundbreaking, is still pretty damn funny. For instance, “Donuts” not only riffs on the old standard tropes—cops’ love for donuts, how they’re so bad for you—but also ventures into new and ridiculous territory, like the existence of the $3.99 “gourmet donut.” There’s other non-food material on the record as well, like “Bars,” which finds the plainspoken Gaffigan venturing into the seedy, loud world of a pub at closing time, which he likens to “picking up a kid at nursery school,” indiscriminate yelling and all. [Marah Eakin]

Hari Kondabolu, Waiting For 2042

Political comedy had a moment in 2014, with everyone from John Oliver to Joan Rivers getting props for calling out the hypocrisy and ridiculousness present in government today. And while that jokey and political line is sometimes tough to walk without getting too preachy or too trite, Hari Kondabolu’s Waiting For 2042 is a perfect example of a comedian using that precise balance to his advantage. Waiting For 2042 touches on race, sex, gender, stereotypes, sexuality, and healthcare with grace and aplomb, making smart points in addition to even smarter jokes. Kondabolu even leaves the political arena for a few bits as well, including one that finds him likening seeing The Rolling Stones in concert now to “seeing the Bodies exhibit [set] to music.” [Marah Eakin]

Joe Mande, Bitchface

Bitchface isn’t so much a comedy album as it is a comedy version of a hip-hop mixtape. Opening with shout-outs from Blake Griffin, Patton Oswalt, and Minnie Driver, Bitchface intermingles bits of Mande’s stand-up and skits with beats and drops, making for one of the most interesting comedy albums of the year. Like Chelsea Peretti’s One Of The Greats special, Bitchface turns the somewhat tired format on its ear, proving once again that the best comedians are the ones who can not only tell great jokes, but who also live and think just a little bit outside the box. [Marah Eakin]

“Weird Al” Yankovic, Mandatory Fun

A new “Weird Al” record is always a cause for celebration, and Mandatory Fun was no exception. A smartly marketed record packed with riffs on Iggy Azalea, Robin Thicke, a polka-fied Miley Cyrus, and all things “Tacky” and “Handy,” Mandatory Fun is the perfect blend of musicianship and comedy, once again marking Yankovic as one of the most complicated and progressive thinkers working in either genre today. [Marah Eakin]

Hannibal Buress, Live In Chicago

In a particularly strong bit on his third album, Hannibal Buress explains that he doesn’t smoke weed any more because, among other reasons, it makes him overthink sex (“Why is she letting me do this to her?”). It’s instructive, as Buress’ laid-back stage demeanor suggests the amiable disposability of the stoner comedian, which makes his focused storytelling and comic insights that much more potent. (Just ask Bill Cosby.) Buress’ combination here of self-deprecation (“I got nominated for an Emmy the same way Juwan Howard has an NBA championship”), and pointed truths told almost as asides (a white guy calling him brother “is like diet ‘nigger’”) is as authoritative as it is hilarious throughout. While shameful that it took Buress’ recent joke (not from this album) to bring attention to the allegations against Cosby, it does point up Buress’ sneaky comic power—his delivery says “I don’t give a fuck,” which makes the fucks he does give emerge like irrefutable common sense. [Dennis Perkins]

Cameron Esposito, Same Sex Symbol

On her second album, stand-up (and A.V. Club contributor) Esposito does listeners the favor of encapsulating her ebullient, unflaggingly positive comic persona, describing her sexual identity—a central aspect of her act—as “fighter pilot.” In this energetic, entertaining set, what comes across most winningly is Esposito’s joy at being where she is (in her career and in Portland, Oregon, where the show was recorded.) Booming out her lines with an infectious enthusiasm, Esposito’s material benefits from this confident contentment, even when her illuminations of men’s misconceptions about her lesbianism (and “lesbian” porn) simply end with variations of, “That’s not the way it really is!” Esposito’s career is on the rise, and she’s clearly loving it—a bit of crowd work with a starstruck fan (with the perfectly Portland name Julep) is as life-affirming as her story about flawlessly executing a total baller move on Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks is justifiably triumphant. Top Gun, indeed. [Dennis Perkins]

Patton Oswalt, Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time

At his best, Patton Oswalt surrounds his comic points with airtight, allusion-heavy delivery that renders his premises as invulnerable as a nerdy reference about something invulnerable (let’s say mithril). So it’s a little disconcerting that Oswalt’s sixth album sees some unaccustomed verbal flabbiness crop up throughout. (A reference to a male model only eating “a rice cake a year” is the sort of bland platitude the past Oswalt would use as a placeholder until he thought of something better, while his anecdote about his one encounter with a hooker is uncharacteristically cold—and never takes off.) But this album is also home to some of Oswalt’s most insightful, introspective material, as he reflects on how time’s passing has changed his once rigid stances on selling out, depression, and parenthood. Even in the shaky encore, his description of a 19th century rose enthusiast (“the Star Trek nerds of the 1850s”) contains a phrase (“beautiful souls with no poetry in them”) that shows, again, how brilliant a wordsmith Oswalt can be. [Dennis Perkins]