The best comedy albums of 2011

The best comedy albums of 2011

‪Even before the Internet wrecked the music industry, comedy albums were notoriously low sellers, and it could be argued that podcasts have marginalized them even more over the past few years. But the need for a comedian to have a solid hour (or even 45 minutes) of material will never die, and so long as that remains, comedy albums will have a reason to exist. We’re better for it, if 2011’s bumper crop of albums is any indication.

To celebrate that bounty, The A.V. Club decided to vote on the year’s best comedy albums for the first time ever. Eight A.V. Club staffers and contributors created a top-five list, assigning albums up to 15 points each. We then ranked them by number of points, though an album needed to receive at least two votes to make it into our top 10. The list and individual ballots are below.

The Sklar Brothers
Hendersons And Daughters
(15 points, two votes)
Comedy duos don’t come any tighter or closer than identical twins Randy and Jason Sklar, the hosts of Earwolf’s popular sports/music podcast Sklarbro Country and two of the quickest minds in stand-up comedy. Their bond isn’t just close; it’s downright preternatural—they seem to possess one giant, dazzlingly quick brain that just happens to occupy two identical bodies. The brothers’ “riff avalanches” have a dexterity and musicality that falls closer to jazz than conventional stand-up, and the duo is in fine form on Hendersons & Daughters, its third CD. The Sklars crack wise about creepy commercials fetishizing twins, the shoddy workmanship found in children’s fairy tales, and the enduring idiocy of our celebrity-obsessed culture. 


Amy Schumer
Cutting
(16 points, two votes)
Amy Schumer doesn’t traffic in facile shock so much as she smartly exploits the incongruous juxtaposition between her mock-ditsy persona and the exquisitely worded nastiness of her material. In that respect, she’s a lot like Sarah Silverman, another smart, cute Jewish comedian whose inherent adorableness and underlying sweetness helps sell a particularly deep, dark vein of faux-misanthropic comedy. Schumer gets extremely dark on Cutting: Her debut CD begins with an AIDS joke (sort of) and ends with a bit on self-mutilation so dark and strange it doesn’t even qualify as a joke. Schumer’s persona as a lovably debauched sociopath is as smartly and deliberately crafted as Silverman’s, but it would ring false if she didn’t have such great material. Schumer is a damn fine comic craftsman and writer, but it’s the electrifying element of danger in her comedy that really sets it apart.  


Michael Ian Black
Very Famous
(20 points, two votes)
Some jokes take time to develop. The opener on Very Famous took Michael Ian Black about 20 years. “I’m very famous,” he brags on his second album. “You guys may know me from such shows as Cancelled, Comedy Central presents No Longer On The Air, and my sitcom, Two And A Half Episodes.” Turning disappointments into punchlines, the comedy veteran certainly appears to have taken his career setbacks in stride. And why wouldn’t he? Black’s humor is mostly lighthearted and gently sarcastic, less observational than it is a set-up of ridiculous, what-if scenarios. Even at his most abrasive—a fictional story about ejaculating on the server at a pizza restaurant, for example—Black still maintains a good-natured silliness about him that would seem to counter any gross depravity or offense in his set. And though the album does feel somewhat like an afterthought to the television special—the many visual jokes obviously don’t translate as well to audio—Very Famous marks an interesting time for Black, one of self-deprecating reflection and of ably moving forward into the next decade of his career.


Tig Notaro
Good One
(23 points, three votes)
Recorded on Tig Notaro’s 40th birthday, Good One is a sharply constructed album that shows the confident voice of a veteran, not a relative newcomer who took the long road to stand-up. Notaro’s measured pace and deadpan delivery carry the first half of the set, a series of quick observations dependent on her skill with a pregnant pause and absurd escalation. (“You’re a gross person. Why don’t you pull yourself together?” she says to users of the phrase “I just threw up in my mouth,” before patiently delivering the punchline: “When you say those things, you cause me to shed my uterine lining.”) Notaro’s not all calculation, though: Whip-fast retorts to the audience bring freshness to her 11-minute story of constant run-ins with singer Taylor Dayne, which is likely her most well-known material. And her cartoonish, set-closing impressions reveal a silly side so charming that she deserves more than the crowd’s rendition of “Happy Birthday.” “I have to make a wish,” she says. “I wish you guys would sing that one more time.”


Rory Scovel
Dilation
(24 points, three votes)
There’s little rhyme or reason to Rory Scovel’s set, but that’s the point: Dilation is a revealing journey through the enigmatic and whimsical mind of this up-and-coming comic. The simple set-up of “Took a plane in” becomes not a joke about air travel, but a bit about how Scovel asserts his financial success by having a plane drive across the country, gunning it down the freeway. At another point, he relates the taste of cigarettes to the taste of cum, and his explanation makes a twisted kind of sense. He’s relaxed to the point where he sometimes comes across as sedate, but it gives the album a casual, cool rhythm, letting punchlines sink in at whatever pace the audience picks up on them. And when he chooses to mix it up—usually when he’s being self-referential about his set—those moments stand out even more. (“Michael Phelps got caught smoking pot—whoa! Two-year-old joke, comin’ atcha!”) Covering everything from Michigan to Step Up 3D, Dilation effortlessly bounces around myriad topics, and lets Scovel be an expert at all of them.


Pete Holmes
Impregnated With Wonder
(27 points, three votes)
Holmes is capable of getting laughs both from detailed takedowns of Facebook and from simply shouting the phrase “Pierce! Get me some beers, Pierce!” over and over. Impregnated With Wonder has plenty of gratuitously silly moments, each highlighting Holmes’ over-the-top sense of humor. In one bit, for example, he asserts his adulthood by describing how he could rent a car, buy the insurance, take a dump in the passenger seat, and drive the car into the ocean—just for fun. His goofy side comes out in smaller moments, too, like when he accidentally pronounces “Venn diagram” as “Sven diagram,” then proceeds to talk about what vikings would put on their diagrams. (“Here we have raping, here we have pillaging…”) He shows a wide range on Impregnated With Wonder, as well as a knack for performing the crap out of each line—which makes the repetition of “Pierce! Get me some beers, Pierce!” funnier each time.


Norm MacDonald
Me Doing Standup
(31 points, three votes)
Norm MacDonald’s Me Doing Standup goes to such dark places, and so quickly—the opening track “It’s Good To Be Alive” takes that phrase about as literally as possible —that it’s amazing his audience doesn’t immediately clam up in discomfort. But it’s a testament to his uniquely affable delivery and steady pacing that he can take jokes about his uncle’s death from cancer, or alcoholics punching babies in the face, and have them feel as routine and avuncular as more standard fare about Tiger Woods and big dicks. The album’s tour de force, “The News,” starts off as an extended riff on the sensationalism of local TV journalism, but evolves into a detailed, lengthy description of how MacDonald would plan and execute a cold-blooded murder. It’s a rare comedian who can keep listeners on his side through all of that. MacDonald has refined the smart-aleck personality he developed on Saturday Night Live; as he gets older, he’s a little less smarmy, but no less sharp.


Marc Maron
This Has To Be Funny
(44 points, five votes)
Marc Maron writes his stand-up material by workshopping it onstage, not by sitting down and pounding out each word until perfection. His latest album, This Has To Be Funny, maintains that shaggy, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants vibe while remaining polished when it has to be. He details a visit to the Creation Museum, delving into each messed-up thought he had while looking around the already messed-up place, and seamlessly transitions into a story about a harrowing flight he once took where the danger was all inside his head. No one can explain the recesses of neuroses quite like Maron, who argues with himself and then analyzes the deep meaning behind the argument. That’s the polished part—the therapeutic element to This Has To Be Funny. But clearly Maron is comfortable inside his own head, so there are plenty of off-the-cuff moments that ring as true as the workshopped pieces. When a story about his mom doesn’t land, he turns to the audience and says, “Please… this has to be funny.” He lets his guard down, allowing the audience into his world—and they eagerly jump right in.


Patton Oswalt
Finest Hour
(79 points, seven votes)
When it comes to snarky observations with a geeky twist, no one does it better than Patton Oswalt. Consider, for example, his riff on Jesus’ “super powers,” which considers the possibility of Christ auditioning for the X-Men. Fatherhood continues to expand the scope of Oswalt’s material, and Finest Hour includes a hilarious bit about how his being out of shape has led his daughter to believe that dancing includes a break every few minutes for people to catch their breath. From the awesomeness of sweatpants as a fashion choice to vomiting as a device for picking up women, if Finest Hour isn’t officially Patton Oswalt’s finest hour, it’s certainly close. 


Louis C.K.
Hilarious
(95 points, seven votes)
Released in January, this album/special set the tone of a year that made Louis C.K. seem unstoppable. His TV series for FX, Louie, received almost all the attention, but C.K. is a comic first and foremost—and what a comic. Although the title refers to a bit where C.K. perceptively critiques people’s tendency for hyperbole, it’s also fitting. Without any filler, Hilarious takes stock of C.K.’s life as a divorced man and father—like his TV show does—but with more commentary on everyday life and a wealth of guffaw-inducing bits. (Don’t drive while listening to the track about the day his kids were late to school, as it might cause an accident.) Now that C.K.’s success is catching up with his talent, he’s more defiantly himself than ever. We can only hope his hot streak doesn’t let up any time soon.


BALLOTS

WILL HARRIS
1. Patton Oswalt, Finest Hour (15)
2. Norm MacDonald, Me Doing Standup (13)
3. Marc Maron, This Has To Be Funny (10)
4. Doug Benson, Potty Mouth (7)
5. The Sklar Brothers, Hendersons And Daughters (5)

STEVE HEISLER
1. Louis C.K., Hilarious (15)
2. Patton Oswalt, Finest Hour (12)
3. Marc Maron, This Has To Be Funny (10)
4. Pete Holmes, Impregnated With Wonder (8)
5. Rory Scovel, Dilation (5)

STEVE MOORE
1. Louis C.K., Hilarious (15)
2. Patton Oswalt, Finest Hour (10)
3. Norm MacDonald, Me Doing Standup (9)
4. Tig Notaro, Good One (8)
5. Rory Scovel, Dilation (8)

TUYET NGUYEN
1. Louis C.K., Hilarious (15)
2. Marc Maron, This Has To Be Funny (10)
3. Michael Ian Black, Very Famous (10)
4. Patton Oswalt, Finest Hour (10)
5. Tig Notaro, Good One (5)

NATHAN RABIN
1. Patton Oswalt, Finest Hour (10)
2. Louis C.K., Hilarious (10)
3. Amy Schumer, Cutting (10)
4. The Sklar Brothers, Hendersons And Daughters (10)
5. Pete Holmes, Impregnated With Wonder (10)

KYLE RYAN
1. Louis C.K., Hilarious (15)
2. Patton Oswalt, Finest Hour (12)
3. Michael Ian Black, Very Famous (10)
4. Marc Maron, This Has To Be Funny (7)
5. Amy Schumer, Cutting (6)

DAVID SIMS
1. Louis C.K., Hilarious (15)
2.
Jen Kirkman, Hail To The Freaks (14)
3. Norm MacDonald, Me Doing Standup (9)
4. Marc Maron, This Has To Be Funny (7)
5.
Natasha Leggero, Coke Money (5)

CHRISTIAN WILLIAMS
1. Louis C.K., Hilarious (10)
2. Pete Holmes, Impregnated With Wonder (10)
3. Tig Notaro, Good One (10)
4. Rory Scovel, Dilation (10)
5. Patton Oswalt, Finest Hour (10)