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The best comedy albums of 2012

When The A.V. Club ranked 2011’s best comedy albums, it seemed like the year had provided almost too much good stuff for us to digest. But 2012 trumped it handily, with a bounty of solid albums from reliable favorites and up-and-comers. All told, our reviewers voted for 21 different albums this year, and listened to many more, to compile our 2012 best-of list. They had 100 points to spread across at least 10 albums, with no single pick receiving more than 15 points (and a minimum of one point). When it was all over, we had a true consensus—all 11 writers voted for this year’s No. 1 pick.

10. Aziz Ansari, Dangerously Delicious (41 points, six votes)
Aziz Ansari has yet to tire of the hyper, explosive stand-up style of his 2010 debut, Intimate Moments For A Sensual Evening. But Dangerously Delicious proves there’s a lot more to Ansari’s approach than a few observational outbursts: He uses all that speed and volume to reflect the madness around him, whether it’s a megalomaniacal college essay by his cousin Harris or 50 Cent asking a waitress why his grapefruit soda isn’t purple. The pleasure of Delicious lies in hearing a comedian who just blatantly, furiously wants to drill his material for all it’s worth. If that means exploring how the phrase “jizz everywhere” translates in sign language, so be it. His ambition keeps him from sounding too at ease with the crowd, yet that little bit of detachment helps him elevate bits about texting, celebrities, and food-fucking into displays of taut, finely tweaked stand-up. While plenty of other comics could likely think up a bit about a porn video shot in a donut shop, few could match Ansari’s bizarrely dogged repetition of the phrase “real-life dick party.” A handful of comedy albums in 2012 were funnier, but none were hungrier.

9. James Adomian, Low Hangin Fruit (50 points, five votes)
The main question in approaching James Adomian’s first stand-up record: If the comedian gives full tracks to previously established characters and impressions like a self-deprecating Paul Giamatti or the bursting-with-wonder Huell Howser, where does he make space to express himself? The answer: somewhere in the middle of Low Hangin Fruit, right around the point where Adomian gets bracingly, hilariously honest about the advantages of being the closeted gay center on the high-school football team. But all of the comedian’s characters contain some trace of his personality: Each is a demonstration of his palpable love of language, and each is an example of his distinct ability to mimic and reshape a pattern of speech until it’s the garbled, giddy verbal spew of a play-by-play announcer. For all its looseness and digressiveness, Low Hangin Fruit is a highly enjoyable listening experience because of the aplomb with which Adomian throws himself into material personal and impersonal.

8. Patrice O’Neal, Mr. P (60 points, eight votes)
Recorded before his sudden death in November 2011, Mr. P is a full-on demonstration of Patrice O’Neal’s knack for conversation. On its surface, the album is an unabashed tearing-down of the people in O’Neal’s life, whom he’s not afraid to call hos, or worse. But even the staunchest of political-correctness crusaders would probably fall under O’Neal’s spell. He lays out his arguments patiently, building them brick by brick until they resemble something as majestic as the pyramids, leaving listeners to marvel them while knowing the enslavement of the Jews created something so beautiful. “Huh, I guess he has a point,” is not an uncommon thought to have during a Patrice O’Neal set, and Mr. P shows that off well.

7. Jim Gaffigan, Mr. Universe (71 points, eight votes)
Every live comedy album begins with a smattering of lead-in applause, and who better to make a joke of that than Jim Gaffigan, the guy who’s known for his mock crowd reactions and shrill audience asides? “What if I suck?” he asks in reaction to the generous clapping that opens Mr. Universe. “That would be awkward.” It’s a light jab, but one that lands comfortably. Gaffigan’s repertoire is based in his adult awkwardness, carved from goofy self-deprecation and dad-like humor. But what’s new, and most interesting, about Mr. Universe isn’t the material. All the usual Gaffigan standbys are there: jokes about his weight, his growing family, and his continued affinity for (and disgust with) American fast-food chains. What’s changed is Gaffigan’s comedic response to himself. Eight albums into his career, he’s no longer just mocking the audience; he’s mocking his set mocking the audience. He makes several meta-references to how his bits are going—all in that well-worn, high-pitched Hot Pocket voice—creating a weirdly personal, energizing effect. Gaffigan leads listeners through a silly, circular path, and though the scenery remains much the same, his playfulness makes even the simplest jokes funnier.

6. Paul F. Tompkins, Laboring Under Delusions (96 points, 10 votes)
Paul F. Tompkins has come a considerable distance since his first album, 2007’s Impersonal, a rapid-fire collection of conceptual jokes that didn’t address the man behind the microphone (hence the title). In the years since, Tompkins has gone the other way, delving into the most personal parts of his life, such as the death of his mother on 2010’s You Should Have Told Me. On Laboring Under Delusions, Tompkins collects material about his checkered employment history (and his lifelong mission to avoid getting yelled at), from working at a hat store, to a video store that only rented Betamax tapes, to feeling extraordinarily out of place on the sets of movies. At this point, Tompkins is a master storyteller, and he’s in peak form on Laboring Under Delusions. Super-fans would be wise to check out both the album released by ASpecialThing and the DVD of his Comedy Central special of the same name, as the material on them differs slightly. 

5. Louis C.K., Live At The Beacon Theater (111 points, 11 votes)
Louis C.K. had the biggest year of his career in 2011, and he went ahead and topped that in 2012. He had no idea these good fortunes would last when he recorded Live At The Beacon Theater (released as a proper album in May, following the special’s debut on C.K.’s website last December), and when the routines move into the realm of self-deprecation, it’s usually at the expense of a popularity he believes is fleeting. Still, there’s an air of world-conquering to Live At The Beacon Theater: Most of its observations are turned outward, C.K.’s cracked commentary applied to the unquenchable American sex drive or bad parents who allow their kids to act like sullen, violent, coat-shedding monsters. (One such child, identified by the pseudonym “Jizanthapus,” is the main character of the album’s longest and funniest track.) At one point, C.K. assumes the character of a chagrined God, dismayed by a former paradise besmirched by brown polar bears, an oil spill, and “jobs.” In terms of vantage point, it’s an apt role for C.K. to play: ruler of his own stand-up domain, master of all he oversees—even if he’s not convinced he’ll be in the same position in 2013.

4. Hannibal Buress, Animal Furnace (120 points, 10 votes)
Hannibal Buress has such a strong sense for the absurd that he could probably dream up a solid five minutes of observational material while confined to a tiny studio apartment with no Internet access. Fortunately, Buress’ rising stand-up star takes him to more exotic locales with greater opportunity for routine-ready encounters—places like the overly monitored crosswalks of Montreal, or Scottish bars where the patrons are terrifyingly well-versed in rape statistics. (Daniel Tosh could learn about crafting a joke around such sensitive subjects from Animal Furnace’s “5 In The Morning.”) The more Buress has been able to roam in life, the more focused and lively his delivery has become, to the point where one of Animal Furnace’s funniest tracks involves him doing little more than reading from a newspaper. The album’s keen storytelling underlines Buress’ way with a pure punchline, too; if he could pull “the Lenny Bruce of grocery-store humor” out of some substandard college journalism, surely he could come up with a killer bit on light-switch covers if he had to.

3. John Mulaney, New In Town (126 points, 10 votes)
About halfway through New In Town, the newest album from Saturday Night Live writer John Mulaney, he describes the screw-up in heaven that led to the creation of him, “a very silly person.” He means it in the sense that he, in his own words, “was supposed be gay,” but it could just as easily refer to Mulaney’s endearingly goofy take on the world, which could almost be considered naïve if it weren’t so astute. This approach is especially effective when Mulaney talks about ostensibly weighty topics, like his alcoholic past or his hilariously derailed attempt to try and score some Xanax; but it’s just as good when applied to lighthearted observations, like when he compares asking a 13-year-old to babysit an 10-year-old to having a horse look after a dog. Mulaney’s extremely polished delivery is reminiscent of an old-time radio announcer, with a certain Catskills panache that lends an extra layer of absurdity to jokes about Ice-T’s performance on SVU and the awfulness of The New York Post. Despite the album title and his guileless persona, Mulaney is no babe in the woods; he’s a seasoned (albeit young) professional who has put a lot of work into making comedy that looks effortless, as if he just happened upon a microphone and accidentally delivered one of the best stand-up sets of the year. 

2. Kyle Kinane, Whiskey Icarus (136 points, 10 votes)
Kyle Kinane’s debut stand-up album, Death Of The Party—which made our Best Comedy list back in 2010—demonstrated the comedian’s ability to spin bleak, soul-crushing experiences into winding threads of comic gold; his follow-up, Whiskey Icarus, is even more impressive in that regard, as Kinane uses the loneliness and debauchery attendant to the life of a working stand-up as inspiration for intricate bits laden with sharp observations and unexpected turns. Though plenty of the raw material he uses is familiar fodder for stand-up bits—airplane interactions, horrible convenience food, and, inevitably, death—Kinane makes every observation his own, thanks to his distinctive, gravel-voiced delivery and, more significantly, an evident undercurrent of confused delight at the preposterousness of his own life and the world around him. The epitome of the latter comes in a brilliant account of a man eating a bag of pancakes on an airplane, when Kinane can’t keep the smile out of his gruff voice as he puzzles over the multitude of questions raised by the situation. It’s an excellent bit on an excellent album that cements Kinane’s place as the most lovable misanthrope in comedy. 

1. Tig Notaro, Live (145 points, 11 votes)
Comedians tend to prepare for their albums meticulously, working out material over months and months to get every beat, every joke to where it needs to be. It’s a long, arduous process, and it may never feel finished. How frustrating it must be for everyone, then, that Tig Notaro is able to come in with half-formed ideas, adjust them on the fly, and make the best album of the year. That’s what happened with Live, recorded at a set Notaro did in August, right after she found out she had breast cancer. The diagnosis was the final punch to the gut in a year that had a bunch of them: pneumonia, a life-threatening infection, the death of her mother, the end of a long-term relationship, then cancer. She’d had the gig scheduled before she learned about the cancer, and when it came time to perform, she couldn’t do her usual routine. What followed was a now-legendary set that Louis C.K. hailed as “an amazing example of what comedy can be.” Live—as in “to live”—is a masterful blend of gallows humor and emotional catharsis, made all the more astonishing by its off-the-cuff feel.

Honorable mention: If he weren’t an A.V. Club contributor and friend, and thus disqualified from contention, Dan Telfer would likely have ended up on our top 10, because many of us enjoyed his excellent album Tendrils Of Ruin, released by ASpecialThing. We recommend you check it out.


1. Tig Notaro, Live (15)
2. Paul F. Tompkins, Laboring Under Delusions (15)
3. John Mulaney, New In Town (15)
4. James Adomian, Low Hangin Fruit (10)
5. Kyle Kinane, Whiskey Icarus (10)
6. Matt Braunger, Shovel Fighter (10)
7. Hannibal Buress, Animal Furnace (10)
8. Louis C.K., Live At The Beacon Theater (5)
9. Myq Kaplan & Micah Sherman, Please Be Seated (5)
10. Garfunkel & Oates, Slippery When Moist (5)

1. Jim Gaffigan, Mr. Universe (15)
2. John Mulaney, New In Town (15)
3. Kyle Kinane, Whiskey Icarus (15)
4. Hannibal Buress, Animal Furnace (15)
5. Tig Notaro, Live (10)
6. Paul F. Tompkins, Laboring Under Delusions (10)
7. Todd Barry, Super Crazy (5)
8. Aziz Ansari, Dangerously Delicious (5)
9. Louis C.K., Live At The Beacon Theater (5)
10. Patrice O'Neal, Mr. P (5)

1. Louis C.K., Live At The Beacon Theater (15)
2. Kyle Kinane, Whiskey Icarus (15)
3. Patrice O'Neal, Mr. P (15)
4. James Adomian, Low Hangin Fruit (15)
5. Todd Barry, Super Crazy (10)
6. Tig Notaro, Live (10)
7. Aziz Ansari, Dangerously Delicious (5)
8. Paul F. Tompkins, Laboring Under Delusions (5)
9. John Mulaney, New In Town (5)
10. Brent Weinbach, Mostly Live (5)

1. John Mulaney, New in Town (15)
2. Hannibal Buress, Animal Furnace (14)
3. Paul F. Tompkins, Laboring Under Delusions (13)
4. Jim Gaffigan, Mr. Universe (12)
5. Louis C.K., Live At The Beacon Theater (10)
6. Tig Notaro, Live (10)
7. Aziz Ansari, Dangerously Delicious (8)
8. James Adomian, Low Hangin’ Fruit (7)
9. Patrice O’Neal, Mr. P (6)
10. Garfunkel And Oates, Slippery When Moist (5)

1. Tig Notaro, Live (15)
2. Kyle Kinane, Whiskey Icarus (15)
3. Patrice O'Neal, Mr. P (12)
4. Louis C.K., Live At The Beacon Theater (12)
5. John Mulaney, New In Town (12)
6. The Apple Sisters, 1943 (10)
7. Jim Gaffigan, Mr. Universe (8)
8. Hannibal Buress, Animal Furnace (8)
9. Paul F. Tompkins, Laboring Under Delusions (4)
10. T.J. Miller, Mash-Up AudioFile (4)

I voted for two albums that didn’t make it onto the final list: The Apple Sisters’ 1943 and T.J. Miller’s Mash Up Audiofile—both of which are unabashed in their embrace of the surreal and silly. I love The Apple Sisters for their effortless fusion of music and comedy, each executed in a way that heightens the other: Lovely harmonies and arrangements provide counterpoints to the comedy, and World War II-era jokes can turn infectious melodies into year-long ear worms. I love T.J. Miller (along with all the folks behind Mash Up) for his ability to embrace the weirdest premises and just run with them, knowing with full confidence that there’ll be something funny at the end; and if not, he sells it anyway. They’re both an acquired taste, but I encourage everyone to take even the most modest sip, if only to sample these singular visions.

1. Tig Notaro, Live (15)
2. John Mulaney, New In Town (15)
3. Hannibal Buress, Animal Furnace (15)
4. Kyle Kinane, Whiskey Icarus (15)
5. Louis C.K., Live At The Beacon Theater (10)
6. Paul F. Tompkins, Laboring Under Delusions (10)
7. Jim Gaffigan, Mr. Universe (7)
8. Matt Braunger, Shovel Fighter (5)
9. Tenacious D, Rize Of The Fenix (5)
10. Aziz Ansari, Dangerously Delicious (3)

1. Louis CK, Live At The Beacon Theater (15)
2. Tig Notaro, Live (15)
3. Kyle Kinane, Whiskey Icarus (12)
4. John Mulaney, New In Town (11)
5. Paul F. Tompkins, Laboring Under Delusions (10)
6. Hannibal Buress, Animal Furnace (9)
7. James Adomian, Low Hangin Fruit (8)
8. Jim Gaffigan, Mr. Universe (8)
9. Patrice O’Neal, Mr. P (7)
10. Tenacious D, Rize Of The Fenix (5)

1. Hannibal Buress, Animal Furnace (15)
2. Kyle Kinane, Whiskey Icarus (15)
3. Tig Notaro, Live (15)
4. Louis C.K., Live At The Beacon Theater (10)
5. Brent Weinbach, Mostly Live (10)
6. Jim Gaffigan, Mr. Universe (10)
7. Aziz Ansari, Dangerously Delicious (10)
8. Patrice O'Neal, Mr. P (5)
9. Ben Roy, I Got Demons (5) 
10. Garfunkel And Oates, Slippery When Moist (5

1. John Mulaney, New In Town (15)
2. Hannibal Buress, Animal Furnace (15)
3. Louis C.K., Live At The Beacon Theater (10)
4. Adam Burke, Universal Squirrel Theory (10)
5. Garfunkel And Oates, Slippery When Moist (10)
6. Kyle Kinane, Whiskey Icarus (10) 
7. Aziz Ansari, Dangerously Delicious (10)
8. Tig Notaro, Live (10) 
9. Jim Gaffigan, Mr. Universe (5)
10. Paul F. Tompkins, Laboring Under Delusions (5)

1. Tig Notaro, Live (15)
2. Kyle Kinane, Whiskey Icarus (14)
3. Paul F. Tompkins, Laboring Under Delusions (14)
4. Louis C.K., Live At The Beacon Theater (14)
5. Matt Braunger, Shovel Fighter (10)
Matt Braunger’s second album is full of the kinds of irrepressible laughs that draw confused looks from fellow passengers on mass transit. A rich vein of absurdity runs through Shovel Fighter, like the bizarre tangent that gives the album its title, which Braunger gleefully explores with enthusiasm that’d be exhausting if it weren’t so funny.
6. Hannibal Burress, Animal Furnace (9)
7. John Mulaney, New In Town (8)
8. Jim Gaffigan, Mr. Universe (6)
9. Todd Barry, Super Crazy (5)
Todd Barry’s low-key demeanor and general reliability make him easy to overlook, because it’s pretty much expected that anything he releases will at least be good, possibly great. Here’s another one that shouldn’t be overlooked.
10. Patrice O'Neal, Mr. P (5)

Other recommendations: Heidecker & Wood, Starting From Nowhere. So strange, so smooth, and played so straight. Rob Delaney’s Live At The Bowery Ballroom didn’t match up to the stiff competition this year, but has a lot of funny stuff on it.

1. John Mulaney, New In Town (15)
2. Tig Notaro, Live (15)
3. Kyle Kinane, Whiskey Icarus (15)
4. Hannibal Buress, Animal Furnace (10)
5. James Adomian, Low Hangin Fruit (10)
6. Louis C.K., Live At The Beacon Theater (5)
7. Paul F. Tompkins, Laboring Under Delusions (10)
8. Matt Besser, The 6 Most Important Sets In The History Of Standup (10)
9. Patrice O'Neal, Mr. P (5)
10. Todd Barry, Super Crazy (5)