Women Of The Night is a time capsule of the ’80s stand-up boom

Women Of The Night is a time capsule of the ’80s stand-up boom

For years, The A.V. Club has delved into cinematic history’s dustbin with Films That Time Forgot, but far more records are released every year than films. If cinema has a dustbin of forgotten films, music has a giant dumpster. In Albums That Time Forgot, we examine records few people would remember.

Artist: Diane Ford, Paula Poundstone, Cathy Ladman

Album: Women Of The Night

Label: A&M Records

Wait, who? In 1987, as the stand-up comedy boom accelerated, HBO aired a stand-up special called Women Of The Night starring Ellen DeGeneres, Paula Poundstone, Rita Rudner, Judy Tenuta, and future Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead. (Martin Short hosted.) The special was a hit and led to a couple sequels, and in the case of this LP, an unrelated comedy album released a year later that cribbed its name. Poundstone was on both the original special and the album (it was her first), though Ford appeared on the 1988 sequel to the Women Of The Night special, released a few months before the LP. So fans could be forgiven for thinking the album was related to the specials—chances are A&M Records was counting on that.

Enlisting Poundstone was key. By July of 1988, when the Women Of The Light album was recorded in Pasadena’s Ice House, she was enjoying “next big thing” status in the stand-up world. “She’s like a great jazz band—no two shows are the same,” read an effusive cover story in the Los Angeles Times not long after Women Of The Night’s release. “It’s a rare night that people in the audience, regardless of age or gender, don’t leave absolutely smitten with her.” Twenty-six years later, Poundstone remains the album’s most recognizable name, thanks to steady touring and regular appearances on NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! Ladman still tours as well. That doesn’t appear to be the case for Diane Ford, whose Facebook and Twitter haven’t updated in nearly three years, and whose website lists no performances for 2014.

But back in 1988, there was the promise of big things on the horizon for all three women, whose material differed markedly from one another. Ford is occasionally raunchy (“Nothing like accordion music to get me wet,” she says by way of explaining she’s from Minnesota) and easily the most cutting. In one bit, she mentions how she married at 19 (“I was just walking stupidity, looking for a place to land, leading with my crotch,” she says) and worked three jobs to put her husband through school. When she decided she wanted to go back to school at 26, he divorced her “for another 19-year-old bimbette with straw for brains who walks seven feet behind him so when he stops to read a road map, she wipes his butt. But I’m not bitter.” [Laughs, pauses.] “Some of these I do just for me.”

Ford does about 15 minutes before Poundstone, whose 20 minutes make for the album’s longest set. She’s been around for so long that whatever “edge” Poundstone had in the ’80s has long since worn down, but some of her set is surprisingly dark. She opens with a bit about how she’s usually suicidal (then segues into a bit about killing herself when someone tries to mug her), and when she talks about her eating issues later, she says, “I decided I’m perhaps bulimic and just keep forgetting to purge.” But she delivers these jokes with such good humor that they don’t seem pointed; she makes a bulimia joke the same way she talks about Pop-Tarts or Pepperidge Farm cookies. Some of her reference points are dated in the sense Footloose doesn’t come up so often these days, but her jokes still land. During a longer bit about an elevator, she mentions she passed the Otis Elevator headquarters once and noticed it was only one floor. “Apparently they know something we don’t.”

Ladman closes out the album with a 15-minute set that favors an old-school joke and punchline rhythm that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Borscht Belt. For instance, “When my parents were engaged, my father did not even give my mother a diamond ring. He gave her a lump of coal and told her to be patient.” Or this: “I was watching this one guy, he was so stupid: He couldn’t walk while I chewed gum. I blew a bubble, he stubbed his toe.” Or: “Did you know when rabbits are having sex, when the male rabbit reaches orgasm, he screams, rolls over on his side, and faints. [Pause.] So what’s so new about that?” All that’s missing is a rimshot.

From the liner notes: Liner notes? There was no time for those! A&M needed to get this out the door while people still remembered the HBO specials!

Key tracks: N/A. Each set is its own track, though Poundstone gets two.

Can easily be distinguished by: The cover photo of Paula Poundstone, Cathy Ladman, and Diane Ford standing in a limo’s open sunroof, dressed in clothes that could’ve only come from one decade.

Sign it was made in 1988: Beyond the license plate of the limo on the back cover, which is a special edition for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Poundstone references Oliver North, Footloose, and NutraSweet. She also calls what people these days know as IHOP by its proper name, the International House Of Pancakes. They could be compiled into a mixtape called Now That’s What I Call ’80s References!

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