Though 2010 hasn't proved as good a year for stand-up comedy albums as 2009 was, that doesn't mean that there weren't several fantastic albums released this year that are worth your attention. Check out this list of 2010's best comedy albums.
1. Kyle Kinane - 'Death of the Party'
The debut album from Chicago-bred comic Kyle Kinane is a masterpiece of misery and one of the best first records I've ever heard. It's an album for discerning comedy nerds -- the kind you'll return to over and over again, playing for the people in your life to determine once and for all who your real friends are. Kinane doesn't seem to have an agenda of clever jokes he needs to get out into the audience or recorded on CD. He's just onstage talking, being himself and being naturally funny. He's totally relaxed and has an organic, off-the-cuff delivery that's shockingly assured for a debut comedy album. Kinane doesn't appear to be "on"; he's just this smart, dark and hilarious in everyday life. And now he's got a microphone.
2. Anthony Jeselnik - 'Shakespeare'
Joke for joke, it's impossible to argue that Anthony Jeselnik's debut album Shakespeare is one of the year's most consistently funny albums. Dark and audacious but never self-satisfied in its own shock value, Jeselnik pulls off something very difficult on his freshman effort: he pushes the audience further than they're willing to go but carries them along on the sheer strength of his own likability (and keeps reminding us of how good his jokes are). I've heard a lot of comics attempt to do what Jeselnik accomplishes on Shakespeare, but hardly ever so successfully. This is an album that can be listened to over and over.
2010 may go down as the year that Aziz Ansari officially blew up, and I have to think that it's due is some part to his excellent debut comedy album (and concurrent Comedy Central special) Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening. On the album, Ansari talks about tormenting his cousin in school chat rooms, tells stories about hanging out with Kanye West and recounts an R. Kelly concert, and throughout the entire record, he's got the same excitable energy that made me fall for him in the first place -- he's at once totally bewildered by the world while at the same time understanding exactly what it's problems are. This is a very, very funny album.
Every once in a while, a comic comes along who is a true original and forces you to take notice. Chicago's Hannibal Buress is that kind of comedian. Though his style and approach could conceivably be traced back to a collection of influences (among them Louis C.K., Chris Rock and Bill Cosby), he synthesizes and filters them all out in such a way that he ends up sounding like no one else. He comes across as the smartest guy in the room, but won't stop being self-deprecating long enough for his audience to realize that. And though he loves and embraces the odd in his comedy, it never feels like strangeness for the sake of strangeness. You're never quite sure what to make of Hannibal Buress, and that makes his comedy interesting and exciting.
2010 was a very good year for Boston-based Myq Kaplan. He achieved some degree of mainstream success by placing as a finalist on NBC's summer reality series Last Comic Standing (on which he took fifth, though he should have probably won -- or, at the very least, been runner-up) and his debut album Vegan Mind Meld is one of the year's very best. Kaplan has a gift for wordplay, and a lot of his deadpan comedy is devoted to dissecting language and rearranging it in a way that he is able to make sense out of. It's smart, sharp stuff -- brilliantly written jokes coupled with a delivery that is uniquely Kaplan's. This was a very good year for first albums.
David Cross's third album isn't as good as either of his first two (Shut Up You Fucking Baby in 2002 and It's Not Funny in 2004), but even a slightly weaker effort from Cross puts most other comedy albums to shame. Bigger and Blackerer feels more personal and less political, but that doesn't mean it's missing Cross's usual brand of button-pushing sarcasm and invective on everything from Intervention to date rape to religion to things that are "beyond regret." He's getting older, and appears to be letting some things roll off his back these days. He's still baffled by much of what he sees in the world, but Bigger and Blackerer finds Cross more content to stand back and laugh at it.
The fifth album from comedian and UFC commentator Joe Rogan was a surprise to me -- an intelligent, largely thesis-driven social critique (sprinkled with a good deal of masturbation humor, of course) covering a number of his usual topics, including religion, sex and recreations marijuana use. Though I've always been aware of Rogan, I apparently haven't been aware enough of his stand-up, which, on the basis of Talking Monkeys, is intelligent, passionate, profane and very funny. This may just be the sleeper album of the year.
Musical comedian Nick Thune's debut album is at it's best when it's stringing together a seemingly endless series of Thune's deadpan absurdist observations and one-liners. There's way more hits than misses here, and that first run (several minutes go by before Thune breaks to start a new bit) is excellent, full of the kinds of jokes you'll be repeating to your friends for weeks. The second half of the record is comprised of comedic songs which are clever in their ability to approximate musical genres but lack the excitement and, let's face it, humor of the live material. Still, it's a strong effort and a good representation of Thune's particular comedic voice.
No, Fart and Wiener Jokes is not Brian Posehn's best work. But, like David Cross's Bigger and Blackerer, it's still a very good representation of who the author is as a comic -- it offers a singular and fairly uncompromising comedic voice, and that's always a good thing. Plus, I'm a sucker for Posehn's brand of nerd-based humor (though even I'll admit it's slightly less immediate and passionate as on past efforts -- chiefly Posehn's first album, Live in: Nerd Rage). My affection for Fart and Wiener Jokes likely has more to do with my affection for Posehn; that's not to say it's only for hardcore fans, but at the same time it sort of is. Posehn's comedy is like that.
Despite its reliance on pot humor (which shouldn't really surprise me, seeing as this is a Doug Benson record), I still enjoyed Hypocritical Oaf, because there's a lot of funny stuff on it and because Doug Benson is impossibly fun and ingratiating. His comedy can be dark, but it's never mean and, unlike a number of other comics, appears to come not from a place of anger or bitterness but out of sheer love for the form. It's the kind of album that reminds you just how much fun it can be to sit down and let someone make you laugh for an hour. This isn't my favorite of his albums, but that's ok. Next year will bring another 4/20 and another Doug Benson album.