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The Best Comedy Albums of 2011

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2011 had a strong showing for comedy albums, mixing several brilliant releases from veteran comics with fantastic debuts from the newer class. The fact that there are several albums that could have just as easily made the list is proof of just how strong the year was. These are my 10 favorites.

1. Louis C.K. - 'Hilarious'

Louis CK Hilarious comedy album art
© Comedy Central Records

It almost seems unfair that comedian Louis C.K. released his latest album, Hilarious, within the first two weeks of 2011. It's unfair because the album is so outstanding that it set an impossible standard for every other record that followed it; over and over again, I can hear myself saying "Sure, it's funny...but is it Hilarious?" It's so rare to find a comic with a point of view these days that coming across one as sharply defined as Louis C.K.'s is a kind of miracle. Hilarious finds the best comic of today at the top of his game, and truly earns its title.

2. Patton Oswalt - 'Finest Hour'

Patton Oswalt Finest Hour album cover art
© Comedy Central Records
The Patton Oswalt who riffed on pop culture and raged about the government on his first album, Feelin' Kinda Patton, isn't really anywhere to be found on Finest Hour. It's not Oswalt mellowing so much as maturing; he hasn't "gone soft," but rather continues to be honest about where his life is at with each successive album. His attitudes and priorities have shifted. Luckily, that doesn't make him any less funny, and his routines on the circus, air travel and parenting are as strong as anything he's done in the past. He's traded in Burroughs for babies and all-night drinking binges for sweatpants and Cheetos. That is his finest hour.

3. Jen Kirkman - 'Hail to the Freaks'

Jen Kirkman Hail to the Freaks album cover art
© AST Records
There are so many comics who sound kind of like Jen Kirkman, but there is only one Jen Kirkman. Her smart, dry, sarcastic approach is often imitated but rarely topped, and Hail to the Freaks plays like a master's class on how to do her very particular style of comedy. I love when Kirkman gets personal (she does a routine on getting married that's brilliant, mostly because she can't wait to hear "Thriller" later), but I also love when she's just making fun of stuff. Nobody does being annoyed as well as Jen Kirkman. I love this album.

4. Marc Maron - 'This Has to be Funny'

Marc Maron This Has to be Funny album cover art
© Comedy Central Records
What a year Marc Maron had in 2011. His podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, has become one of the best podcasts on the internet and is now essential listening for any comedy fan; not only that, but he also released This Has to be Funny, the best album of his career and one of the year's best comedy records. Combining Maron's trademark neuroses and confessional style with a newly found confidence and assuredness, Funny is a mix of darkly autobiographical material and observational comedy filtered through Maron's very specific worldview. In many ways, it feels like the culmination of his career up to this point -- it's the album he's been working towards for years. Let's hope Maron's inspired creative peak carries over into 2012.

5. Natasha Leggero - 'Coke Money'

Natasha Leggero Coke Money album cover art
© Comedy Central Records

On her first comedy album, Coke Money, Natasha Leggero does exactly what her contemporary female comics like Kathy Griffin and Chelsea Handler do -- only much better. She's the spoiled-brat-as-comic, the girl who is all too aware of her own shortcomings but who still isn't going to suffer fools lightly. That's how she ends up taking on L.A. club girls, douchebag guys, egotistical rappers, toilet babies and many, many more in routines that only get funnier as the album goes on. Coke Money is so much better than what several of Leggero's more successful or better-known contemporaries are putting out. It's one of the funniest records of the year.

6. Amy Schumer - 'Cutting'

Amy Schumer Cutting Album cover art
© Comedy Central Records

Overlooking the double meaning in the title of Amy Schumer's debut album, Cutting, it's a great example of the comic's approach to stand-up: take a subject that might otherwise be sensitive or off-limits (in this case, teenage cutting) and turn it into comedy. When she's not destroying political correctness for its own sake, she's comes up with some terrific black comedy one-liners, and her album shows a real intelligence and knack for using language. Oh, and it has maybe the best final joke of any comedy album I've heard in a long, long time.

7. Tommy Johnagin - 'Stand Up Comedy 2'

Tommy Johnagin Stand Up Comedy 2 album art
© Comedy Central Records

Tommy Johnagin is way too funny to have finished in only second place on Last Comic Standing in 2010, as evidenced by his second album Stand Up Comedy 2. Johnagin is a terrific joke writer and, like a lot of great comics, has a knack for applying logic to situations that may not call for it and pulling the humor out of that juxtaposition. It's the kind of comedy album that will hold up to repeat listens, and it moves quickly; Johnagin knows how and when to get out of a bit and into the next one. Bring on Stand Up Comedy 3.

8. Pete Holmes - 'Impregnated with Wonder'

Pete Holmes Impregnated with Wonder album cover art
Photo courtesy The Syndicate
I can't think of a comedy album from this year with more manic, hilarious energy than the debut album from comedian (and voice of the E-Trade baby) Pete Holmes. He's a spaz -- and I mean that in the nicest possible way. The album is all over the place, topic-wise, but every target Holmes covers is dissected with his offbeat, absurd take (his routine on his hatred of horrible, overused jokes is one of the funniest things I've heard all year). The way that Holmes will spin an observation or turn a phrase is a thing of silly beauty.

9. Doug Benson - 'Potty Mouth'

Doug Benson Potty Mouth comedy album review
© Comedy Central Records
Potty Mouth, Doug Benson's fourth and latest album, gives a pretty good idea of who he is as a comic: silly and giggly and possibly more than a little stoned. The album is almost post-modern: it's a deconstruction of a live comedy act, and becomes about a comedian trying to get through an act as it is a comedian's act. Benson is able to make the stumbles and mistakes just as funny as the punchlines -- no easy feat -- and the offbeat rhythms of the jokes given the album is shambling charm. There's something comforting about the fact that Doug Benson releases a new stand-up comedy album once a year. It's reassuring in its consistency.

10. Norm Macdonald - 'Me Doing Standup'

Norm Macdonald Me Doing Standup album cover art
© Comedy Central Records

There's something so laid back about Norm Macdonald's approach to comedy -- as evidenced even by the title of his latest album, Me Doing Standup -- that I think some people have a hard time taking him seriously. Macdonald segues from a deconstruction of language into long-form bits about 24 hour news, the woman troubles of Tiger Woods and gives an involved, detailed description of just how he would go about getting away with a murder (not that he's planning on killing anyone, but a river can only go so long before there's a bend). The material is funny enough on its own, but it's made even better by Macdonald's trademark delivery.

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