Another year, another great roster of stand-up comedy albums. It's a great mix of dependable heavyweights and a few surprise showings, making for an eclectic and impressive list -- one of the best of recent years. Great job, comedy!
Stand-up comic and Saturday Night Live writer/producer John Mulaney followed up 2009's best comedy debut (The Top Part) with the best comedy album of 2012 -- no easy feat in a field that includes new albums from Paul F. Tompkins, Louis C.K., Jim Gaffigan, Aziz Ansari and many, many more (like the rest of the comics on this list). As nervous as I was about approaching his second album, I'm already anxious about what he's going to put out next. It's easy to get spoiled by albums as good as New in Town. It's another great stand-up album from one of the best and most promising young comedians working today.
Leave it to Paul F. Tompkins to turn a concept album built around a single idea -- stories about jobs he has held -- into a long, free-flowing monologue that's fascinating, funny and more revealing about the man behind the suit and tie than just about anything he's done before. There’s a risk that an album like Laboring Under Delusions –- one with a single specific theme -– could come off as gimmicky or limited in scope, but Tompkins is a talented and seasoned enough comic to avoid the pitfalls that could have otherwise sank what he’s able to pull off. It humanizes a comic known for being aloof, and reveals him to be not just a brilliant comic, but a gifted storyteller as well.
3. Kyle Kinane: Whiskey Icarus
Another brilliant follow-up album in a year that saw several of them, Kyle Kinane's Whiskey Icarus picks up where Death of the Party left off. Kinane has more personal stories to share -- many of them at his own (sometimes drunken) expense -- that transcend mere anecdotes and elevate confession to an art. The juxtaposition between Kinane's admittedly slovenly lifestyle and his desire for self-improvement -- his belief in comedy as something greater -- creates a fascinating tension while still being hysterically funny. Kyle Kinane is going to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. I'd say he's destined for greatness, but Whiskey Icarus proves that he's already great.
4. Tig Notaro: Live
Tig Notaro's Live is the kind of comedy album that's tough to pull off -- the kind that's born out of pain. Recorded during Notaro's opening set for Louis C.K. during which she did a half hour on her recent cancer diagnosis (which itself followed a life-threatening illness and the loss of her mother), Live is moving, brave and funny. Released at the insistence of Louis C.K. -- who called it one of the best stand-up sets he had ever seen -- Live is more than just a great comedy album. It's a testament to what stand-up comedy can be.
5. Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theater
It stands to reason that, at this point, any new Louis C.K. album is going to end up on any "10 Best" list, because he's simply the best stand-up comic there is right now. Not only is Live at the Beacon Theater another brilliant album from the brilliant comic, but it's going to go down in history as possibly being game-changing, too. C.K. eliminated the middle man, forgoing traditional distribution models and selling the album/special directly to fans as a $5 download, making him millions in the process. It's a model that was quickly followed by the likes of Jim Gaffigan and Aziz Ansari, proving that C.K. isn't just dominating the comedy landscape -- he's transforming it, too.
It’s difficult to accept that, barring some sort of cynical cash-in, the stand-up album Mr. P is the last comedy the world is going to get from the late, great Patrice O’Neal. The album, posthumously released after O'Neal's death from a stroke in 2011, showcases nearly all of hist strengths as a comic: his bruising honesty, his singular take on male-female relationships, his loose, open rapport with the audience and near-incomparable ability to turn unrehearsed crowd work into long-form stretches of inspired improvised comedy. It’s a bit loose, a bit messy, but Mr. P is a fitting tribute to one of the best comics of the last 20 years. He will be missed.
On his second stand-up album, comedian Hannibal Buress has picked up the pace a little. Where once he was laid back and quirky, he's now more aggressive. And quirky. The burst of energy suits him, transforming him from the oddball observer of minutiae found on his first album to a more caustic, more cynical critic of the world. It represents not just a refinement of his voice, but a big step forward for him as a comic.
8. Todd Barry: Super Crazy
Deadpan genius Todd Barry is great at making fun of things without ever coming across as smug or superior, and it's a gift that serves him well on Super Crazy. Combining self-deprecation with sharp observation, Barry manages to both fire off and absorb his own bullets of well-timed dryness and proves himself to be one of the best single joke writers currently doing stand-up. He's not for all tastes, but it's hard to imagine anyone not being converted by Super Crazy.
9. Tom Papa: Live in New York
There's something old-fashioned about Tom Papa Live in New York City, but I'm totally ok with that. Tom Papa is about as polished a club comedian as you're going to find working these days, and though there may be a stigma attached to that among comedy snobs, there's nothing wrong with a guy who is very, very good at his job in the classical sense. Papa's material and slick delivery transcends the traditionalism of his approach, and there's a universality to him as a comic that gives him kind of an old-school vibe. He's the kind of comic that anyone can like -- relatable, smart, not edgy and, most of all, funny.
10. Matt Braunger: Shovel Fighter
Matt Braunger is awkward and proud, and it's the way he embraces his awkwardness on his second album, Shovel Fighter, that elevates his material. Braunger turns self-deprecation into an art form, managing to somehow turn almost every absurd observation he makes about the world in on himself. Unlike something like, say, Laboring Under Delusions, there's no real theme or consistency of material to the album, but that's ok. That doesn't appear to be Braunger's strong suit. What he does best is fire in as many directions as possible -- loudly -- and hope that it lands. Nearly all of it does.