Dec 21, 2013

Listmania: My Favorite Comedy Albums and Specials of 2013

2013 was a great year for comedy specials and albums. Ranging from stand-up to recorded skits, this year was full of talented funny people doing what they do best. While the giants reigned supreme, some came back from the dead in bizarre new ways. Nonetheless, the output of comedy continues to be released in ambitious new ways and continuing to question how the form can be used. This is a rundown of my 20 favorite albums and specials released this past year that even though there is plenty that I missed, there was still an awful lot great stuff.

1. Kumail Nanjiani - "Beta Male"

Thanks to the podcasting community, Kumail Nanjiani is on his way to becoming a household name. His debut comedy album is quite exceptional in regards to its subject matter. With the ability to compare Pakistani traditions to American, this is Yakov Smirnoff if he was more personal, a nerd and shameless in talking about watching VHS porn. He has a commanding presence and due to his unique perspective, the most memorable album of the year. It may seem like a niche routine, but he connects to his audience on a core level, which helps to give him an edge as one of the funniest comedians out there.

2. Pete Holmes - "Nice Try, The Devil"

If You Made It Weird has done anything for Pete Holmes, it has made him more confident as a performer. His absurd optimism remains an endearing touch to this album, which feels almost like a gathering of fans listening to their messiah. His goofy look at the world mixed with crass humor comes across as aloof wisdom and at times being ambiguous with his sexuality. It remains to be a banner year for Holmes, as he recently launched his own show called the Pete Holmes Show. Still, his best material comes in his stand-up, and when he's on, you get something so endearingly strange that you can't help but just laugh.

3. Andy Kaufman - "Andy and His Grandmother"

Much like the life of Andy Kaufman, the very idea of this album's existence is a joke that doesn't quite make sense. However, the marketing wasn't lying and sure enough the surreal comedic genius released his comedy debut many decades after his death. Even if it serves to prolong the myth that he is still alive, the album works as an exploitative view into his brain. Using a recorder, bits explored Kaufman living his life while doing mundane things such as driving, going to the theaters, and even sleep comedy. Nonetheless, fans of his style will have plenty to admire from the album, supposedly a condensed hits from over 80 hours which seems like a tease in itself. How soon until the remaining hours get released?

4. Aziz Ansari - "Buried Alive!"

The comedian who made young culture hip turns 30 and has plenty to say about it. He is getting older and now has friends starting families. He feels like technology is making people worse. However, he is so passionate about it all that the whole exercise comes as an embracing homage to a niche crowd who are too old for childish things but too young to get old people. It may be his most mature release to date, but it is also one of his strongest. Hopefully he'll only become more insightful when he turns 40 and help to define his generation's obsessions. 

5. Mike Birbiglia - "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend"

Along with his directorial debut last year, Sleepwalk with Me, Mike Birbiglia continues to become more and more successful not just as a comic, but as a performer. This is largely true because he doesn't tell jokes. He tells one, very long story full of awkward, comedic moments that recall the best of Bill Cosby through a white guy experiencing love and facing strange obstacles. While the album works on a relative level, the deeper into the show it goes, the more insightful and honest it gets. Few performers will ever become this engaging while working towards an ending. Birbiglia's set is so well crafted that it is almost like a novel with a satisfying interweaving of ideas and metaphors that push story telling forward. 

6. Dana Gould - "I Know It's Wrong"

Dana Gould has gotten older and is still making jokes about his obsessions, which have now ranged to include murders, dead dogs, and regretting old jokes. The result is probably one of the most ambitious, morose albums to be absolutely hilarious. His style has improved and his stories are top notch. He may strive to be offensive, but where he really succeeds is just in saying what's on his mind. It is often perverse and disturbing, but much like the best of comedy, when there are no limits, the results are so satisfying.

7. Eugene Mirman - "An Evening of Comedy in a Fake, Underground Laboratory"

The absurd comic continues to explore the format of comedy by sharing stray observations mixed with his own personal life. Even when things are off the rail, there is a strange brilliance to every joke. He may be political, but he is one of the least aggressive about his viewpoints, and it does make him one of the most accessible comics of his generation. He talks about everything and treats it with equal disdain. There's even a bit with a Theremin that is probably one of the most inspired bits of the year. Eugene Mirman may be an acquired taste of a comic, but his bizarre wisdom is something beyond impressive. 

8. Maria Bamford - "Ask Me About My New God!"

Very few comedians have done wonders for mental illness in comedy as Maria Bamford. While the entire album serves as a collection of brilliant short jokes, it is also a look at an individual who has her own struggles. She wonders about Paula Deen constantly and makes light of people yelling at her. There is no great through line, but with 33 tracks, the jokes come fast and funny and continues to show why she remains one of the best, most inventive performers out there. Just by titles of tracks such as "Vegetarian Oscar Schindler" and "Joy Whack-A-Mole" should be testament to that.

9. Louis C.K. - "Oh My God"

One of the most prolific comedians out there may have took 2013 off for his sitcom-challenging Louie, but that didn't make up for an impressive output. Along with memorable appearances in Blue Jasmine and American Hustle, he managed to put aside time to do an entire stand-up special. That alone is something to applaud. Luckily, his cynical observations of the world continue to remain hilarious wisdom that proves why he is one of the best. Even as he gets older, his crass, old man viewpoint remains consistently funny. 

10. Amy Schumer - "Mostly Sex Stuff"

While I didn't care at all for Inside Amy Schumer or her first album "Cutting," her latest special manages to be a vast improvement. As the title suggests, it is mostly about sex. However, the mix of awkward encounters and the treatment she deserves from guys makes for a hilarious, perverse collection of jokes that work if you are in the right mood. It is very dirty and Amy Schumer has only gotten better at delivering the goods. Few people could make sex as gross and honest while still being hilarious, and she manages to make it work quite well by showing how males and females interact in society. 

11. Bo Burnham - "what."

Released as a free Youtube special, the prodigy comedian returns with another live performance that is as much comedy as it is spectacle. To pigeonhole Bo Burnham is to undermine what makes him an engaging, exciting performer. With an excellent craft to music, he manages to satirize the modern era by looking at the mundane nature of love songs and how mime jokes work on a live album. It is all packaged in a catchy, energetic way that is distinctly the voice of a young performer that may be a little raw, but knows what he is doing. You will be singing along to his songs long after he finishes, or at very least still laughing at them.

12. Doug Stanhope - "Beer Hall Putsch"

One of the most insanely aggressive and profane comics out there returns with an album that suggests that he is getting older. He has giving up crazy drinks, but he still likes to buy things on EBay. The album is a striking, sometimes offensive, look at everyday life with views on Occupy Wall Street and the gay nature of football. However, the real highlight is the most haunting, bizarre piece of comedy released this year. In "Farewell, Mother," Doug Stanhope tells a detailed story of his mother's death which is so dark and striking that it will stick with you. Even when things are serious, more than any other comic, he is pushing boundaries and asks you to laugh at the dark corners of the mind. He may be too much at times, but this album is the right dose of his aggressive views of the world.

 13. Mike Lawrence - "Sadamantium"

One of the best up and coming comics is Mike Lawrence. With his debut album, he manages to hit all of the familiar beats with nerd references. However, his passion transcends the stereotypes by relating it to everyday life and putting the punches in sly places. With time, he can probably become strong and one of the most impressive performers out there. For now, his debut is full of insightful self loathing and pop culture  references in a refreshing new way that is full of laughs as well as insight.

14. Todd Glass - "Talks About Stuff"

Few performers feel like they perform with a goal to provoke change. While Todd Glass has plenty of absurdity in his style, this album serves as rants against the things that irk him. Even when the album isn't funny, his passion manages to mine the depths of his frustration and gives his comedy more weight. Even if he sounds like an old man commenting on young kids, he does it so well that his comedy works as persuasion. He is as funny as he is right. He manages to preach in a comedy medium and does it so successfully that it doesn't matter. Glass is a very engaging guy.

15. Heidecker & Wood - "Some Things Never Stay The Same"

While this album isn't necessarily funny, it is quite possibly more proof that Tim Heidecker is an expert at the pitch-perfect satire. What "Some Things Never Stay The Same" serves is quite possibly one of the best yacht albums of the year. Even when the lyrics are campy and lampoon Jimmy Buffett, there is a sense of realism to it that makes it song passable. To the untrained eye, this album is just average. To those in the know, the depth to how sly the satire is through impressive orchestrations and immediately  memorable songs that are as much yacht rock as they are comedy.

16. Moshe Kasher - "Live In Oakland"

The host of the Champs podcast is out to set a few things straight. With "Live In Oakland," he talks about watching all of Star Trek and proving that he isn't gay. There's conversation about parking lot fights and fans of Jim Morrison. He is an endless source of great narrative comedy that relies on punchlines from real life. Moshe Kasher knows how to work the crowd and integrate it into his comedy. Even when dissecting Youtube comments, there is plenty of truth in his degrading sense of humor.

17. Kurt Braunohler - "How Do I Land?"

The big appeal of Kurt Braunohler is that he wants to confuse you with weird pranks. For most of the album, this is way of life. He talks about events from his life in which he took the upper hand and just went for the joke. Despite an album full of memorable stories of pranks, his centerpiece remains a story in which he broke Sacha Baron Cohen. Even if the album has plenty of hit and miss moments, it feels all calculated and just like Cohen, he is likely to make you confused, repulsed, and all while laughing.

18. John Hodgman - "Ragnarok"

Self proclaimed deranged millionaire John Hodgman's stand-up special serves almost as a chronicle of one of the most gimmicky events of 2012: the end of the world. The whole show is set up as a survival guide to the apocalypse with plenty of strange observations scattered throughout. For those that love his higher intellect and strange selections of pop culture references, this is Hodgman delivering a very focused and funny pieces of comedy that may feel in ways dated, but reflects just how crazy the idea of the world ending actually sounds. 

19. Bill Cosby - "Far From Finished"

The legendary comedian/story teller returns with a show that packs all of his trademarks. Talking about families, being locked out of his house, and eating cookies, his ability to create compelling stories with humorous moments remain as strong as ever. While the special is rather long, it doesn't matter. Bill Cosby is a genius of the narrative and makes every moment count. Like the title would suggest, he is far from over and as long as he wishes to tell us stories, we'll be willing to listen to his great takes on everything.

20. Rick Moranis - "My Mother's Brisket"

Rick Moranis returns in one of the strangest moves possible. With a recording of Jewish-themed music, he manages to become a nebish performer who embraces the culture and is so dedicated that the album may feel a little too insider for non-Jews. However, it is full of well crafted songs and a strange sense of sincerity that makes all of the jokes land. It does reek of "is this a joke" nature, but for the most part, it is so authentically Jewish that it doesn't matter that the career move doesn't make sense on a universal level.

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