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Bill Cosby: Bill Cosby Is A Very Funny Fellow, Right!
The time has come for me to rate the performer who turned me into a fan of stand-up comedy: Bill Cosby. As I have mentioned before, listening to his CDs in the car with my father is what turned me on to the art, and to this day I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mr. Cosby, especially after seeing him live a few months ago, and let me just say, he’s still got it.
Bill Cosby is a man who needs no introduction, but to be safe, I’ll give a little bit of background information. He is regarded as one of the greatest stand-ups to ever perform. Comedy Central ranked him as the 8th greatest stand-up performer of all time. He has received dozens of mainstream awards, including 7 grammys for best comedy album, and 3 emmys as a groundbreaking character Alex Scott in the drama, I Spy. And every bit of his commercial fame started with his first album that became an instant hit: Bill Cosby Is A Very Funny Fellow, Right!
The album was released in 1963, only a year after he started performing regularly in night clubs. Considering he had been in the business for such a short period, this album is incredible. His timing is perfect, his voices are spot-on and appropriate, and his jokes are clearly well prepared. That being said, there are a few shortcomings in the album.
Cosby starts out with a subject that has been discussed and joked about countless times, but I have not been able to find any performed material on it prior to this cd, and that is women going to the restrooms in groups. Of course, we are all familiar with it. Every man notices it, and every woman is guilty of it, and that is the core of the joke. Cosby jokes about incidents that he’s encountered with it, and looks at the reversed situation, and its brilliant. The only problem is that these days, most people have probably already heard similar anecdotes and parodies along the same lines, so it wouldn’t have the same effect on today’s audiences as it would to those in 1963. Not Cosby’s fault, of course, you can’t expect every joke to stand the test of time, though many of his do. The best example on the cd being his bits about Noah.
Cosby starts off the joke admitting that EVERYBODY has heard the story of Noah, but he goes on to recreate events of the ark in way that still cracks me up after listening to it dozens of times. The best part about this is that he admits how common of a subject it is, and he STILL is able to set up the audience and knock them down. The only other comedian I can think of that can do this as well as he does is the Jerry Seinfeld. It’s no coincidence that these two are both among the greatest ever.
The biggest things missing from Cosby’s act at the time, though, are transitions. He can get the audience roaring with a punchline, but he goes on to the next joke without any sort of transition or play-in. He just throws the next subject at the audience and jumps in. Through his career he got much better at this, and nobody can expect perfection on the first album, this is simply one point to find a hole in his performance. The other of which being a few slow jokes with unsatisfactory (or missing) punchlines.
Fortunately, there aren’t many of these instances on this cd, though they are present. Oddly enough, these are two tracks which predominantly feature Cosby talking in a funny voice, an ability that has gained him quite a bit of fame, and even more laughs. The two jokes are him impersonating athletes trying to act in commercials, and being painfully terrible. Cosby does a decent job of acting poorly, but the jokes aren’t well paced and can easily lose an audience, especially today.
This CD is a must have for any Cosby lover, and anybody who enjoys listening to older comedy albums, which could explain why I enjoy it so much. But if you’re kind of humor is more fast-paced, joke after joke after joke, this may not be the best cd for you.
Worst tracks: Tiny Little Hairs, Greasy Kid Stuff
Best Tracks: Noah: Right!, Noah: And the Neighbor, Noah: Me and You, Lord
Overall rating: 7/10
Jim Gaffigan’s Beyond the Pale.
Jim Gaffigan is one of the best working comedians working today. He continually sells out shows and arenas around the country, and for good reason. He’s witty, he’s clean, he’s likable, and he’s downright funny, and Beyond the Pale is Gaffigan’s best work to date.
“Oh he’s a pale fella…”
He starts off the cd in his trademark “asides” voice, where he imitates a hypothetical audience members thoughts. He does this for quite a while (his actual voice doesn’t come in until 1:15 into the cd), and every comment he makes adds to the last, even to the point where he’s making fun of the fact that he hasn’t said anything of actual value yet. Throughout the cd (as is the case in all his acts), he continues to add his asides where appropriate. It’s a brilliant tool that provides a perfect segue into his next bit, no matter what it is. Yet even though it works best as a transition, he also uses it excellently as both filler and punchline in his set. He even expresses any fake hostility in the audience by mocking anything even slightly offensive he says (“Hey I like bologna…”), which puts any actual offense they take at ease. Though don’t be confused, there is nothing offensive in this album, unless you are particularly touchy about religion.
Now on to the bulk of the cd, FOOD! Gaffigan is probably the leader in jokes about food. Fourteen tracks are specifically dedicated to food related topics. The butt of most of his food jokes relates is the American eating habit. Among his targets are the simplicity of fast food orders, obsessions with desserts, and fake vegetarians. These tracks will keep you rolling, because they are topics that we are so familiar with, yet we often completely overlook the absurdity of them. It is in these tracks that you will find one of his bits that’s almost become his trademark bit, Hot Pockets! A very catchy joke because he makes fun of how terrible hot pockets are, and continually pokes fun at their oh-so-simple slogan. But because this is his most recognizable joke, I’d have to say it’s probably also his most overrated. Don’t get me wrong, the joke is funny, but I wouldn’t even put it in the top 10 tracks on this cd, which shows how much comic gold there is to find here.
While he takes a brief break from food, he goes on to lovingly criticize American holiday traditions. Even when some of the subjects are things many of us have already noticed and wondered (why chocolate eggs on Easter?), he puts enough spin on them to make them seem more ridiculous than we initially thought.
more food jokes more food jokes more food jokes
And now we’re getting towards the end of the cd, where his primary topic is religion (oh no, the R-word!). Now, as I practicing Catholic, there are times where I take offense to a comedian’s poking of my faith, but this is not the case with Gaffigan. His jokes center around Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Catholicism itself, yet he does so in a way that is neither mean-spirited, nor derogatory. And not only are they benign, they’re funny! He recreates biblical scenes that aren’t in the bible(Mary telling Joseph that she’s pregnant), and adds a few funny things that transpose today’s culture to Jesus’ (what do you get the Messiah as a gift?). Its the closest he gets to shock value in his set, but manages to steer far away from that course.
Overall, I’d recommend this cd to absolutely everybody. What more can I say? Jim Gaffigan is a funny guy who knows how to keep an audience happy
best tracks: Presents, Eating vegetarian, Eat Like an American, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
worst track: Spray Cheese(also the shortest bit), The Case Against Cinnabons,
Overall rating: 10/10
Mike Birbiglia: Two Drink Mike/Dog Years
Mike Birbiglia is a name that, while a tongue-twister, is rapidly becoming more and more prominent in stand-up. Born in Massachusetts, Birbiglia, attended Georgetown University, where he was voted “The Funniest Person On Campus”, which started his career as a professional funny-man. His first two CD’s, Dog years and Two Drink Mike, are the subject for this blog.
Now, I don’t plan on using one entry for two albums very often, but in this case it seemed to be the smartest way to do it. Dog Years was first, debuting in 2004, and Two Drink Mike came two years later. In those two years, Birbiglia clearly came into his own in terms of delivery and style. In Dog Years, he sounds noticeably uncomfortable and awkward, and it doesn’t work. His next album, however, he still has the awkward demeanor, but he uses it to his advantage. His material is largely centered around him being awkward in social situations, and using a delivery that embraces that lack of grace makes his set exponentially better.
Now, most comedians take a while to come into their own as a performer. So what? If there is a noticeable difference in how he presents himself in two CD’s, why not mention that as I review each CD? Well, the biggest reason is that the jokes in the two CD’s are the same! It took me until the seventh track of Dog Years to hear him tell a joke that I hadn’t heard in Two Drink Mike! And even after the new joke, most of the rest of the CD is still the same material. After Dog Years came out and Birbiglia developed his style, he was offered another chance to make a CD. I can only imagine that he either A) hadn’t written enough material to make a new CD, or B) he decided that he wanted this CD to be a do-over with his new and improved style. I want to believe its the latter, since in just a year after Two Drink Mike he had compiled enough material to release a third album. Now, for the rest of this review, I will be judging strictly Two Drink Mike, as I’ve marked Dog Years in the category of a warm-up. Now, on with the show!
Two Drink Mike is quite simply, hilarious. Birbiglia’s material takes a wide range, from awkward situations, to rap, to gay cats, and that’s just in the first half of the album! Because of this range, and the fact that he rarely uses expletives or foul humor, he appeals to a wide range of audiences. But even for those who enjoy comedians who talk about sex, he is very capable of taking the subject and give it an absurd twist, in the aptly titled track “Sex, Tennis, and Pandas”.
Birbiglia is not one to center his act around politics either, but he always tries to fit in a little bit somewhere. Now, as a conservative, I don’t often laugh at cheap George Bush jokes (see, Saturday Night Live from 2005-2008), but a good one can have me rolling on the floor, and that’s what he delivers. He compares Bush to a hypothetical Whiffle Ball Tony, a guy that you want to invite to the picnic to start the Whiffle ball game, but not one you want RUNNING the picnic. The analogy is both accurate and hysterical. Props to you, Mike, it’s my favorite Bush joke yet.
Birbiglia even uses music in his set. He plays some simple guitar tunes to mimic the style of certain people/music to a tee. Like everything else on the CD, this too is incredibly entertaining. He even finishes his set with a nice re-cap song where he throws in several of the show’s punchlines into one last song, which is more amusing than hysterical, but it works as an excellent cap to a great album.
To sum up, you do NOT need to have both of these CD’s, and of the two, I HIGHLY recommend Two Drink Mike over Dog Years. To be honest, I recommend Two Drink Mike over most albums. Funny from start to finish, Two Drink Mike appeals to just about everybody, and is a must have for any stand-up lover.
Best Tracks: Whiffle Ball Tony, Cracka
Worst Track: Whatever You Are, Be A Good One
Dog Years: 3/10
Two Drink Mike: 10/10
Before there was Richard Pryor, before there was Bill Cosby, there was Dick Gregory. A leading pioneer in African American stand-up comedy, Gregory was more than jokes, he was social justice. He was one of the first comedians to perform for both white and black audiences and used his microphone and satire to help advance the civil rights movement. In Living Black and White was the first of 12 albums he released in a 14 year span. Fortunately for the comedy world, he started off on the right foot.
Something I found interesting about this CD which I have yet to encounter with any other album, is that there are breaks between each track with commentary. Scripted, and sounding like an old radio broadcast, a voice comes on introducing each new joke. They are short segues, however they seem to take away from the natural flow of a set. I plan on looking into this further when I get the chance. Now to the jokes
Gregory starts off by talking about how he’s always being compared to white comedians like Mort Sahl and Bob Newhart. Right off the bat, Gregory’s jokes deal with the dichotomy of the world, by narrowing in on the dichotomy of the comedy world. He goes on to comment on the evolution of stand-up comedy, and how it takes a lot more to get the same amount of laughs. He demonstrates this by telling a joke that would be told 20 years ago (or, in our case, 70 years ago) and pointing out how unfunny it is. His audience’s silence shows their accord. Then he retells the same joke with a different, better punchline that draws a much better reaction from the crowd. This joke resonates even today. Most audiences today, especially the younger ones, could listen to Lenny Bruce or Bob Hope and not think it’s nearly as funny as audiences did back then. A very original joke premise that I have not heard from any other comedian.
Next Gregory jokes about being black in the South, citing one incident where he accidentally stumbled into a restaurant that didn’t want him in it. A controversial subject for any audience becomes a big laugh for everybody. This led to a series of political, current event jokes, mostly dealing with the election of Kennedy and the departure of Eisenhower. Political jokes are generally pretty good for laughs, and Gregory’s are no exception. One topic he likes to joke about is African American voting, especially the political machine of Chicago rigging the elections, “we’re trying to make up for the times we couldn’t vote”
Staying in the realm of current events, his material turns to the Cold War and, particularly, the race to space. He makes a topic of heavy turmoil and caution a laughable subject by mocking both are concern over losing the race as well as lightly poking fun of the Soviets.
Following these are a few more less than memorable (though still enjoyable) jokes dealing with marriage, the Israeli-Palestinian debacle, and various employment opportunities. No gut busters, but several very amusing jokes. The last track, however, had the biggest laugh of the CD, at least for me, when he talks about being in a bad situation in an airplane. A well constructed set up, and a punchline that surprises any audience. The best joke on the CD.
If you’re a real fan of comedy, this CD is a must have for its contribution and inspiration for the art of stand-up. But like I said earlier, much of today’s audience won’t get the same kind of kick out of the jokes as listeners did in 1961. Though I still recommend it to anybody. I think it would even hold merit being taught in an American history course, because of it’s material concerning racial tension in the South and the Cold War.
Worst tracks: 100 Proof, Middle East
Best Tracks: 50,000 ft-and No Insurance, Comedian of the 60’s
Overall rating: 8/10
George Carlin: Class Clown
If one man truly personifies the genre of stand-up comedy, it’s George Carlin. A master of the English language, a rebel of social norms, and a man who was honest through and through. Towards the beginning of his career he entertained audiences with simple word play and common social commentary. As he got older, he kept up with the witty repartee and critiques, but his set grew more and more towards harsh ridiculing government and religion, which is where he probably has gained the most fame. This CD is a good juxtaposition of these two areas of interest. It also has one of the most famous tracks of comedy history. I present my judgment of George Carlin: Class Clown.
For one of the sharpest men in comedy history, this CD starts off with jokes that cross between Larry the Cable and a bad Jerry Seinfeld bit. He talks about class clowns in grade school (hey! That’s the name of the CD!) which is a topic full of material, but the track turns into Carlin making fart sounds and other bodily music. Granted, he has some great lines of commentary in the mix. It’s certainly not all just fart and poop jokes, but it’s very far from any sort of ground-breaking comedy and much closer to silly shock-value humor.
The CD then starts slowing gaining momentum. For the next couple of tracks, Carlin takes aim at Catholicism, particularly, Catholic middle school customs. What he has to say about this subject is brilliant. He basically covers all religious aspects of a Catholic grade school. Anybody who went to one will no doubt be able to relate to almost every single thing he talks about, particularly his jokes about priests and confession.
**Please note that Carlin avoids making jokes about priests seducing little boys. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to comedy. No, it’s not because I think it’s inappropriate or offensive, it’s just so damn old. I hate basically all Michael Jackson jokes for the same reason. When a joke is just too easy to make, it doesn’t need to be said. Sorry, little side rant. This is just the first time it seems to be relevant in my blogging. Back to the topic at hand!
After many jokes, it’s easy for the audience to see why Carlin is such an atheist. Though he’s not harsh in his criticisms, he does seem to have good reason behind how he feels. Don’t worry, Christians, he won’t make you question your faith. These jokes just point out the aspects of life that some people (myself included) experience, but tells them in a way that makes everybody laugh. All of you know how hard it is to tell a you-had-to-be-there story. That’s basically what Carlin did, and he did it spectacularly.
Fun fun fun, laugh laugh laugh, now Carlin has set up the audience for the grand daddy of all jokes: Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television. These seven words make up a list that Carlin comprised of words that, well, can never be said on television. It was not an official list, though at the time nobody could argue that any of them were ever said on the air. These words, for those of you who don’t know, are shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cock sucker, mother fucker, and tits.
One by one, Carlin takes each word/term and makes fun of them. He says whether he downright disagrees with their presence on the list (“tits doesn’t even belong on the list!”), why some of them are taboo (“piss” and “cunt”), and why some of them make some sense (“cocksucker” and “motherfucker”). Note, I said “SOME sense”. Every bit of it is hilarious.
But this is probably not the funniest track in stand-up history. Why then, you may wonder, do I hold it in such high ranks? Stand-up comedy is supposed to have some sort of message. It doesn’t have to be some sort of ground-breaking revelation, but they should have something to say. Why was Gallagher a somewhat respected comedian while Carrot Top is considered a hack? They both use props for jokes, so they’re the same, right? Wrong. Gallagher’s act was not just playing with props, there was underlying commentary on American consumer culture. Carrot Top’s act is putting two things together and try to make it semi-relevant to current events. One’s on the list of 100 greatest comedians, and one’s stuck doing shows in Vegas.
The point is, stand-up is more than laughs, it’s also purpose. This joke’s purpose was to bash censorship on American airwaves. Did it do it? A resounding YES. “So what?”, you might ask. “It’s just a joke”, you might say. See, now this is where it’s extra special. This one bit, a bit about 7 words, made it to the Supreme Court of the United States. A JOKE indirectly established the extent to which the federal government could regulate speech on broadcast television and radio in the United States. This joke is funny, this joke has a message, and this joke changed the fucking law on censorship. Did it do what Carlin wanted? No, Carlin would want all censorship removed. But that’s besides the point. The point is, he was heard.
A perfect end to a CD.
Alright, I’ve basked in this joke long enough. You get it, I love it. This CD is classic, despite it’s poor start. Carlin made a CD that to this day has significance in the world. And beyond the significance, it’s funny! An absolute must-have for any fan of comedy.
Worst Tracks: Class Clown, Wasted Time-Sharing A Swallow
Best Tracks: The Confessional, Seven Words You Cannot Say On Television (DUH!)
Overall rating 10/10 (amazing that a few superb jokes can overcome a bad 16-minute long one to end with a perfect score)