13 comedy albums from the 1960s that can still crack people up
Jonathan Winters, Bob Newhart, Allan Sherman and more continue to make us laugh half a century later.
Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett both noted that comedy is tragedy plus time. However, comedy plus time does not always equal comedy. References become lost, tastes change, culture shifts, and routines become stale.
Yet, as MeTV proves night after night, brilliantly funny material holds up decades later. Certain talents can make any generation laugh.
The 1960s were a decade of rapid change, from fashion to music. That hold in the comedy world, as well, as the song-and-story stage routines evolved into the form of stand-up that remains today. Back then, comedy albums would chart on the pop charts, too.
Here are some comedy records that could crack up modern audiences and younger generations.
1. Bob Newhart 'The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart'
What more can be said about this genius? No other comedy album can claim this kind of acclaim. The Button-Down Mind topped the Billboard pop charts, won the Grammy for Album of the Year (that's Album of the Year period, not just comedy album) and earned Newhart the Best New Artist Grammy. All this from a former ad copywriter. So much of what made his TV shows classics can be found right here, thanks to his dry, inimitable delivery.
2. Nichols and May 'An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May'
As founding members of the Compass Players, Elaine May and Mike Nichols helped lay the foundation for the Chicago improvisation scene and Second City. You can trace the roots of sketch comedy institutions like Saturday Night Live all the way to here. Recorded on Broadway, these four routines need no visuals to paint hilarious scenes. The album hit No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Right off the bat, May cracks us up as a telephone operator, phonetically spelling out the name Kaplan, "K as in knife, A as in aardvark, P as in pneumonia…" Nichols would go on to direct Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate and other classic films.
3. Jonathan Winters 'The Wonderful World Of Jonathan Winters'
Cerebral and surreal, Jonathan Winters still had a knack for making any audience laugh with ease, like that one eccentric uncle at every family reunion. There was darkness underneath his gentle demeanor, as he immediately addresses his battle with mental health issues. Even the album cover alludes to his bipolar disorder. His heavy influence on Robin Williams, his eventual Mork & Mindy costar, is impossible to miss.
4. Lenny Bruce 'American'
You will not find Lenny Bruce on any MeTV shows, as his blue, boundary-bursting material was far too hot for television. The counter-culture icon was built for vinyl albums, the medium of rock & roll. It's no wonder he's one of the faces on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the early 1960s, his performances led to arrests for obscenity, though his recorded output was toned down from his club gigs.
5. Dick Gregory 'In Living Black And White'
The pioneering brilliance of this stand-up is boiled down in the track "Comedians Of The '60's," in which Gregory juxtaposes the progressing pop culture of the 1960s with the tension of the Civil Rights era. As he busts up the audience in the Playboy Club in Chicago, he tells of a fan suggesting to him, "You ought to bring your act to Mobile." To which he jokes, "I need to take my act to Mobile like Custer needed more Indians. I don't even work the southern part of this nightclub."
6. Don Knotts 'An Evening with Me'
It's no wonder that The Andy Griffith Show was so darn funny, and continues to tickle today. Andy Griffith broke onto the scene in 1953 with his gut-busting monologue "What It Was, Was Football." His television co-star and great friend had the chops to be a stand-up comedian, too. On his only comedy album, Knotts delivers his riotous "Weatherman" routine, which he would also perform on television.
7. Allan Sherman 'My Son, The Nut'
Everyone has heard "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! (A Letter from Camp)," which kicks off side two. Sherman was the king of the comedy song. This album held the top spot on Billboard for nearly two months in 1963, and moved 1.2 million units. My Son, the Nut would be the last comedy record to top the charts until Weird Al Yankovic's Mandatory Fun went No. 1 in 2014. That is fitting, as it's hard to image Weird Al without Sherman.
8. George Carlin 'Take-Offs and Put-Ons'
In 1963, Carlin made his first comedy record with partner Jack Burns, Burns and Carlin at the Playboy Club Tonight. That energetic set deserves inclusion here. This breathless debut solo album contains bits he had been performing on shows like The Mike Douglas Show and The Merv Griffin Show.
9. Smothers Brothers 'Golden Hits of the Smothers Brothers Vol. 2'
There is no Volume 1. Though this record gathered the greatest hits of the duo, the routines were newly performed for the recording. Tom and Dick blend folk song with sharp, Abbot-and-Costello-like scenes. Quite simply, it's the best of the best.
10. Woody Allen 'The Third Woody Allen Album'
Allen's stand-up career often goes overlooked in the shadow of his films. "I was a history of hygiene major at New York University," he announces in that unmistable voice. The type of humor should be familiar to anyone who's seen Annie Hall, but it's the speed of his comedic brain that amazes in this setting, especially in a segment in which he takes questions from the audience. "I'll be 33 come December… what are my chances of survival?" he asks as one point. Who could have predicted he'd still be writing half a century later?
11. Pigmeat Markham 'Here Comes the Judge'
No other album on this list can rightly be classified as "funky" like this one. That's thanks to the groovy title track. Markham released this catchphrase-coining record on the iconic blues label Chess, and it could also rightly be described as blues comedy. "Here Comes the Judge" mania would sweep the nation thanks to Markham's appearances on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.
12. Richard Pryor 'Richard Pryor'
On his debut, the legend tackles farts and Frankenstein, while managing to sound ahead of his time. A blend of self-deprecation and satire, it could pass for a comedy record from the 1980s.
13. Don Rickles 'Hello Dummy'
The king of insult comics has everyone in his sights in this set from the Sahara in Las Vegas. Hello Dummy! hung around the Top 200 throughout the summer months of 1968. On September 28, the album peaked at No. 54, surrounded by Glen Campbell and Peter, Paul and Mary.
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