Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Good Clean Fun--The Comedy Record

I'm not a prude. I can cuss like a sailor (and am guilty of doing just that at times), and I'm not against R-rated material. That said, I am totally against the inane use of "bad language," sex and nudity to score a cheap laugh or get people to look. Clever is good. And while some cleverness is certainly R-rated, and brilliant for it, so much cleverness just doesn't need that crutch.

This week I found a stack of old comedy albums, and this got me thinking about that genre that is all but dead. See this L.A. Times article on the basic differences between old-school comedy recordings and those that pass for such (mainly at the Grammy Awards) these days. Once upon a time, a comedy album (vinyl, doncha know) could be a remarkable thing that was purchased by the millions and much discussed around record players and water coolers alike.

Classics like The Smothers Brothers early albums, Nichols and May, Lily Tomlin, Monty Python (yep, on vinyl!), Jonathan Winters (really!), Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, Bill Cosby, and true master comedy album: The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart (remember that early Mad Men episode where the guys are sitting in the office listening intently to this?), are amazing pieces of comedy history that have mostly stood the test of time. I also found and listened to an Allan  Sherman (My Son, the Folk Singer) album, and laughed--right out loud. Phyllis Diller did albums, and, in fact, any comedian worth his or her salt did albums. And people bought them. Before You Tube and cable television, a good comedy album was something to sit up and pay attention to. Ask Bob Newhart (in fact, you can listen to him discuss it here)...he kicked Elvis right off the top of the charts and stayed there for weeks. Part of what made some of those early comedy albums so successful was the fact that they were both smart and cutting-edge--for all ages. No crutches needed.

If you only know some of these comedians as old guys who are far from cutting edge, check out some of their early stuff. It's truly remarkable stuff that's still funny. And it influenced everything that came after.

Now, this isn't to say there wasn't raunchier stuff (and just as funny...just not kid-friendly!). Red Foxx, anyone? Lenny Bruce? Yep, there's nothing new under the sun. The thing is, though, there's adult-level clever, and then there's juvenile-level stupid. You be the judge.

Oh, and don't think I don't like any modern comedians. But they have to be smart about it (like, say, Eddie Izzard). But I do enjoy being able to laugh with my kids at stuff. That seems to be a rarer and rarer comic commodity. (and don't get me started on all the fart jokes in kid's movies today... argh...)

So why'd we stop appreciating good comedy...comedy so good, we'd buy it on a record and play it over an over? What's your favorite comedy record? (Note: I am talking about records made by comedians, not recordings of old radio shows, or even comedy music, like Weird Al Yankovich, which are other genres...and just as funny!)

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