That’s not funny

Last week I discussed the comic, Robert Schimmel, who died this past summer in a car accident. I wrote about his debut CD and how funny I thought it was. Thinking about that record made me think about the comedy record as a performance piece. I think of comedy records as intensely personal listening experiences. Why do I feel this way? Well, back in the day when I would buy a comedy record it tended towards having more than a few profane words. I couldn’t just stick the tape into my boom box, I would risk being caught. So I would listen to these tapes on my headphones. The only thing anyone could hear would be me, doubled over in laughter with tears in my eyes. I like to think of this as a strange rite of passage as I remember hearing comedians talk about listening to Richard Pryor records quietly so as to not get the LPs taken away.

Louder Than Hell

Louder Than Hell

This happened on more that one occasion. I remember two pretty clearly: Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay. Fitting, I suppose, two of the most inflammatory comics of my day. Kinison’s Louder Than Hell was originally released in 1986 on Warner Brothers Records. I bought it on tape at Wherehouse Records, the famed corner store. When I bought it and listened to it I have to say I didn’t know about 90% of what he spoke of, references and positions and such. But I laughed.



Andrew Dice Clay released his hilarious debut LP, Dice in 1989. In the days after Christmas 1989, Dice did a few shows at Dangerfield’s and the shows were recorded and issued in early 1990 as a double CD/cassette released entitled The Day The Laugher Died. Where Dice is a classic, The Day The Laugher Died is almost an anti-classic, a strange release that seemed to shun the initial burst of fame that happened for Dice after years of working his way into the minds of America. Both Kinison and Clay’s subsequent LPs would share a trend that ultimately ruins comedy records: the arena.

A large part of any comedy record is the interaction of the comedian and the crowd. By recording in a comedy club you hear the comedians in their natural element, on the stage in front of a small group, susceptible to heckles, lapses in material and so on. Can there be hecklers in large concert halls? Sure. But you really hear them during a small show, and when you listen with headphones you really feel like you are in the club actually watching rather than just listening.

Then we come to acoustics where there is a leap from the smaller club to the big arena. When there is so much air to fill with laughs and jokes there is a decided lack of atmosphere. Big laughs fill the empty spaces in a concert hall in a way they do not in a club. This is also a relatively recent phenomenon in comedy, the acts being so popular that they can sell out an 18,000-seat arena. The comedy records of the 50s & 60s, influential as they were, came from this small venues of old. In the 70s, the rooms got bigger, but they didn’t seem bigger. The work of George Carlin grew during the 70s but the venues he played and recorded in were not so big as to swallow the intricacies of the jokes.

Intimate Moments

Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening

As the 80s and 90s saw comedy become a larger business so too did the demand for the artists increase. And in this popular surge something was lost. It feels as if as the acts became more popular that the fans felt as if they were just as important part of the show. This isn’t to suggest that the audience felt larger than the artist, just that the experience became something more than a night out to the comedy club. Maybe times are rougher, tougher, than they were when the classic LPs were released. Maybe it is over thinking and over-remembering the records that made my face hurt from laughter. Maybe I just don’t find the present material that funny. But when I first heard Aziz Ansari’s debut CD, Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening, it really took me back. I downloaded the material before a trip out West and spent the next 48 hours listening and re-listening to the act. There are bits that still make me laugh out loud, months later. As I sat in the Cherry Capital Airport at 6am laughing I felt like I was 14 again, in my own world, laughing at something that I felt was funny. But it was all for me, due to the headphones, and that made it special. The only difference between then and now was I didn’t have to listen in secret.

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  1. […] love comedy records. Always have. Wrote about them a few months ago. I love finding something new, something that makes me laugh out loud, something that just brings […]

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