April 29, 2010
In the third part of my 4-part series on comedy albums worth knowing, I’m offering an alternative to last week’s entry about Old Black Guys and allowing the under-represented contingency of white male comedians to get a column.
Andy Griffith | The Wit & Wisdom of Andy Griffith
Though obviously best known now as a TV star, both on the sitcom named for him and as the wily old lawyer Matlock, Andy Griffith’s first gig in showbiz was retelling stories from history and literature in nightclubs. Definitely more of a monologist than a traditional stand-up, Griffith did for country bumpkins what Lord Buckley did for ‘50s beatniks. Where Buckley told the “hip” story of Jesus (renaming him “The Nazz”) and rewrote Shakespeare’s funeral oration from Julius Caesar to begin “Hipsters, flipsters, and finger-poppin’ daddies, knock me your lobes,” Griffith takes a similar tack, giving the story of Caesar’s murder an earthy spin so that Brutus replies, “Yup, me too.” Griffith also explains that Columbus decided to travel around the world because, “he hadn’t gone to camp or nothin’.” The best, and probably most famous, track from this album is “What It Was, Was Football,” where an utterly bewildered Griffith describes being shoved by a pack of people into a stadium to witness a sporting event he is completely unable to comprehend. Despite the title of the track, Griffith never does figure out what they call that sport where those fellers run up and down in that cow pasture chasing a pumpkin.
Bob Newhart | The Best of Bob Newhart
Bob Newhart, like Andy Griffith, is now best known for his TV work on two classic self-titled sitcoms, although his comedy albums are what put him on the map. His debut was the first comedy album to make it to #1 on the album charts, beating out “real albums” full of music. This compilation is a handy sampler to show you why Newhart’s so great (it has since been superseded by a 2-disc anthology of material from this period – but this particular collection is solid). Generally, a Newhart bit involves some high-concept idea – What if I was the security guard on duty in the building that King Kong decided to climb? What if modern-day PR people were already in place when Abe Lincoln was campaigning for president? – with Newhart making a speech or handling one half of a conversation (a lot of his bits are imaginary phone calls) with no partner to reply, leaving us to imagine the response of the crowd being addressed or the person on the other end of the phone. It’s simple, and yet it’s so deftly executed that the laughs come easily. I can’t really think of too many other comedians who worked like this, so this is one-of-a-kind stuff.