2013 was a seriously good year for comedy. I mean–not follow up album to Conquistadork good, but still pretty damn good. To celebrate that fact here in these waning days, I have compiled a list of my five favorite comedy albums of 2013. I say “five favorite” rather than “five best” because I could stand to live in a world with fewer faceless entities trying to pass their opinions off as fact.
First, a few honorable mentions:
Mike Birbiglia, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend — Birbigs might never be able to recapture the lightning in a bottle that was Sleepwalk With Me, but My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend is a worthy followup message of remembering what’s important from the world’s most awkward man.
Rachel Bloom, Please Love Me — Any nerd who can’t admit to crushing on Ms. Bloom after viewing her viral hit “Fuck Me Ray Bradbury” is not a nerd worth having around. Clever, crude, and possessing of a hell of a set of pipes, Please Love Me is an amazing collection.
Various, Holy Fuck. Live Comedy — Named for the free comedy show in Los Angeles, Holy Fuck is guilty of just as much hipster comedy nonsense as you’d expect. But for every standard bit of self-deprecation and mediocrity, you get shining gems from the genius of artists like Jarrod Harris, Jackie Kashian, and Kyle Kinane.
…And on to the five people who are burning the biggest holes in my iPod. That’s a thing, right? iPod holes from overuse?
5. Mike Lawrence — Sadamantium
Insecure, frightened, and devastatingly funny, Mike Lawrence didn’t wait a few albums to pour his heart out like so many others do: it almost seems like he was born bleeding. In a scant hour, this nerd king describes his experiences with comic books, sexual molestation, passive aggressive mothers, and (perhaps most heartbreaking of all) his seven year stint as a worker at McDonalds, “Because when you love life,” he explains, “Life loves you back.”
While a few of the particularly nerdy references may be a little esoteric at times for your average comedy listener, I think Mike Lawrence more than makes up for it with his hard-hitting punchlines and somber delivery. Make no mistake: Mike Lawrence’s mutant power is the ability to make fear and loathing hilarious, and I truly look forward to his next comedic endeavors.
4. Doug Stanhope, Beer Hall Putsch
I love this man. He’s only as low on this list as he is because, frankly, when you buy his latest CD, you know what you’re getting into. But with Stanhope, it’s absolutely sincere. Named for a failed attempt by Hitler to overthrow the government, the title alone is absolutely something to expect from good ole Doug. But it’s important to note that he doesn’t say these things to shock or appall you–that’s just a pleasant side effect. Because more than anyone else in the world, Doug Stanhope knows exactly who he is, and in Beer Hall Putsch that fact shines through like a penny in pondwater. He is just as brash, acerbic, and terrifyingly accurate as he ever is, but there are a few things to set this particular one apart.
“Farewell, Mother”, the story of how Stanhope’s mother committed suicide, is the mainsail on the ship of Putsch. Without giving anything away, he points out that it’s the first joke he’s ever told that had a statute of limitations on it. Stanhope takes the “edgy comedian” cliché that is so popular these days and humiliates it in front of its friends and family.
3. Dana Gould — I Know It’s Wrong
One of the country’s greatest alternative comedians, Dana Gould deserves far more of the spotlight than he presently receives. To be fair, some of his most memorable and/or popular work has been behind the scenes: voicing Gex the gecko in the video game of the same name and writing for The Simpsons until 2006. But what he should truly be known for is cheerfully bizarre stand up comedy.
To those just occasionally listening in, Gould could almost be mistaken for a traditional comedian, given that he covers the standard topics of marriage, children, and family in general. However, one need look no further than the title track of I Know It’s Wrong to be convinced forever of the exact opposite opinion: Gould falls far from the mainstream. Or even just listen to his opener: “I’m going to tell an AIDS joke, a rape joke, and then a joke about 9/11.”
This album is insightful, hilarious, and intensely addictive. I’ve found myself listening to the same tracks over and over just to enjoy the simple perfection of Gould’s delivery.
2. Louis CK — Oh My God
It appears that Louis CK just cannot be stopped. His show Louie is the most unique thing on TV, his decision to sell his work directly has caused many to rethink the iTunes/Amazon system, and his annual stand up comedy albums are always, always, always funny.
Oh My God is no exception to that rule. More than anything else, this sixth album shows that CK has absolutely perfected his stride and his voice. While this one might lack some of the most memorable hit moments of works like Hilarious or Chewed Up, it’s just plain impossible to find a dull moment. This is because Oh My God works best as the sum of its parts, and should be listened to from beginning to end every single time.
1. Maria Bamford — Ask Me About My New God!
Maria Bamford has always been funny. She’s been known to us for her voices, her silly approach to the world, and her genuinely good-natured sensibility. There were hints that there was something infinitely deeper and darker behind all of her growls and squeaks, but it wasn’t until this year that she made the decision (and I do believe that it was a conscious decision) to let us see the far less safe reaches of her psyche.
That’s not to suggest that the adorably quirky Bammers that we all know and love isn’t present in this album. She is present throughout. It’s just that she’s less shy than before, and ready to talk about the topics of depression, suicide, and lack of faith: topics that are frightening and ever-present in today’s society, but still topics that we would do anything to avoid discussing. There is no preaching to what Maria does in Ask Me About My New God, it is just gentle guidance wrapped in a tortilla of beautiful sweetness.
Perhaps, she suggests, we shouldn’t harass the suicidal with threats of “being so angry” at their having thoughts that they can’t control. Perhaps we should pay attention to the thousands of troops who come home from war and kill themselves. “I thought it must be a joke,” she says through shaking laughter, “Because no one seems to be taking it that seriously.”
And just like that the quirky basketcase becomes a master satirist. It’s okay to be afraid, she says. It’s okay to be uncertain and filled with tears and self-doubt. But we must never be silent about it–and we mustn’t let others feel alone. And we’re allowed to laugh about it as we fight our way out of the cobwebs, because laughing feels good and frightens the spiders.
Simply put: Ask Me About My New God touched me and made me laugh myself silly at the same time. It is my absolute favorite comedy album of 2013, and I sincerely believe that it is worth your time.