From Newhart to Rock: These guys made us laugh

August 28, 2005|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

The golden era of comedy albums -- the late 1950s and 1960s -- began with comics such as Shelly Berman and Lenny Bruce. The classic "2000-Year-Old Man" routine from Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks made its debut on vinyl in 1960, as did recordings from the comedy team of Elaine May and Mike Nichols. Bob Newhart had back-to-back No. 1 comedy albums in the early 1960s, but it was a presidential impersonator who set a sales record.

The First Family (1962) featured the late Vaughn Meader's indelible impersonation of President Kennedy. The album sold 7 million copies -- 2.5 million in its first month. The rest of the 1960s was owned by a stand-up comic out of Philadelphia named Bill Cosby, who won five consecutive Grammys.

Over the next four decades, people bought records from Jonathan Winters, Jackie "Moms" Mabley, Redd Foxx, the Smothers Brothers ("Mom always liked you best!"), Phyllis Diller, Cheech and Chong and Lily Tomlin (This Is a Recording reached No. 15 in 1971). Then came Flip Wilson, Sam Kinison, Rodney Dangerfield, Andrew "Dice" Clay, Eddie Murphy and, more recently, Larry the Cable Guy and Dane Cook.

A list of the top 10 comedy albums begs to be named. (Or we could just mention Richard Pryor, but then we wouldn't have a list, would we?) In chronological order (and all available re-released on CD or DVD):

The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart (Bob Newhart, 1960): First comedy album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200, followed the next year by the Grammy-winning The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back! Choice bits: "Driving Instructor," "The Submarine Commander," "Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue."

Woody Allen: Standup Comic (Woody Allen, 1964-1968): People have memorized his routines from this compilation of his nightclub years. Woody's highest Billboard rank: 63. Choice bits: "Moose," "Oral Contraception."

Wonderfulness (Bill Cosby, 1966): How many times did your father play this or any Cosby album when you were growing up? Suburban America was now listening to a black comic. Choice bits: "Tonsils," "Go Carts," "Chickenheart."

FM & AM (George Carlin, 1971): Carlin, seven dirty words and all, won the Grammy in 1972 for Best Comedy Recording. Billboard rank: 13. Choice bits: "The 11 O'Clock News," "Son of Wino," "Sex in Commercials."

A Wild and Crazy Guy (Steve Martin, 1978): Spent six weeks at No. 2 on the charts, earned Martin his second Grammy (first was for Let's Get Small). Choice bits: "King Tut," "Cat Handcuffs.

Wanted: Richard Pryor Live and In Concert (Richard Pryor, 1979): This King of Comedy never cracked Billboard's Top Ten. He did ours. Choice bits: Entire album.

I Have a Pony (Steven Wright, 1985): Brilliant, monosyllabic, odd. "I have a large seashell collection, which I keep scattered on beaches around the world. Maybe you've seen it." Choice bits: "Ants," "Jiggs Casey."

A Night at the Met (Robin Williams, 1986): After Mork & Mindy and before Patch Adams, Williams emerged as a groundbreaking dervish of a comic. Buckle up. Choice bits: "Cocaine," "Reagan."

You Might Be a Redneck If ... (Jeff Foxworthy, 1993): Debut blue-collar humor record went triple-platinum and is the best-selling comedy album. He's still working it on the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour." Choice bits: "Words in the South," "Life as a Father."

Roll with the New (Chris Rock, 1997): A changing of the Humor Guard. Rock won Grammy for Best Comedy album. Choice bits: "Marion Barry / Million Man March," "Tossed Salad."

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