Monday, April 4, 2011

Rant #476: Comedy Tonight!

I have thousands of records at home ... 45s, LPs, CDs, cassette tapes ... you name it, I have it.

I am pretty proud of my collection. It mainly spans the years 1964-to about 1990 or so, or from when the Beatles took over the world to when CDs finally overtook vinyl as the recording medium of choice. I have recordings prior to 1964 and after 1990, but the majority of what I have spans that period.

I also have compilations that were produced after that period that include music made during my prime period, but generally, most of the stuff I have was made, executed and performed during the 1964-1990 period.

I have a lot of comedy albums in my collection. Comedy albums are sort of a forgotten art form. What these albums were were basically recorded live performances from top, middle and lower-level comedians of the day.

For every Bill Cosby, you had your Joey Forman, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, I really enjoy the comedy albums I have from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, or really the golden age of comedy records.

These LPs basically brought the Las Vegas act right into your living room, and were often played during dinner parties, where men wore suits and ladies wore dresses. As coffee was being served by the hostess, the host would take out his new comedy LP and say he wanted to play it for his guests.

They would gather around the Hi-Fi and listen to--and laugh--along with comics who dressed in tuxedos and often smoked on stage. No bottled water on stage like today!

You have Shelley Berman, Bill Dana, Bob Newhart, Allan Sherman, and of course Bill Cosby, but you also have Don Adams, Marty Allen and Steve Rossi, Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber and Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.

Most of these acts you could find on "The Ed Sullivan Show," and that is probably how I first became familiar with most of these artists.

Comedy albums during this period--certainly up to when acts like George Carlin and Richard Pryor let it all hang out in the early to mid-1970s--were pretty staid, mostly G-rated, but some comedy albums were a bit more risque.

Many of these artists got away with a lot of double entendres because they played the "chitlin circuit," or what was known as the black circuit of theaters, playing to almost 100 percent black audiences.

You had Redd Foxx, Lawanda Page, Nipsey Russell, and a whole load of artists whose LPs you really had to search out way back when. Many of them you had to ask for, and they were kept behind the counter.

Funny, many of these artists crossed into the mainstream as comedy opened up a bit in the mid 1960s and early 1970s.

How different the world is today? Is there a comedian who doesn't spout four letter words as quickly as the ears will allow?

Anyway, I have recently rediscovered my comedy albums after a long hiatus of having them but not listening to them. I am trying to digitize each one, and listening to the likes of the acts I've previously mentioned have been a revelation.

Although a lot of the comedy is topical and for the time, a lot of it is timeless.

I was listening to a Pigmeat Markham album the other day--another chitlin circuit performer who crossed over into the mainstream--and the stuff was kind of risque, but not dirty at all, maybe PG.

But it was funny--really funny.

I have to tell you, the comedians today don't do too much for me. I just don't laugh when every word begins with an F. It's sort of using the lowest common denominator to get the cheapest laugh.

I like laughs that are well crafted, like the stuff from the time period I most prefer.

Sure, a lot of it is corny and dated, but it is funny.

Rather than use the F word like they do today, I like comedy that works around that but gets the maximum bang for the buck.

Anyway, if you have any comedy LPs in your own collection, take them out and listen to them again.

Sure, you'll remember a lot of the stuff, but listen to the craftsmanship at hand.

I am sorry to say you don't hear that today.

And as I listen to my comedy LPs, I find that I kind of miss that era of comedy, miss it a lot.

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