Saturday, November 8, 2014

Adventures In Recordland, post #19: The Cs, part 1

#1: "The Many Talents Of Archie Campbell", 1968:

Archie Campbell was a comedian and singer on the "Grand Ole Opry" radio show. This album collects some of his best funny stories on one side and songs, mostly serious ones, on the other. The songs are corny and not particularly interesting, but the comedy bits are amusing. Most of them are old classics such as "That's Good, That's Bad" and "Water Closet" (W.C.), and the bit about a newspaper which accidentally mixes up the descriptions of a wedding and a livestock auction goes back at LEAST to turn-of-the-20th-century rural comedian Cal Stewart, but Campbell tells them well.

#2: "Al Capp On Campus", 1969:

Al Capp, as I'm sure my readers know, was a cartoonist famous for the long-running comic strip "Li'l Abner." In later years, he became famous as a controversial public speaker on television and, as this album demonstrates, on college campuses. Many stories confirm that Capp was often a less than exemplary human being, and it shows here. He comes off as boorish, snide, a bit obnoxious, and only occasionally funny. He discusses political issues, sex, and many other things. As a historical document of Vietnam-era college life, this is an interesting album, but Capp is not exactly the kind of person one would want to spend much time with.

#3: George Carlin- "An Evening With Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slaszo", 1975:

I hardly think I need to introduce the late, great George Carlin to anyone. He's always been one of my favorites. This is still relatively early in his career, and much of the album is "observational" humor about everyday things like bodily functions and sports, and of course words and the English language, as well as sex and drugs and a few other things. It's not as impressive as his more substantial and thoughtful work later on, but it's fun.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Adventures In Recordland, Post #18: The Bs 15

I've had a very busy week, so I had to take some time off from going through my records. I finished up the Bs today, though. Let's take a look.

#1/#2: Robert Bryan & Marshall Dodge- "Bert And I... And Other Stories From Down East"/"More Bert And I", 1958/61:

Two albums of New England folk humor. My parents and I go up to Maine every summer and we love it there, so it's nice to have a humorous reminder of our favorite vacation spot. Bryan and Dodge were not exactly comedians- their delivery is very dry and has none of the "performance" aspect of a typical comic- they just tell stories and short jokes. Some are amusing and provide a few chuckles- others apparently are only funny if you're a New Englander. The first record from 1958 was a big hit in its native territory, but it doesn't always travel well.

#3: "Lord Buckley In Concert", 1959:

Richard "Lord" Buckley was an unusual man with an unusual act. The equivalent of what we would today call a performance artist, he delivered fast, rambling monologues on various subjects, combining humor, beat poetry, philosophy and free association in the guise of a character who was part English aristocrat (hence the name) and part jive-talking hipster. He influenced many later performers, one of the more obvious ones being the late Robin Williams who seemed to borrow quite a bit of His Lordship's rhythm.
It's difficult for me to say whether he was really "funny" in the conventional sense or not- he just did what he did, and listening to him is an entertaining and unusual experience. Perhaps the best bit is the closing one, "God's Own Drunk", and it's funny because of his personality and delivery, so any attempt to explain it in text wouldn't do it justice.

#4: Burns & Schreiber- "In One Head And Out The Other", 1965:

Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber were members of the famous Second City improv group who went on to become a successful comedy team in clubs and on television. Their most famous bit, which takes up an entire side of this album, involved Burns playing an obnoxious, pushy, Archie Bunker-type bigoted windbag, with Schreiber as the cab driver taking him to a hotel. Burns rambles on making stupid remarks and Schreiber stoically deflates his pomposity. It's a wonderful piece of character comedy.
The other side of the album is a bit milder, with a long bit about a faith healer, which seems to be an odd choice for an album as some of its humor seems to have been visual. But the cab driver routine is a highlight.

#5: Burns & Schreiber- "The Watergate Comedy Hour", 1973:

After the success of Vaughn Meader's "First Family" album, there were a number of political sketch comedy albums through the '60s and well into the Nixon administration. This one features not only Burns and Schreiber, but a number of other actors, including the great animation voice actor Frank Welker as Richard Nixon and several other characters. Obviously, this album satirizes the Watergate scandal. It's very dated now, but there are some funny moments, although some of it goes over my head since I wasn't around at the time and don't get all the references.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Adventures In Recordland, #17: The Bs, part 14: Lenny Bruce marathon

I normally do three records a day- I was too tired yesterday to bother writing a blog, so now I'll write about all six records I've listened to over the past two days- which is all right since they're all Lenny Bruce.

#1: Lenny Bruce- "I Am Not A Nut, Elect Me", 1959:

This is early Lenny, when he was still doing "bits" instead of free-form ad-libbing the way he did after he was busted. The highlight is undoubtedly his classic "Palladium" routine about a third-rate comic bombing at the London Palladium. It takes up nearly all of side 2 of the album and is a tour-de-force. The rest of the album feels more like filler- most of the bits are either dated or not especially funny, although his bit about being censored on the Steve Allen show is also noteworthy. This would be a minor Lenny album if it weren't for the Palladium bit.

#2: Lenny Bruce- "Interviews Of Our Time", 1958:

This was Lenny's first album, and it's an odd one. Somehow the record company (Fantasy Records) must not have had much faith in him, as he is forced to "share" the album with other material- the "interviews of our time" are Henry Jacobs interviewing Dr. Sholem Stein about calypso music, and jazz musician Shorty Petterstein who really has nothing to say and rambles on about it anyway. These interviews take up nearly half the album, and are so odd that I'm not even sure whether to take them seriously or not.
The rest of the album is Lenny- very early on, doing short bits. And the bits are not even treated very well- some of them are just cut off in the middle without a punchline. What's there is pretty good- the most interesting bit is a slightly Twilight Zone-ish studio-recorded bit, "The March Of High Fidelity", about a hi-fi addict whose head turns into a Victrola. Other than that, this is a curious footnote in Lenny's career. He wasn't happy about having his material used as an afterthought to an otherwise rather pointless album, and as you can see, he asked for his name to be removed from the back cover.

#3:  Lenny Bruce- "The Law, Language And Lenny Bruce", 1974:

This is, obviously, a posthumously-released album, recorded around the same time as the "Berkeley Concert" album in 1965. That was towards the end for Lenny, and it was at this point that he was reading his trial transcripts onstage in a desperate effort to prove that what he was doing was not obscene. So it's not his funniest album, it's more of a rant- and even the parts that are funny duplicates a lot of material from the Berkeley show. It's more of a historical document than a comedy album.

#4: Lenny Bruce- "Lenny Bruce Is Out Again", 1966:


This is probably the best of all the Lenny albums I have. It repeats a lot of material from his other mid-'60s albums, but he's in good form here, it's one of his most enjoyable performances.

#5: Lenny Bruce- "The Sick Humor Of Lenny Bruce", 1959:

 More early Lenny. This was his first full-length album, after "Interviews Of Our Time." They don't call it "sick humor" for nothing- he opens with a bit about a plane crash, and the album also contains a bit about Hitler and a poem about a man who's in love with a horse. Some of it is uncomfortable today, and unfortunately much of the rest of it is dated, but it shows you how daring Lenny was in the beginning and why he stood out as somebody who was different.

#6: Lenny Bruce- "What I Was Arrested For", 1971:

This is a compilation of the bits that got Lenny arrested, as the album title would imply. It's remarkable to think that Lenny got busted for material which any comedian today could use freely. Toilet humor, sex jokes, gay jokes, words like "bullshit" and, in one notorious instance, "cocksucker"- comedians have been using such material for decades now, but in 1961 it was Lenny who got in trouble for it. There are some bits that are funny, but again, this album really is a historical document of a comedy martyr, I can't rate it based on whether it's funny or not.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Adventures In Recordland, post #16: The Bs, part 13

#1: Foster Brooks- "The Lovable Lush" (1973):

Many of you reading this blog probably are old enough to remember Foster Brooks. But if you're not- he specialized in an act which you could probably never do today, but which was a staple of comedy for many years- the "drunk act." He played the part of a man who was a bit loaded but trying to hide it (and not hiding it very well, of course).
He was unusual in that he didn't become famous until he was well over 50. However, his act as recorded on this album is really just typical comedy of its day- he tells the same jokes that any Vegas comic could have told around that time, just with the drunk schtik to give it a bit more punch. There are some laughs, it's not a bad album, but it's a bit dated.

#2: Big Bill Broonzy- "Big Bill's Blues" (1956):

Big Bill Broonzy at the time this album was made was one of the last survivors of the first generation of recorded blues musicians. He passed away just a couple of years after he made this album.
It's not a typical music album in the sense that it's not a polished production- it's more like a jam session, with Big Bill playing what he felt like playing and telling some stories between songs. The informal nature of it makes it fun. If you're a blues fan, I'd recommend this one.

#3: Lenny Bruce- "The Berkeley Concert" (1968):

Lenny Bruce is such a mythic figure in comedy history that I hardly need to introduce him. But I think it's unfair that history seems to have essentially labeled him "the first dirty comic." Yes, he used profanity, but unlike many of today's comics, he used it for a purpose- and definitely unlike today's comedians, in this two-record set which is 80 minutes long, the word "fuck" is only used once.
There was a lot more to him than just using dirty words. He was a satirist and a social commentator, trying to provide some insight into human behavior in this country. His material was, if not always hilarious, at best thought-provoking, something which is definitely missing in comedy today. That was Lenny Bruce.
By the time this posthumously-released album was recorded, he'd been arrested several times, and while he's not yet reading the transcripts of his trial onstage, he does spend a considerable amount of time talking about and analyzing laws and the way they work. He also talks about Lyndon Johnson, Jews and gentiles, men and women, drugs, and many other things. It's not his funniest album, but even when he wasn't being "ha-ha" funny, it's always interesting to me to simply listen to a man with a unique mind exploring ideas. He would get up there and say whatever was on his mind, bluntly and honestly. This was what made him an innovator and one of the most important figures of the late '50s/early '60s comedy revolution- there was so much more to him than just the four-letter words.
I have quite a few of his albums and will be going over them the next few days. Stay tuned for that.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Adventures In Recordland, #15: The Bs, part 12

I tried to do three records today. Turned out one was cracked and I had to do throw it away! So here are the two I got done today.

#1: Oscar Brand- "For Doctors Only", 1960:

Oscar Brand (who, I found out, is still with us and 94 years old at the time of this writing) was a folk singer who released an impressive number of albums in the '60s. This album consists of a whopping 14 songs, all humorous ditties about various aspects of the medical profession. As the title implies, I'm sure it's funnier if you're actually a doctor- not all of the humor is quite knee-slappingly hilarious for a layman like myself. And while some of the tunes are clever and generally enjoyable, a full half-hour of this sort of thing is a bit much. The humor is a bit on the corny and slightly naughty side (a line about a gynecologist "starting from the bottom"- which is used in just one, but two different songs). I find it wears out its welcome after a while- 14 songs concerning one general topic is more than enough- but fortunately the songs are all about 2-3 minutes long, so even the one-joke songs are not completely run into the ground. There are some cute moments.

#2: Fanny Brice- "Baby Snooks And Daddy", 1974:

Coincidentally enough, today is Fanny Brice's birthday. She was one of the great stars of vaudeville for many years, but I find it unfortunate that she's best-known today, if at all, for the child character Baby Snooks which she played on radio for many years.
In small doses, these routines are fine, and a good showcase for Brice's good comic timing, and Hanley Stafford as Daddy was a solid straightman. They can be funny- I got some laughs out of this album- but I was never a big fan of the character. Neither one of them is really likeable or sympathetic- Snooks is a rather obnoxious brat, and Daddy gets easily frustrated with her and yells at her a lot. There's not much more to it than that. Not to mention that most of the routines end with Daddy giving Snooks an abusive smack- certainly something which is uncomfortable to hear today. But it's never been my favorite of the old-time radio shows. I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did.

Adventures In Recordland, post #14: The Bs, part 11

#1: Eric Bogosian- self-titled, 1983:

I'm not that familiar with Mr. Bogosian's work, to be honest. But according to Wikipedia, he's quite an accomplished and talented man- an actor, playwright, novelist, and so on. So I'm sure he must have some talent. But this album, recorded when he was just starting out, doesn't show much of it. As Ronald L. Smith points out in his guide to comedy records, there's a reason he's called a "performance artist" rather than a comedian. This record contains a long series of monologs in which he impersonates various characters who ramble on a bit about nothing particularly amusing- DJs and radio announcers on one side, several other characters (a preacher, a drunk, a hillbilly, a child, etc.) on the other.
I'm really not sure why I bought this album many years ago, and now that I've heard it, I'd be better off getting rid of it. As an actor myself, I admire his versatility in playing all these different character types, but the writing is just bad. There's an occasional funny line, but much of it is just blather, either boring or just downright annoying. It's a waste of time. If this was the beginning of his career, I just hope he's improved since.

#2/3: Victor Borge- "Comedy In Music" and "Caught In The Act", 1954 and 55:

I might as well put these two albums together, since they come from the same source. They're both recordings of Mr. Borge's hugely successful one-man show on Broadway, "Comedy In Music." It was a record-breaker at the time, running for more than two years and well over 800 performances. The format was simple: Victor Borge and his piano, ad-libbing, taking audience requests for songs he could clown around with, doing a few prepared set-pieces, and sometimes playing "straight" piano pieces. These albums demonstrate his talent very well. They're about 50/50, half comedy and half serious music, both of which he does wonderfully.

These are actually the records I did yesterday- I was too busy with other things last night to write about them then. So I've got to catch up and do today's records. I'll be back later.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Adventures In Recordland, Post #13: The Bs, Part 10

#1: The Amherst Saxophone Quartet- "An American Classic- Eubie Blake", 1981:


James Hubert "Eubie" Blake was one of the great ragtime pianists and composers. He lived a long life, 1887 to 1983, and there seems to have been a resurgence of interest in his work in the 1970s and '80s as he became an elder statesman of American popular music. This album consists of the Amherst Saxophone Quartet playing a wide selection of Blake's work- not only some of his classic rags, but semiclassical pieces, and songs from his Broadway shows (the most famous of which is the perennial vaudevillian tune "I'm Just Wild About Harry"). Personally I prefer the classic sound of ragtime played on piano, but the quartet has an amusing style that's fun to listen to.

#2: Eubie Blake- "Live Concert", 1974:

This is the man himself- Eubie Blake at 87 years old, still full of life and energy and good humor. It was the first, perhaps only, live concert album he ever made, and it's a delight. He only plays a handful of pieces, but does quite a bit of banter and storytelling between numbers which is equally entertaining.

#3: Bob and Ray- "Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife", 1976:

If you're reading this, it must be because you're a friend of mine. And if you're a friend of mine, you're probably the kind of person who already knows Bob and Ray and has been a fan of theirs for years. But just in case you're not...
Bob Elliott (still living as of this writing) and Ray Goulding (deceased) were satirical comedians on radio, and occasionally stage and television for more than 35 years. They specialized in somewhat understated, deadpan humor- they were perhaps not traditional "comedians" in the sense that they were not broad or zany, not always going for the biggest laughs, but their subtle absurdist wit has gained many devoted followers over the years, myself included.
One of the regular features of their shows over the years were parodies of golden-age radio soap operas. There used to be a soap called "Backstage Wife" about a character named Mary Noble- Bob and Ray switched it around and did sketches about "Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife." This album collects a bunch of those sketches. I think they exemplify the genius of Bob and Ray's humor very well. If one were to record an average conversation among human beings and transcribe it literally, one would find everyday speech filled with oddly humorous things that don't make sense. Bob and Ray are brilliant at taking the inanities of normal speech and behavior and exaggerating it just enough to accentuate the absurdity and make it funny. And decades before Seinfeld, Bob and Ray were experts at presenting sketches in which nothing really happens. Characters discuss a situation, mull it over, try to solve its problems, maybe express mild concern, but don't really accomplish very much. Which is particularly funny considering this is supposedly a dramatic soap opera.
So I got a lot of laughs out of this album, and I think I should definitely add more Bob and Ray to my collection.