#1: Shelley Berman- "New Sides" (1963):
This was Berman's last standup album before an incident that showed him in a bad light caused his career to go downhill. (Some documentary footage was taken out of context to make him appear more temperamental than he really is, which gave him a bad reputation as a result.) It's not a bad ending. I don't feel it's as strong as some of his previous albums, but there are some very good bits. Probably my two favorites are "The Complete Neuroses" about a psychiatric patient whose amnesia is triggered by the word "porcupine", and "Lost Dog" about a man calling a little boy who has accidentally stolen the man's dog. It's pretty solid stuff, but doesn't quite reach the heights of his previous work.
#2: Shelley Berman- "Outside Shelley Berman" (1959):
This is one of the classics. After a few opening remarks, Shelley goes into one of his phone routines (in my opinion one of his funniest), "Franz Kafka At The Telephone." It sounds like most of the audience had never heard of Kafka- certainly I hadn't when I first heard this album at age 10- but the Kafkaesque frustration of trying to get a phone number in the days of operators and pay phones is certainly understandable, and rendered very funny by Mr. Berman's writing and witty performance. The highlight, which takes up nearly the entirety of side 2, is perhaps one of his most famous bits- "Father And Son", a monolog dramatizes, from his father's point of view, young Berman's attempt to convince his father to give him a hundred dollars to go to acting school in New York. It's not so much a comedy monolog as an acting piece, exploring the personality of a character in a very human situation. It's funny, well-acted, and ultimately poignant. It's one of Berman's masterpieces. In fact, there's a YouTube video of him performing it just a year or two ago, and even after 55 years, it was extraordinary to see an old master still giving a beautiful performance of something I grew up listening to. He then closes the album with a few minutes of audience-participation improv in a game of "PTA"- Berman plays a child psychologist and the audience asks him questions. It's a quick, fun closer to a great album.
#3: Shelley Berman- "A Personal Appearance" (1961):
I'm glad this one happened to come last alphabetically. This is Berman on all cylinders- it's a passionate, delirious, brilliant performance. There are some phone-call bits just to please the crowd- and they're very good- but the highlights are when Berman just talks to the audience, in "confessional" mode- and muses on black specks in glasses to milk, dentists, folk singing, television advertising, and other things. As a comedian, he's very funny, and as an actor, he's more energetic and extraordinary than ever before. I don't think my words can describe the experience of listening to such a great show- go out and buy it yourself and I'm sure you'll see what I mean.