#1: Herschel Bernardi- "An Evening With Herschel Bernardi (Chocolate-Covered Matzohs)", 1960:
Herschel Bernardi, a Jewish actor, singer and comedian, spends this album doing humorous monologs about Jewish assimilation and family life, and singing Yiddish folk songs. It's a delightful, funny, nostalgic album for those of us with Jewish roots. The monologs are very entertaining, and the songs are wistful and delightful. I have several records of Jewish humor- similar performers like Sam Levenson and Myron Cohen come to mind- but Bernardi's is one of the most enjoyable.
#2: "Beyond The Fringe", 1962:
"Beyond The Fringe" was a satirical revue featuring four very talented English university students: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore (may they rest in peace), Dr. Jonathan Miller (still living) and Alan Bennett (also still living). It was a big hit in England- John Cleese recalls it being the funniest show he ever saw, and a major inspiration to Monty Python several years later- and equally successful when it crossed the Atlantic and played on Broadway.
Unfortunately, I think this album fails to capture the magic of what was a very important show in its day. Highlights include Cook's classic monolog "Sitting On The Bench" about a coal miner who laments that he never became a judge, the closing "End Of The World" sketch, and Dr. Miller's "Portrait From Memory", a satire on philosopher Bertrand Russell. But much of the rest of it just comes across as dated and not especially funny now, at least to my ears- and in the case of Dudley Moore's piano solos, I'm sure they were much funnier when you could see the visuals. So while I love British comedy and I respect "Beyond The Fringe"'s place in its history- not to mention I think Peter Cook was one of the great comic geniuses- it just doesn't hold up on disc. Of course, the album only contains about 40 minutes of what I assume was about a two-hour show- it seems the editor just made some bad choices.
#3: "The Bickersons", 1962:
"The Bickersons" was a radio sitcom that lasted for a few years in the late '40s, starring Don Ameche and Frances Langford as John and Blanche Bickerson. Long before the Bundys, the Ropers, even the Kramdens, the Bickersons were the original married couple who insulted each other and fought over.. just about anything. Writer Phil Rapp created it as an antidote to all the squeaky-clean happily-married couples one heard on the radio at the time- and while I like a bit of cynicism in my humor as much as anyone else, the Bickersons can get tiresome after a while. Ameche and Langford were very good actors and they work well together, and the gags and one-liners can be funny- they're not only cynical, but often vaudevillian, which I also like- but the constant yelling can get unpleasant and tedious. There are funny moments, but I'd say this is a pretty good album, not a great one.