#1: Steve Allen- "More Funny Fone Calls", 1963
The internet really is a remarkable invention. I enjoyed the first Steve Allen phone calls album a lot (see my previous blog, "The As part 2", for more details), so I went and bought the second volume on Amazon. Years ago, when I started collecting, I would have had to just keep looking through record bins in whatever stores I happened to be in and hope that somewhere, somehow, someday, I might happen to find it. Now, in 2014, I just typed in "Steve Allen, More Funny Fone Calls" and there it was on my doorstep a week later. Fantastic.
The second album is almost as good as the first one. Adding to the fun are celebrity guests like Jack Lemmon, Jerry Lewis and Shelley Berman. But as fun as the good-natured pranks are, what's most interesting is when they don't quite work. On one call, Steve talks to a woman who is very monosyllabic and barely answers his interrogations, but Steve keeps trying anyway- it doesn't play out too well, but these were the days of LIVE television where you never knew quite what was going to happen. Probably the highlight of the album is Louis Nye calling a woman who's obviously a bit tipsy- he calls her saying his television set is broken and asking her to turn her set on and tell him what she sees, but before you know it, she starts flirting with him and they get into some pretty heavy conversation. Even when Steve jumps in and reveals that the whole thing is a gag, the woman seems oblivious and says she's never heard of Louis Nye or Steve Allen! Other times, the person being called catches on to the joke and hangs up, but it's routines like that one that make it interesting. It's a fun record, I'm glad I went out of my way to buy it.
#2: Orson Bean- "Orson Bean At The Hungry i", 1960:
Orson Bean, who, by the way, is 86 years old today and still living, is perhaps best known today for being on the TV game show "To Tell The Truth." But long before that, he was a rather unusual nightclub comic. He wasn't a vaudevillian like Milton Berle or Danny Kaye, he wasn't really in the new so-called "sick" school of comedy of the late '50s/early '60s era as practiced by Shelley Berman, Lenny Bruce, etc. He was a cheerful, whimsical sort of comic who told meandering "shaggy dog" stories.
He's a good storyteller, often using dialects and character voices, and the humor is as much in the details of the telling as in the silly punchlines. And while the material isn't always laugh-out-loud funny, I love the comedy albums of this era and enjoyed Bean's particular style.
#3: Brendan Behan- "Brendan Behan On Joyce", 1962
I used to be obsessed with James Joyce in high school. I may be in a minority in being able to say I have read both "Ulysses" and "Finnegans Wake", the latter being one of my favorite books, simply because I have such a love for wordplay and the various ways the English language can be used.
My father sells rare books for a living, and he met someone who had a large collection of Joyce memorabilia, some of which he gave to me, including this record, a lecture that the Irish writer Brendan Behan gave to the James Joyce Society in New York City.
However, if you're really looking to know more about what Joyce was like as a person, this may not be the best source. Behan comes across as a typically eccentric Irish writer (and with a name like Gilmore, I would know), and he's entertaining, but his lecture tends to ramble on quite a bit and doesn't give any information that one might use in a biography or essay about Joyce. So it's an interesting item, but not what one hopes it would be.