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 As a historical document of Vietnam-era college life, this is an interesting album, but Capp is not exactly the kind of person one would want to spend much time with.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.