Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Comedy Albums! (NSFW alert)

The holiday season begins in a few days, and it’s going to be the same old blur of unnerving family members, unappetizing meals and unwanted gifts … and that’s just Black Friday!  There are a couple more holidays in there someplace, so today we’re going to give you something to share – excerpts from some of our favorite comedy albums of the late 1960s-early 1970s!  Now I can tell you these are fine to share with grandma and the kids, but I would be lying: in fact, these are EXTREMELY not safe for grandma, work or children.  You will be warned again!

In the 1960s, comedians reached their audiences in the night clubs but the bigger names were given recording contracts so they could cut albums of their material.  People like Allen Sherman, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby and even Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen were all committed to vinyl, mostly performing the same stuff they did in stand-up.  But with the onset of freakiness in the mid-60s came new comedians, reflecting counterculture sensibilities and a sense of social outrage against racism, war and modern times.

The Firesign Theatre came out of Los Angeles in 1966, and their comedy was a free-form blend of Lewis Carroll, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett swirled through a prism of LSD and pop culture.  Their primary medium was the long-playing album, where the Firesigns’ could multi-track masterpieces of storytelling and comedy that hold up to repeated listenings.  One of those masterpieces was Everything You Know Is Wrong (1974), a spoof of UFO/aliens mania that swings everything from late-night TV to New Age nudists and even Nazis into its paranoid gunsights.

The Firesign Theatre (Phillip Proctor, Peter Bergman, David Ossman and Philip Austin) are certainly the American answer to Monty Python, but they dwarf their British counterparts in terms of surrealistic, stream-of-consciousness comedy.  Everything You Know Is Wrong is the comedy X-Files of its time: aliens walk among us, Nino Savant sends telepathic messages and daredevil Rebus Cannebus jumps into the sun in the center of the earth.  We piece the story together as channels flip past on the TV, and we catch fragments of a crazed paranoid fringe in between newscasts, ads for car lots and “Bear Whiz Beer.”

MP3: “Happy Hour News”

MP3: “Bear Whiz Beer”

MP3: “Army Training Film”

NOTE: NSFW material after the jump – proceed at your own risk!

Cheech and Chong followed in the Firesigns’ footsteps with albums that resembled drug-addled radio plays, but their act could be more easily translated into live performance.   Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong were the official comedy flag-bearers of the hippie daze, and they became huge stars in the early 1970s with blockbuster albums and movies.  Big Bambu (1972) in its original LP incarnation came complete with rolling papers, perfect to enjoy the Continuing Adventures of Pedro and Man or the game show “Let’s Make A Dope Deal.”

MP3: “Sister Mary Elephant”

MP3: “Let’s Make A Dope Deal”

MP3: “The Bust”

TV viewers knew and loved comedian Redd Foxx as cranky junkman Fred Sanford on “Sanford and Son,” but Foxx came up in the 1950s and 1960s as a stand-up comedian.  Foxx was known for working “blue,” which meant that his act was often raunchy and adults-only.  His albums, mainly strict recordings of his routine, were so-called “party” albums of the day, to be played among hip adults at gatherings long after the kiddies have gone to bed.  Foxx started cutting these albums in the late 1950s and these were released, repackaged and re-released so many times nobody really knows how many he put out in his lifetime.   In 1975 he was a big TV star so he signed with Atlantic Records and released You Gotta Wash Your Ass, which is a pretty good overview of his kind of material.

You can hear how Foxx was not afraid to banter with an audience (which, on this album, is equally unafraid to banter with Foxx) and sling out rude but hilarious observations mainly dealing with sex and race.   Although this stuff is instantly hilarious, Foxx stopped far short of the blistering type of racial humor supplied at the time by Richard Pryor – probably not wanting to jeopardize those lucrative nightclub and Vegas gigs.   Even after “Sanford and Son” left the air, Foxx continued to perform live.  He was working on another TV show, “The Royal Family,” in 1991 when he died of a heart attack.

MP3: “Shit/Hecklers”

MP3: “Women/Muggers/More Hecklers”

YouTube: Redd Foxx in 1980 plugging his album (complete with film frame problems)

George Carlin is perhaps the best loved of the so-called hippie comedians.  He certainly had a long and fruitful career, starting as a rather conventional stand-up performer before he got freaky in the early 1970s.  But he was also influenced by Lenny Bruce, and Carlin developed a more autobiographical style to flesh out his hippy-dippy humor.  While audiences got used to the new longer-haired George Carlin, he came up with the album Class Clown (1972) which is one of his best in a long career.  Most of the album is a loving and accurate picture of growing up in the Catholic church (and Catholic school), and a sly jab at the morals of the time.

Easily the most famous bit on Class Clown, and probably one of the most famous comedy routines of all time, is Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.”  When he performed it onstage, of course, he got arrested – and like his hero Lenny Bruce, Carlin used the bit to call attention to the censorship that he thought threatened our right to free speech.  In fact, Bruce himself had a very similar routine where he listed all of the words he could get arrested for saying onstage; it certainly inspired George Carlin’s later, more famous bit.

Carlin went on to have a very long career, with numerous comedy albums, TV appearances (especially on HBO) and the occasional movie role.  Late in his career Carlin became quite a blistering critic of society and politics, and he was not afraid to ravage anyone he felt was evil or just plain stupid.  And so in 2008, Carlin had a heart attack at age 71 and died.  He was honored roundly in the media, as one of the greatest American comics of all time.

MP3: “I Used To Be Irish Catholic”

MP3: “The Confessional”

MP3: “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television”

But the funniest guy of all – and the No. 1 comic on Comedy Central’s list of greatest stand-up comedians – was Richard Pryor.  Before he became a big movie star, Pryor was a very successful (and quite controversial) stand-up.  So while we went straight to the best effort from George Carlin (No. 2 on that list), let’s go to Pryor’s best as well – Bicentennial Nigger (1976).

Pryor began as a typical comedian, starting in 1963 in New York City clubs.  Pryor’s hero was Bill Cosby, perhaps the pioneering black comedian of the era.  But like George Carlin, Pryor decided to incorporate more social commentary into his act and by 1969 he was living in San Francisco and hanging out with counterculture figures like Ishmael Reed and Huey Newton.  Pryor wrote for TV (“Sanford and Son”) and movies (Blazing Saddles) and even began appearing in movies but he still continued his very lucrative stand-up and recording career.

Bicentennial Nigger is one of Pryor’s best, and it is certainly one of his most influential.  Recorded appropriately in July 1976 (the bicentennial of this country), the album has one hilarious bit after another given a razor’s edge by Pryor’s stinging racially powered rage.  The title track is a brutal bit of social commentary and its last few lines have a power and resonance that are as disturbing as they are unfortunately true.   Pryor got a lot of attention for this album – as well as a 1977 Grammy Award – and he was invited to host an episode of “Saturday Night Live” during its first season.

Pryor also had some real-life scrapes with the law and some harrowing escapades with drugs and crazed wives, all of which he eventually worked into some inspired comedy.  The best example of this is Wanted, from 1978, which is really the soundtrack of the movie Richard Pryor In Concert.   Either (or both) are highly recommended.  Richard Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986 and while his own career went into decline he was roundly honored for his contributions by scores of other comedians.  Finally he died in 2005, of a cardiac arrest – he was 65.

Here are two of my favorite George Carlin and Richard Pryor stories:

– Asked about the rivalry between himself and Richard Pryor, George Carlin once said: “First Richard Pryor had a heart attack … so I had a heart attack.  Then Richard set himself on fire.  I said, fuck that, and I had another heart attack!”

– Early in his career, Eddie Murphy sought the advice of Richard Pryor.  Murphy said he was upset because Bill Cosby had ragged on him over his use of profanity onstage.  Pryor said to Murphy, “listen, you tell that Jello Pop eatin’ motherfucker to go kiss your black ass if he don’t like it.”

MP3: “Acid”

MP3: “Black Hollywood”

MP3: “Bicentennial Nigger”

2 Responses to “Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Comedy Albums! (NSFW alert)”

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  2. Jim Clayton Says:

    I am looking for a comedy album from the 50s or 60s. it was recorded by a popular group of comedians. All that I canrecall about it is that it featured a skit about “Reproduction, or how we came to be.’

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