Allow me to introduce myself. The name is Johnny Caps. From 2006 to 2013, I wrote for RetroJunk, where I was known for my love of 80s pop culture as well as my interviews with retro personalities. One of the things I often wrote were lists. Sometimes they were top 10s, and other times the lists would be bigger. Unfortunately, a redesign of RetroJunk in 2012 caused the site to lose a lot of readers. As such, midway through 2013, I started looking for a new site to write for, and I landed here. For my first contribution to Bilateral Warp, just as I started off at RetroJunk so many years ago, I wanted start off with a list article, this one being related to comedy albums.
If you’re like me, you need to have something on when you’re sleeping, whether it’s the TV, the light, a CD player (for old-school readers) or an iPod (for new-school readers). I’ve come to find that having something on serves as a way to ease me to sleep sooner than later, and the genre that gets me there the most is comedy. Herewith, I would like to present a list of 10 albums, in more or less chronological order, that have helped me get to sleep. If you can track these down, they might help you, too.
1.) “The Album Of The Soundtrack Of The Trailer Of The Film Of Monty Python And The Holy Grail” by Monty Python’s Flying Circus
The title is a mouthful, but what else could be expected from one of England’s most erudite comedy teams? I’ve been a fan of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” since I was a kid, but it was based on the albums and the movies. This album combines the two and is set up like a radio broadcast of a screening of the movie in England. Along the way, the theater deals with a bomb, and we hear original bits involving people and things like a cuckolded logician (John Cleese) and a recap of an entirely different movie. It’s one of my favorite Monty Python albums.
Most relaxing track: “Introduction Part 2”, where Michael Palin and John Cleese take us on an audio tour of the Silbury Hill theater, mention the notables at the screening, and look back at the movie’s tragic premiere.
2.) “Let’s Get Small” by Steve Martin
Steve Martin released 4 albums during his stand-up comedy days. Of the 4, I think that “Let’s Get Small” is the best. I don’t know how big the Boarding House was, but it sounded like a relatively small place. I think that works well, because unlike “A Wild And Crazy Guy”, Martin doesn’t have a loud audience. Martin may have been a rock star of stand-up comedy, but “Let’s Get Small” could be seen as his folk album, especially with “Grandmother’s Song”, which starts off as a song of good advice, and then becomes nonsensical. Martin has a very soothing voice that rarely gets loud. The only time it gets loud is when it comes to his catchphrase “Well, excuse me!”.
Most relaxing track: “Let’s Get Small”. The title track features not only Martin’s routine about being high while driving, but also a bunch of other jokes and routines in one shot, delivered rapidly yet calmly.
3.) “Eddie Murphy: Delirious/Eddie Murphy: Comedian” by Eddie Murphy
On the other hand, an active audience can also sound soothing, just as one might listen to the sounds of thunderstorms to help them unwind, and the audiences were never more active than they were for Eddie Murphy, who was nearing the end of his time on “Saturday Night Live” and at the beginning of a rollercoaster film career. Performing in Washington D.C to a full-capacity crowd, Murphy is all over the map, talking about everything from the sexual lives of both real and fictional people to reminisces of his childhood to the TV shows he enjoyed watching as a kid. This would end up being an influence on me as a younger writer, although as I look back on it, I was paying attention to the dirty humor and not the intelligence behind it. “Comedian” is the album version of the special “Delirious”…I would recommend trying to find a copy of “Delirious” on iTunes, and then adding it to your iPod.
Most relaxing track: “TV”, which in “Delirious”, not only includes talk of cable television, but a memorable routine about “Star Trek”. Murphy is a Trekkie, as one can tell by his usage of the fight music from “Amok Time” as one of his jokes.
4.) “I Have A Pony” by Steven Wright
For me, it doesn’t get any more calming than Steven Wright. One of his lines on this album is “I’m feeling kind of hyper tonight”, and while you can’t tell it from his monotone, he does deliver one joke after another in rapid succession. Wright creates an image of a world where one can truly expect the unexpected. As you’re drifting off to sleep, that’s exactly the type of thing you want to imagine. Along the way, Wright sings a song about a former girlfriend named Rachel, but even here, he adds jokes as well. Wright followed up this album years later with “I Still Have A Pony”. I haven’t had the chance to listen to it yet, but I plan on buying it soon.
Most relaxing track: This is an album where all the tracks are relaxing, and it’s because of Wright’s voice. I really hope we’ll see more from him soon.
5.) “Playing With Your Head” by George Carlin
I’m not much of a George Carlin fan, mainly because I don’t agree with the nihilistic, angry attitude he had towards the world and everyone in it in the second half of his career. That’s why I labeled “Playing With Your Head” as his last funny CD. For me, it was the last album where Carlin didn’t look at the world and see red in every direction. He stayed mainly in the world of little things, which was what I think he was best at. Maybe I’m naive, or maybe I just have a more light-hearted view of the world, but I think Carlin should’ve stayed with light-hearted material. As I said once for another site,
“if I wanted somebody to tell me that the world was going to Hell, I would watch the news or read the papers.”.
Most relaxing track: “Hello And Goodbye”. Carlin deconstructs the assorted ways we greet and leave each other. I used one of the clean goodbyes as one of my yearbook quotes when I graduated. When I was younger, I like George Carlin’s work more, mainly because I was quite an angry young man.
6.) “The Day The Laughter Died” by Andrew “Dice” Clay
Many people know Andrew “Dice” Clay for his loud and brash Brooklyn Bad Boy persona, but in 1990, he released a 2-disc set that subverted what audiences expected from him. Yes, he still told dirty jokes and made a lot of remarks about sex, race and other topics, but he just improvised the entire thing. The audience didn’t know what they would be getting. They called out for him to do his dirty nursery rhymes, and he delivered some deadpan alternate versions. His “Jack And Jill” had a different ending. They asked him to do his bit on “I Dream Of Jeannie”, and while bringing it up, it was in the context of a bit on “Petticoat Junction”. It all leads up to the last 2 tracks, which finally get the audience laughing hysterically. The first one is called “Hour Back…Get It?”, where he utilizes the words “hour” and “back” for the service of an ongoing joke that doesn’t seem to make sense, but that makes it funnier. That leads to the final track and the most relaxing track.
Most relaxing track: “Something Soft”. The Diceman sings a Christmas song with a sexual bent to it (This was recorded during the Christmas season of 1989), and leaves the audience laughing out loud. Clay has a nice singing voice, as befits a man who started out as a musician before he was a comedian.
7.) “Funk It” by Martin Lawrence
Lawrence is a performer whose comedy has always been tinged with an element of bleakness, at least as displayed in his personal life. Never is that more evident than on his second album, where the second track, “Doin’ Time In Hollywood”, makes mention of the late Robin Harris, who worked with Lawrence several times in movies like “Do The Right Thing” and “House Party” before his untimely death. Along those same lines, the last track is called “Suicide” and the outro to that is Marvin Gaye’s musical editorial “What’s Going On?”. It’s okay, though, because it’s still a funny album, and Lawrence rarely yells, which is good. “Funk It” didn’t sell as well as “Live: Talkin’ Shit!”, but I would recommend tracking it down anyway.
Most relaxing track: “Open With Rev. Ford”, where Lawrence plays a preacher who delivers a series of dick jokes as a sermon. It’s politically incorrect, but for Lawrence it works.
8.) “Your Bedtime Buddy” by Rhonda Shear
We now come to a woman I had the great pleasure of interviewing through e-mail once. Rhonda Shear is well-known nowadays for her clothing line Shear Intimates, but for members of Generation X, she’s well-known for her acting, as well as hosting the USA movie program “Up All Night”. On “Your Bedtime Buddy”, she discusses the movies she’s hosted and occasionally been in, her beauty queen days and posing for Playboy, among other subjects. Shear has a great speaking voice. Born in New Orleans, you can hear that accent occasionally coming through, and it’s very soothing.
Most relaxing track: “Miss Louisiana”, where Shear talks about what it took to compete in the Miss America pageant. Funny jokes are made about her fellow contestants, as well as the book that pageant contestants get on how to present themselves during the show.
9.) “An American Tragedy” by Pretty Paul Parsons
Most of the albums I’ve mentioned have had some degree of filth to them, but the dirtiest would have to be this one by an older comedian. Pretty Paul Parsons identifies himself as a “schizophrneic, dyslexic transsexual with Alzheimer’s Disease”, but that’s just another way of saying he’s a dirty old man…Very dirty. He rarely raises his voice, which means that he sounds calm and in control when he’s talking about behaving out-of-control. If you’re going to listen to this CD, make sure you don’t have any kids around. I could say that about any of these discs, but this is especially vicious.
Most relaxing track: “Mr. Pretty’s Kitchen”, where Mr. Parsons creates a dish with sickening ingredients that would kill you if you ate it. It does sound like nightmare fuel when he lists his ingredients, but as long as you know it’s all an act, it’s okay.
10.) “Skanks For The Memories” by Dave Attell
I bring my list to a close with a performance by Dave Attell. This CD was created at the height of his success with the Comedy Central TV show “Insomniac”. On that show, Attell walked American cities at night, looking for the most unusual aspects of American life that he could, and a lot of that is reflected on this album. Attell talks about his appearance, his friends, his enjoyment of sex, drinking and the quest for fun, amongst other topics. Attell occasionally raises his voice, but only in service of a joke. Other than that, he keeps a calm voice, which is good. As you drift off to sleep, your dreams will be filled with politically incorrect images, and those are often the funniest.
Most relaxing track: “Lonely Bug”, where Attell relates the tale of picking up a screwed-up girl in a bar. How screwed up? Think of some of Generation X’s favorite movies and TV shows, and see if they show up when she speaks.
Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m sleeping, I need to hear a voice or two. Sometimes my own dreams are so screwed up that I need something else in my head to counteract them. On the other hand, sometimes what I’m listening to makes its’ way into my dreams and nightmares. As long as I wake up the following morning, though, I’m okay. I’m sure that there will be mentions of comedy talents I didn’t include, but this list is my own, and I encourage you to come up with your own favorites. Comedy is subjective…What makes me laugh might make you cringe, and vice versa, but that’s what lists are about. I look forward to contributing more in the future.