The Funniest Stand-Up Comedy


   

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Jim Gaffigan: Mr Universe posterJim Gaffigan: Mr Universe
      2012 | USA | Laughs: 7.8 | imdb: 7.8
      wikipedia

Stand-up comedians often lose inspiration as their career advances, so it was a great surprise to discover that six years after Beyond the Pale, Jim Gaffigan defied the usual trend by creating a far stronger show. The language was clean, the topics fairly mundane, but I found myself chuckling and laughing more than during some sets by comedians whose work I prefer on artistic (!), intellectual (!!) or ideological (!!!) grounds. Jim's shows might seem like fast-food (a topic he covers in this set)—they are enjoyable yet not very nourishing… but there is no guilt afterwards. So treat yourself to Mr Universe without giving it a second thought. (Last viewed: December 2013)

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Bill Bailey: Tinselworm posterBill Bailey: Tinselworm
      2008 | U.K. | Laughs: 7.0 | imdb: 7.3
      

This is my least favorite Bill Bailey show so far, though Bill's standards are so high that the set is still very good in the context of contemporary stand-up comedy. In the first place, doing a good stand-up show at Wembley must be a challenge. The venue is so large and impersonal that comedians must find it hard to "feel" the audience. I've seen a few stand-up shows shot there: none were excellent.

If you haven't seen much of Bill Bailey yet, I suggest you start with one of his earlier shows, which were filmed in more intimate settings.

A good portion of the material in Tinselworm was recycled; another portion was new but not quite as crisp as usual. Yet there were some very funny bits, and bits of Bill's trademark dazzling brilliance that I just love regardless of whether I find them comical.

I was impressed by a segment where Bill tackles the idea that our beings are all made of different fragments—perhaps a psychologist would call that some kind of Gestalt line of thinking. What impressed me was that I'd never seen that idea pursued so aggressively or successfully in popular culture. That alone earns a "hats off" for Bill: he doesn't treat his audience as a pack of morons.

Despite the show's real shortcomings, there is a lot to like, and true fans won't want to miss out on the good bits. (Last viewed: December 2013)

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George Carlin: Jammin' in New York DVDGeorge Carlin: Jammin' in New York
      1992 | USA | Laughs: 6.0 | imdb: 8.8
      wikipedia

Although it is not one of the funniest, this is one of Carlin's very best shows. In some sets, the material feels a bit used and tired. Not in this one. Masterfully, George weaves his comical critique of assorted topics offering windows into human stupidity, topics such as American foreign policy, superfluous words, safety instructions in airplanes, golf, and the planet. By watching this set two or three times, a young mind could improve her thinking far more than by reading the New York Times for a year. A classic for the ages. (Last viewed: October 2013)

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Eddie Griffin: Voodoo Child DVDEddie Griffin: Voodoo Child
      1997 | USA | Laughs: 2.0 (Don't Bother) | imdb: 7.9
      

This show was my introduction to Eddie Griffin. I found him fairly likeable but not very funny. The strongest aspects were Eddie's ability to switch voices and a cute story about attending school as a stoned teenager. The show started not funny, shifted into the appallingly vulgar after thirty minutes, and ended with a long bit where Eddie rides the wave of a just-average Michael Jackson impersonation—ripping off Michael's genuine talent while deriding him, if you ask me. I won't be seeking out more of Eddie's material, but the audience was wildly enthusiastic, so his humor might just be your thing. (Last viewed: October 2013)

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Dara O'Briain Talks Funny: Live in London posterDara O'Briain Talks Funny: Live in London
      2008 | U.K. | Laughs: 7.1 (Laugh and Smile) | imdb: 7.9
      

This show is not in the same league as the hilarious Live at the Theatre Royal from two years earlier, but it is still funny. At the beginning, Dara takes some time to explain the format of what's about to follow—a bit like presenting a user's manual to the show. When presenting complex data, the famous three-step formula is "tell them what you're about to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them". In comedy, there's no need for this, and it makes for a weak opening. In this recording, the way in which Dara weaves audience interaction with rehearsed material also feels less fluid than in Theatre Royal. But Dara set high standards in that earlier show, and Dara Talks Funny is still well worth a watch, as it easily outshines the gutter comedy that seems to dominate the field these days. Our favorite part was Dara's repeated friendly jabs at a teen who aspires to become an electrician but hasn't yet learned the basics of the trade. (Last viewed: October 2013)

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Bill Bailey: Bewilderness posterBill Bailey: Bewilderness
      2004 | U.K. | Laughs: 5.0 (Watch Once) | imdb: 8.1
      

This show could have been subtitled "a relaxed evening with comedian Bill Bailey, who has recorded some of the funniest performances in stand-up history". It was indeed a pleasant evening, and there were laughs, but it was not the high-octane mixture of Part Troll or Cosmic Jam. Throughout the show, Bill referred to the aloofness of his Welsh audience, and one can wonder whether that aloofness rubbed off on Bill—but surely that wouldn't have influenced the material itself. We were glad to watch this show but probably won't watch it again. (Last viewed: October 2013)

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Michael McIntyre: Hello Wembley! DVDMichael McIntyre: Hello Wembley!
      2009 | U.K. | Laughs: 4.0 | imdb: 7.4
      

My review for this set is essentially the same as for his earlier Live and Laughing. In short, Michael gets top grades for energy, but his humor is not my thing—nothing personal, we're all different. This time, even though the beginning of the show gave me some good chuckles, I soon became bored and had to turn it off around the thirty-minute mark. (Last viewed: October 2013)

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Dave Chappelle: Killin' Them Softly DVDDave Chappelle: Killin' Them Softly
      2000 | USA | Laughs: 7.8 | imdb: 8.8
      

Unlike his later awful show entitled For What It's Worth, this is a fine set where Dave showcases his keen intelligence (rather than the far more widespread ability to name reproductive organs) and puts it to the service of making us laugh. To great effect, Dave alternates seamlessly between a casual "black" voice and a straight "white" voice, leaving you to wonder how he sounds when he is just himself. Topics include discovering how leniently police handle a white friend of his driving intoxicated, assessing a politician's character, and differences in male-female approaches to storytelling. (Last viewed: October 2013)

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Dara O'Briain: Live at the Theatre Royal posterDara O'Briain: Live at the Theatre Royal
      2006 | U.K. | Laughs: 8.6 | imdb: 8.0
      

This show was my introduction to Dara O'Briain. He made us laugh harder than we had in a while, so he entered this list with a bang. Dara has a beautiful Irish accent that is not too hard to understand. Unlike comedians who try to make you think at the same time they make you laugh, he uses everyday material, but it's very effective, probably because of the amount of audience interaction. Indeed, the back-and-forth with a handful of spectators is very much part of the show, and it is very funny. It also gives the show a very pleasant improvised feel. What with his fast delivery, his capacity to improvise and his ability to remember details about the spectators he picks on during the show, it's obvious that Dara is extremely bright—in the first place, to be a great stand-up you have to be at least very bright. When I read that he has a university degree in math and physics, I thought "Ah, that fits". I'm excited to see more of Dara's shows. (Last viewed: October 2013)

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Bill Cosby: 49 DVDBill Cosby: 49
      1987 | USA | Laughs: 6.0 (Watch Once) | imdb: 7.1
      

The main theme for most of this show is aging—what happens to the body, to the mind, and to marriage. As a bonus theme, Bill throws in a segment about joining the navy. It's good because it's Bill, but the two themes are stretched a bit thin over the show's 65 minutes. Worth watching once. (Last viewed: September 2013)

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Dave Attell: Captain Miserable DVDDave Attell: Captain Miserable
      2007 | USA | Laughs: 0.6 (Just Awful) | imdb: 7.0
      

This is a disgusting little man spewing racist and other ignorant or offensive material for the sake of being non-politically correct. There was a crowd of people laughing. Who are these people? Oh, right, that was Washington D.C., the seat of the US government. I held on as long as I could for a change of tack but had to give up after sixteen minutes. This is the kind of show that makes you appreciate even more the craft and genius of true stand-up comics such as Bill Bailey or Eddie Izzard. (Last viewed: September 2013)

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Robert Klein on BroadwayRobert Klein on Broadway
      1986 | USA | Laughs: 4.5 (Light-Hearted) | imdb: 7.5
      

Near the beginning of the show, Klein put his talent for accents to excellent use—I had some good laughs. It probably wasn't the best day for me to watch as I nearly fell asleep a number of times. For my taste, the musical finale is self-indulgent and won't make much sense to people who haven't seen Robert's Can't Stop My Leg in an earlier (and stronger) incarnation, such as at the end of Robert Klein Revisited. Overall, between Klein's talent and his refreshing lack of vulgarity, this show is probably worth watching once. (Last viewed: September 2013)

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Robert Klein: Child of the 50's, Man of the 80'sRobert Klein: Child of the 50's, Man of the 80's
      1984 | USA | Laughs: 6.0 (Watch Once) | imdb: 6.8
      

Robert Klein seems to be a member of the illustrious Awful Prologue Association, which also includes George Carlin and Eddie Izzard: before the stand-up set starts, the tape shows a short segment of an unbearable musical number.

This is a very pleasant set, partly because of Robert Klein's charm and talent, partly because it contains very little that could be considered vulgar, and partly because of its genuine 1980s atmosphere. If you expect a relaxing hour rather than intense laughter of the stomach-cramping kind, you'll probably enjoy it. (I did laugh several times.)

The segment on child birth was funny, but it brought home that since those days, comedians have gone deeper into such topics, which, along with other aspects of relationships, used to be a bit taboo. Louis CK comes to mind.

There was a very funny segment about a comedian telling a joke in English but delivering the punchline in Yiddish.

The 1980s hair of the ladies in the audience was something to behold, as was the orchestra that accompanied Robert near the end. Robert could have been a professional singer—he has a superb voice. And though I am usually not a fan of musical comedy, he makes it work, for instance with Can't Stop My Leg, which ends this set as it did his 1977 set, Robert Klein Revisited. (Last viewed: September 2013)

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Robert Klein Revisited DVDRobert Klein Revisited
      1977 | USA | Laughs: 6.0 (Laugh and Smile) | imdb: 7.0
      

It always intrigues me to see how far you can go back in time and still find a stand-up comedy set funny. There is a point at which you no longer relate to the material, the decor looks too odd, even the comedian's voice and intonations sound alien. With poor comedy, the loss of connection happens a lot sooner. For me, this nearly 40-year-old set still has something, but that might be different for someone born in 1998. Klein drops a few names that have long since receded from the limelight, but that doesn't really matter as Klein's material is largely of the general (though probably not universal) kind that can survive several generations. I laughed a few times and thoroughly enjoyed the show. Among other talents, Klein has great control of his voice—he even sings beautifully. That being said, don't expect an intense experience fueled by rapid-fire jokes. This is a show to watch if you're not feeling at your mental prime and are in the mood for something comfortable that is not too challenging. (Last viewed: September 2013)

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Ron White: You Can't Fix Stupid posterRon White: You Can't Fix Stupid
      2006 | USA | Laughs: 0.5 (Just Awful) | imdb: 7.4
      wikipedia

After watching They Call Me Tater Salad, we thought we'd try another of Ron's shows. It wasn't as bad as fingernails on a chalkboard, but it was awful anyhow, and we did have to give up one third into the set. Ron had the demeanor of someone who has had to interrupt his vacation to get to the stage, and who has no shame about how unprepared he is. Much of the routine was dedicated to bodily functions. Ron seemed proud of coming up with the premise that gives the show its title—that the one thing you can't fix about yourself is if you aren't bright. Interesting point, Ron. Now would you please go watch a show by Bill Bailey then let us know again where on that stupid-to-smart spectrum you believe you stand? (Last viewed: September 2013)

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