1. Louis CK, Chewed Up CD/DVD. Having currently amassed three hours in three years, the workhorse behind the dearly departed Lucky Louie delivers a set exploding with self-loathing diatribes. Remarkably, CK is only getting sharper with time, his befuddled reactions both highly personal and widely relatable. This Showtime special is not only the best of the year, but among the best in recent memory, period.
2. Mitch Hedberg, Do You Believe in Gosh? CD. It’s not polished, and that’s precisely the point. What the disc is is a loving posthumous tribute to the stoner-absurdist who influenced both peers and a generation of acolytes, and a remarkably funny 40 minutes to boot. Taped two months before Hedberg’s 2005 death but never intended for release, Gosh contains crowd work, misfires, jokes-in-progress, throwaway lines and top-tier material that would have comprised his third effort. A rare occasion when tears of laughter and sorrow intermingle freely.
3. Neil Hamburger, Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners CD. The appeal of America’s Funnyman, an insanely prolific (a dozen-plus releases in as many years) Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Tom Green Show and Tim and Eric vet, lies in being so bad that he’s good. But instead of questionable timing, strained premises and abundant phlegm, Winners, as the title implies, consists of alter-ego Gregg Turkington crooning seven originals and three covers (including John Entwistle’s “Thinkin’ It Over”) of uniquely nasal, off-pitch honkey-tonkery. There are ditties both witty and sad (and again, so sad they’re good), most notably the in-joke lament “Garden Party II,” which details the sometime-actor’s experiences opening for Tenacious D’s In the Pick of Destiny tour. Though “Please Ask That Clown to Stop Crying” takes the prize for best title, the enraged “The Recycle Bin,” with its screed against improperly disposing old underwear, chicken bones, a still-born kitten and that darkness that invades our thoughts, is easily the funniest track. Drag City Records having pulled the experiment off so successfully, Hamburger’s future meta-comedy possibilities are essentially endless.
4. Robert Kelly, Just the Tip CD. It took Tourgasm for the rest of the world to catch up, but the lovably self-flagellating Kelly has long been one of the most stealthily commanding, dynamic presences on the stand-up scene. And though the bonus DVD—an album making-of documentary—is a terrible idea on paper, he pulls it off with aplomb. Consider Just the tip, as it were, of Kelly’s creative potential.
5. George Carlin, It’s Bad for Ya CD/DVD. The legendary linguist’s 14th HBO special aired live in March, three months before his death at 71. Though his thoughts touched on death, they were as irreverent as ever: “Here’s another thing we say to the surviving spouse: ‘I’m keeping him in my thoughts.’ Where? Where exactly in your thoughts does he fit? In between ‘My ass hurts in this chair,’ and ‘Let’s fuck the waitress’?”
6. Todd Barry, From Heaven CD. He talks about the other performers, riffs on the venue (a Chinese restaurant) and equates a visit to the zoo to a show on which he’s the opening act. Great stuff on its own, but his third disk is also packed with Barry’s offbeat, zero-energy spin on the most mundane of miscellany. Measured, self-aware meanderings so wrong never sounded so very, very right.
7. Mike Birbiglia, What I Should Have Said Was Nothing: Tales From My Secret Public Journal DVD. It’s heavy on best-ofs from previous releases, but Nothing marks the moment that Birbigs went from awkward joke-slinger to infinitely likable storyteller. The as-yet-evolving gestures can be a bit overwhelming, but all the Bush-blunder, baseball-belittlings and Joe Bags diehards (and they are legion) have come to know and love are as prevalent and quotable as ever.
8. Brian Regan, The Epitome of Hyperbole DVD. If you saw him on the street, you’d want to punch his yammering, slack-jawed face. Yet somehow that squeaky-clean mouth and bubbling-over brain transform everyday life into high-volume histrionics. Though the Comedy Central golden boy’s all over the stage and his third DVD over the map, his transitions are as seamless as his observations are ludicrously original and eternally quotable.
9. Katt Williams, It’s Pimpin’ Pimpin’ CD/DCD. Long known as Richard Pryor’s heir apparent, Williams inverts the trend of rap albums including comedic interludes with not only clever social commentary and topical blustering, but appearances by Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, Nelly and more. Not as tight as previous efforts, but characteristically, er, characteristic nonetheless.
10. Lewis Black, Anticipation CD. The Daily Show blowhard’s sixth album (and follow-up to 2006’s Grammy-winning The Carnegie Hall Performance) receives a similar nod for its über-agitated rants against sex, golf, gambling and the holidays, all bound by the deceptive nature of the titular mindset. Kudos for the apoplectic political/social critic (and Comedy Central Records) for continuing their association with long-time producing/engineering cohorts John Machnik and Dan Schlissel of Stand Up! Records.