2016 brought us a lot of bad news and good art, particularly when it comes to comedy. Stand-up albums are my favorite, because on an album, comedians can say things they might have to adjust for certain clubs and cities—and might not be able to say at all on TV. Here’s a super subjective, potentially biased list of my 10 favorite comedy albums of the year, presented in no particular order. Listen to them and pick your favorites for yourself.
W. Kamau Bell
(KILL ROCK STARS)
Why it rules: Semi-Prominent Negro comments on social and political issues in a way that’s at once raw and nuanced. W. Kamau Bell is one of my favorite comedians, and in the wake of such a terrifying, painful year, his work is especially hilarious and important.
Standout bit: “You can tell gentrification is bad now because white people are mad about it. There’s white people in Williamsburg right now like, ‘Hey, I have lived here for two years! Two years, damn it! I remember when that coffee shop was a different coffee shop.’”
Why it rules: Will Miles is like a smart, nice goofball who you want to be friends with, or at least take with you to the bank and grocery store. On Good Year, Miles’ likeable personality shines through in every smart, personable bit.
Standout bit: “My friend was like, ‘Will, you wanna know how I met my wife?’ ‘No I don’t, at all. I never asked you that.’ ‘I met my wife at a church singles night!’ ‘Oh... that’s never going to happen to me.’”
(KILL ROCK STARS)
Why it rules: On this very funny debut, Rhea Butcher paints a hilarious, honest portrait of who she is. Her stand-up is genuine, dry, and deadpan, covering everything from baseball to identity to her childhood. Hopefully this album is the first of many.
Standout bit: “I stayed a vegetarian because I love animals so much. It made me... real sensitive to their plight. I don’t think I saw the beginning of Bambi until two weeks ago. It was hidden from me. I never saw Old Yeller—none of that shit. I started crying in the middle of Roger Rabbit, when Doc Brown dips the shoe into the anti-cartoon chemical. I cried at the death of an article of clothing. That’s how serious of a vegetarian I am.”
Why it rules: I’m consistently impressed with Ahmed Bharoocha’s ability to take any premise and turn it into an intricate joke; he can milk any idea for all possible humor. So it’s no surprise Almond Badoody is whimsical and charming.
Standout bit: “Just the term ‘dolphin-safe tuna’ is like saying ‘whites-safe genocide.’ ‘Oh, there weren’t any precious dolphins in the slaughtering of this tuna, right?’ ‘No, the dolphins are fine. The tuna are dead.’ ‘That’s fine, as long as you didn’t inconvenience any dolphins.’”
(A SPECIAL THING RECORDS)
Why it rules: Baron Vaughn sounds like an effervescent thespian mixed with a super-smart nerd mixed with a magical elf—all in the body and brain of one very funny stand-up. His theatrics have delighted me over the years, and Blaxistential Crisis is a bubbly, creative gem that radiates fun.
Standout bit: “I like the South even in the face of the fact that they have a cute nickname for racism. They all call it ‘humidity,’ because they think it’s heat instead of the warm fog of the souls that have been broken.”
Boyish Girl Interrupted
Why it rules: Tig Notaro is one of the most unique performers of all time. An amazing storyteller of ridiculously funny, thoughtful anecdotes, Notaro’s comedy flows with a relaxed, satirical point of view, inviting the audience into all of the quirky situations of her life. One of my favorite things about Tig is her ability to mine heartbreaking stories for absurdity.
Standout bit: Notaro has too many to choose from, and they’re too lengthy to translate neatly to print. But Google “Tig Notaro Taylor Dayne” if you need an intro.
Loose in Chicago
Why it rules: On his fourth full-length, Kyle Kinane, one of the undisputedly funniest comedians of all time, bestows us with stories and jokes that made me guffaw. Loose in Chicago blends boisterous charm with darkly funny, existential thoughtfulness.
Standout bit: “There’s gonna be a really interesting conversation to be had when there’s a mass shooting of people we can all agree don’t need to be around anymore...‘There’s another mass shooting!’ ‘Oh my god who were the victims?’ ‘Westboro Baptist Church.’ ‘Heh. No. It’s a senseless... hah... Sorry God hates who? I can’t hear them anymore.’”
(KILL ROCK STARS)
Why it rules: Sweet, smart, charming, delightful former Portlander Nathan Brannon is a comedian who kills every time I see him. Combining material about social justice, selfish spiders, and his adorable family, Because isn’t just hilarious, it’s an honest depiction of who Brannon is.
Standout bit: “My wife was like, ‘Some people might feel uncomfortable if they see me breastfeed right here in the coffee shop.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that’s why they were born with motherfuckin’ eyelids.’”
Just Putting It Out There
Why it rules: Aparna Nancherla is one of my favorite comedians and humans. It’s a treat to see longer acts from a comedian who normally performs shorter sets, so I was elated to find out that she was putting out both an album and a Comedy Central half-hour special this year. Just Putting It Out There resonates deeply with the awkward, anxious, depressed-yet-hopeful girl inside of me. It’s personal and dark, and aptly showcases Nancherla’s idiosyncratic talent and voice.
Standout bit: “Don’t you think any pizza can be a personal one if you cry while you eat it? Sorry to go political, but that is how I feel. Also, heads up to my friends: I’ve been calling pizza ‘yoga’ for months now.”
Why it rules: Maria Bamford is not just my all-time favorite comedian—she’s the reason I got into comedy and started taking better care of my mental health. Bamford, like many of the other comics on this list, beautifully transforms depression and anxiety into cathartic, healing humor. All five of her previous albums have been smart and full of feelings. 20% features intricate jokes that make me laugh out loud every single time I hear them.
Standout bit: “I say that I love my nieces and nephews. Is that what I say? Once a year I FedEx them a box of wigs. Does that really make up for the fact that I never make eye contact and I’m not clear on their names? Hey shortstop, where are the taller shadows?”