Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Five Favorite Comedy Concerts

Last night, Melissa and I went back and (like probably many thousands of people) watched again Robin Williams's classic comedy concert, "A Night at the Met" (watch parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 right here). It just cracked us up, as well as making us nostalgic--Melissa hadn't remembered where the London cop joke ("Stop! Or I'll say 'stop' again!") had come from, and I was delighted to be reminded of the similarity between Caspar Weinberger and Bela Lugosi. Everyone admits--as I said in my post yesterday--that Williams at his best had something on stage, doing stand-up comedy, that was only rarely realized through all his other acting roles. I think that's true of many other performers as well--whether they succeeded or not in finding a way to turn their comedy into something that worked in other media (as an actor, a talking head, or whatever), their live, on-stage shows are where their brilliance is most easily viewed.

So, with that, because everyone loves lists, five comedy concerts that I truly love. (This was a hard choice, actually. Besides "Night at the Met," there's so much good stuff from Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, Steven Wright, and many more. On a different day, I might choose other concerts. But for today, I'll stand by these.)

Steve Martin, "Live at the Universal Amphitheater" (1979): Only available on a rare video put out in 1984--or, fortunately, on YouTube. Martin's full, mature, final stand-up set, before he gave up live comedy entirely. (Watch both parts, and forgive the occasional lapses in transfer quality.)

Bill Cosby, "Himself" (1983): Stop lying to yourself. You had this album, or your parents did (probably on tape cassette), and you listened to it in the car, and it made you laugh like crazy. The bits about talking to the toilet bowl still do, today.

Eddie Izzard, "Dressed to Kill" (1998): I show the bit about the Church of England in my classes occasionally. It works.

Robin Williams, "Live on Broadway" (2002): I actually think this show, his big return to stand-up after having taken a break from it some 15 years earlier, is even better than "A Night at the Met." He seemed more in control of his demons, more able to use his desperation, somehow. And besides, it has the bit on golf, which ought to go down somewhere as one of the funniest five minutes in all human history.

Ellen DeGeneres, "Here and Now" (2003): Ellen DeGeneres isn't everyone's cup of tea--not dangerous enough, too bourgeois!--but I remember watching this show with Melissa, and we marveled at just how smart it was. Everyone on this list was, in their day, capable of writing really smart jokes, but here her entire set of Seinfeld-ish observational comedy is revealed at the end as a set-up for a final punch line, and that's just brilliant.


alkali said...

I slightly prefer RW's A Night At The Met and EDG's The Beginning, but this is a good list.

I think Pryor is the superior stand up but I don't think he has a single concert as good as these.

Russell Arben Fox said...

When you're dealing with a stand-up comedian as talented as Williams, it's hard to compare. There are bits of "Night at the Met" when just left me reeling with laughter when I was reminded of them, so my choice of "Live on Broadway" is just a toss-up, really. Except for the bit on golf. I really am not sure I can recall more than a handful of comic bits equally hilarious as that, from any source.

Good call on Pryor, too. I went back on rewatched some of his stuff, and there are so many good moments. And yet, as a whole, his performances just kind of tired me after a while. Pryor was much more than just a "shock" comedian, but a lot of his comedy seemed to ultimately depended upon racial or sexual shock, and a little of that goes a long way.