Comedy albums don’t always get the attention they deserve. They can be overshadowed by their older brother, the fancy shmancy comedy special, which costs more to make than the average comedy record but has that oh-so-appealing visual aspect. And nowadays if comedy fans want to listen to their favorite performers, they often just turn to podcasts, while albums fall by the wayside.
Any casual listener of podcasts knows, though, that they can sometimes be hard to dip in and out of, with too much prior knowledge needed to fully enjoy hosts’ goofs. On the other hand, albums are honed over months and years, as comedians write and rewrite their material over and over again. The meticulous craftsmanship that goes into an hour cannot be underestimated. That’s why we want to highlight some of the funniest records released this year; they’re just as self-contained as specials, but with the perk that you can take them with you wherever you go. Here are the best comedy albums we listened to in 2022, and stay tuned for our upcoming list of the best specials of the year.
12. Annick Adelle: Between Two Worlds
Annick Adelle’s debut comedy album Between Two Worlds lives up to its name, showing the comedian to be adept at navigating the gray, liminal areas of life. Recorded in Fargo, North Dakota, Adelle spends the hour discussing what it’s like to be a rare German comedian (the term could be an oxymoron), feeling 50/50 about gender (Adelle prefers no pronouns, except “your majesty” or, if utterly necessary, she/her), and the pitfalls of the corporate workplace.
Adelle’s jokes are funny, if at times slightly trite—a bit about how men want to fix the problem when women just want them to listen is a little overdone—but where the comic really shines is during audience interactions. Notably, the crowd didn’t realize they were being recorded for the album until the very end, meaning that their chattiness and general gameness for participating are genuine reactions to Adelle’s hilarious performance, rather than put on for the sake of the record. [Full Review]
11. Craig Fay: Performance Review
It’s about time Canadian comic Craig Fay got some recognition on this side of the border. On his sophomore comedy album Performance Review, Fay has the same sort of cynicism and disgruntlement that marked his first record, Helicopter Rich, but his resentments are presented with such cheer and energy that it’s no wonder he’s annoyed people find his anger “calming.”
This hyped-up indignity tends to be the driving force of the album, which was recorded at Toronto’s Comedy Bar this last summer. Fay loves digging into the nitty gritty banalities of the world—office life, landlines, cleaning house—but does so with such fervor that his bits feel fresh. Some of his best material focuses on the unappealing prospect of returning to the office post-lockdown and what an unnatural environment it is. Fay sums it up perfectly when he says, “Offices have culture like the British have food.” [Full Review]
10. Luba Magnus: Baba Luba
Canadian comic Luba Magnus’ debut record, Baba Luba, feels like a harbinger of the twee renaissance, beyond being a solid half hour of comedy in and of itself. She works as an animator, with her art being featured on CBC and Funny Or Die, and at the beginning of February 2022 released her first comedy album on Howl & Roar Records.
Magnus takes to the mic with a nervous enthusiasm that immediately endears her to the audience; the first word out of her mouth is literally “Wowee!” Far from being cloying, though, the comedian makes her set equal parts clever and nonsensical with her creative word play. Magnus explains how deep her love of words runs in the set, throwing it back to her days growing up in the tiny town of Port Colborne, where switching around the letters on signs was one of the few ways to stave off boredom (other than drugs). Her vivid use of imagery also strengthens the album, whether she’s describing how asparagus grows or the intricacies of whale death. Her playful and hilarious use of language keeps listeners on their toes. [Full Review]
9. Steven Rogers: Before He Was Super
Much of Rogers’ material focuses on his anxiety (both generic brand and social), but he refrains from using his own mental health as the butt of all his jokes. While the New York-based comedian has no problem making fun of himself, he also takes aim at society’s treatment of people with anxiety. Even the people who love us can casually dismiss our mental health problems, not because they don’t care about us, but because they simply don’t understand—and don’t understand that they don’t understand. Rogers illustrates this nuanced point well without being too preachy, either. He also provides us with one of the best analogies for a therapist I’ve heard in a long time: “an exterminator for your thoughts.” From now on I’ll be referring to my brain as a roach motel.
In spite of his anxiety, Rogers casually commands the Tropicana Room in Jamestown, New York (where the album was recorded), and wherever you happen to listen. He’s conversational and quick-thinking, the type of person who feels like he was born with a mic in hand. Any hiccups that occur are swiftly integrated into his set. Stumbling over the wording of a therapy bit, a loud motorcycle, and a shouting audience member all become fodder for jokes rather than obstacles for his performance. He’s not afraid to deconstruct a joke in real time, which leads to even bigger laughs. Sometimes his improvised bits prove even funnier than his scripted material. [Full Review]
8. Dakota Ray Hebert: I’ll Give You an Indian Act
Comedian Dakota Ray Hebert is all too aware of Canada’s racist history (and present), but somehow manages to educate listeners, keep us laughing, and avoid being glib on her new comedy album I’ll Give You an Indian Act, out now via Howl & Roar Records.
The Dené performer immediately grabs the listener’s attention with her distinctive and endearing voice. She does some hilarious impressions throughout the record as well, from a Canadian hillbilly to former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to an eager Scott Moe campaigner. In case these names don’t sound familiar—you’re not alone! Those who aren’t up-to-date with their Canadian politics references (myself included) have nothing to fear, though, because Hebert is funny regardless and provides enough context that the listener understands why she’s complaining about former Prime Minister John A. Macdonald (spoiler alert: he was a big ol’ racist). In fact, the whole of I’ll Give You an Indian Act is sure to send you down a Canadian Wikipedia hole. [Full Review]
7. Kristal Adams: Ain’t I a Wombat?
Kristal Adams’ album follows a standard stand-up format, as she uses graceful transitions to hop between various bits and stories. Though these jokes may seem unrelated on the surface, the main through-line of Ain’t I a Wombat? is Black womanhood. Adams speaks to her own experiences wearing her hair naturally, having the only Black American Girl Doll at the time (Addy, who was, predictably, a formerly enslaved girl), and being perplexed by Soul Cycle. The primary motif should come as no surprise considering the album title’s allusion to abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth’s famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” As Adams writes on her Bandcamp page, that well-known phrase and apocryphal title was “added when [Truth’s] speech was reprinted by people who wanted to sell an idea of Sojourner.”
It’s with the continued re-packaging and exploitation of Black women and the desire to tell her own story in mind that Adams decided to self-release Ain’t I a Wombat?. This determination to do things on her own terms is also part of what makes Adams’ bits so hilarious. She’ll have “resting minimum wage face” while working at Starbucks if she wants to, or use an adult diaper to get around the lack of bathrooms for female Uber drivers, or scat along to jazz music to keep her Uber passengers quiet. Who cares what other people think when you can be unadulteratedly funny? [Full Review]
6. Amy Miller: California King
Recorded at the San Francisco Punch Line, California King expands upon Miller’s Comedy Central special Ham Mouth, which is a raucous half hour touching on bathtub masturbation, 40-year-old behavior, and bar bathroom signs. Nearly all of the material she brings over either remains intact or is fleshed out more, usually with some audience participation that keeps the record feeling fresh. Only one joke doesn’t land with the same oomph—a great bit about young white bi women (lol, me) wanting to be considered diversity hires—because of softened phrasing. For the most part, though, California King exceeds the expectations set by Ham Mouth.
Miller’s natural rapport with the audience propels the album forward. Her improvised crowd work is effortlessly woven in with scripted parts of the set, so much so that prewritten bits—including a casual Louis C.K. joke (and a very good one at that) arising from an audience interaction—feel like organic moments, too. Miller also cleverly structures the album by placing her most divisive material near the end of the set, once she’s won over the audience and listeners at home. Even if her more crowd-splitting jokes aren’t your cup of tea, by that point she’s already got you eating out of the palm of her hand. [Full Review]
5. Irene Tu: We’re Done Now
Tu’s wry, casual cadence feels made for the stage. Her delivery is snappy, but never too quickly for listeners to keep up. Between her skillful pacing and self-deprecating anecdotes, Tu comes across as a natural comedian, though from the smoothness of the set you know that she’s practiced like nobody’s business. She’s like an expert dancer who makes all the moves look easy, despite the enormous effort and technique behind every motion.
Tu opens the hour talking about vaccines, which may make some listeners initially dubious. After all, we’ve discussed the pandemic ad nauseam for the last two years non-stop, and it feels like there’s not much more to examine onstage. However, Tu focuses on the social minutiae around which vaccine people chose, and her sardonic observations keep the subject fresh. After all, the pandemic isn’t going anywhere, so we may as well find new ways to laugh about it. For the rest of the record, Tu regularly employs this bait-and-switch when it comes to overly discussed topics, reeling in listeners who want to see how she subverts expectations this time around. [Full Review]
4. Maeve Higgins: A Very Special Woman
On her debut comedy album A Very Special Woman, Maeve Higgins flits from one subject to the next with little or nothing by way of transition (except for the meta moment when she points out how handy “link lines” are). However, that works for her comedy, which is wonderfully scattered and whimsical. One minute she’s imagining her ideal funeral (right before her wedding day, flower girls scattering lily petals, the works), the next she’s telling us how best to make friends.
The dream funeral bit is one of my favorite jokes on the album because a) it plays into the macabre stereotype that Irish people love funerals, and b) it lets Higgins do what she does best: paint an evocative and humorous picture with words. Higgins balances that very millennial line between self-deprecation and notions of grandiosity, much like fellow comic Catherine Cohen, but the Irish performer opts for vivid, detailed mental images instead of Cohen’s cabaret. You can tell Higgins is a wordsmith from the way she mines a bit about her mouth, describing it in a number of funny, creative ways (my favorite being “where the flesh of my face ends”). The millennial relatability factor is not to be underestimated, either. We’re a generation who’ve been trained by social media to care about the image we’re projecting over all else, so it’s both hilarious and biting when Higgins mentions wanting to be perceived as good, or preferring the idea of reading to the actual activity. Higgins captures feelings that are universal, but is also inventive enough to keep these jokes from feeling tired. [Full Review]
3. Kenice Mobley: Follow Up Question
Technically this record doesn’t drop until tomorrow, but we here at Paste are telling you to prepare yourselves for the gift that is Kenice Mobley’s album Follow Up Question, which will be released via Blonde Medicine.
The Brooklyn-based comedian is both a bit of a dork (she somehow made getting high into homework) and unabashedly filthy. Whether she’s talking about how her mom’s figure has “changed the pornography I can watch” or asking the audience about cum in jars, Mobley mines sophomoric comedic veins in hilarious and surprisingly incisive ways. Her debut record is daring, particularly because of just how much she relies on crowd work. Mobley begins by asking the audience if they picked up any pandemic hobbies, riffing on their answers and eventually working her way over to pre-written material. These back-and-forths are a staple of Follow Up Question, and the fact that her improvisations are so consistently funny speaks to Mobley’s quick wit. [Full review to come]
2. Kelly Bachman and Dylan Adler: Rape Victims Are Horny Too
Dylan Adler and Kelly Bachman’s natural chemistry is the lodestar of the album. The comedians came together after both bombing with rape jokes at an open mic night, and so of course they decided to make a whole show about it. Bachman does some side-splittingly silly voices throughout the set, while Adler brings an energy and intensity that ratchet jokes up to the next level.
Not only are their bits fiery and funny, but what I most appreciated about the album is how Adler and Bachman acknowledge the conflicting emotions that arise as you try to process and heal after being assaulted. That path is by no means a straight line; on the way you may encounter intrusive thoughts, unexpected triggers, self-doubt, and more than one person who tries to downplay what happened to you. We so often feel we have to fit into some “perfect victim” narrative, when the truth is none of us will ever be perfect enough for the doubters. Adler and Bachman criticize our ever-pervasive rape culture and, in doing so, provide comfort for other survivors. [Full Review]
1. Jen Kirkman: OK, Gen-X
Jen Kirkman kicks off her new comedy album OK, Gen-X with a period joke that gets derailed halfway through. She uses inclusive language to refer to people who menstruate, and during the bit calls out Dave Chappelle’s transphobia as well as Netflix’s tolerance of his shitty views. As the moment unfolds, she riffs on the audience’s reaction, as well as her own, in a move that shows just what an absolute pro she is. Kirkman is in command of the room for the entirety of the show, her captivating presence extending to wherever fans at home are listening in from. This is a comedian at the top of her game.
Her first five minutes contains another dig at Netflix, taking shot at their willingness to let sexual assaulters go on apology tours via the streaming platform. Kirkman has two Netflix comedy specials to her name, but according to a press release for OK, Gen-X, studio execs claimed that “men in America would not laugh at her jokes.” This album is in some ways a rebuttal, not just because she fits in jokes at Netflix’s expense, but because the best revenge is just how hilarious Kirkman is throughout the record. [Full Review]
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.