Thursday, June 20

Pryor, Radner shine in Warner Bros. comedy album re-releases


Pryor, Radner shine in Warner Bros. comedy album re-releases

Other releases, however, are not worth the price

By Michael Tatum

Daily Bruin Senior Staff

"Let’s talk dirty to the animals!" coos the woman in her most
Mary Poppinsesque voice. A cheesy, chipper musical arrangement,
framed by a piano straight out of "Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,"
bounces behind her, while a tart xylophone dances between the her
vocal lines. "Fuck you, Mr. Bunny! Eat shit, Mr. Bear!"

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly 15 years since Gilda
Radner first performed her classic "Let’s Talk Dirty To The
Animals." It originally appeared in her Broadway show "Live From
New York," and then later on the 1979 soundtrack album of the same
name.

Through its special reissue label Warner Archives, Warner Bros.
is releasing this record, as well as five other comedy records, in
CD format for the first time. The remaining titles in the series,
which were released last Tuesday, include the Warner or Reprise
debut records from Richard Pryor, Bob Newhart, Steve Martin, Bill
Cosby and Don Rickles.

Reviewing comedy records can be tricky. The mass audience’s
sense of humor has changed in the years since some of these records
first appeared ­ it’s become more sophisticated or more
juvenile, depending on how you look at it. What might have been a
non-stop laugh riot in 1960 may be a snore now.

And often, a performer’s stage show won’t translate well to the
audio medium. That’s certainly the case with Radner’s Live From New
York, which was probably hysterical on Broadway, but on record
lacks the visuals that were probably half of the joke. You don’t
see Emily Litella hunched over reading Tiny Kingdom, or Roseanne
Roseannadanna’s monstrous hair, or the druggy, wacked out facial
expressions of Candy Slice (Radner’s Patti Smith parody), who
collapses at the end of "Gimme Mick." And the audience
participation on Lisa Loopner’s "The Way We Were" just isn’t a
scream in the privacy of your own home.

Steve Martin’s Let’s Get Small, a tremendous commercial success
in 1977 even if the critics mostly despised it, fails for slightly
different reasons. Given Martin’s relatively sober film
performances as of late, it might surprise young people to learn
that he got his start as a intensely manic and outlandishly bizarre
stand-up comedian.

The catch is, Martin’s record just isn’t funny. It’s hard to
believe that it would hold any appeal for anyone who wasn’t drunk
to the point of incomprehensibility, watching Martin perform live.
Much of it sounds improvised, but not in the Robin Williams way,
where something of substance usually results; it’s more in the vein
of Howie Mandel, who surely must have been influenced by Martin’s
approach.

Too much time elapses between the big laughs, and Martin’s stage
persona is so smug and smarmy, you feel guilty when you actually
guffaw: "You know a lot of people come to me and they say ‘Steve
how can you be so fuckin’ funny?’" Think again.

By contrast, Richard Pryor’s 1975 record … is it something I
said? still remains relevant, not to mention hysterically funny; it
stands as vivid proof of why Pryor was the greatest comedian of the
1970s.

From his cynical observation that the Vietnamese are "the white
people’s new nigger," to the surprisingly self-critical monologue
"When Your Woman Leaves You," this is humor of the first caliber,
probably because its humor is deeper and richer than what normally
passes for stand-up comedy. With any luck, Pryor’s subsequent
records, the brilliant That Nigger’s Crazy and Bicentennial Nigger,
will be forthcoming.

The Button Down Mind Of Bob Newhart (1960) was, until the
Australian band Men At Work came along, the most successful debut
album in history. Like many of his contemporaries, Newhart didn’t
really talk about himself very much, instead structuring his
routines as a series of dramatic monologues, each from the point of
view of a different character.

While the contrived corniness of much of that era’s comedy has
not lasted, Newhart’s humor remains surprisingly sophisticated even
now: Marketing and ad men are villains in no less than half of his
pieces. But Newhart does share one salient similarity with his
early ’60s peers: His monologues aren’t as jam-packed with jokes as
members of the post-Airplane! generation would prefer. So while
this CD may not require or induce multiple listenings, it comes
recommended regardless.

Avoid Bill Cosby’s early ’60s debut, Bill Cosby Is A Very Funny
Fellow ­ Right!, which comes off painfully obvious at its
best, and excruciatingly innocuous at its worst. Granted, black
America needed a nonthreatening face to put them into the world of
mainstream comedy ­ Richard Pryor just wouldn’t have been
popular in 1963 ­ but that only serves to explain why Cosby’s
humor, at this stage anyway, wasn’t durable.

Admittedly, Cosby would later find his great subjects ­
childhood and the family ­ and sharpen his humor (if not his
edge), and would a few years later, release the far funnier, if
equally harmless, records Why Is There Air? and Wonderfullness. No
doubt, these records are forthcoming on the Warner Archives release
list.

And put Don Rickles’ Hello Dummy! (the title says it all) on
your boycott list. It’s repulsive enough that this 30-minute
barrage of hateful, race-baiting tripe first made its appearance
the year Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were
assassinated. It’s no more useful now. This man doesn’t belong in
Vegas; he belongs on a spaceship bound for the Sun.

Although some of these recordings are more than 30 years old,
the sound is surprisingly good, with the usual tape hiss and
"drop-outs" associated with older recordings an occasional,
inevitable annoyance. Though contemporary liner notes putting each
release into a historical and social context would have been
worthwhile, these CDs are at least in packages similar to their
vinyl counterparts, a plus for the audiophile.

In short, an important reissue program. Let’s hope that other
Richard Pryor re-issues are in the works, and that someone at
Mercury/Casablanca gets the hint about Robin Williams.

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