In 1960, Bob Newhart, one of the all-time great stand-up comedians, achieved a feat unmatched by any other comedian.
Newhart’s album, “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart,” was the first comedy album to break into Billboard’s Top 200 list. In the same year, he released “The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back,” which reached No. 1 – the first comedy album to achieve this. In 1961, Newhart won three Grammy awards: Album of the Year and Best Comedy Performance – Spoken Word for “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart” and Best New Artist of the Year.
The first wave
1960 was a watershed year in a watershed decade for comedy albums. Memorable recordings were released by The Smothers Brothers, Jonathan Winters, Nichols and May, Dick Gregory, and many other iconic comedians.
Comedy groups got in on the act, too, literally and figuratively. The Firesign Theatre, National Lampoon, Monty Python, and others made their mark with new comedy fans in the ’60s and ’70s.
The new wave
Developments in technology and a general resurgence in stand-up comedy over the past decade have led to another wave of comedy albums and audio performances, including podcasts and streaming services. SiriusXM features comedy-exclusive channels, including the popular Laugh USA. Performers range from local to global artists.
The low barrier to entry – it’s relatively inexpensive to record and distribute albums and other audio recordings – has given more comedians the opportunity to produce and sell albums. But it still takes talent – you have to bring the funny – to succeed.
From stage to audio recording
How does a comedian know when it’s time to produce an album? Typically, when a comic has enough material to headline a club – 45 minutes to an hour of jokes regularly receiving strong audience reactions – they might think about producing an album.
The downside is that once the album is produced and distributed, many (but not all) comics will have to “retire” some or all of the material. The reason is that once somebody has heard a joke, any future reaction when they hear it again might be muted or non-existent, especially if the album or audio content is popular and has widespread distribution. Surprise is at the core of all comedy; once the surprise is gone, the effectiveness of the joke diminishes.
For comedians, starting over with an entirely new set of material can be daunting. On the other hand, sometimes this challenge provides the push a comedian needs to leave a comfort zone. It forces the comedian to work harder on writing new material and refining the act on stage.
Not from around here
Wendy Maybury, who will be headlining the next YellowBrick Comedy Show at Fat Pants Brewing on Oct. 26, knows a thing or two about producing a comedy album. Wendy’s album, “She’s Not From Around Here,” reached No. 1 on both iTunes and Amazon. She’s in the process of putting together another album now.
Maybury had several strategic goals when producing her first album.
She thought of the album as a great marketing tool for people who are not local or not familiar with her work to hear what her comedy is about. She aimed to retire some material, or as she describes it, “put a chunk of material to bed and move on.” Additionally, she relished the opportunity to share her art in a tangible way.
Deciding on material for a comedy album is an organic process, part logic, part instinct and part artistic savvy.
Regarding the process of selecting material for her albums, Maybury said, “(The first album) was a really good reflection of who I was at the time — and I did put thought into what I was including. With the new album, I am building on what I learned as I decide what the new one will have on it. I have probably another two hours of unrecorded material to choose from, so it’s all about which jokes are written the best — and what fits the album.”
The content for comedy albums is often recorded over multiple shows and nights. This ensures that an off night or an unenthusiastic crowd doesn’t dampen the final product.
“I was extremely lucky to work with Stand Up Records,” Maybury says. “Dan Schlissel is famous for making audio sound incredible, and the sound tech Alec gave me great notes. I recorded four shows over a weekend — there were some material variations from show to show. Most of the end result is from two of the four shows. The first set Alec reminded me to let loose and do more — so that was fantastic advice. I felt more freedom and really stretched the rest of the shows. It was fun.”
Advice for the ambitious
Maybury has advice for newer comics who are considering producing their own album. “Ask yourself if you want to hear your kid play that joke in the car with you on Spotify,” Maybury winks. “Really look at the material. Is it original? Is it well written — do you have all the tags you can think of? Get some feedback from comics you trust.”
She also thinks the venue for the recording is important.
“Make sure you get great audiences,” she said. “Partner with a club that tries to be quiet when serving drinks, etc. And be sure to get great warm-up acts so the audience is ready. Also, consider making at least one track not explicit so it can be played anywhere!”
See Wendy perform in Eden Prairie
Wendy Maybury will be headlining the next comedy show at Fat Pants Brewing on Thursday, Oct. 26, at 7:30 p.m. Other performers include comedians Joe Christianson and Max Chapman. Tickets are available at YellowBrickComedy.com, FatPantsBrewing.com, and on EventBrite.
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in the periodic comedy-focused column, Little Joke on the Prairie, by Eden Prairie resident Pat LaVone. He is a writer, speaker, stand-up comic, and storyteller. Pat began performing stand-up and sketch comedy in the mid-1980s and, after a 30-year hiatus, returned to the stage. He now performs stand-up and storytelling shows, delivers humorous keynote presentations, produces shows for YellowBrick Comedy, and takes the stage at various theaters and clubs throughout Minnesota.
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