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Year in ReView: Vanyaland’s 20 favorite comedy albums of 2020

Photo Credit: Marcus Russell Price
 

While stand-up specials generally dominate the art form, there is still something to be said for the “magic” still found within a plain old album. While devoid of any sort of visual element in the moment, some comics were still able paint a verbal picture in a way that helps get the point across clearer, and while yes, some of the albums below do, in fact, air out the audio versions of a visual component, there are a few that don’t, but still bring the boom as if they did. We’re to show you just what we mean. Here are our 20 favorite stand-up albums of 2020.

Ted Alexandro, Cut/Up

Even if you can’t fully relate to his thoughts on becoming a father or getting older, it’s undeniable that Ted Alexandro’s joke-writing chops have only gotten better with age, and are in top form on this album. Covering a myriad of topics spanning from married life and sports, to politics and his less-than-favorable outlook on the state of Alabama, Alexandro goes hard in the paint in all the right moments during this Frankenstein’d slate of material, and we’re here to watch this monster of an album do some hefty comedic damage.

Maria Bamford, Weakness is the Brand

There are so many aspects of Maria Bamford’s approach that make whatever project she’s offering absolute gold. In her latest hour, she exhibits all of those aspects and then some. Once again brandishing her crushingly funny brand of stand-up, character voices, and a familiar willingness to talk about how mental health plays a role in creativity are just a few of the highlights that make this hour worth a spin or three, as she is quick to acknowledge the tremor in her hand during the performance, it makes the set all that much more respectable and worthy of all the praise it has received over the course of the year.

 
 

Lewis Black, Thanks For Risking Your Life

Giving us a glimpse into what the country was feeling back in March, as the album was recorded the night before the official shutdown, Lewis Black does what he does best and gives us a scathing report of a misdirected focus in the United States by dismantling our love of two-day free shipping, dissecting the most important lesson we can learn from the president, and generally carving through the psyche of a nation in the midst of chaos. 

Matt Braunger, Please Hold Me

Always one to willingly paint himself as something of a lovable goofball, Matt Braunger’s most recent batch of material is an absolute winner. Delivering an hour full of observations and stories of married life, his wife’s Patriots fandom and his resulting fascination with Rob Gronkowski, his inability to stay “family friendly” on a Disney set, and texting with his parents, before bringing it home with a dramatic tale of a public city bus ride, Braunger continues his streak of delivering playfully depressing and relatable bangers from the stage.

Shaun Connolly, Hot Dog!

Give it up for the wheel! While you’re at it, give it up for Shaun Connolly too, as he brings a rendition of his long-standing stand-up game show to the masses as the vehicle for his first album. It’s always a treat to hear tales with local ties, and while the very makeup of the game is to keep Connolly on his toes, he navigates the mystery factor quite well with stories of adventure, or more specifically, a messy trip to Worcester’s Greendale Mall, and tales of romance, or rather, the evolution of a less-than-flattering Lulu hashtag. The stories and jokes that Connolly shoots from the hip are naturally what make this album a great time, but add some points for the level of creativity to make it something different and unique.

 
 

Rob Crean, Sadly Sackerton

Depression isn’t a laughing matter, but Rob Crean proves that it can be. Detailing the emotional spiraling that came after a major break-up, Crean’s open and honest divulging of his rock bottom evolves into so much more than just a comedy album. It’s raw, it’s sad and heavy at times, and it even has shred of musical theater in it, but overall, Crean stays true to his usually introspective and oftentimes zany self, and still maintains the ability to keep the suspense thick, even after telling us exactly what he plans to do toward the end of the set until he unleashes an uproarious musical number to close the show.

Dan Cummins, Live in Denver

Representing his only fully clean hour to date, Dan Cummins shows off new material and dusts off some tried and true bits from the past as he dishes on family life, the maniacal genius of his kids, and the realization that he didn’t want to be a counselor, after all, for a few very good reasons. While his usual bitterness and sharp tongue always add to the quality of his material, Cummins proves he doesn’t need to be profane in the slightest to deliver a killer set.

Nore Davis, Live from the Comedy Trap House

Quite possibly the most representative album of the times, Nore Davis’ latest album may have been recorded over Zoom, but the feel of an all-star caliber performance isn’t lost for a second as the New Yorker goes deep on his world during quarantine. Here he balances a realistic viewpoint of the damage done while offering up more than enough belly laugh-enduring jokes to help us all forget about what’s going on outside for a minute.

Rob Delaney, Jackie

Having lived in the UK for a number of years now, Rob Delaney’s deconstruction of cultural and political differences between England and the United States has not only gotten better, but it’s reached a point where it’s still funny and also makes you stop and think about how sad and eye-opening some of those differences really are. While that may not entirely be the full focus of his latest hour, as he delves into stories of fatherhood, developing an unlikely but wholesome bond with a pet bearded dragon, and the time he met Bill Cosby, Delaney’s “everyman” demeanor and willingness to put himself in the hot seat keeps the feeling light, and the titanic comedy energy we’ve come to know and love from his tweets at the forefront.

 
 

Zenobia Del Mar, Reckless With The Truth

It’s brutally honest. It’s vulgar. It’s up front like a thesis. Zenobia Del Mar’s debut album is so “Boston,” and not just because of the references to Revere (or as she sees it, “white Roxbury”) or the hellscape that is the Orange Line. While we all could agree on at least most of these regional observations, what truly makes this album such a Boston album is Del Mar’s inability to give a damn what you might think about her. She’s calling it as she sees it, and it’s refreshingly never-ending in the laugh column.

Alex Edelman, Until Now

There’s no gradual build-up or false start on this album. Alex Edelman hits the gas right out the gate and never lets up, as he dishes on awkward Thanksgiving traditions, the pitfalls of his orthodox judaism, Boston’s “progressive racism,” trying to outsmart a vegan cupcake “brand ambassador,” and his time working on the front lines at KFC. Within those stories, Edelman fills in the cracks with gut-busting details and thoughts, only adding to the sheer comedic weight of the album. Sure, his interaction with Neil Armstrong didn’t go as planned, but if can be so punny, this album in its fullest form is an absolute moonshot.

Melinda Hill, Inappropriate

Oftentimes, the best comedy is the kind that can not only entertain, but also heal. In many ways, that’s what Melinda Hill set out to do with her latest album, as she opens up about past traumas, while also sharing memories of growing up with a bipolar father, nearly dying during a USO tour, and working as a star of a Creed music video. The Adventure Time actor’s latest slate of jokes and stories is a strong comedic force that will have you feeling all the feels at one point or another, and for that reason alone, this album is unbeatable.

Myq Kaplan, A.K.A.

What really makes this album so great? Is it Myq Kaplan’s writing style? Or is it his ability to mesh different topics into somehow making sense in the order that he presents them? Whatever it is, it’s all on display at full power in his latest hour. There are many reasons why it made waves, and from our perspective, one of those many reasons would be Kaplan’s unwavering ability to create a funny, thought-provoking and overall good-natured set of material with a foundation in inclusion and love while not coming across as preachy, but instead curating an incredibly intelligent and well-crafted hour.

 
 

Kyle Kinane, Trampoline in a Ditch

Somewhere between your favorite teacher and a cool uncle who gives you a sip of his beer lies Kyle Kinane, and his most recent hour is just further proof of that. With a heavy focus on getting older, what he can’t do anymore because of it, and his appreciation of bats, Kinane travels to the four corners of consciousness by going down a rabbit hole, per usual, but still finding a way to tie it all together to the point where it’s at least fairly relatable. He may think the fact his name is “Kyle” means he’s on borrowed time, we’re glad he spent some of it giving us this gem.

Andrew Mayer, Having a Nice Time

As the title would suggest, this album is just an all-around good time. No divisive opinions, or anything that can even be remotely construed as mean-spirited. What you hear is why Boston (and a few other cities) love Andrew Mayer so much, with his cheery disposition and all-too-relatable thoughts on handshakes, cats, and wedding planning. If you’re familiar with Mayer’s work, chances are you understand how this album can be so delightful. However, if you aren’t familiar with his material, well, now is as good a time as any to get acquainted.

Eddie Pepitone, For The Masses

Never one to keep his opinions about certain topics to himself, Eddie Pepitone’s latest batch of material is as timely as it is appreciated. The volley between irate and content is the exact type of mood that very well could represent the feeling we’ve all had in 2020, as he covers the spectrum of problems he sees taking root in the world around him. Given his penchant for calling it as he sees it with a cocktail of frustration and unapologetic vigor, one of the more impressive feats of this album is that he doesn’t really lean into the more obvious issues until late in the set. How he holds back that long is a good question, but goddamn it, is it worth it.

Gary Petersen, Yellow Belt Confidence

The thoughts and ideas presented in Gary Petersen’s debut hour are funny enough, especially when he talks about his experiences as a historical tour guide in Boston, or the absolutely nonsensical lesson he received on racism, but the fact that this material was recorded five years ago and still remains relevant and strikingly laugh-packed makes it even better. 

 
 

Brian Posehn, Grandpa Metal

While not a stand-up album, Brian Posehn’s comedic genius shines through on this album as much as his metal fandom does. Whether it’s employing the late great Jil Janus to deliver a scorching vocal performance or Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil to bring the riffage, the metal is top notch. But does it get any better than throwing it down with Exodus guitarist Gary Holt on “Satan’s Kind of a Dick”, having “Weird Al” Yankovic “reject” a request to have one of his parodies parodied, and bringing in Corey Taylor and Steel Panther’s Michael Starr to rip on a cover of “What Does The Fox Say?”

Shayne Smith, Alligator Boys

There are plenty of things that make Shayne Smith’s latest release such a great journey. There are stories about face tattoos, merking a deer with a car and subsequently proclaiming heroism, and even a story about a quintessential Florida moment that includes both a Wendy’s and an alligator. It’s all comedy gold, but what makes this album such a spectacle is the fact that Smith packs what feels like an hour’s worth of comedy power into just 31 minutes, and spares no time in bringing his best stuff. 

Jimmy O. Yang, Good Deal

Sometimes, the most potent type of comedy is the stuff that not only tells a story, but also offer a cultural understanding. With his first hour, that’s what Jimmy O. Yang has done. Dishing on his experiences growing up in Hong Kong and moving to the states, and the adaptations and growing pains that go along learning the ins and outs of a new culture, Yang delivers a wonderfully personal and delightfully hilarious take on capturing his dream of being a stand-up comic.