Local comedy is more vibrant than ever, with new rooms, unexplored concepts and fresh talent emerging continually.
Though consuming the full scope of the scene's annual output remains a challenge for even hardcore fans, Los Angeles's top stand-up-centric CDs, DVDs, books and films of the year provide a helpful jumping-off point.
10. John Roy, Alexander Hamilton (ASpecialThing)
The Chicago transplant jests because he cares. While his album's targets include local crazies, actors, hipsters, The Grove, Downtown ("The perfect mixture of things that are kinda getting better, and things that are still pretty awful: 'Hey they've got a Whole Foods! Hey, that guy's dead!'") and West Hollywood ("I always wanted to live in a lunatic asylum in the gay part of Moscow!"), his most stinging observations are reserved for the comedy community and, strikingly, himself. Thanks to a rare combination of insecurity and self-awareness, Roy's underlying message resonates clearly: Life is short; don't waste the time or opportunities you're given.
9. Kurt Braunohler, How Do I Land? (Kill Rock Stars)
His raison d'être: "I want to insert stupidity or absurdity into strangers' lives." His modi operandi: customized greeting cards, edited Wikipedia entries, answered Missed Connections, a $4,000 Kickstarter hiring a skywriter to pose the query subsequently gracing the cover of Braunohler's first album. The Hot Tub co-host's wide-eyed, puckish disposition and propensity for stringing together PG-13 groaners like "Last night I slept like a baby. I woke up every two hours screaming in the dark. And then I shit my pants. And I almost died for, like, no reason whatsoever," affirm the New York transplant's not only a singular talent, but an inimitable spirit.
8. Jimmy Pardo, Sprezzatura (ASpecialThing)
Pardo is a mile-a-minute, oft-sidetracked, admonishment-prone master of crowd work. Between his rambling stories and name-checking of Margaret Cho, Greg Behrendt, Mr. Rogers, Miles Davis, Hall & Oates, Billy Joel and "Jerry Lewis singing Styx," the veteran podcaster and Conan cohort may seem to eschew material for momentum. But examine the definition of the title (as originated in Baldassare Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier), thoughtfully included in the CD booklet -- "A certain nonchalance, so as to... make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort" -- and it's clear Pardo's one small step ahead of the audience, one giant leap beyond the comedy industry as a whole.
7. Greg Fitzsimmons, Life on Stage (New Wave Dynamics)
Fitzsimmons is one of the industry's foremost philosopher-grumps, with strong, uncensored opinions on drinking, aging and sex coupled with a contrarian streak he chalks up to his Irish heritage. Among the CD/DVD's many highlights is his assessment of the big picture and conviction that playing it safe in order to avoid mistakes is actually the single greatest regret in life: "That's what you start thinking about as you get older: "How many things did I do in my life because of them? Because of what they told you to do?" He's methodical, concise, and above all, Fitzsimmons is absolutely correct.
6. Kumail Nanjiani, Beta Male (Comedy Central)
The Meltdown co-host isn't primarily known as a storyteller. But somewhere between eight minutes dedicated to the more entertaining/horrifying aspects of Karachi birthday parties, eleven minutes on his discovery of porn at age 10 (plus making his own "boner jams" by 14) and another eight on reacting to footsteps in his attic, Nanjiani's first CD/DVD proves he's remarkably adept at developing character, fostering engagement and heightening tension. Behind the fish-out-of-water persona lies a shrewd, multifaceted entertainer, one only beginning to plumb the depths of the highly personal, even subversive, work he's capable of producing.
5. Jen Kirkman, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids (Simon & Schuster)
The Chelsea Lately writer doesn't want to have children. Like really, really doesn't want to. Her objections are myriad. She emphatically refutes dismissive types (nail-salon technicians, strangers at weddings, audience members in bathrooms after her shows who predict she'll change her mind), and offers autobiographical stories illustrating the rationale and relatability behind her thought process. Equal parts memoir and manifesto, Myself lends Kirkman's acerbic, measured spin to broader questions regarding personal freedoms versus society's expectations. More than merely debating spawning vs. not spawning, it's a bid to open judgmental eyes to the breadth of normative human behavior.
4. Pete Holmes, Nice Try, The Devil (Comedy Central)
Five months prior to his eponymous TBS talk show, Holmes's sophomore album (and first DVD) offered fans a glimpse behind the manic-goofus façade. Much like his podcast You Made It Weird, a loose, narrative-based framework reveals physical insecurities ("This universe is the only one where I'm not a youth pastor,") nagging fears (pregnancies, "Raptures") and who he'd go gay for (Ryan Gosling). There's even a tongue-twisting follow-up to his signature Pierce/beers/Tears for Fears bit: "We won one, Juan!" To borrow Holmes's own colorful phrasing, "If that doesn't unlock the safe where you keep your joy, maybe lube up the dial a little bit."
3. Marc Maron, Attempting Normal (Spiegel & Grau)
Less straight autobiography than collection of highlights, low points, pivotal moments and indelible experiences, the WTF host and IFC star's engrossing second book (following 2001's The Jerusalem Syndrome: My Life as a Reluctant Messiah) details formative relationships with his parents, exes, peers, cats, guitars, food, even high-end jeans. Maron being Maron, however, the most telling interactions throughout his professional and personal journeys are those between his head, his heart and his mouth. Illuminating, fearless and inspirational as both a how to and how not to guide, Attempting Normal is comedy's main required reading of the year.
2. Steven Feinartz, The Bitter Buddha (Passion River)
Sarah Silverman, Scott Aukerman, Paul F. Tompkins, Dana Gould and B.J. Novak are among those lending insight to Feinartz's compelling portrait of comics' comic Eddie Pepitone. Released July 23 on DVD, the unflinching documentary captures the 30-year veteran's daily struggles to process his mother's mental illness, father's anger issues, sobriety, spirituality, questionable health and yearning for industry approval...or as Patton Oswalt puts it, "He is a guy that can talk very honestly about decades of fear and failure, and learning to deal with that creatively. That's a voice that no one else in this city right now can legitimately and authentically say they have."
1. Maria Bamford, Ask Me About My New God! (Comedy Central)
While it has significant overlap with last year's The Special Special Special!, the fourth solo CD from the original "Comedian of Comedy" (and surprise breakout of May's Arrested Development return) fully captures an artist whose ability to channel personal demons and family dysfunction into brilliant characterizations is unparalleled. From dating-site boasts of her talents ("I can crouch naked in the shower and get real small!") to the deftly empathetic tabulation of "Paula Deen's Suicide Note," Bamford's writing has never been tighter. God doesn't push boundaries regarding taste, but in terms of revelatory material, comedy rarely treads closer to the edge.
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