If you're an aspiring standup comic, then it's important to study other comedians (click here for information on watching local comedians). Standup comedy is a craft that you need to practice. However, in addition to writing and practicing your own material, it is vital that you study how the comedians construct their act. By studying the great comedians that came before, you will learn about timing, joke structure, flow, diction, and audience interaction.
Below is a list of the essential albums, and what you can expect to learn from each one.
Class Clown by George Carlin
This album is famous for several reasons, including being the impetus for a historic Supreme Court lawsuit. The album contains perhaps the most well known comedic monologue in standup history: "seven dirty words you can't say in public."
Carlin dissected the public's sensitivity to words in a manner that was both hilarious, as well as academic. He tears apart the hypocrisy and inanity of the public's treatment of certain words like a linguistics professor who happens to be a comedic genius.
Takeaway: That language is one of the most important aspects of your comedic routine. The words you choose, how you choose them, and how you use them can are so important they can even be the subject of your routine.
Live On The Sunset Strip by Richard Pryor
Pryor was already established as a famous comic and successful movie star when he released this album. What makes it so important is that it showcases his ability to transition from prison life, racist language, and male/female relationships, to his own personal demons such as the time he set himself on fire while freebasing crack cocaine.
Takeaway: As a comedian you should learn how to incorporate yourself and your own story into the larger story. By becoming a character in the narrative, you make the humor more relatable. Also, notice how Pryor handles racial slurs. At first he uses them for comedic effect and as part of his normal diction, as he did throughout his early career. However, late in the routine he segways into an almost spiritual riff on the inappropriateness of the racial term. This is a perfect example that every routine does not have to be solely focused on humor. Standup has the ability to alter peoples attitudes and sometimes the appropriate method is not straight out humor.
Comedian (Delirious) by Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy was not yet a household name when he released the album, Comedian. He had yet to start in Hollywood blockbusters like Beverly Hills Cop or Coming To America.
The album was also released as a filmed performance called Delirious. In the routine, Eddie wears the iconic red leather outfit. He struts about the stage, doing impressions, and tackling topics that even today many comedians are afraid to handle.
The routine itself was controversial at the time and remains so. He approaches comedy with a no holds bared approach. Everyone and everything is subject to ridicule and analysis. He is the definition of a comedian that is not politically correct. His subjects include the relationship between African Americans and Caucasians, religion, sexual preference, women, and stereotypes.
Takeaway: See that instead of pandering to stereotypes, or shying away from them, Murphy addressed controversial topics and stereotypes with wit and humor. You will also notice that he play-acts the part of people when he is speaking. In essence, he creates a play with multiple characters, voicing each one. This humanizes his subjects and allows him to get away with material that would be both unfunny and offensive if he didn't embody the people.
This can create a more theater-like atmosphere where sensitive topics can be addressed. He is also a very physical comedian. You should notice that he is constant movement. You should see if your own routine might benefit from a more physical approach. If you find yourself standing at the mic, then study his movement and see how natural it is.