2014 was a banner year for comedy of all stripes, including an incredible collection of standup specials and albums. While the year may have had fewer boldly unique specials than 2013, it compensated with an overwhelming number of solidly funny, well-produced hours from comics of all levels, with a particularly strong crop of debut albums - for each special on this list, there are three other great hours worth checking out. Nonetheless, here are our best albums and specials of the year (in no particular order):
It’s obvious that Chelsea Peretti is one of the most exciting comedic talents around. Even with a long opening scene and format-bending twists (such as fake cutaways to the audience), Peretti’s special is engaging mostly because of her likeable stage presence and her flawless hour of standup.
Nick Vatterott’s debut album serves as a bold introduction. It’s creative and weird, experimental and loud, aggressive but friendly, and all the way through, incredibly sharp and funny. While he loves to play with the form – finally introducing himself on track 14, and elsewhere playing with the space-time continuum – the alt quirkiness works because he’s a fearless performer with exceptionally good material.
Karen Kilgariff is one-of-a-kind in the world of musical comedy. Described by her record label as an “acoustic troubadour”, her songs are funny while also poignant and insightful, and her stories are funny while also friendly and self-effacing. This endlessly re-listenable album is one not to miss.
Fans of Myq Kaplan’s intricately woven jokes and lightening-fast mind will find plenty to love in this dizzyingly brilliant special. Kaplan’s material requires his audience’s full attention at all times, as he spins between punny one-liners, commentary on comedy, and time travel.
Hari Kondabolu is one of the strongest political voices in comedy today, and his debut album is a perfect demonstration of why he’s such an exciting young standup. Definitively proving that political correctness can be funny, his material takes on racism and sexism head-on and finds a joke at every step of the way.
Christian Finnegan is the type of comic that comedy nerds take for granted – smart but not pretentious, crowd-pleasing without pandering, and always consistently funny. His latest special is a brilliant example of his immense talent.
It can be difficult for live standup to translate in an audio-only format, but Mark Normand’s precisely written jokes are perfect for the medium. This debut album demonstrates precisely why he’s such a unique voice in New York standup and why all comedy fans should be paying attention to him.
Andy Sandford’s debutis a great example of all that a first album can be, with solid material that builds over the course of the hour to several memorably hilarious stories. It’s an unassailable hour of comedy that clearly marks him for great things in the future.
It’s hard to go wrong with a Jim Gaffigan special, and his latest hour is as solidly funny as ever. For those who think of Gaffigan as primarily a clean comic and family man, this special is slightly racier and more substantial than they may expect, delivered in his distinct and always engaging way.
Elise Czajkowski is a comedy journalist in New York City.