Hey, That's Funny! Comedy's Greatest Bits

Various Artists

Rhino, 2004

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/15/2005

Normally we don't review too many comedy discs on the Vault, but since this has been a summer of unpredictable twists, I'm doing it anyway.

As with most collections, there will be gripes about what is included, usually due to inability to negotiate contract disputes. Rhino's new The '90s set, for example, has nothing by Nirvana, which probably defined the decade better than any band. So it is a safe bet Rhino's 2-CD "greatest hits" of comedy would be sorely lacking, and that's pretty much the case.

This could have been a great release, and admittedly trying to sum up 70 years of comedy in two discs is an awful chore, but this one just misses the mark of being essential. It's not a matter of what is present, since most of it is quite funny, but what's missing is just as glaring, especially in a compilation that tries to be thorough.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The heavy hitters are all here -- George Carlin, Bill Cosby (sadly represented by an unfunny sketch), Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Rodney Dangerfield and Chris Rock. Other lesser known but luminaries of the genre are present, such as Ellen DeGeneres, Sam Kinison, Woody Allen, Bill Hicks, Cheech & Chong, Dennis Miller and Redd Foxx. Their bits are all representative of the comics themselves, and even if it's not their funniest moments, it's good enough to make one realize why those comics stand above the rest.

However, a 2004 compilation should have included something from the phenomenon of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, specifically Jeff Foxworthy, the best selling comedian of the '90s. Nothing is included from Eddie Murphy, Eddie Izzard, Adam Sandler, Margaret Cho, Bill Engvall, Lenny Bruce or Steve Martin. Maybe some of those are personal choices, but record and concert sales for those comedians were much higher than some of the others included here.

Some of the choices are confusing. Why Joe Rogan and Denis Leary, both angry comedians, when we already have Bill Hicks? Why two Saturday Night Live sketches, neither of which is very funny? Why Paul Reiser, Martin Lawrence, George Lopez, Roseanne, Ray Romano and Flip Wilson, all funny in their TV shows but not as much on stage? And why two prank calls? They have never been funny.

But some of the quirks here are highlights -- Albert Brooks doing the creative musical "Rewriting The National Anthem," Eddie Griffin correctly insulting the hypocrisy of Christianity in "Save My Money," Monty Python's "Argument Clinic," Steven Wright's deadpan "Hitchhiking," Robert Schimmel's "The Gym" and Billy Crystal's "Now!" And the aforementioned Rodney Dangerfield turns in the funniest six minutes on the program, nothing but nonstop one-liners that leave the audience -- and the listener -- gasping for breath.

It's too bad the rest of the collection can't do the same, no matter how admirably it tries.

Rating: B-

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