Did you know you can stream comedy through the library for free? While most stand-up comedy is physically located under the call number 792.76 (in the Books-on-CD and DVDs), you can access much more through Freegal and Hoopla online. It should go without saying that some may take offense to some of the content here (like, say, the blatant homophobia in the '80s). However, every one of these comedians was influential enough to be (re-)considered here, if you are so inclined. Note: This is meant to be a list of "Classic" records (which arbitrarily means the most recent was released in the year 1990).

Compiled by:
Brandon R.
2000 Years with Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks (1961)

Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks

The original version of the classic "2000 Year Old Man" bit is here along with some other great gags from the duo who that would still have dinner with each other nearly every night even after almost 70 actual years of friendship (They met writing for Sid Caesar's legendary Your Show of Shows). I just listened to this again: Carl Reiner was the greatest straight man and Mel Brooks will forever be just as funny.

At the Hungry i (1960)

Mort Sahl

Mostly recorded at the titular San Francisco club that made him famous (He was known for sometimes just taking a newspaper on stage and spouting off), Sahl delivers his unique combination of political satire and self-deprecation (and retrospective history lesson). Those unfamiliar with Cold War-era history will probably be lost with much of this one (I admittedly didn't get some of the references here), but that's the case with most of his iconoclastic stuff.

Class Clown (1972)

George Carlin

This second record (first with long hair; in a transition from goofy comic to burgeoning counter-cultural icon) ends with his infamous bit "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" (which was banned from public radio play for obvious reasons). If you're interested in more from one of the best ever, like his Grammy winning follow-up FM & AM, make sure to check here.

Comedian (1983)

Eddie Murphy

At the time of this release, Murphy had already risen to the top (you can tell from the audience reaction on the soundtrack in comparison to his debut); near the end of his run on Saturday Night Live, and with two hit movies already (48 Hrs and Trading Places), but directly before his first hit HBO special Delirious. Still, he announces upfront here, along with his intentional homophobia, the profanity here isn't for the TV set.

The Complete Albums 1960-62

Bob Newhart

Newhart's first four records are collected here (though the tracks are a bit out-of-order when streaming), the first of which, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, introduces his classic one-sided conversational stand-up routines (Some of the most notable of later records are staged as a phone call). The master of deadpan delivery.

Dangerous (1990)

Bill Hicks

Bill Hicks was a confrontational jackass. He was also a true comedic philosopher. His confessional offensiveness was meant to provoke (your) thought. While he only officially released two records (this being the first) before losing his battle with pancreatic cancer in 1994, he left behind a trove of still relevant material. See also the documentary American. Also, fans of Denis Leary should know how he basically made his name by stealing parts of his friends' act.

An Evening with Mike Nichols & Elaine May (1960)

Mike Nichols & Elaine May

The flawlessly smart timing of these excerpts from this improv duo's Broadway show influenced countless listeners and subsequent comedians. Both started out as Compass Players, where they crafted well-honed sketches from audience-suggested scenarios; each became celebrated stage and film directors disbanding their genius after four years.

In Living Black & White (1961)

Dick Gregory

Maybe not Gregory's best record, but it is officially this comedian, author, and civil-rights pioneer's first. The 'overly white' voice-over introductions to the tracks ironically add to the historical understanding of how trailblazing he was for the art form. Not nearly as political here as he would later be known for (and 'be allowed' to get away with post-Playboy Club fame), but his social-consciousness and rare, early ability to speak across audiences makes this definitely worth a listen (and, to my knowledge, prior to these digital files, this, like a lot of his work, had never been properly re-released since its original vinyl).

Inside Shelley Berman (1959)

Shelley Berman

The original neurotic comic (Woody Allen was a contemporary, but started stand-up slightly later after writing thousands of television jokes behind the scenes) is probably best known these days as Larry David's father on Curb Your Enthusiasm. This was the first comedy LP to sell more than 100,000 copies (I have one!). "Department Store" was an especially well-known bit he did on TV. Bob Newhart probably owes his telephone bits (and therefore his subsequent career) to Berman too.

The Lenny Bruce Originals, Vol. 2

Lenny Bruce

This combines his last two, increasingly less muted studio records, Togetherness (1959) and American (1960), before the series of police busts started in 1961. Bruce may just be an affable character on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to some, but he became a knowing martyr for free speech with his pushing the boundaries of what obscenity means in America before self-destructing by lethal drug overdose in 1966.

Moms Mabley Live at The "UN"

Moms Mabley

After years in vaudeville and touring under the Theatre Owners Booking Assocation (also known as the 'Chitlin' Circuit'); writing a Broadway show, for a black cast, with Zora Neale Hurston in 1931; becoming the first African-American female to perform at The Apollo in 1939; taking bit parts in Hollywood "race films" in the 40s, Loretta May Aiken (aka Jackie Mabley) crossed over with 'mainstream' (read: white) audiences during the comedy record boom of the 1960s (when she was actually becoming the age of her long-standing character). Her political content was apparently more easily digestible in the guise of an old lady.

The Next to Last Joan Rivers Record (1969)

Joan Rivers

She probably paved the way for female stand-up comedians more than anyone aside from Phyllis Diller (or the aforementioned Moms Mabley). There's a lot of talking to, rather at, the audience here and it is Marvelous. Also, the title is accurate; she released one other album in 1983, but no more after that (on vinyl anyway).

A Night at The Met (1986)

Robin Williams

Williams' first live record and his first newly clean from cocaine addiction (which he, of course, has a bit about). This is more practiced and less manic, stream-of- consciousness than it may appear. Still, it's a hilarious capsule of time directly before he truly became a film star (and a few months after the first of many Comic Relief benefit events).

No Respect (1980)

Rodney Dangerfield

Jacob Rodney Cohen, later Jack Roy, used to literally sell jokes out of the trunk of his car, but rose to be one of the most recognizable comics of the 80s. His act was a defined persona that many were surprised to be much different than the thoughtful, real-life guy. He was also personally responsible for finding a guy named Jim Carrey.

Party of One (1986)

Elayne Boosler

While she was working as a singing waitress at The Improvisation in NYC, her friend Andy Kaufman told her she should try doing stand-up. She was one of the first to tackle female topics her influences wouldn't have been able to do as openly and helped influence the perspective of many (female) stand-up comics after her; With this set she was the first female comic to have an hour-long special on cable television (because she produced it herself). As she mentions in the successful special, she did this because television executives told her no one wanted to see a woman do comedy on TV.

This is a Recording (1971)

Lily Tomlin

After leaving the wildly popular television show Laugh-In, Tomlin continued here with her Ernestine the Telephone Operator while providing commentary outside of character as well. While she would make a few more records, she would move-on to roles in films, television, and award-winning stage shows co-written by her life-partner and wife Jane Wagner.

to russell, my brother, whom i slept with (1968)

Bill Cosby

Whatever we know of Bill Cosby these days, some may have forgotten (or never knew) how influential he was to stand-up comedy as an art-form. His storytelling craft was unrivaled, especially when speaking about his childhood (the title track here perhaps his best on that subject).

Uncensored (1980)

Redd Foxx

There have been countless Redd Foxx re-packaged releases over the years, because he rarely had control of, or received proper payment for, them. This is one of those, but it contains a good selection of his more 'blue' material he was known for in his famed 'underground' performances. For a less crude, but still sharp, mainstream-approved Foxx, try his 1966 major label debut. Or just watch Sanford & Son.

The Warner Bros. Albums (1974-1983)

Richard Pryor

This release contains the six records Pryor released for Warner Brothers, including his first live concert recording Wanted and the subsequent one-of-the-best-of-all-time Live on the Sunset Strip. Pryor should need no introduction. Let's just say that for those that believe the best artists are the most freely honest artists, Pryor is unmatched. If you are unfamiliar, and you are already looking at this list, rectify that now.

A Wild & Crazy Guy (1978)

Steve Martin

This double-platinum record features one side performed at a small San Francisco venue (where his meta-silliness of his debut, Let's Get Small, was recorded) and the other at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, signaling his rise to stardom in the process. Also, features the novelty hit "King Tut".

The Wonderful World of Jonathan Winters (1960)

Jonathan Winters

Jack Paar once said, "If you were to ask me the funniest 25 people I’ve ever known, I’d say, ‘Here they are - Jonathan Winters.’” This improvisational genius starts off a bit here by joking that he was thrown into a mental institution for announcing his extraterrestrial origins (referencing an actual, then-not-widely-known extended stay the previous year due to a nervous breakdown and his bipolar disorder). Among other things, there simply would have been no Robin Williams without Winters (even before they worked on Mork & Mindy together). For more genius, see a couple of other later records on Freegal.