Who would you include in an exhaustive list of the most iconic stand-up comics and performances? Surely greats like Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Bill Hicks would be included. And such a list could not be told without performances like Lenny Bruce’s Carnegie Hall concert. If you are going to craft such a collection of comedy’s finest, however, there is no way you could oversee such profound performances from comedians like Satan, King George VI, Pope Benedict XIV, an escaped Clone, Zeus (the Greek god of thunder), and Icelandic singer Bjork. At least that is what humor historian, Professor Ivan Kruchnev Sr., would propose.
And so you get the concept behind Matt Besser’s comedy album, The 6 Most Important Sets in the History of Standup. Matt Besser, of Upright Citizens Brigade fame, uses the guise of various iconic historical and cultural figures to deliver six different short stand-up acts. Each one utilizes a different kind of comedy styling and, by way of hyperbolic imitation, manages to deconstruct some of the conventions of stand-up as well.
Each track features Besser’s impression of both a comedy form and an icon. Satan does well as a roasting comic as he grills the baby Jesus, mocking him for having tiny genitalia. The genre is less important with tracks like King George where the character’s stutter (as made famous by the film The King’s Speech) is the perpetual punchline to intentionally raunchy jokes. The Pope ends up being a strong crowd worker as he proclaims his distaste for homosexuals and draws comparisons between Nazi youth and Muppet Babies. There is even a character with a ridiculous catchphrase that the audience shouts back through Besser’s imitation of Zeus, a track full of accurate allusions to Greek mythology—something I wish I knew because I went to college but in reality had to find out after using Wikipedia to look up who Hera was.
Though The 6 Most Important Sets in the History of Standup is short at just 45 minutes and a couple of the tracks have poor sound quality (particularly Satan’s track), hearing Besser’s characters work so well in a stand-up setting is great. Not every track hits as hard as the ones that feature Bjork’s insane punchline deconstruction or Zeus’s absurd catchphrase, but for only two bucks, The 6 Most Important Sets in the History of Standup ends up being worth well beyond what you pay for such a unique and funny comedy album.
Final Rating: The amount of time it takes for King George VI to mumble a single coherent joke (about a minute or so) out of the number of times the Pope has probably bumped someone for stage time (a lot)
The 6 Most Important Sets in the History of Standup is available at Matt Besser’s official website. And if you have never heard any of Matt Besser’s character work, check out this episode of Comedy Bang Bang!, a podcast where Besser frequently uses his impressions as special guests.