Stand-up albums should be a dead concept in 2013. With all the free comedy available via podcasts, the explosion of late night talk shows, and the ever-expanding embrace of singular voices on cable (most notably on Comedy Central and IFC), it seems like there would be way too much material out there for anybody to care about the execution of a well-made album.
Yet plenty of comedians put together records this year, and many of them were excellent. Louis C.K. has a lot to do with this—though he puts more emphasis on video than audio for his specials, he has made the idea of putting together a really killer hour cool again, and lots of comics followed suit.
The albums that make up the list below are all excellent, and they all deliver on presenting each comic’s worldview using wildly different approaches to the work. All but one have podcasts and all are TV regulars, but these albums represent their most surgically sharp work and honed jokes. They’re all worth checking out (as are albums by Moshe Kasher, Mike Lawrence, and Bill Cosby, all of whom just missed the cut), no matter what style of comedy you’re most into.
1. Kumail Nanjiani, Beta Male
Nanjiani is a fantastic regular on Portlandia and co-hosts a video game-based podcast called The Indoor Kids that kills. Both of those outlets have hinted at what Nanjiani was capable of, but Beta Male is his career peak so far. A transcendent raconteur, Nanjiani manages to spin strange, surreal tales from his childhood in Pakistan into charged blasts of whimsy (the long tale about a terrifying birthday party is excellent, and his deep dive into a harrowing experience with a VCR is even better). There’s also stuff that hits closer to home, like a segment centered around Call of Duty and a priceless bit about a cat who tries to deliver him pizza. Nanjiani signed a Comedy Central deal for a show that will debut next year, and if Beta Male is any indication, he’s the network’s next big thing.