The Lost Pleasures Of The Comedy LP

Remembering the golden age of humour on vinyl.

Comedy records feel very much like a thing of the past these days – perhaps not entirely dead, but certainly an art form breathing its last and no longer the commercial proposition that it once was. Even in a world where physical media is in general decline, the comedy record seems to be especially redundant now, replaced decades ago initially by VHS tapes and then DVD, and now superseded entirely by streaming services. If you want live comedy, there is no end of it on Amazon Prime, Netflix and other services, as well as across YouTube. As long as your tastes don’t go back more than a few years, you are more than catered for with live stand-up specials.

But there is something missing from this endless supply of live performance specials from comedians who you have never heard of, something that the comedy LPs of yesteryear understood and which is now effectively lost. Sure, if you want to see stand-ups in action, then your cup runneth over, but that’s it. The art of the sketch, the comedy routine that has been created specifically for a record, the audio sitcom (be it of radio origin or adapted from a TV show) and even the novelty song feels increasingly lost – the sort of passing celebrity and comedy star who might have once recorded comedy numbers now seem to harbour ambitions to be ‘proper’ pop stars. Having a comedy album playing in the background while you carry out day-to-day tasks seems a thing of yesteryear – sure, there are podcasts a-plenty, but few – if any – seem to step beyond the world of stand-up routines or comedy interviews.

When I was a teenager, the racks of HMV and Virgin swelled with comedy albums – an entire section of the record store, usually next door to movie soundtracks, was full of these LPs and it meant that you would discover whole worlds of comedy beyond what was being shown on TV – the stuff that was too old, too esoteric or too rude, from Groucho Marx to Blaster Bates, Peter Sellers to Billy Connelly. A lot of it certainly consisted of live stage recordings, true. But the comedy LP was never just about recordings of live stand-up. Many of the classic albums were recordings created in the studio, taking advantage of the creativity involved in crafting audio-based humour in much the same way that bands like Pink Floyd were playing with the creative possibilities of sound effects and studio-crafted musical works. Monty Python were probably the masters of this, recording a series of albums through the 1970s that surpassed their TV series, being unrestricted in content and format. Python was always about verbal wit more than visual gags and on their albums, they could cast aside the cheap production quality of the BBC shows to really cut loose, using the audio format in fresh and innovative ways. This included the packaging of the LPs, which Python knew was every bit as important as the content. Be it the ‘be a great actor’ kit contained in Another Monty Python Record, the box set extravagance and three-sided recording of Matching Tie and Handkerchief or simply innovative and witty sleeve design, Python albums felt closer to rock LPs than mere comedy knock-offs (of which there were many). While a lot of BBC comedy LPs were simply recordings of radio shows (or TV shows) that had been re-edited for vinyl release, Python’s albums felt like proper studio creations – even the film soundtracks added content and edited the content so that it worked flawlessly as an audio experience.

We could say the same about Derek and Clive’s work – material that could never be broadcast and which might collapse under its own filthiness if performed live too often, but which worked perfectly as a studio-based stream of outrageous consciousness. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore knew a thing or two about packaging too, having a punk aesthetic to albums like Ad Nauseum, a record that boasted a cover so gross that it both warned about and highlighted the contents. Of course, the recording of that LP was filmed and (eventually) released as Derek and Clive Get the Horn, which could be seen as a step in comedy’s move away from vinyl and onto video. But notably, the Derek and Clive film was more a documentary about the collapsing relationship between Cook and Moore than a comedy in itself, despite the way it was promoted once it finally made it past the BBFC.

Comedy on vinyl – or tape or even CD – felt like a more intimate experience, somehow much funnier than the TV shows from the same artists. Part of this is because groups like Python carefully honed their sketches over the years and almost always improved on the original TV broadcasts with subsequent versions, but part of it is because audio comedy somehow feels more intimate. Without any visual distractions, it forces the listener to create a world in their mind while allowing the words to flow without the distraction of a comedian who might look too overtly comical or too smug. It feels like a comedy performance in its purest state, focusing the listener on what is important. Sure, it doesn’t work for everything – the LP releases of TV shows like Fawlty Towers struggled because all the visual gags are lost – but for a lot of other material, it still seems to be the best way to experience comedy.

Derek and Clive’s Ad Nauseum

In a way, the loss of the comedy LP is like the loss of other forms of physical media – and, just as importantly, the shops that sold it. Sure, we may have more choice than ever now, but anything outside the curated mainstream tends to be buried away in the depths of an endless scroll through titles, if it is available at all. Once upon a time, we would flick through the record racks, spotting things we knew nothing about but which looked interesting, picking the album up and reading the front and back cover, making an educated guess as to whether or not this would be any good. We’d take a chance, in other words. Streaming and online shopping makes that a more cumbersome affair, forcing you to wade through endless content that is never more than a few years old and reducing your ability to find anything that is actually new. Moreso even than music, I used to find the comedy LP racks (and the comedy albums that appeared in second-hand stores) a source of endless fascination, as records of shows long gone and artists that you had, at best, only heard of in passing. There is something genuinely lovely about the comedy LP that is hard to define but which surpasses any other sort of vinyl in some odd way. The fact that people today have no experience of heading to the basement of a high street record emporium and flicking through all manner of odd vinyl is a genuine shame.


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  1. I had a massive collection of hundreds of comedy LPs (and singles) in the early 1990s. Had to sell them off en masse to a dealer when I went back to university. With sufficient funds and time it would be possible to replicate it via Ebay and Discogs, but it wouldn’t be the same. Like record collecting in general, it was the thrill of the hunt and the joy of the unexpected discovery that brought the greatest pleasure.

    1. As I was writing this, I began to remember the other lost pleasure of the import LP – Python’s Live at City Center being a prime example of a record that had never officially been released in the UK but was widely available in HMV, Virgin etc. The early days of VHS had similar thrills, though the price tended to be prohibitive – and the VRA put an end to all that.

      I need to do more on novelty singles though – I have a bunch and it seems an endless world of mind-boggling weirdness.

  2. I always remember the Idi Amin album..absolutely hilarious! You’d never get that nowadays – more’s the pity!

  3. I remember being utterly bamboozled by Python’s Matching Tie And Handkerchief LP when I went to play the second side again, and something totally different came out of the speakers…I had no idea what was happening or how…I was young of course!

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