So, I was at my son's bar mitzvah, and...
September 20, 2010 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Which stand-up comedians tell personal stories as opposed to gags, one-liners and impressions? (I already know about Louis CK, Ricky Gervais, Woody Allen and Bill Cosby.)

My pat line is that I don't like stand-up comedy. But I've realized that's not true. What I don't enjoy is the sort of stand-up that was in vogue when I was growing up -- which was mostly a guy telling a series of short jokes or doing impressions.

On the other hand, I LOVE storytellers! I love Spaulding Gray and Julia Sweeney. And I do like the stand-up comedians who tell stories: Woody Allen and Bill Cosby are two of the few older stand-up comedians I used to enjoy.

Recently, I've gotten into Louis C.K., and I adore his work. I also like Ricky Gervais. I like long-form comedy, the more personal and confessional the better. So who else would you recommend?

Please tell me about people I can watch on DVD, Netflix/Amazon-download or YouTube. I am not a fan of bars and comedy clubs, so I doubt I'll be going to see many of these people in person.
posted by grumblebee to Media & Arts (57 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Kathy Griffin tells long stories, generally about her encounters with celebrities.
posted by amro at 9:55 AM on September 20, 2010

Oh, and David Sedaris isn't a stand-up, but he tells funny stories.
posted by amro at 9:56 AM on September 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

Margaret Cho, Kathy Griffin, Janeane Garofalo.
posted by hermitosis at 9:56 AM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Patton Oswalt and Maria Bamford to some extent.
posted by Constant Reader at 9:57 AM on September 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Margaret Cho tells lots of stories (at least in her middle-older stuff, which is all I've heard).
posted by Netzapper at 9:57 AM on September 20, 2010

Mike Birbiglia comes to mind.
posted by jon1270 at 9:57 AM on September 20, 2010 [7 favorites]

I really like Mike Birbiglia. He's transitioned his act over the years, from what I can tell, to involve more storytelling and less standard stand-up stuff. He's done some really funny bits for This American Life, but you can also stream some things he did for Comedy Central on Netflix (some of the material overlaps).
posted by MadamM at 9:59 AM on September 20, 2010

In Kathy Griffin's really interesting memoir, OFFICIAL BOOK CLUB SELECTION, she talks a lot about the early stages of the "alternative comedy" scene that she and Cho and others basically helped build from the ground up.
posted by hermitosis at 9:59 AM on September 20, 2010

Christopher Titus's whole routine stems from his upbringing in a deeply dysfunctional household and how that carried over into his adult life.

Sounds heavy, and it is, but he really wrings some excellent humor out of it.
posted by quin at 10:01 AM on September 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Eddie Izzard, Bill Engvall, John Leguizamo, Ellen Degeneres, Dave Chappelle, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy (early - Delirious is better than Raw)...I know there are many more, but those come to mind immediately.

I particularly love Leguizamo's long-form shows. If you want confessional, his will fit the bill precisely.
posted by batmonkey at 10:01 AM on September 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Stewart Lee
posted by The Discredited Ape at 10:02 AM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I much prefer this type of stand-up as well!

You'd probably like Brian Regan, Dana Carvey (two specials, one from '94, I wanna say, which is still one of my absolutely favorite standups of all time, and one from 2008, Squatting Monkeys Tell No Lies), hmm... I thought I had a lot more but now that I'm thinking even more, maybe a couple of my favorites are actually the impression/gag type. I did see a guy on Comedy Central Presents last weekend (rerun I think) who spent at least the first half of his time talking about working as a server in a restaurant - it was hilarious. If I can remember his name I'll add later.

And we can't forget Jerry Seinfeld. :)
posted by slyboots421 at 10:04 AM on September 20, 2010

Henry Rollins. I've seen several of his "talking shows", and I remember one show where I left with my face hurting from all the smiling and laughing I did.
posted by fings at 10:09 AM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Tom Shillue. Download his podcast and listen to the 2-part story on his first trip to NYC. I love that one.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:11 AM on September 20, 2010

Billy Connolly might fit the bill. Ostensibly he is telling jokes but - as a point of reference, he did a comedy-hour special in the USA in the early nineties and told a grand total of two jokes - but the lead-up to them was what mattered. Very much a storyteller, and also sings the occasional song and so on.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:12 AM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Albert Brooks
posted by KokuRyu at 10:14 AM on September 20, 2010

Are there still stand-up comedians who do one-liners and impressions (In anything other than a post-modern, ironic way)? Now alternative comedy is the mainstream, pretty much all modern comedians do this now. Pick any of them.

But if you want the ultimate in modern shaggy dog story telling, check out either Daniel Kitson or Stewart Lee.
posted by caek at 10:15 AM on September 20, 2010

We've had Lee, so let's add Herring as well. Lee and Herring (not Lee & Herring) DVDs available from Go Faster Stripe -- region-free, I think -- along with Lucy Porter and Robin Ince, who are also worth a look, as is Josie Long.
posted by holgate at 10:17 AM on September 20, 2010

Ronnie Corbett had a regular slot on his various shows for decades wherein he would tell a shaggy dog story while sitting in an armchair. you may be able to dig up some footage.
posted by biffa at 10:21 AM on September 20, 2010

I can't believe nobody's mentioned Garrison Keillor! His Prairie Home Companion series is built around team storytelling comedy bits, with interludes between of "other stuff" (mostly music, but sometimes interviews). If you're in the US, most stations playing National Public Radio carry it (it's VERY popular), and you can listen for free.
posted by Ys at 10:24 AM on September 20, 2010

Ed Byrne
Wil Hodgson
Ross Noble
posted by elsietheeel at 10:28 AM on September 20, 2010

Bill Dwyer.
posted by plinth at 10:30 AM on September 20, 2010

Marc Maron
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:31 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kevin Smith (see the Interview with... series).
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:40 AM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Richard Pryor is basically the best you're going to find.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:40 AM on September 20, 2010

Response by poster: Are there still stand-up comedians who do one-liners and impressions

Probably not. But most of the ones I see (and, admittedly, I'm not very experienced -- hence this question) are making pithy social-commentary remarks. "Ever notice how when a guy asks a girl out on an date...?" or "You know what I'd like to see? An episode of 'The Wire' directed by George Lucas..." And then it's a bunch of riffs about Darth Vader doing crack.
posted by grumblebee at 10:43 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

And now I'm going to recommend a dvd that involves a ton of impression work - Kevin Pollak's The Littlest Suspect - look beyond the impressions. There are some fantastic stories from his working life on the dvd.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 10:44 AM on September 20, 2010

Apologies for a third post here but Daniel Tosh actually does some magnificent one-liner type stuff. (He also does some fantastic longer form stuff as well.)
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 10:47 AM on September 20, 2010

2nding Billy Connolly. There are clips on youtube that show some of his long-form stuff in action. One in particular talks about an old woman on a bus. I thought I was going to have give my parents oxygen as they were listening to it, but YMMV.
posted by jquinby at 10:49 AM on September 20, 2010

While he might be more accurately labeled a "storyteller," Bil Lepp certainly fits your criteria. There are several videos of him up on Youtube.
posted by arco at 10:50 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've just discovered Ross Noble this weekend (thanks, QI!). I invite you to sample Never put a blanket over an owl.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:07 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are there still stand-up comedians who do one-liners and impressions

I'd say Ron White fits into this category--he just tells one short joke after another (in my experience), which just makes watching him exhausting.
posted by litnerd at 11:08 AM on September 20, 2010

David Cross. His comedy CDs are just fantastic, and his "Let America Laugh" DVD is also very funny.
posted by santaliqueur at 11:29 AM on September 20, 2010

As far as pure one-liner comedy goes, Milton Jones's pun-heavy routines fit the bill. He's more Steven Wright than Vegas Strip, though, which creates a very different effect.

The YouTube suggestions for that link point to Dave Allen (RIP), whose sit-down stand-up is definitely more in the long-form mould, with parallels to Connolly in its emphasis on the absurd, and perhaps even to George Carlin.
posted by holgate at 11:34 AM on September 20, 2010

For stories, I listen to The Moth podcasts. A lot of times they are funny but sometimes they evoke other emotions.
posted by CathyG at 11:58 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I highly, highly recommend The 40 Year Old Boy podcast by stand-up comedian Mike Schmidt. For 90 minutes each week, he regales you with stories of his youth. Absolutely hilarious. Free from iTunes or his site.
posted by Twicketface at 12:03 PM on September 20, 2010

If you like politically edgy stuff the late Bill Hicks has some great stories about doing drugs that are much more amusing than you would think. I also enjoy Eddie Izzard's stuff, especially when he disects Europe vs America sorts of cultural things which I think he does a lot on Circle. There was a female comedia on Comedy Central last night who does a lot of "men are like this AMIRITE" material, but her delivery and willingness to talk personally [not generally] about stuff that I don't see a lot of female comedians attempting made me keep paying attention her name is Whitney Cummings. Along the same lines of that sort of thing (popular teevee people), Aziz Ansari keeps me laughing, mostly just telling long funny stories.

If you like Louis CK, make sure you catch the episodes of Louie, his HBO tv show. Some people sort of hate it, but I think it storifies a lot of his general routines in a human way. Each episode is really different, so check a few out. Also if you want to see someone taking the one liners in a weird direction, you might enjoy the late Mitch Hedberg. I get tired of that Borscht belt sort of thing, but it's interesting to see someone riffing on the form somewhat.
posted by jessamyn at 12:08 PM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I haven't watched CK's HBO show yet. But I love his show on FOX.
posted by grumblebee at 12:15 PM on September 20, 2010

Paul F Tompkins, especially the act he's touring with now.

Brent Weinbach
posted by mullacc at 12:29 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

2nding Craig Ferguson. He's on CBS after Letterman. If you ever want to watch late night TV, his show is the one to watch. Rather than doing a monologue of lame joke after lame joke, Ferguson tells a story. His is by far the best monologue on TV.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:41 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's a story on David Cross's CD It's Not Funny about a really bad stay in some midwestern town that is literally one of the 2 or 3 funniest things I've ever heard in my life. I own the CD and have probably listened to this story about 10-15 times and it still renders me absolutely helpless and paralyzed with laughter.

Also, Aziz Ansari's stories about Kanye West are hilarious.
posted by lunasol at 12:57 PM on September 20, 2010

Jon Ronson is along the lines of David Sedaris. Like Sedaris, he is a writer, but also does radio, including some This American Life. More significantly, he has his own show on BBC. Personally, I think he is hilarious, and at times, introspective in an unexpected way.
posted by nickjadlowe at 12:59 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kevin Kling is in my top five story-tellers (alongside my Uncle Tim, David Sedaris, Eddie Izzard, and... OK, my top four.).

It helps if you're a Midwesterner [you lucky dog, you], but he's still great fun regardless. I think he's been on NPR a few times, if you want a sample of his presentation and subject matter.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:19 PM on September 20, 2010

We may not big, but we're small: the Vinyl Cafe. Suart MacLean's stories of Dave, Morley, Sam and Steph have been a Saturday staple for more than a decade. Very much in the Cosby, Keillor vein.
posted by bonehead at 1:25 PM on September 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

My current favorite comic storyteller is Kyle Kinane. He has a great big beard. Brandon Walsh has a bigger beard, and he's pretty great too.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:42 PM on September 20, 2010

I've Daniel Kitson perform twice now, and he's been amazing both times. Very funny, yes, but the stories he tells are also often quite poignant or touching. I'd happily go to one of his shows even if all the humour was removed, simply for the storytelling.
posted by twirlypen at 2:06 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all! I have lots of stuff to watch now. Please keep the suggestions coming.
posted by grumblebee at 2:18 PM on September 20, 2010

Nthing Henry Rollins. There are several records of his stuff out, and although I've only been to one of his shows, it was incredible.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:46 PM on September 20, 2010

Josie Long! She's got a dvd called Trying is Good and it's excellent.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:25 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm late to the party, so many of these have already been mentioned, but nonetheless:

Daniel Kitson
Stewart Lee
Richard Herring
Josie Long
Greg Fleet
Mike Birbiglia
Jon Ronson
David O'Doherty
posted by hot soup girl at 3:36 PM on September 20, 2010

Paula Poundstone.
posted by Dolley at 6:09 PM on September 20, 2010

Bob Newhart!
posted by Mael Oui at 7:53 PM on September 20, 2010

Eddie Izzard. Rent Dress to Kill. He's really smart, and most of his act is personal anecdotes or long riffs on history.
posted by colfax at 8:18 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you take out the f-words from Eddie Izzard's history riffs, you could totally use that to teach kids in school. It'd be fun and useful!

Nthing David Sedaris (I have the box set and can listen to it over and over - his voice makes it come alive) and Eddie, of course. (Earlier Eddie is classic - DTK, Glorious and Definite Article - IMO his best work.)

Good suggestions here - thanks for asking the question. Off to fill my Ipod!
posted by Mysticalchick at 6:08 AM on September 21, 2010

A lot of good ones have been mentioned already, but I'll throw in Laura Kightlinger. I'm not sure if she even does stand-up anymore, I mostly remember her from doing stand-up in the late 90s and being a guest on Dr Katz and whatnot. Also I read it 10 years ago so I'm not sure if I would still think it was any good, but I really enjoyed her book Quick Shots of False Hope. Her stand-up mostly revolves around self-deprecating jokes about negative things in her life, but the book really fleshes out the backstory behind a lot of the things that she mentions in her stand-up, such as her grandmother's funeral.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:46 AM on September 21, 2010

Although he's not a comedian per se, and in fact actually one of the world's greatest guitarists, Leo Kottke shows would be just as entertaining if he just talked all night. Between each song, he plucks a random anecdote out of nowhere, and just rolls with it for a few minutes before eventually deciding to get back to playing. It might just be his delivery; imagine Eeyore with a slight smirk on his face. Plenty of Leo Kottke live stuff on Youtube, including a few interviews.

(Additionally, I think Pixar is missing out on the greatest voiceover actor that ever lived and never actually recorded any VO work.)
posted by holterbarbour at 7:28 AM on September 26, 2010

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