The American Comedy Box, 1915-1994
Rhino R2 71617 (four CDs); R4 71617 (four cassettes)
The vast bulk of this very generous collection of American funny business comes from the last forty years or so, but some of it is positively creaky. Thomas Edison’s favorite comedian, Cal Stewart, plays a rube who describes getting a haircut in New York, recorded in 1915; Barney Bernard does “Cohen at the Telephone” a year later, a relentless carnival of mishearing and misunderstanding; Moran & Mack show where the creators of “Amos ’n’ Andy” got their idea; Smith & Dale do a “Dr. Kronkite and His Only Living Patient” routine that they first performed in 1908. Comedy that old is mysteriously fascinating to hear, if only for its confirmation of the amazing perishability of humor. The newer stuff that takes up most of these sides comes from a panorama of familiar names like Abbott and Costello, W. C. Fields, Bob and Ray, Tom Lehrer, Bob Hope, Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Dick Gregory, Henny Youngman, Phyllis Diller, Bill Cosby, Cheech and Chong, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor… . Go ahead. Laugh.