WWhat do we expect from a Shortlisted for Best Comedy Album at the Grammys? In the past, I haven’t paid much attention to the award. The Edinburgh Comedy Award is more of my world, and I’ll be running back screaming, great carnival of creativity that is, after getting involved with the comedy sensibilities of the American Recording Academy, which is, well, a bit conservative. This is an award of whose last 15 nominees only two have been women, and whose all-time champion, with a record of seven wins, is Bill Cosby.
This year’s short list doesn’t emanate shock waves from the new one. Repeated winners and nominees Jerry Seinfeld, Patton Oswalt and Jim Gaffigan appear, the latter for the fourth year in a row. Add in Tiffany Kaddish and Bill Burr, and you’ve got a lineup with an average age of 53, which doesn’t exactly herald the freshness of American comedy. By comparison, the shortlist for music album of the year features Billie English, Dua Lipa and Megan Thee Stallion, and the average age of its nominees is 28.
Maybe the problem is with that word “album” – maybe the hottest new comedians aren’t releasing “albums” anymore? But it can’t be that, because the Grammy for best comedy album no longer rewards albums as conventionally understood. The hawk-eyed among you may have already noticed an overlap between this list of Grammy finalists and the one for the Emmy Award for Best TV Comedy / Variety Special. The five nominated “albums” are Netflix specials. Three years ago, the streaming giant released some of its specials as vinyl LPs, without notice, a day before the Grammy eligibility deadline. Only vinyl, mind you: there was no streaming or CD release, ensuring that the company maintained the exclusivity of its content. When the nominees for best comedy album, surprise, surprise were announced, four out of five were Netflix specials.
The channel has maintained its dominance ever since, at the expense of many other indie comedy albums that could be considered more genuine, or at least more likely to engage as audio. To name just two 2020 examples from this side of the Atlantic, Daniel Kitson It’s the fireworks talking or David O’Doherty Living in your own car during a pandemic. Even if I’m naive in thinking that a contest sponsored by a luxury Swiss watch brand could recognize independent releases, aren’t there more exciting Netflix specials than Oswalt’s? Well yeah, but from an award that bypassed Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette in 2019, one of the few undisputed changers in the last decade of comedy, how likely are they to find favor?
And so we’re left with a quintet of perfectly decent but not always exciting standup specials. For many, Kaddish’s Black mitzvah He’ll Steal It – If you can get past aggressive self-promotion and name-dropping, here’s an arrogant sex comedy worth watching. (Sorry, it’s worth listening to!) Paper tiger it’s more compelling than some of Bill Burr’s earlier work. While it doesn’t skimp on PC’s trademark male harassment, particularly in the first third of the show, it gives way to something more thoughtful and surprising. The other nominees offer competent and funny comedy sets, as you would expect from comedians with more than a century of performances between them, without doing much to get your pulse racing.
Whoever wins at the end of the month will break the three-year reign of Dave Chappelle, whom the Grammys have continued to shower with awards, even as the line in his work blurred between provocative and manic. But until a new generation of comics gets a shot at the Grammys, or maybe until the awards begin to respect the art form, the audio comedy, that they are meant to honor, most comedy lovers will seek. elsewhere,.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism