The American Comedy Box, purports to be a compilation of the best standup and comedy bits ever, something like a catalogue of the great American joke book, on four comedy CDs.

If that were true, all of the tracks would be funny and you would get the all-time funny comedy sketches, monologues, and moments. Well, you don’t. The American Comedy Box may have been mission impossible from the start for, after all, comedy and what is funny is a matter of taste, and Rhino Records, who usually puts out a high-quality specialized product, was probably limited in terms of who owned the rights to what and what rights were available. A simple example is The American Comedy Box has Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks‘ Two Thousand and Two Year Old Man when the original, The Two Thousand Year Old Man is superior material.

Not that The American Comedy Box is a commercial practical joke on an unsuspecting public. It is very interesting, well done, well produced, the packaging is great, and the overall selection is a great addition to any stand up or sketch comedy afficionado’s collection. It has, however, its limitations. Another example is although you do get George Carlin‘s very funny and socially relevant “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television’ and, considering the wealth of great Carlin material to choose from this funny bit is a good choice, you also get Bill Cosby’s “Bill Cosby Goes To a Football Game” which is funny but definitely not superior Bill Cosby material.

There’s also a lot of football comedy and baseball comedy on this anthology stand-up comedy CD (and, yes, it is kind of funny stuff) and one could suspect that this is either because some marketing whiz decided funny football skits and funny baseball stories would help sell this sucker or the producers have a personal penchant for humor related to baseball and football and there you go. That there is not a single Woody Allen stand up track or funny story is also highly questionable, especially since Woody Allen is in the Rhino catalogue.

Still, overall, The American Comedy Box is a worthwhile effort. The division of the material is interesting. You get sections like “Pioneers” with Cal Stewart’s “Uncle Josh in a Barber Shop”, “Radio and the Movies” with, of course, the classic Abbott & Costello “Who’s on First”, Allan Sherman’s “Al & Yenta” in the Musical Comedy section and so on. You do get some very hard to find standup material such as Freddie Prinze’s “Washington Heights; Survival” and the Bill Dana (Jose Jimenez) classic “The Astronaut” as well as Albert Brooks’ “Rewriting the National Anthem”. There are, unfortunately a few too many excerpts (i.e. not the whole funny story) The American Comedy Box is a 4 CD compilation, perhaps overly packaged -you get a big box to hold 4 comedy CDs and a little newspaper on the history of what is funny is America, and probably somewhat overpriced. Perhaps the best indication that you should approach this funny comedy cd compilation remembering the greatest consumer advice ever: Caveat Emptor, is that the box cover features the standard Groucho glasses and nose but there is no Groucho in the box.

The American Comedy Box
4 Comedy CDs
Rhino Records
R2 71617

Volume One:
Pioneers: Cal Stewart, Barney Bernard, Moran and Mack, Smith and Dale.
Radio and The Movies: Sam N Henry, W.C. Fields, Abbott & Costello, Henry Morgan, Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, Stan Freberg.
Musical Comedy: Spike Jones, Allan Sherman, Tom Lehrer, The Smother Brothers, Martin Mull.

Volume Two:
Political Humor: Bob Hope, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, The Committee, Capitol Steps.
One-Liners: Henny Youngman, Myron Cohen, Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Steven Wright.

Volume Three:
Storytellers: Shelley Berman, Andy Griffith, Jerry Clower, Bill Cosby, David Brenner.
Sketches: The Second City, Cheech & Chong, National Lampoon, The Credibility Gap, Albert Brooks.

Volume Four:
Characters: Moms Mabley, Bill Dana (Jose Jimenez) Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, Rodney Dangerfield.
Stand-ups: Buddy Hackett, Redd Foxx, George Carlin, Robert Klein, Flip Wilson, Freddie Prinze, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Robin Williams.


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