Listeners of National Public Radio and WHYY are very familiar with Fresh Air, the quite public affairs show, and host Terry Gross. Fresh Air Laughs is a 3 CD collection of her interviews with the who’s who of comedy between 1986 and 2003.

The big names that answer Gross’ questions and banter with her include Bill Maher, Al Franken, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Drew Carey, Phyllis Diller, Bob Newhart, and Jay Leno, to name but a few of the 21 stand-up comics who appear on this excellent collection.

Fresh Air Laughs is a must have for the serious comedy fan. We are used to stand-up comics doing interviews where they basically plug whatever their latest project is, and tell the same old stories to answer the same old questions. Terry Gross, a brilliant interviewer, makes her guest comfortable and asks many questions her guest has never heard or had to answer before. This makes for fascinating and very funny interviews with some of America’s best comics and kings and queens of comedy. That she can more often than not hold her own with some of the sharpest comedic minds ever shows not only Terry Gross’s skills and explains the popularity of Fresh Air but allows the stand-up comic guests to have fun and go beyond the boundaries of the usual staid interview with a funny man or funny woman.

The comedy fan will notice while listening to Fresh Air Laughs with Terry Gross that it is not every comedian who can tell a joke if he or she is not on stage with a mic. Drew Carey, being interviewed during the release of his Dirty Jokes and Beer book, is very good at delivering a few johnson or penis jokes from his book. These jokes are a variation on playing the dozens where Yo Mama is replaced by my penis is so big that… Al Franken on the other hand does not deliver his material very well on the radio. Guess that means there is hope for all us funny story tellers who bomb sometimes.

The best track on Fresh Air Laughs that is worth the price of this 3 CD set alone and is a must for any stand-up comic experienced our beginner is the Phyllis Diller interview. Terry Gross asks just the right questions, Diller is at her most generous, and you get a quick crash course in comedy, how to build a joke, how far to stray from the setup, what is funny, etc.

Fans of old time comedians will also certainly enjoy the Henny Youngman interview. Even if no new ground is really broken here, Gross does manage to get some new information and a couple of touching revelations from the Take my wife, please comic. Others will enjoy the Jay Leno interview where you get the story of Leno’s lean and mean days.

Another strength of Fresh Air Laughs is Gross never does the same interview twice. Too often interviewers have a limited set of questions that they run through and after a while the audience pretty much knows what question is coming up. This is not the case here. Gross’ only weakness is here sense of humor is not as fine tuned as her guests sometimes expected it to be and she rails a little too often against jokes about (in her mind, against) women.

Fresh Air Laughs with Terry Gross is a 3 CD set that definitely comes in a jewel case.

Fresh Air Laughs
Hosted by Tery Gross
Stand-up Comics Interviewed
3 CDs
3 hours
HighBridge Audio 2004


Track List:

CD 1

Al Franken 2002

Bill Maher 2002

Ahmed Ahmed & Maz Jobrani 2002

Tracey Ulman 1998

Martin Short 1989

Conan O’Brien 1996

Richard Pryor 1995

CD 2

Jon Lovitz 1992

Richard Belzer 1987

Colin Quinn 2003

Chris Rock 1997

Drew Carey 1997

Carol Leifer 1993

Larry David 1992

CD 3

Henny Youngman 1991

Phyllis Diller 1986

Jay Leno 1996

Joan Rivers 1991

Jackie Mason 1987

Bob Newhart 1998


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