Tap Dancing on Woody’s Windpipe

In one of my more forgettable recent posts I mentioned Woody Allen’s great standup comedy recordings from the mid-1960s. Mrs. QC kindly dug out my vinyl compilation of these recordings, “The Nightclub Years 1964-1968”, which evidently is available on CD only as an import with different cover art.

Here is some historical background from the liner notes of “Nightclub Years”:

In 1964 [Allen] recorded his first album live at Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago. The following year he recorded a second album at The Shadows, a small cabaret in Washington, D.C. Finally, in 1968, he recorded his third album in concert at Eugene’s in San Francisco.

If I recall correctly, my parents saw Allen perform standup live at The Bitter End nightclub in Greenwich Village. That must have been awesome.

Anyway, I was about to get away from the ‘puter and listen to “Nightclub Years” on the ole’ hi-fi when I realized YouTube probably has a lot of this material. And I was right.

This clip, which runs 7:57, is fairly representative. Here Allen tells typically surreal stories, one about being attacked in his apartment building lobby in the middle of the night by “a … Neanderthal man” — “he proceeded to tap dance on my windpipe” — and another about mistaking a KKK rally for a costume party.

In addition to surreal stories, Allen’s work also featured topical one-liners and narratives about Allen’s experiences with women. If that kind of material sounds like it would be more to your liking. try this YouTube.

To my ears — and its been several years since I last listened to these recordings — Allen’s pacing sometimes seems a bit off — a shade too slow perhaps. I realize a standup’s pacing is driven to a large extent by audience reaction. Judging by this audience’s reaction, the majority was fine with his pacing. I also have the impression the material seems even more dated than before. I’ll chalk that up to — big “duh” — the passage of time.

The clips on YouTube are from a different compilation, “Standup Comic”, which is more widely available than “Nightclub Years”. Unfortunately, “Standup Comic” has been criticized for omissions and awkward edits. As I listen to these clips I do notice these. Unless you’ve heard the unedited versions before, though, I doubt you will notice the edits. Rather than checking out these clips you can read a transcript of “Standup Comic”, but obviously you’ll lose a lot in the translation.

Also noteworthy on YouTube are cartoon versions of some of Allen’s more famous routines. I only checked out a couple, but if the rest are similar, they merely show a stationary Allen at the mic with his mouth movements synced to the audio. Kind of cute I guess. Evidently they were created with Flash.

Regrettably, some of my enjoyment of hearing these recordings is forever lost because, well, I know — and therefore anticipate —almost all of the punchlines. That is one of the drawbacks in general of owning standup recordings.

I’ve found I can turn that drawback to my advantage, though, by trading lines with someone who also knows the material very well. I recall doing that in the mid-’80s with my brother, B. We were sitting on the lawn outside his Washington, DC apartment with K, whom B. would eventually marry. We were saying lines from random routines using our impressions of Allen’s New York accent and yukking it up. What made the whole thing even funnier was K’s lack of reaction to the punchlines. Either she didn’t get the jokes, didn’t find them funny — at least not our renditions — or, more likely, she was finding our behavior rude. Which it was. Belated apologies, K.

As a matter of fact, it was B. that brought Allen’s standup to mind most frequently. Last weekend he left a voice message in which he referred to this Allen joke:

I addition to my vodka ad, I also played Las Vegas for the first time. Y’see I’m not a gambler, you should know that about me. I went to the racetrack once in my life and I bet on a horse called Battle Gun, and when all the horses come out, mine is the only horse in the race with training wheels.

I had forgotten about that one. Thank you, B.

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