Given that he’s been a filmmaker for most of his life, and all of ours, it’s easy to forget that Woody Allen was a stand-up comedian in the ’60s, and a funny one at that. But now we have a vivid reminder of his time on the stage with Woody Allen The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968 (CD, digitial), an augmented version of Standup Comic and The Nightclub Years 1964-1968 that were, in turn, collections of the out-of-print albums Woody Allen, Woody Allen II, and The Third Woody Allen Album.
Presenting three shows from the mid-’60s — Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago in March of 1964; The Shadows in Washington, DC in April of 1965; and Eugene’s in San Francisco in August of 1968 — Woody Allen The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968 corresponds to when Allen was breaking into film, as the first movie based on one of his scripts, What’s New Pussycat?, came out in 1965, while his directorial debut, What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, was made in 1966.
But while his comedy does have some similarities to his early movies, as they have a similar mix of self-deprecation and arrogance, the tone and style of his comedy is actually closer to his mid-’70s movies, when he moved away from just being silly and started to mix the silly with the smart, as typified by 1975’s Love And Death. (In fact, if Allen had been less prolific, many of these bits might’ve wound up in one of his movies.) Though they also recall the stories he told in his books Getting Even (which came out in 1971), Without Feathers (1975), and Side Effects (1986), all of which have since been collected in The Complete Prose Of Woody Allen.
As a result, you really need to be a fan of Woody — especially, as Ned Flanders might put it, of that “nervous fella” who’s always in his movies — to really enjoy Woody Allen The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968. If you’re not, or if you just don’t like the character he always plays, then you won’t appreciate his humor here.
But for those who do, Woody Allen The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968 is a goldmine of hilarity. Though while these jokes are between forty-five and fifty years old, they all hold up well, especially since Allen’s humor is largely situational, even when ludicrous, and is largely devoid of topical references.
More importantly, it’s also still unique. Despite the fact that his sense of humor has largely remained unchanged, and has been around and influential for decades, the style of what you hear on Woody Allen The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968 remains largely his and only his. Sure, Woody has influenced a number of people — including fellow stand-up Chris Rock and fellow filmmaker Albert Brooks — but he’s still the only one you’d called “Woody Allen-esque.”
Oh, and for those wondering about the elephant in the room, aside from a few snide remarks about his first ex-wife, Harlene Susan Rosen, there’s nothing on Woody Allen The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968 that takes on a different meaning or feeling in light of what he did, and has been accused of doing, in the years since he recorded this stuff.
As for those who’ve owned previous versions of these recordings, Woody Allen The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968 has the same sound quality the same as both Standup Comic and The Nightclub Years 1964-1968. Not that it really matters, since all three versions sound good, and, well, it is just some nervous fella talking anyway.
That said, what Woody Allen The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968 does, which Standup Comic did not, is present the three shows in chronological order, and as they happened; on Comic, stories from the different shows were all mixed together for some inexplicable reason.
Even cooler, Woody Allen The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968 adds a previously unheard, nearly six-minute-long bit from the Eugene’s show, in which he takes questions from the audience. Though, funny as it may be — and it is quite funny — it did make me wish they had found even more in the vaults.
Woody Allen The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968 also includes audio excerpts from the movie Woody Allen: A Documentary, ones that come from the parts where he talked about his stand-up career. But while these moments are interesting and illuminating — well, if you haven’t seen the documentary, that is — they kind of don’t really work on this album, if only because they’re something you’d want to hear once, but only once, while the rest of this collection is worth repeating.
Though the fact that you’ll want to listen to the rest of it multiple times just makes it even more annoying that the CD edition of Woody Allen The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968 comes in a cheap cardboard case, and not a sturdier plastic one for safe keeping. Though I could say the same about almost every new CD I’ve gotten in the last three years.
Regardless of how you feel about the way CDs are packaged these days, though, if you own either The Nightclub Years 1964-1968 or Standup Comic, Woody Allen The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968 is really only worth the upgrade if you think hearing him humorously answer questions for 5:41 is worth it. Or you own original copies of Woody Allen, Woody Allen II, and The Third Woody Allen Album and don’t want to risk scratching them.
But for fans of Woody’s movies (especially his funny ones) who’ve never owned any versions of these comedy albums, you’ll get a lot of good laughs out of Woody Allen The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968. Even having heard this stuff before, I still found myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions….even during the bits that, over time, I’ve never forgotten.