Thursday, August 18, 2005

Hot-selling comedy albums seem to have gone the way of the whoopie cushion and hand-buzzer.

Tell that to Dane Cook. The young stand-up landed his “Retaliation” CD at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 album list in its first week of eligibility. It’s the highest position for a comedy album since 1979’s “A Wild and Crazy Guy” from Steve Martin. That album peaked at No. 2.

Mr. Cook’s double disc set isn’t the only comedy album defying the notion that comedy’s glory days ended with Cheech & Chong and Richard Pryor. Larry The Cable Guy’s “The Right to Bare Arms” peaked at No. 7 but managed to top Mr. Cook’s record in first-week sales, says Geoff Mayfield, a senior analyst for Billboard. “Arms” sold 92,000 in its first seven days compared to “Retaliation’s” 86,000.

Mr. Mayfield says a few comics, like The Jerky Boys and Jeff Foxworthy, have managed to rack up impressive album sales in recent years.

Synergy is changing the comedy album marketplace, he says. Mr. Cook’s record, for example, is on the Comedy Central label.

“Steve Martin exploded through ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ” Mr. Mayfield says. “What you have now is Comedy Central, a ready vehicle that’s helping the country-hick humor on one hand and giving a guy like Dane Cook a platform on the other.”

The comedy albums of yore often appealed to the young and disaffected — think the pot smoke-wreathed ramblings of Cheech & Chong.

Allyson Jaffe, manager and part owner of the D.C. Improv, says the comics who sell records today likewise tap into today’s youth market.

“College audiences are the ones who buy albums,” Miss Jaffe says. “Dane Cook doesn’t even do tours anymore. He strictly does colleges.”

Miss Jaffe says comedians Jim Gaffigan, Robert Schimmel, Kathleen Madigan and Mitch Hedberg, who died earlier this year, also share strong record sales.

Mr. Gaffigan records his comedy albums through the D.C. Improv, Miss Jaffe says.

Mr. Cook’s youth appeal is obvious. The comic’s delivery is slick yet cut with testosterone. His occasionally violent imagery, meant to hammer home his gags, seems an easy sell to young, mainly male listeners.

Today’s comics also have the Internet and DVD tie-ins to help spark record sales. Mr. Cook’s Web site ( openly implores fans to help his album climb even higher on the charts, and “Retaliation” includes a DVD featuring his “Crank Yankers” bits and other Comedy Central material.

Stand-up comedy may no longer match the heights of its mid-1980s heyday, but the stage appears set for the record industry’s comedy divisions to laugh all the way to the bank.

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