The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968
Woody Allen is in many respects the ultimate role model for ambitious comedians, demonstrating how you could go from doing standup in nightclubs to becoming a best-selling author, a respected playwright, an acclaimed actor, and an Oscar-winning filmmaker. Of course, one of the reasons Allen was so eager to branch out was because, to take him at his word, he always wanted to be a writer rather than a performer, and once his other careers took off, he abandoned live comedy and never looked back. Allen has also stated that he never really enjoyed his career as a standup, though it's not hard to doubt him when one hears his early work as a comic. Allen recorded three comedy albums between 1964 and 1968 (Woody Allen, Woody Allen Vol. Two, and The Third Woody Allen Album -- clearly he didn't waste time on titles), and they are collected in full on The Stand-Up Years, and the man before the microphone certainly sounds confident and at ease on-stage, though since Allen frequently points to his own quirks and neuroses in his act, perhaps he was simply using his performances as an offbeat form of therapy. But this set certainly confirms that Allen was a superb standup comic, with a fine sense of timing, a distinctive persona, and material that offered a playfully surreal look at one nebbishy guy's struggles with the world at large. One can certainly see glimmers of Allen's storytelling style in bits like "The Moose" and "Down South," more than a few pieces anticipate the wordplay of his short stories and novels, and his riff on "The Lost Generation" can be seen as the seed that grew into the movie Midnight in Paris 46 years later. But while it's hard not to examine these recordings within the context of Allen's long and eclectic career, the simple fact is The Stand-Up Years bears listening simply because Allen was a genuinely gifted standup comic, and if we've seen him expand on the Woody Allen Character in many ways since he gave up live performing (and even had other actors play Woody Allen-ish roles in his movies rather than doing it himself), these early drafts are quite funny and consistently entertaining, and represent the work of a keen comic mind when he was willing to work with no filter between him and his audience. Historically invaluable, and lots of fun to boot. For this reissue of Allen's comedy albums, Razor & Tie Records have also included 25 minutes of interviews with Allen, recorded for Robert B. Weide's film Woody Allen: A Documentary. The interview excerpts focus on Allen's years as a comic; since he is clearly not playing his stories for laughs, the transition from Funny Woody to Older Thoughtful Woody is a bit jarring, but his thoughts certainly add a great deal of perspective on the comedy that appears elsewhere on this collection.