On his album Annihilation, comic Patton Oswalt manages the seemingly impossible: He finds humor in the “numb slog” through the “swamp of grief” following the sudden death of his wife, Michelle McNamara. Oswalt’s pathos- and hilarity-filled special is nominated for a 2019 Grammy for best comedy album alongside Fred Armisen, Dave Chappelle, Jim Gaffigan and Chris Rock. But as Oswalt notes, a stellar Grammy field could just as well have included the comics below.
Nanette (Netflix/Comedy Dynamics)
The deadpan Tasmanian’s album was a divisive smash, thanks to Gadsby’s incisive takedown of gender and sexuality dynamics in comedy (and art in general) and frank depiction of her experience as a lesbian in homophobic Tasmanian society.
Patton’s pitch: “It’s such a breath of fresh air — a rearing up of the life force of comedy itself. Comedy can sustain, and is energized by, this level of criticism and attack and deconstruction. The gatekeepers need to be told ‘fuck you’ every now and then.”
Pasta (Kill Rock Stars)
Heller’s self-deprecating yet confident album flows between personal stories and droll commentary like “I’ve never seen a kid on a leash that didn’t need that leash.”
Patton’s pitch: “Emily is so aware of the ways that she’s fucking up but has this great, wise way of looking at it. She reminds me a lot of Kate Berlant, where you’re not watching someone delivering jokes — you’re watching Emily Heller do a set, and part of her personality comes through in the doing of the set.”
Donna’s Daughter (Comedy Central Records)
The Saturday Night Live writer pivots from relating moving and funny stories about coming out and domestic assault to sparring with the audience and discussing material in offstage interludes — then glides right back into her set.
Patton’s pitch: “Her journey to realizing she is a lesbian is done in this really profane and gorgeous way. It has these awesome interludes where she talks to her friend, almost like commentary on the bit that came before, and then rougher versions of the bit that’s coming. That’s how half of comedy gets done: You’re just talking to your friends, and stuff comes out of that.”
Lightskinned Feelings (Comedy Central Records)
Best known as one of the hot guys on Insecure, Kerman is a charming and nimble comic whose album takes on topics like race and Donald Trump through adroitly askew observations.
Patton’s pitch: “He’s very open in saying, ‘I don’t really know exactly where things stand or what things are yet.’ To listen to somebody wrestling with that is refreshing. And it’s not at Radio City Music Hall or the Sydney Opera House. It’s a guy at the Punch Line in San Francisco.”
Kid Gorgeous at Radio City (Drag City)
Comedy’s favorite observational talent wins over the Radio City crowd with elaborate, hilarious metaphors — as when he likens Trump to a horse set loose in a hospital.
Patton’s pitch: “If Nanette wants to shatter the form, Mulaney amplifies what the form is. It reminded me a lot of The Book of Mormon in that it’s revelatory material done in a very standard, accessible style.”