This was a difficult list to distill from dozens of excellent audio and video shows that were sent to me for review. They are listed below via "publish date" and are not weighted in any way beyond that. Thank you to everyone who sent me their media, if you didn't make it on this list, you at least got a mention in an earlier column.
John Mulaney - New In Town (January 31) - Mulaney, primarily known for his writing on "Saturday Night Live," had his first major TV premiere this year with New In Town and it's a great opportunity to see him tell a story that's longer than a 4-8 minute sketch. Mulaney's stream of hilarious anecdotes culminates in a true story of a visit to the doctor that might be worth acquiring the DVD alone.
Patrice O'Neal - Mr. P (February 7) - This posthumous release (Patrice died in November of 2011) is of a comedian that so many comedians (Louis CK, Bill Burr, Chris Rock, Robert Kelly, Jim Norton, etc.) regarded as a friend and inspiration. What's remarkable about this recording is not that it is of a particularly outstanding performance, but, rather, that it is of what would be a typically boisterous bought of comedy with Patrice. What you hear O'Neal do on Mr. P is what you'd see him if you caught him at the Comedy Cellar in New York City on virtually any night of the week: informed, original, brilliantly funny conversations with a man whose absence is sorely felt.
Reggie Watts - A Live At Central Park (May 15) - The inseparable blend of comedy and music that Reggie Watts presents is always a welcome break from what would be considered "typical" of the art form and his live recording during a rainy summer day in Central Park made this top ten list for the year. Sometimes termed "stream-of-consciousness," Watts' bits are really well-paired rants on politics, technology, and culture with funky and sometimes beautiful music.
Hannibal Buress - Animal Furnace (May 22) - Former "SNL" and "30 Rock" writer quit those gigs to work on stand-up full time and has since appeared on every late night show with the exception of "The Tonight Show." A comic with an original voice and perspective, he won the 2012 Comedy Award for Comedian of the Year and you'll understand why if you listen to Animal Furnace.
Matt Braunger - Shovel Fighter (July 17) - This "MADtv" and "Up All Night" cast member is also a co-founder of Portland's Bridgetown Comedy Festival. This LA-based comic is originally from Chicago, a city that features regularly in his comedy, particularly in a piece involving clowns that might be a centerpiece for the special.
Todd Barry - Super Crazy (July 24) - Barry has appeared on Louis CK's FX show, "Louie," perhaps more than any other character (other than the daughters), and he is another comedian much-respected by his peers. This intimate-sounding recording highlights Barry's sardonic and razor-sharp use of language.
Bill Burr - You People Are All The Same (August 16) - This is the 3rd special released by Burr, self-produced and recorded in Washington, D.C., in February, it's another fantastic hour from the L.A.-based comic (hailing from Boston). Burr sold out Carnegie Hall last November as he finessed the material that made it into this recording, delivered with an unapologetic and caustic wit, themes on women and celebrity, his experiences training his rescue pitbull, and other frustration-inspired soliloquies fuel the hour from start to finish.
Lewis Black - In God We Rust (September 10) - Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about In God We Rust is that, despite the fact it was recorded 18 months before it was released, how applicable Black's observations are to the political and social turmoil we endured this election cycle. In God We Rust again demonstrates the power of Black, behold and tremble, my friends.
Kyle Kinane - Whiskey Icarus (November 27) - Somehow Kinane manages to deliver comedic bits that range from weirdos eating pancakes on planes to the lonely existence of comedians in the same boisterously positive voice and attitude. Whiskey Icarus starts at full tilt and Kinane never seems to slow down and take a breath, a recording that should inspire you to see him perform live as soon as possible.
Maria Bamford - the special special special (November 28) - Perhaps the most innovative release of the year, Maria Bamford's the special special special was recorded in her east LA cottage in front of an audience composed of two people, her parents. Released at Chill.com, Bamford's special capped off a year of self-produced and released projects that achieved national attention, starting late last year with Louis CK's Live At The Beacon Theatre. Bamford's release had the exact opposite aesthetic, performing in her living room rather than on a celebrated Broadway stage was the perfect tone for Bamford's intimate material and characters, exploring her relationships with her family (who were right in front of her!) as well as her relationships with therapy and mental health. Bamford is a fearless, compelling, and hilarious chameleon, and the special special special is a must-see.
Other comedy honorable mentions and announcements:
The number 10 is an arbitrary and meaningless number but people love these lists and therein is the construct. I suppose I could have made it "The 12 Best of 2012" by adding the following (but then where does it stop? "20 Best of 2020?" Ridiculous): Jim Gaffigan's self-producd and released Mr. Universe is one of his best ever, with plenty of the hilarious cultural and food references that Gaffigan is known for, but with plenty of self-awareness; I saw Ari Shaffir at the Just For Laughs Festival a couple years ago and was very pleased to get his album, Revenge for the Holocaust, always confrontational and always funny, a great listen and a top comedy album on iTunes; Demetri Martin's Demetri Martin Standup Comedian is a great example of a comic gong back to his craft - Martin is now known for being a film actor and a TV showrunner but we got to meet him, originally, as a comedian, and this was like a great visit with an old friend; hilariously neurotic bits are a hallmark of comedian Gary Gulman and there are plenty in No Can Defend, combined with his Comedy Central special, "In This Economy," which premiered a couple weeks ago, made this a huge year for Gulman; if you want to go uber-local, Eagle Rock Comedy Festival producer and comedy mentor Bobbie Oliver, released her album, Finally, in February of this year with great anecdotes of growing up in The South and observations of life in LA.
Comedy Store regular Brody Stevens is a force of nature and this Fall on HBO's GO platform, he had a program released called "Brody Stevens: Enjoy It!" and now the show is available in its entirety on Brody's YouTube channel. The show explores Brody's persona, his art, and his history, including a mental health incident last year, through a tag-along format as well as interviews with his friends and peers, including Sarah Silverman, Steve Agee, Zach Galifianakis, Chelsea Handler, and many more. It's a very funny show that's not afraid of intimacy. Watch it, it's free, and enjoy it!
There is an amazing comedy show tonight at the Hayworth Theatre benefitting No Kid Hungry! featuring Nick Kroll, Brett Gelman, Wayne Federman, The Spanglers, Jon Daly, Baron Vaughn, and many more people in a comedy-variety show format. There will be a bake sale for you to get your eat on as well as a crafts sale to take care of last minute holiday gifts. The lineup is incredible and the charity is a cheery bonus, more information on the Gosh! This is Festive! show HERE.