By David Browne
Updated January 20, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

Good evening, ladies and germs! (Laughter) Have you heard the one about the comedy album? It’s making a comeback! Yeah, right and so is the Ayatollah! (Laughter) But Syria-slee, folks!

Then again, maybe comedy-album collectors are having the last laugh. The current country top 10, for instance, includes Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, the Tractors, and Jeff Foxworthy? The Atlanta stand-up, now based in L.A., has gone gold with his debut album, You Might Be a Redneck If… Saturday Night Live‘s lantern-jawed goofball, Adam Sandler, has spawned a cult item with his Grammy-nominated 1993 debut, They’re All Gonna Laugh at You!, and his West Coast equivalent, professional stoner Pauly Shore, has returned with his second effort, Pink Diggily Diggily. Meanwhile, Loose Cannon has dusted off ’70s records by Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, originally released on the low-budget label Laff.

In other words, there’s more yuk-time product on the CD shelves than ever before, but the barrage only serves to show how far comedy albums have strayed since their ’60s-’70s peak. Stand-ups like Bill Cosby and Bob Newhart set the pace in the ’60s, and Pryor and Foxx upped the ante the following decade. Foxx’s I Ain’t Lied Yet! (1975) is the dark side of Fred Sanford — it’s so raw it makes sushi seem overcooked! (Sorry, I’ll stop.) Crude, scatological, and unapologetically raunchy, Foxx was the dirty-old-man answer to Henny Youngman (”Where do cousins come from? Aunt holes!”). You’ll laugh and wince at the same time. As demonstrated by the Loose Cannon reissues Craps (After Hours), Black Ben the Blacksmith, and Who Me? I’m Not Him, Pryor’s best work came later. The material is rarely laugh-out-loud funny or cutting, yet you can hear the emergence of his anger-beneath-the-laughs voice on ”Cops/The Line-Up” (on Craps, the best of the three).

From Newhart to Pryor, the premier early comedy-album geniuses displayed timing, rhythm, and acute storytelling skills. Judging from the new generation, those talents are as dead as the vinyl on which early comedy was released. Take Sandler’s album…please! With his moron-of-the-mall voice, he depicts high school as a hellish cauldron of perversion, which it often is. But They’re All Gonna Laugh at You! is otherwise mean-spirited; his one-joke skits, like the pummeling of a bus driver or janitor, go nowhere faster than Denis Leary’s acting career. As for Shore, Pink Diggily Diggily contains actual jokes, but they’re self-serving brags about his sexual prowess (women, he ”jokes,” ”love to get their hair pulled!”), groupies, hanging out with stars, and his easy climb to the top. And his targets — Marky Mark, the Hair Club for Men — are so easy, even Pauly could score with them! (Okay, okay, no more — this time I mean it.)

No wonder white-trash yukster Foxworthy is outselling his contemporaries: On his album, he spins well-paced tales, complete with a drawl that lurches into a charming, befuddled yelp. Compared with Sandler and Shore, Foxworthy’s routines are old-fashioned in their construction, like a yuppie update of Hee Haw. (”Remember how many channels we had when we were kids? Three. And if the President was on, your night was shot!”) Yet his trademark ”redneck” one-liners hit the bull’s-eye just enough: ”If you go to the family reunion to meet women you might be a redneck!” Foxworthy’s stand-up competition should all — last joke, I promise — sit down! I Ain’t Lied Yet! B Craps B- Who Me? I’m Not Him C Black Ben the Blacksmith C They’re All Gonna Laugh at You! D Pink Diggily Diggily F You Might Be a Redneck If… A-