The release of his long-lost comedy album gives a glimpse of his classic, pre-tabloid days

By Josh Wolk
June 09, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
Hulton_Deutsch Collection/Corbis

The name Woody Allen comes with a lot of preconceptions: He’s a highly introspective director, an actor whose face is an icon for neurotic behavior… and then there’s that whole marrying-his-stepdaughter thing. But for a glimpse of the man before his career and private life dwarfed him, check out ”Standup Comic” (Rhino), a rereleased recording from Allen’s ’60s club days when it was just him, a pair of glasses, and a microphone.

The album shows a wide range of styles. There are the shaggy-dog stories, like the one about bringing a moose to a Halloween party, where he introduces the animal as ”The Solomons” and later watches it win second place in the costume contest… runner-up to the Berkowitzes, a couple DRESSED as a moose. Then there are the one-liners: ”Sex is a beautiful thing between two people. Between five it’s fantastic.” Or about his group therapy softball team: ”If you’ve never seen neurotics play softball, it’s very funny. I used to steal second base and feel guilty and go back.” You’ll even recognize some of these early jokes, which he later reused in his movies. For example, the one about being kicked out of NYU — ”I cheated on my metaphysics final. I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me” — popped up in ”Annie Hall.”

The classic album was first released in 1978 when producer Steve Tyrell — now known more for his work with musical talent from Randy Travis to LL Cool J — played the taped routines for Allen (who at the time was directing ”Interiors,” his most solemn drama). Contrary to Allen’s usual criticisms of his early work, the comic loved listening to his old riffs. ”It was like when you’re sitting in the studio with (trumpeter) Clark Terry,” remembers Tyrell, ”and he’d gone out and played a great solo and came back in to listen (to a tape). Woody would get that musician look, like, ‘Hey, that was pretty cool, wasn’t it?”’

To give the album an extra neurotic flourish, Allen even made a donation for the liner notes: Harsh reviews from his club days that he had saved for years, calling him ”a flat-headed, redheaded lemur with closely bitten fingernails” (Time magazine), ”miserable-looking” (Herald-Tribune), and a comic with ”all the force of a pint-sized, droopy… economics professor” (World Telegram). Aaaah…those were the days.