I don’t often write about comedy here at NuDisc, but when I do, it’s pretty much always about ERNIE KOVACS. That’s because this is the only comedy record I’ve ever covered on this site. The Ernie Kovacs Album is an artifact from a different era – 1950s recordings first released in 1977 – a time when people had longer attention spans and weren’t constantly bombarded by media or interrupted by continual notifications of the most insubstantial kind by their smartphones and other electronic gadgets. This album is full of the kind of comedy that requires an unclogged mind, the kind you won’t find on TV or streaming services. The kind of comedy you might have to repeat a few times before you get it.
For those unfamiliar with Ernie Kovacs, he was “an American comedian, actor and writer” whose comedy produced for radio and television influenced many of the greats that are still with us today. Kovacs’ skits and bits took advantage of whatever the medium – his radio pieces were audio puzzles best suited for radio, while his television pieces were largely based on sight gags and visual puns. Regardless of the form, Ernie’s comedy ranged from the incredibly obvious (especially his TV stuff) to the difficult to digest. Take for instance this album’s opener, “Tom Swift,” a lengthy bit read as a radio news story. Its subtle humor is not the kind of laugh riot you might expect on a comedy record. I wonder how much of the humor’s lost to us today because we didn’t grow up in the slower pace of the ’50s or are familiar with many of the references made. On the other hand, “Albert Gridley” is a short bit where an interviewer has to coach his interviewee on the details of the subject being covered (though the story is supposedly “etched in [the] memory” of the guy being interviewed). This one’s easy to get. So is “Droongo,” a lengthy description of how to play a game that is clearly way more complicated than it must be fun. You definitely have to be willing to adjust your intake valve to handle the slower, subtler pace of Kovacs’ humor in order to appreciate his greatness. Many will find his television bits easier to get since they’re presented in both audio and visual form. But there’s no denying that Ernie Kovacs was one of the greats, and it’s quite commendable that Omnivore continues to give us more and more Ernie. (They’ve also released a Christmas record and an entire LP devoted to Kovacs’ character, Percy Dovetonsils, both as limited Record Store Day releases.)
This release of The Ernie Kovacs Album, a Grammy-nominated record being issued on compact disc for the first time, contains a handful of bonus tracks, as well as new and original liner notes. 2019 being the 100th anniversary of Kovacs’ birth, this reissue is part of a centennial celebration that has included tributes by the Library of Congress and his hometown of Trenton, New Jersey. One thing is for certain: Ernie Kovacs’ kind will likely never be replicated or conceived.
3.5/5 (Ominvore OVCD-322, 2019)