The Political or Topical Comedian
Topical comedy can be one of the hardest types of stand-up to master. The two biggest subjects here are the ones you were always told to avoid — politics and religion. Lenny Bruce was one of the first comedians to talk about the unspeakable on stage, and he paid the price for it with jail time and constant harassment.
Mort Sahl wasn't the first comedian who talked about politics, but he was the first political comedian. He and Dick Gregory advanced the style, making it more acceptable for a wider audience. Bill Hicks, Dennis Miller, Bill Maher, Lewis Black, Kate Clinton, Barry Crimmins, Jimmy Tingle, Will Durst, Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo, and impressionist Jim Morris have been masters of the art in recent times.
You've seen Lenny Bruce's influence on so many comedians that the original may seem a little washed out. To capture the comedian who changed everything, listen to the 1992 re-release The Lenny Bruce Original Volume 1 & 2. Another must for political humor is Bill Hick's 1990 album Dangerous — it was and still is dangerously funny.
On television, politics is the staple subject of late night talk shows. Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno, and Conan O'Brien have been the nation's go-to sources for comedically sane interpretations of the day's news. Comedy Central's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have redefined the genre by providing an intelligent, cutting-edge twist to the day's events.
In addition, they actually educate as well as entertain. Some political comedians just tell the audience what they should think, but good ones challenge the audience by making them think about subjects from the comedian's point of view.