Collection ACC-MSS 004 - Warren Debenham Comedy Sound Collection

Identity elements

Reference code


Name and location of repository

Level of description



Warren Debenham Comedy Sound Collection


  • 1955 - 2006 (Creation)


24 linear feet

Name of creator

(1933 -)

Biographical history

Warren Debenham was born January 20, 1933 in San Francisco. He studied college at Stanford University and seminary at General Theological Seminary in New York City, and at The Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, CA. One of the foremost collectors in the U.S. with more than 40,000 comedy LPs, 45s, 78s and CDs, Warren Debenham has been collecting comedy albums and humor ephemera for more than 60 years. His LP record collection of comedy and spoken word albums is expansive, and to supplement it he has also collected novelty items, newspaper clippings, toys, and other ephemera. He is considered an authority on comedy recordings, and is often consulted to contribute to catalogs and the indexing of other collections in this field such as the Dr. Demento online playlists, and the Stan Freberg discography. He has worked with Marshall Berle in releasing albums for including Bill Dana’s "Greatest Bits of Jose Jimenez" in 2000. A member of the clergy, collecting has been a pastime and fervent hobby of the Reverend. He was the first rector of the Thomas Episcopal Church of Sunnyvale, CA serving from 1960 as Vicar, and from 1965 - 1973 as Rector. He was Rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Albany, CA, did a neighborhood ministry in West Oakland, CA and is now retired and assists part time at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in downtown Oakland. He lives in Berkeley, CA with his wife, Sally. The San Francisco Public Library has received half of his extensive comedy LP, 45 RPM, 78 RPM, and CD records with the other half to be received after his death. Rev. Debenham, who was seeking a home for his collection, sent the materials to Boston in December 2007.

Content and structure elements

Scope and content

The Warren Debenham Comedy Sound Collection documents American comedy from the early 1930s through 2006 and consists of long playing albums and compact discs of live performances, spoken word recordings, humorous music, musical theater, and film soundtracks. In addition to recordings of individual comics, the collection contains compilations of various comedians. Also included are compilations of radio series, among them “Our Miss Brooks,” “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show,” “Duffy’s Tavern” and “The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show” that were broadcasted during the early 1930s through the mid 1950s. Other long running radio programs, in particular “The Chase and Sanborn Show,” “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” and “The Bickfords” are contained in the collection. In addition, recordings by George Jessel, Victor Borge, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Florence Foster Jenkins, and Spike Jones provide insight into the influence of vaudeville and burlesque that characterized American humor during the first half of the 20th century.

Also represented is the work of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Moms Mabley, Erma Bombeck, David Frye, George Carlin, and many other comedians who, during the 1960s and 1970s, found their material in the social, political, religious, and cultural changes that were occurring during that time. Among the comediennes who challenged the conventions of motherhood, wives, and respectable women were LaWanda Page, Fanny Flagg, Belle Barth, and Pearl Williams. The influence of these entertainers is reflected through the work of later generations of comics, among them Sam Kinison, Martin Lawrence, Jerry Seinfeld, The Queens of Comedy, and Chris Rock. The collection also contains recordings of comedy troupes, especially The Capitol Steps, Second City, and Firesign Theater.

Subjects cover such topics as politics, relationships, religion, parenting, adolescence, and African-American culture. Genres include adult entertainment, satire, comedy songs and humorous music, improvisational, impressions, stand-up, telephone pranks, observational, regional, ethnic, and dark humor.

System of arrangement

The collection is organized into three series according to format:
1. Long playing (LP) records
2. Compact discs
3. Ephemera

Conditions of access and use elements

Conditions governing access

This collection is open to researchers.

Physical access

Technical access

Researchers will need a record player (for LPs, 45s, and 78s) and a CD player to listen to material in this collection, as well as headphones.

Conditions governing reproduction

Some materials may be subject to copyright. No part of the materials protected by copyright may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without written permission from the copyright holder. Researchers are required to seek permission from the copyright holder to reproduce and/or publish materials under copyright.

Languages of the material

  • English
  • Spanish

Scripts of the material

Language and script notes

Finding aids

Acquisition and appraisal elements

Custodial history

The San Francisco Public Library has received half of Debenham's extensive comedy LP, 45 RPM, 78 RPM, and CD records with the other half to be received after his death. Rev. Debenham, who was seeking a home for his collection, sent the materials to Boston in December 2007.


Further materials have been donated.

Related materials elements

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related archival materials

Warren Debenham materials can also be located at the San Francisco Public Library Schmulowitz Collection of Wit and Humor.

Notes element

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