Monthly Archives: November 2013

Make ’em Laugh: The Best Stand-Up Comics of All Time

I haven’t researched it, but my guess is that stand-up comedy has been around as long as humans have lived in groups.  Sitting around the fire in the cave, one person would say, “Those Neanderthals are so dumb…” and the rest would respond (in unison), “How dumb are they?”  I can imagine a comedian regaling a crowd in the ancient city of Babylon: “You know, after Nebuchadnezzar’s latest round of executions, the hanging gardens are really the hanging gardens, if you know what I mean.”  Entertainment venues across time and all over the world have sponsored comedians as part of their repertoire, but for me the world of stand-up comedy came first through the magic of television.  The Ed Sullivan ShowThe Tonight Show.  SNLLetterman. HBOComedy Central.  Now I usually find new stand-ups through YouTube.  I’ve also been fortunate enough to see some great live comedy – I’ll never forget my first time at Catch A Rising Star in New York City in the 1970s, with Richard Belzer as the emcee.  (Then again, I have also been subjected to racist, misogynist, homophobic ‘humor’ at comedy clubs.)  Then there were the few times I shelled out the big bucks to see big name headliners – Steve Martin (in his arrow-through-the-head days), Larry Miller (at Cambridge’s Catch a Rising Star), and Jerry Seinfeld (with a then-unknown Louis C.K. as opener) – and was not disappointed.  (Recent fave:  two live shows at the Wilbur Theater in Boston seeing the incomparable Maria Bamford!)

All of this is prologue for my latest list – Best Stand-Up Comics of All Time.  I collected 12 lists of “Best Stand-Up Comedians” off the Internet and combined them into one list.  Here are the results, ranked with the most-listed comics first.  The numbers in bold indicate the number of lists the comedian is on. Comics who are on the same number of lists are organized by date of birth.  This list contains all the comics who were on at least three of the 12 original source lists.  I was a little surprised at the results – most of the comedians are American men.  I can understand that there might not be a lot of comedic crossover between cultures, but there have been many funny women over the years, so that was a disappointment.  None of my current crop of favorites made it: Maria Bamford, Jim Gaffigan, Brian Regan, Mike Birbiglia – too new, I suppose.  Still, the results cover a lot of time periods, comedic styles and personalities – take a look to see if your favorites are there.

George Carlin (1937-2008)
Richard Pryor (1940-2005)
Steve Martin (1945- )
Eddie Murphy (1961- )

Bill Cosby (1937- )
Jerry Seinfeld (1954- )
Chris Rock (1965- )

Rodney Dangerfield (1921-2004)
Lenny Bruce (1925-1966)
Robin Williams (1951-2014)
Bill Hicks (1961-1994)

Louis C.K. (1967- )
Dave Chappelle (1973- )

Redd Foxx (1922-1991)
Don Rickles (1926- )
Bob Newhart (1929- )
Woody Allen (1935- )
Lewis Black (1948- )
Steven Wright (1955- )

Jack Benny (1894-1974)
Bob Hope (1903-2003)
Milton Berle (1908-2002)
Johnny Carson (1925-2005)
Sam Kinison (1953-1992)
Denis Leary (1957- )
Ray Romano (1957- )
Paula Poundstone (1959- )
Eddie Izzard (1962- )
Jim Carrey (1962- )

George Burns (1896-1996)
Henny Youngman (1906-1998)
Phyllis Diller (1917-2012)
Joey Bishop (1918-2007)
Buddy Hackett (1924-2003)
Jonathan Winters (1925-2013)
Alan King (1927-2004)
Mort Sahl (1927- )
Jackie Mason (1931- )
Flip Wilson (1933-1998)
David Brenner (1936- )
Billy Connolly (1942- )
Richard Belzer (1944- )
Dick Gregory (1946- )
Richard Lewis (1947- )
David Letterman (1947- )
Billy Crystal (1948- )
Andy Kaufman (1949-1984)
Garry Shandling (1949-)
Jay Leno (1950- )
George Wallace (1952- )
Dennis Miller (1953- )
Tim Allen (1953- )
Larry Miller (1953- )
Freddie Prinze (1954-1977)
Gilbert Gottfried (1955- )
Dana Carvey (1955- )
Sandra Bernhard (1955- )
Bill Maher (1956- )
Richard Jeni (1957-2007)
Albert Brooks (1957- )
Ellen DeGeneres (1958- )
Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay (1958- )
Damon Wayans (1960- )
Jon Stewart (1962- )
D.L. Hughley (1963- )
David Cross (1964- )
Martin Lawrence (1965- )
Adam Sandler (1966- )
Mitch Hedberg (1968-2005)