We dish out the dirt on the comedians and comediennes who have been rising and falling in recent years, from classics like Jerry Seinfeld to recent stars like John Mulaney. Read on and find your new funny favorite.
Few names are so divided in stand-up land. Schumer got her start as a feminist, body-positive name playing small shows. Her fame skyrocketed when she landed a Netflix special...which immediately saw her fame plummet back down.
The special was so disliked that Netflix actually changed its rating system to hide the fact that so many people hated it. Her next special, “Inside Amy Schumer,” was mostly ignored, and those who were tricked into watching it took to Rotten Tomatoes, giving it poor ratings. The most damning thing they say about her? She just isn't funny.
This little guy has drawn some of the biggest crowds a comedian has ever seen. His high-energy performances draw in everyone, but his realism keeps them there. He allows himself to be confused, doubtful, and even hurt when not on-stage. He digs into his tales of family, a failed marriage, and fatherhood.
This star has sold out Madison Square Garden twice in one day and has even become the first comedian EVER to headline a show at an NFL stadium (Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia). He's the kind of person everyone can connect to, and he maintains a funny person without hiding behind it.
Carlin was a confluence of purpose and skill. He brought his incredible way of focusing on the strange details of life and added his unique train of thought, as well as his legendary command of the English language.
He focused on everything from religion and politics to parenting, schools, and even comedy itself. Nothing was beyond his reach, and nothing was too sacred for him to tear down – and get an audience laughing at the same time. He was able to be crude and sarcastic one minute, then bring serene, erudite wisdom the next, and even those who found themselves in his sights enjoyed listening.
Infectious enthusiasm is Ansari's brand, and it's that same enthusiasm that has made him a favorite to audiences everywhere. You might remember him from the ridiculous sayings of Tom Haverford, his character on "Parks and Recreation," or as his foul-mouthed persona, Randy in "Funny People."
This Indian-American leader in comedy has been showing everyone how it's done. He's still busy, thanks to performing stand-up comedy all over the world and writing and starring in his own Netflix show, "Master of None." His sense of silliness and joy makes his comedy easy to enjoy for anyone, and his routines about the simple pleasures of pop culture keep us all smiling.
Combine Joan Rivers' crude comedy, the politically-charged humor of Bill Hicks, and Robin Williams' quick improv, and who do you have? None other than Margaret Cho. The Korean-American comedienne talks about everything from two years of celibacy to growing up with an overbearing Korean mother.
Even for her first HBO comedy hit, “Half-Hour,” this lady was getting the grins and the applause from audiences around the world. Her wide diversity of topics and straight-to-the-point delivery means everyone will find something to laugh at.
Plenty of comedians have branched out to other areas of pop-culture, and Patton Oswalt is one of the front runners in this category. Whether he's voicing the main character of "Ratatouille" or appearing as TV's Son of TV's Frank, he gets people laughing no matter where he appears.
He's even helped further the cause of geek culture with his love of comic books. He's become one of the best stand-up comedians of his generation, as well as one of the most successful. His comedy specials, film and TV roles, and even his bestselling books have kept him finding success, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Few people push as many things as Silverman. Whether it's buttons, envelopes, boundaries, or sore spots, she cuts to the quick. However, not everyone enjoys her style of comedy, which can be incredibly dirty and foul-mouthed, as well as full of pointed irony.
Her subject matter ranges from one controversial topic to another, and she always relies on your notable little-girl looks to deliver unexpected punchlines. While her longer pieces can turn into rambles, her actual joke delivery is always spot-on. However, risqué jokes and odd subject choices have turned plenty of people off, which means she's one of the more contentious names on this list.
Most comedians begin their careers at a young age, but Diller got her start at the comparatively old age of thirty-seven. She was one of the ultimate pioneers for female comedians and left herself open for plenty of critiques as she attacked gender roles and the lives of men and women.
Being a wife and a mom, she had plenty of material to work with. She made herself unforgettable on-stage with garish outfits and styled-up hair, but her fabulous nature and freaky skits made audiences take notice. She inspired droves of girls and women to try their jokes on-stage and made them into more than a novelty – instead, they could be a force to be reckoned with.
Few comedians have been more innovative and respected for decades than Albert Brooks. During his early years as a stand-up, he made his name on talk shows. He's appeared on "The Dean Martin Show," "The Ed Sullivan Show," and plenty of others before earning a semi-regular stint on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."
He produced two groundbreaking comedy albums, "Comedy Minus One" and "A Star is Bought," and then wrote, directed, and starred in a feature film, "Real Life." It was a dark comedy that looked ahead at the future of entertainment and skewered the reality TV craze before it was even started. We want more, Brooks – it's still happening.
A single prop or a little bit of costuming was all Winters needed to transform into a hilarious, well-defined character. His well-trained voice and seemingly plastic face helped him transform into these characters. But even beyond that, Winters was a revered comedic genius.
He wove together improv, impersonations, and plenty of homemade, oddball jokes and events that kept him in front of audiences for decades. He spent more than thirty years playing memorable roles. Even once his stand-up career switched to the back burner, he had plenty of appearances on movies and shows like "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and Robin Williams' dad on "Mork & Mindy."
While Ellen is known mostly for her titular show, she got her start as a stand-up comedian with lots of hilarity and heart. Her legacy may very well be her championing of kindness in comedy, an important element that the industry can definitely lack.
She started off in the eighties as one of the more reliable headliners in the biz. A lot of people saw her as paralleling the career of Jerry Seinfeld (though Seinfeld's own show is likely more famous than Ellen's – not to mention it changed the sitcom world forever). Her first stand-up special in fifteen years, “Relatable,” has her returning to her roots as a stand-up heroine.
Yes, long before he was a late-night talk show host – Letterman hosted "Late Show" for thirty-three years, the longest tenure in television talk show history! This old standard of television was notoriously self-flagellating and compulsively unromantic, and it's been said that he was never comfortable unless he was unhappy with something.
His material was effortlessly original, as well as irreverent. Nothing escaped his notice for long, and he loved to butcher sacred cows. He was a trailblazer since his “everything is stupid” style has now become one of the enduring styles of stand-up.
How good was Bob Newhart? His first comedy album, "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart," went all the way to number one, and the guy he knocked out was none other than Elvis Presley.
Even now, Newhart is a rare performer. A lot of comedians want to knock their audiences out, but Newhart was different. He could do more with his trademark pregnant pauses and side-long looks than most people can do yelling at the top of their lungs. With his stammering and stuttering, this legendary performer showed a lot of people in the stand-up community that sometimes less is more.
Bob Hope is one of the elite icons of comedy in the entirety of the twentieth century. It was hard not to suffer from laughter-induced cramps when watching one of his specials. By the time Hope died in 2003, at the ripe old age of 100, he had conquered vaudeville, Broadway, recorded albums, live concerts, radio shows, films, and even the infant TV technology.
He remained on the small screen into his nineties, getting people to laugh even in his old age. He spent a lot of time entertaining troops overseas, and for an astounding eight decades, this man was the hope of comedy and a reliable source of laughs.
For a man who keeps saying he gets no respect, Rodney Dangerfield got a lot of respect. Playing the wild-eyed, rumpled, and eternally-downtrodden every-man helped Dangerfield carve out a unique comedy niche.
His stand-up specials had him skewering himself, his love life, and even his wife on a regular basis. That and his role in "Caddyshack" had Dangerfield earning his comedic respect one odd look and nervous laugh at a time. While not the most versatile of comics, he played his role perfectly. We just hope his wife didn't mind.
When Bill Burr gets angry at something, we all profit. There's so much to be angry about in this world, and Bill Burr brings anger and laughs in equal amounts. "Rolling Stone" called him “the undisputed heavyweight champ of rage-fueled humor.” His shtick seems to be little more than getting on stage and yelling about things, but his undeniable skill and art make him easy to love.
Burr throws his audience into the deep end with his anger, then pulls them back into comfortable waters with his jokes and their delivery. He also seems like nothing more than a normal guy and not a wacky character or haughty celeb.
Most of the comedians on this list tell jokes, get a laugh, and then call it good. Andy Kaufman, however, is not your normal comedian. When he took the stage, Kaufman would intentionally fall flat. To be a good, funny comedian is one thing, but to know how to purposefully fail at being funny takes much more skill.
Kaufman loved when the audience got angry because to him, comedy was less of a vocation and more like a way to point out the absurdities of the human condition. He even had a few long-running pranks and ruses, so even after his death at the age of thirty-five, people thought he was still alive.
Most comedians have a skit to go through—something they planned and wrote out and practiced. Don Rickles went with this for a while, but then he started to realize the things he ad-libbed to put down hecklers were getting more laughter than his planned material. Thus, his life, and the world of comedy, changed forever.
Mr. Rickles attacked people's looks, their spouses, their jobs, and anything else he could come up with, and his sets went from planned material to firing barbs from the hip at the drop of a hat. Rickles even took potshots at big stars in show business. His favorite target was contemporary Frank Sinatra.
While Bill Hicks never had big mainstream appeal, his combination of dark, jaded, and hyper-critical humor made him a cult favorite. Nothing escaped his destructive humor, including popular culture, religion, government, and even his audience.
It seemed to work out for Hicks, as his clear anger at the things he discussed, combined with his natural humor, helped him find his niche. He laughed at the things he hated, which helps us all laugh along with him. Just as he was becoming a big name in comedy, he died at the young age of thirty-three. He is gone, but his comedy remains timeless.
Nobody had the ability to improvise like Robin Williams. While younger readers might know him from his film roles, such as "Aladdin" or "Hook," older readers will remember his frenetic and off-the-wall stand-up routines. They might even be able to recite them from memory.
His stand-up specials from the seventies were chock-full of hysterical impressions and free associations, as well as ad-libs that would knock you off your feet. Even after he left the stage and appeared in front of the screen, he helped people laugh until his untimely demise at the age of sixty-three. He'll be remembered for a long time.
No comedian has reached the level of success and popularity of Jerry Seinfeld. The sitcom that turned the genre on its head, "Seinfeld," is still earning Jerry millions, which means he has the time and finances to attack passion projects with all the passion he wants.
He brought his brand of observational humor (“What's the deal with...”) to the masses, and his observations on everyday life, relationships, social situations, cultural differences, and human behavior are things everybody can understand. Even now, he's still killing it doing stand-up, as well as Netflix specials. His voice, his show, and his humor are now all recognizable around the world.
From just his teen years, Eddie Murphy was breaking the world of comedy apart. His big inspirations were Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor, and before he even turned twenty, he was delivering big-time laughs in New York City, the mecca of comedy.
By the time he was nineteen, he had landed a gig on "Saturday Night Live," and his stand-up special “Delirious” was one of the funniest ever. He was twenty-two when he recorded it. His jokes went from details about his drinking stepfather to his mother throwing a shoe at him when he misbehaved. Murphy helped move stand-up into something that could turn performers into rock stars.
For thirty years, millions of Americans watched Carson before bed. His enduring, endearing charm made him irresistible to viewers, and his unflappable poise in front of "The Tonight Show" curtain meant you would never regret turning in.
With quick, witty comedy, he set the talk-show standard. His monologues became the stuff of legends, and even when a joke didn't perform the way he wanted, he would just do his memorable golf swing motion and keep going. His interviews were just as funny and featured all kinds of famous people. Carson left us in 2005 – but his legacy endures forever.
He's best known as a movie star, but like plenty of other funny men and women, he got his start with his jokes on a stage. His notable movies include "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" and "The Jerk." He's become the funny guy with the white hair, but when he was doing stand-up, his absurdist comedy shined bright. From memorable catchphrases like “Excuuuuuuuuse me!” to playing the banjo as he tells clever jokes, this guy is sure to get you laughing.
He won the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American humor in 2005, and that's just the beginning of his accolades, which includes Grammy awards for his comedy albums.
"Esquire" has called him “the comic genius of America.” He got his start with unforgettable stand-up skits and then moved onto the award-winning "Chappelle Show." He's since called it quits and went into hiding only a few years into the legendary show.
However, he's come back in recent years, releasing stand-up specials on Netflix that have been garnering him plenty of applause. Chappelle takes no prisoners, and he often targets celebrities and politics in a way that gets everybody laughing. He was out of the game for a while, but now he's back on top and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
When Rivers took the stage in the West Village, there weren't a whole lot of women doing stand-up. With the help of her in-your-face comedy and brash speaking style, she did more than making a name for herself — she paved the way for female comedians around the world.
With her recognizable raspy voice and her self-deprecating jabs, she rose in the ranks of the comedy world until she reached the elite, even joining Johnny Carson as his permanent guest host on "The Tonight Show." Through it all, she's grown her multimedia empire into being worth a huge chunk of change, all based on her unique and groundbreaking comedy.
It's been more than fifty years since the death of this icon, but he's still getting people to laugh. It's become difficult to separate Lenny Bruce, the comedian, from the Lenny Bruce character he created, as his penchant for saying whatever came to mind turned him into a legendary name.
His career came toppling down in the fifties and early sixties when he was arrested in what became a landmark case for freedom of speech in the United States. He was barred from entering the United Kingdom. He died in 1964, but a posthumous pardon set the record straight. Plenty of the comedians on this list, such as Richard Pryor and George Carlin, learned their tactics from Bruce.
Few comedians have the rhythm of Chris Rock. His ability to take a premise and get an enviable flow out of it – telling jokes, letting sentences hang, and giving the audience a chance to laugh – draws the listener in like few others.
His energy on-stage and his unique, rocky voice carve a place in your ear so that you never forget it. His view into African-American life and his way of giving humorous social comedy turned him into a comedy icon in the nineties. The HBO special he put out in 1996, titled “Bring the Pain,” has been called one of the decade's finest.
A disturbing childhood and colorful personalities he knew while growing up created the basis for Richard Pryor's comedy. Beginning with a clean-cut phase before developing a substance problem, he eventually fell off the stand-up map before bursting back onto the scene with a Vegas lounge act.
He then went to San Francisco, turning the comedy world on its head. He's one of the most influential comedians of all time, paving the way for plenty of others on this list, including Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and Kevin Hart.
Three days after Johnny Carson's retirement in 1992, after thirty years, his legendary time slot got "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Leno had been doing stand-up for years and brought a surreal, insulting version of observational humor to the famous talk show format. His monologues might not have been as legendary as Carson's, but they still had plenty of love from audiences and viewers.
He loved to talk about American culture and politics but also focused his critical eye on human behavior, which included social awkwardness and gender differences. He finished his run on "The Tonight Show" in 2014, the same year he joined the Television Hall of Fame. Since then, he's hosted "Jay Leno's Garage."
Born in 1913, Skelton began honing his comedic and pantomime skills from the young age of ten, when he was part of a traveling medicine show. He worked on a showboat, worked the burlesque circuit (which meant something a little different back then), and joined vaudeville in 1934.
The “Doughnut Dunkers” pantomime sketch, which he wrote with his wife, launched his career in vaudeville, radio, and film. Starting in 1951, he began producing and starring in The Red Skelton Show, a sketch show long before "SNL" ever started. Even nowadays, it's possible to throw on an episode of the show or its follow-up, "The Red Skelton Hour," and enjoy some good, fun comedy.
The youngest son of a NASA engineer, Scott Thompson, known professionally as Carrot Top, has gone through some wild changes in his life and career. His style of prop comedy got the public eye on him in his early twenties. He used self-deprecation and American culture as springboards for jokes and gags.
His nickname came from a swimming coach, thanks to his bright red hair. He's appeared in movies and television shows, including some of his own. A lot of his jokes have been him simply pulling out a prop, describing it with a one-liner, and tossing it away. The King of Props uses bodybuilding to keep himself sane after a long life in comedy.
With numerous loved stand-up specials on Netflix and a career that includes being a writer on "Saturday Night Live," Mulaney is a comedian that has been on the rise in recent years. He voices the main character from the original Netflix animated show "Big Mouth," and his most recent stand-up special, "Kid Gorgeous," won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Variety Special.
Drawing on stories from his own life, his observation humor often bleeds into surreal territories. Even if you haven't heard him on "Big Mouth," you've probably heard him speak as Peter Porker/Spider-Ham in "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse."
Once a Texas evangelist, this comedian took his skills at serving sermons and moved them to the stand-up stage, using one classic technique — he would pump the volume on his mic and emit a high-pitched squeal. He wasn't screaming, but the audience took notice anyway.
He looked ready for anything in his trenchcoat, and his long curly locks spilled from his head as he made jokes about topics most people would never consider laughing at. Plenty saw him as a misogynist, but his reasoning for attacking the faults of women was simple: “Because a man never broke my heart. A man never made me want to drive my car into a wall.”
Wanda Sykes's best special to date — 2009's "I'ma Be Me" — lets us know exactly what to expect from this funny gal. She was a veteran of "The Chris Rock Show"'s writing room. Rock also asked Sykes to open for him, which ended up being her big break — and she managed both street smarts and an intimate look into her interesting life at the same time.
She compares getting waxed to being an animal on the Serengeti and doesn't shy away from potentially explosive topics.
Imagine the comedic lady from the eighties – shoulder pads, sleeves rolled up, and the classic brick wall behind them – and you're picturing Elayne Boosler. Long before it was a cliché, Elayne used the look and her personality as part of her act.
Elayne was also key in getting the industry to pay attention to women. She self-produced her own comedy special, “Party of One,” which became a hit, having Showtime asking for more specials. Until the eighties style of comedy went bust, she was a headlining name to pay attention to.
What kind of person cites Monty Python and Bugs Bunny as his influences? None other than Reggie Watts, who brought out a combination of lighthearted, unpredictable lunacy. Like speaking in nonsense French and fumbling with his mic.
From jokes about time and space to why no one needs to eat a whole croissant; from soul ballads about huge purses to hip-hop jams about getting busy with your partner — nothing is off-limits. With a combination of ridiculous antics, crowd work, and an enviable style of rhythm, Watts brings all kinds of absurd fun, but the best part of his style might be his huge and memorable afro.
Dressed in a red cardigan and a button-down shirt, and a newspaper folded under his arm, Mort Sahl took on politics in a way that most audiences had never seen before. How many comedians have you ever seen skim the headlines — sometimes right in the middle of a set — for things to make jokes about?
All it takes is a little bit of journalism, and suddenly the absurdities of the ruling classes are exposed to everyone in the audience. He would sometimes bring explanatory aids, such as blackboards, in order to add to his comedy. This valuable political voice continues to make us laugh.
Few people had such huge control over the deadpan tone and one-liners as Seven Wright. Audiences loved his mumbly manner and just-woken-up style, and his way of delivering simple jokes that always came from an unexpected direction.
He could get audiences to laugh at things from faux zen koans like “What do batteries run on?” to patently absurd sayings that are still unexpectedly funny like “A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me, I'm afraid of widths.” Few people are able to capture the power of the minimalist joke like Steven Wright, and they're great jokes to memorize for parties.
Though this Scot had plenty of great one-liners, his main forte was long yarns with plenty of gags strewn about. Three stories might all be very disconnected and odd, but Connolly was able to make them into tied-together parts of a three-act story.
While Connolly is currently struggling with health issues and has had to bow out of performances due to the condition, he's still practically a patron saint of comedy in the United Kingdom. Across the pond, he's a contemporary of Carlin and one who is even still putting out great content. From small, dingy pubs to big venues, Connolly has performed everywhere.
Absurd doesn't even begin to describe Mitch Hedberg. His happy-go-lucky hippy persona, combined with his absurdities, lets us know about the efficient, no-frills laughter that Hedberg created. A great example is “When I was a boy, I laid in my twin-sized bed and wondered where my brother was.”
His ability to make jokes out of almost anything – “Is a hippopotamus...just a really cool potamus” – helped us understand what kind of persona he was working from. His rose-colored glasses got us all laughing, and without the constant anger, aggressiveness, and even the shame that comedy sometimes turns to—just good old fashioned jokes and fun.
Without the Chitlin Circuit, not many people would know about Redd Foxx, which allowed him to deliver his raw and unfiltered (practically unhinged) sets. He was the king of party records, producing albums that were both naughty and hip – the kind of thing you would play to impress your friends.
He was endlessly crude but had undeniable energy and good humor to him. Like a hilarious, dirty-mouthed uncle, his legacy will never be forgotten, and his jokes are sure to last a long time.
If you're a fan of observational humor or funny autobiographical stories, then you should be thanking Robert Klein. His first comedy album, "Child of the '50s," not only had stories about air raids and school dances, but it looked back at the absurdities of the Eisenhower era.
He fused political commentary into his style without missing a beat. His first special was in 1975 for HBO, which allowed him to add a little bit more of his natural linguistic style (read: curse words), and his conversational style was something that plenty of other comedians, such as Jerry Seinfeld, would adopt as their own. All you had to do to have a good time was put on one of his albums and sit back.
Dick Gregory brought more than comedy to the stage. He was jailed in Selma, shot during the Watts riots in 1965, and ran for president in 1968. Long before Dave Chappelle took humor from ethnic controversy, Gregory had plenty of fun poking fun at it.
He's become more and more irascible as time went on. Even his earliest jokes tackled issues of equality. Yet, through all that, the most important part of comedy has always been there in his humor: laughter.
Before he took to acting and directing, Woody Allen made his name in New York. He delivered his neuroses with intellectual one-liners in a thick Brooklyn accent. He would often hide smaller jokes inside bigger ones, things like an off-hand mention of a “surprise autopsy” or his “history of hygiene” major.
He became a big name in New York City in the sixties, creating hit comedy albums before moving on to other things. While some of the details of his personal life has given fans pause, he brought the Borscht Belt to Greenwich Village and made a big splash in the world of movies, too.
One of the things that a lot of comedians try to find is how far things can be pushed. Patrice O'Neal decided he would push things until they stopped, and then he took aim at everything from political correctness to vows of monogamy.
He thrilled live audiences with his high-energy style, but he always pushed members to expose some dark desire they – or culture as a whole – held. However, even the most egregious things he came up with went along with a wheezing laugh. Many people saw him as the heir to Pryor's legacy. O'Neal passed away in 2011 due to stroke complications.
Bernie Mac was large and in-charge when he broke out thanks to Def Comedy Jam. This Chicago native was a big, braggadocious comic who had a magnetic delivery and a way of squeezing every last drop of humor out of an idea, as well as every last bit of air from his lungs.
His stories about child-rearing are beloved, and he explained that he was from the old school of parenting. "The Bernie Mac Show" brought his brand of toned-down humor to people of all ages, and the late, great Bernie Mac connected with audiences of all kinds.
Peters was one of the first global superstars. Hailing from Canada and born to Anglo-Indian parents, he took aim at those of Indian descent, but that's not all. He made plenty of fun of every ethnicity.
He played fast and loose with stereotypes, but how many other comics have a ten-minute sketch on the differences between Mandarin and Cantonese? While he didn't make a big splash in showbiz, YouTube clips of his act have connected him to audiences around the world. It doesn't matter what country you're from — not only can you enjoy the humor of Russell Peters, but it's pretty likely he's made fun of you.
Louis's ever-evolving comedy came as a natural side-effect from his changing life. He got his start on stage as a teen telling little more than random, absurdist jokes to small crowds. But he grew into a father and husband who was about to talk hard truths about marriage and fatherhood, all while employing his cynical and hard-hitting style.
Since his 2007 special “Shameless,” C.K. Has been delivering more and more, building a brand for himself that includes a television show and numerous other stand-up specials. He takes special joy in tearing himself down, and nobody can ever say he isn't hard-working – he seems to come up with a new special every year.